group 8! women: raw. honest. loved.

lindseyfinalalisonfinalaleasefinaltinafinaljaymefinalmackenziefinalnicholefinalconniefinal

Stereotyping.
Generalizations.
Judgment calls based on face value. Based on outward appearance.
Judgment calls with no merit attached to them except merely what we alone have felt to be true. They seem to be a combination of what society and media tells us to be true mixed with what we have possibly experienced to be true based on our slight interactions. Does this make them correct? Obviously not.
They’re hurtful. They’re unnecessary. And we most often are wrong.
This group was a definite reminder of that.

– The skinny, pretty girl who seems to “have it all”…who actually feels just as much of a failure as you do. What is wrong with “just her”?
– The outwardly happy and confident mom who struggles with feeling like she’s never enough. Is she fulfilling each of her roles the way that she should? Is she an adequate mom/wife/friend?
– The brave and intimidating one who is listening intently to what you’re saying, but giving you no reaction, who inside is actually just questioning what your reaction is to her. Is she being social enough? Funny enough? NICE enough??
– The seemingly strong mom who sometimes wonders if her maternal path was the right one, and instantly feels bad for having such a thought. Does it make her less of a mom? Did she disappoint you by saying that?
– The one who is so creative and seemingly fearless, who actually fears so much. Is she losing you? Is she enough for you?
– The pregnant mom with the beautiful smile and calmness about her who is scared to death of bringing another child into this world. Will she be able to raise another child successfully?
– The quiet one in the background that gives a shy smile and has interesting things to say when she feels confident enough to speak up, who is constantly feeling like the outcast. Why do you like her? Are you around only because you feel sorry for her?
– The stone-faced beautiful girl who is scared out of her mind of being vulnerable. Why trust you when she can just trust herself? Why put herself out there when she may lose you?

Can you relate to any of them? To all of them?
I certainly could.

Since beginning this project over a year ago, I have met so many women involved with it now that, had I given you an assessment of them just based on my first interaction, I would have been so off-base, so far from understanding what makes each woman who she is.
This project has taught me to slow down.
To remember that if we give ourselves a brief period of time to really get to the core of a person, that the nuances, the supposed “bitchface”, the shyness (which I’ve often misjudged as ‘bitchiness’…I’ll admit it), the seemingly cold exterior…hell, even the laughter, the over-exuberance, the hatred of silence, the need to be the center of attention (these could describe me at any point in my life)…these traits generally all manifest themselves because of something much deeper that is happening. Something that this person is not usually bound to share with you within the first few minutes of meeting them. Maybe not even after years of ‘knowing’ them.

Please, get to really know them. Or, if you can’t do that, at least reserve your harsh judgment about them. You don’t know the whole picture. Even if you think you do, you don’t.

There was so much interesting discussion that went on in this group…I touched on a bit of it, which is all I’m going to do. I hope to release some videos here and there that can bring you into the group and the feeling of the night. Only then will you understand how intense it was. If I even try to explain it in words this will go on forever. I would rather that you read the stories of the ladies, in their own words…

Here is one video for you – please take three minutes and watch it, as it is very powerful. This was the discussion that took place after Alison read her insecurity and elaborated a bit on why she feels that way. The reactions from the women are heartfelt and impacting. Please keep in mind that the ladies did not know each other before this…

(links to past groups can be found at the end)

lindseyinsLindsey ~
“I believe that my biggest insecurity for me at this time is the fact that I am pregnant. I am pregnant with a child in a culture and society that I have a hard time believing in, and one I don’t trust. Our American ways have lost sight of our human ways, we buy into the “look like barbie” bullshit, we spend thousands each year trying to be something besides ourselves. We are not taught by society to love ourselves for us!

I am exhausted, yes the pregnancy does that too, but I am exhausted trying to be something society wants and not being what I want to be. I just want to be me. I want to teach my second child to just be. I want to live in a world that professes its love for all living things, one that cherishes the belongings of this earth, not spending time consuming and destroying it.

Some days I love the world and all its glory, everyone and everything has a special place in this grand sphere of energy. We all are different and we all have different strengths and weaknesses that fuel this fire. I truly believe that if we as a species and entity could only see the beauty we possess in our souls, beyond the negative thoughts, the cultural ‘lessons’, the masks that we all choose to hide behind. Than maybe just then we are making progress as being who ‘we’ are supposed to be and our souls and fires inside could burn the negativity and lies fed to us by a corporate American society. It’s my hope and prayer.”

Lindsey’s friends and family:

“Lindsey is, beautiful loving and courageous. :)” – Nicollette

“My Lindsey is an amazing woman with many facets. I have been fortunate enough to witness her take life by the horns and make her visions come to fruition. She is one of the most independent people I know. Self-motivated and willing to do the work. She has always made me proud to be her friend and has continually impressed me with her determination to be a great mom, an all-star student, a driven employee, the life of the party, a loyal friend, an open hearted lover & a die-hard Seahawks fan…. All of these in an honest way. One of my favorite traits about Linds is her raw, open, up-front style. She doesn’t put on any fronts in order to receive acceptance. She is one hot goddess too – gorgeous smile, the cutest nose ever, lovely tattoos, beautiful curves… All of these attractive traits, but her confidence and self-love is what puts her truly over the top for me and is inspiring to those who spend time with her.” – Jaime

“Here are my thoughts feelings and words on my dear friend Lindsey…

I was blessed to meet Lindsey around 9 years ago. She is gorgeous (inside and out), and her smile and the light in her eyes can pull anyone in. Lindsey has one of the largest hearts of anyone I know, she always has a shoulder or ear to lend, and THE best hugs. As a mother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, and friend, she is an inspiration. I am grateful for this woman in my life. She is a very hard worker, completing any task she sets her sights on, while staying open to the universe for its sway (be it gentle or rough, she perseveres). Always a fun time to be had with this girl, anytime & anywhere! And an incredibly easy and rejuvenating friend to be around.

Lindsey is:
Kind
Open
Intelligent
Vulnerable
Loved by many
Non judgmental
Loving
Gentle
Strong ( ^yes both at the same time, and thats just her)
Caring
Beautiful
Determined
Intellectual
a Lover of life
Funny….hilarious!” – Jessica

“A few words about Lindsey: Lindsey is one of the most honest, tell-it-like-it-is ladies I know. There are no hidden agendas or subtext with Lindsey; what you see is what you get. I have always assumed this is because she is so confident and has the courage of her convictions. We have been friends for nearly 20 years now, and I can honestly say, she is the most loyal of all my girlfriends. Not only does she go out of her way to make time for me on my infrequent visits back to the USA, but she usually is the driving force behind organizing my social calendar with all our friends. This is a reflection of Lindsey’s natural leadership qualities, combined with her generous nature. I feel like I can tell Lindsey anything, and since she is so open and accepting of her own flaws, she is able to be the same about mine. That is probably the glue that keeps our relationship strong; a mutual respect and understanding of not only our strengths, but our weaknesses.

I love that lady!

I hope she enjoys her photo shoot and hearing what all her loved ones think of her.

With best wishes,
Rowan”

alisonins Alison ~
“Asking someone what they’re insecure about is like asking for a laundry list of the things that they hate about themselves. I could make that list pretty easily, and it would be a lot of the same things that most of the women I know fixate on constantly. It’s not our fault. Media and society tell us that we should be able to have it all: the awesome career, the perfect body, the great guy, the busy social circle, a great wardrobe, and so on. I have about 31% of those things, and it makes me feel inadequate. And because I feel inadequate, I feel undeserving. That’s really the main thing: I never feel like I deserve the things I have or the things I want. It’s such a hard and embarrassing thing to admit, but it’s related to all of these things that I love.
I really love work, and it’s actually one of the spaces in my life that I don’t feel undeserving. It makes sense because it’s quantifiable; I can see the results based on the work that I complete and the effort I put forth. I can logically see that I deserve things, like projects and extra responsibilities, based on how hard I work. In spite of the pride I get from my job, I also work under constant fear that at some point, I’ll stop deserving things. It’s maddening. I worry constantly about letting someone down and not deserving the next thing I want — a promotion, a raise, whatever it may be — but that motivates me to keep the bar high on my work, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Outside of work is where I more have trouble. I have great personal relationships with people, but sometimes I don’t even know why. So many of my friends are these brilliant and talented people, and I’m just… me. Sort of funny sometimes, reasonably attractive if I comb my hair, generally a hard worker, just some girl from a small town who is literally faking it every single step of the way. There is nothing that I find particularly outstanding about myself, and yet, I’ve made my way into a truly exceptional group of friends. Honestly, it feels fragile sometimes.
My mom constantly tells me how proud she and my dad are of me. I don’t doubt that they truly feel that way, but I don’t feel like I’ve done a lot to deserve it. I go to work and things like that, but beyond that, I don’t feel exceptional, certainly nothing to be proud of beyond the facts that I breathe air and pay taxes. I know what pride feels like – that big, swelling feeling in your chest, and I don’t know what I could ever do to inspire that for them. My mom tells me constantly, “I’m so proud of you.” It feels like I’m cheating her somehow, or I could be doing something better that actually deserves pride and praise.

I don’t really date because I’m particular. Somehow, in spite of being selective, I still find the wrong men. My last two serious relationships ended due to complications involving other women. And when that happens, you start thinking to yourself, “What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with JUST me?” And then you go down this rabbit hole of comparisons. The other girl must be prettier, smarter, funnier, better at life. You do this horrible side-by-side comparison of all of the things that they must be that you’re just not. Then, irrationally, you start thinking that maybe you don’t deserve love or to be happy. It sounds so stupid on the surface — and still, it’s true. Getting burned like that forces you to feel a certain way; I feel like I must be undeserving of someone’s love and affection and kindness somehow, or maybe not even that — more than someone else is more deserving. It’s the absolute worst. It forces me to trip myself up, question myself constantly, and also to not put myself out there when I should because I’m terrified of that rejection again. It happened recently where I’ve had all of these feelings for someone for a few years and just couldn’t bring myself to put it out there until recently, and because I waited so long, I may have waited too long.

It’s not that I sit around and feel sorry for myself about it constantly or lack confidence in the things I can do well, but I when things happen, I never feel like I deserve it. When they don’t happen, it’s because I feel like I didn’t deserve it.”

Alison’s friends and family:

“Alison is one of my best friends – she is probably the warmest person I know. She loves deeply and sincerely. She is a woman of substance and knows quality when she sees it. She cares about others more than she cares for herself. If she spends 50 dollars on herself, she’ll turn around, without even a second thought, and spend 50+ on someone who might just be having a bad day. Alison reminds me of sunshine because its hard not to be happy when she’s around. She is physically beautiful, but even more gorgeous on the inside, which, in turn, radiates on the already lovely outside. She’s hilarious and witty. She’s intellectual and opinionated, well read, and can debate her side with solid facts. I love her. She and my parents adore each other too. I consider her family for many reasons. Faithful, honest, fun, sincere and protective – she will go to war for any of her friends or family members. Very creative and artistic! She loves music…I think of her often when I hear a fun tune. I could go on I suppose, let me know if you want me to – I am a huge Alison fan!” – Rebekah

“Hi,
I was contacted by you on Facebook to provide a few positive traits of Alison. Where to begin…
Alison is driven, unique, and loyal. She will lay herself across railroad tracks for any one of her friends or family members, and makes sure to personally connect with these people on a regular basis. She is endearing, enchanting, smart, quick-witted, brave, caring, and feels with her whole heart. I love her dearly. 🙂
Hope this helps! Sounds like an amazing project. I hope to see the end results!
Thanks!” – Heather

“Hi Alana!
My words about Alison:
– loyal
– smart as a whip
– generous friend
– beautiful soul
– amazing encourager
– Alison has great energy and is such a fun friend to be around..shares honestly and makes connections with everyone
I think this is such a great project! good luck,
Stephanie”

“If you took ALL the sunshine and bottled it up, you would have Alison. She is bright and unique and touches everyone with her vibrant smile. Her warmth is radiant and comforting. As a friend, she is irreplaceable and I thank my lucky stars that she is in my life.” – Julie

“Strong-willed, caring, thoughtful, fiercely loyal, fiercely honest, amazing listener, wise, true friend, big heart, talented.” – Matt

“Alison is the most engaging person I know. It’s nearly impossible not to be distracted by her beautiful green eyes or her fantastically endearing smile. She is intelligent, articulate, passionate, funny, talented, beautiful, selfless, and thoughtful. As if that weren’t enough, she is a wizard of cupcakes and other baked confections. Alison is one of the most important people in my life! All I have left to say is this, “No… you’re awesome!”
Best Regards,
Daniel”

“Alana,
I need to start with an apology, I’m sorry this is arriving at the last minute. I couldn’t decide if your message was spam, glad I finally opened it. Alison happens to be one of my favorite topics so this won’t be hard. That said, here goes.

Ali is a blessing, a true miracle. With a little bit of a rough start, this quiet little unassuming girl has won many hearts and made countless friends. Loving and kind.

Intelligent and wise beyond her years. She is so bright, teaching herself to read by the age of three. As a first grader she told me that she would be president one day and I told her that she could do anything she wanted to do. Older people love her. She has always been able to listen and connect with people … to actually “hear” them.

Determined and goal oriented. As a freshman she went to Washington DC, with a group of adults, as a student ambassador for our local industry. She went hoping to change the world and shine a light on governmental consequences. She was able to meet with many of our leaders including speaker of the house. This relationship, with business and governmental leaders, led to her being a featured student author in a statewide magazine.

A princess and a queen, literally. She stepped out of her comfort zone and ran for queen of our local festival and won. She not only won the title, but the respect and love of her community. She has always been a princess to us, a girlie girl that has never been afraid to get dirty. Her enthusiasm shines.

Competitive. Her older sister became a cheerleader and she followed, challenging herself to work harder. Hard work earned her a spot on an elite cheer squad that traveled to France.

A leader. As a senior she decided local veterans deserved to be publicly honored. She organized an assembly drawing the community and student body together starting a new tradition at her school.

Hardworking. Alison is a true believer in “give it your best”. She is never content with doing the minimum and sets goals for herself. When she meets that goal she will work to best that mark.

Entrepreneur extraordinaire. Alison creates beautiful cupcakes for weddings and parties.

Brave. Alison is not afraid to try. She has traveled the US working for a summer concert tour and then driven across the US to promote the release of a new product for a major company. Ali is not afraid to ski down a black diamond run or climb an old growth tree to talk to protesters. She shows no fear when rock climbing, even walking past a rattlesnake in the process (ok … she froze for a minute and then ran). She is able to give a speech or conduct a seminar for coworkers like it’s just another day. Climb Mt Adams.

Independent. Flat tire, rain, heels, dress – need help? No problem, changes it herself. Tell her she can’t, she will.

A daughter, a friend. Although she is my daughter, she is also my friend. I enjoy hanging out with her … she makes me a better person.
Thoughtful Compassionate Generous Driven
Selfless Amazing Open & Learning Beautiful inside & out
A book that you want to read … you can’t put it down. It’s a wonderful and intriguing adventure.

Strong in the face of tragedy. Alison is able to share the sorrow of others while silently lending strength, even in the face of her own sorrow.

For all of the above reasons … she is my hero. To say that she makes me proud is an understatement. I smile whenever I think about her. I am her mom … and I love her.
I hope this helps you.” – Lori

aleaseins Alease ~
“I’ve had my kindness mistaken for weakness in the past. So, I tend to keep people a certain distance from me until I feel that I can bring them closer; its hard to trust people sometimes. So, I make sure to trust myself always.”

 

Alease’s friends and family:

“Patient, healing, intelligent, intuitive, spontaneous, creative, innovative, sunny, beautiful.” – Julie

“She is an amazing cook and loves to bake. She makes an amazing fruit cobbler.
She loves music in my genres and always seems to know about bands before they’re cool.
She is always willing to help you no matter what. Especially if she sees you need a ride or some food, and she is always generous with her time.
She is well-spoken and can talk her way into any venue to see any band. It’s her superpower.
If you need anything else, let me know! I hope this helps and best of luck with your project.” – Del

 

tinains Tina ~
“Am I enough? That’s what it all boils down to.
I’ve never really cared what strangers thought of me, but my friends and family? That’s a different story. One of my biggest insecurities, the one I’ve chosen to focus on for this project, is that I worry I’m not enough for them. I try to be the best friend/family member possible but is it enough? Am I smart enough? Nice enough? Caring enough? Funny enough? Pretty enough? Selfless enough? I could go on..

I try so hard at everything I do… but is it enough?

I’m a stay-at-home mom. Is that okay? When other moms do it I think “hooray for them!” But I worry that I have to do it because I’m not smart enough or successful enough to have a job. And speaking of being a mom, am I nurturing enough? Am I patient enough? I’m sure the answer to that is no! Am I doing enough for my children? And my husband? As a wife, am I loving enough? Sexy enough? Supportive enough?
I think you get the point…. Am I enough?”

Tina’s friends and family:

“Hello Alana-
When asked to write a paragraph about Tina, I honestly didn’t know where to begin. I wanted to begin writing for the last few weeks but was always at a loss for where to begin and how to possibly sum up all the moving, amazing parts that comprise Tina. She is caring, she is funny, she is creative, she is multifaceted. I have a lot of respect for her as a mother and wife and I have shared some very funny times with her. When we first met, we clashed in very typical A-personality type conflict. We are both loud, center-of-attention-loving people. However, after that we hung out again and we both realized that we were the same and the friendship was instant. Tina brings out the fun in a situation. No matter where you are with Tina, I guarantee it will be a blast. She is not afraid to be exactly who she wants to be. I consider myself blessed to know her.
Thanks Alana, I think this is an amazing project!” – Thera

“I’ve known Tina her whole life…she was an active and precocious young child and very loving as well. She hasn’t changed much as an adult except she has gotten more beautiful each year. When I say beautiful, I mean the outside and the person. She has the most beautiful big eyes that I’m totally envious of and let’s not even mention the curly hair. Her “inside” is more deep. She is brave and honest. She is funny and kind. She knows how to be a confidante and friend and she is truly a caring person.” – Deb

“My wife Tina is the most amazing person I have ever met. With her beautiful hazel eyes and her perfect smile, I was putty in her hands from day one. Tina has a way of making a fully-lit room brighter as she walks in. Tina always will put someone else’s needs before her own. She is a great mother to our beautiful daughters (thank you, by the way). Okay, enough about what’s on the inside…. Tina has a ravishing body – the way her jeans look when she puts them on is more than enough to make my heart skip a beat or two. I love everything about my wife ‘cause when you put a body like that with the awesomeness that makes her…. what’s not to LOVE.
P.S. Tina, I fall more and more in love with you every day, you are my dream come true. I am very proud to call you not only my best friend but also my wife. I LOVE YOU!” – Tom

“Tina was a handful as a child – stubborn, strong, smart and funny. Sometimes it was impossible to discipline her as she could get you to laugh at the drop of a hat. Always her own person, never bending to others’ rules or opinions; she was Tina, like it or leave it. You never knew what she would do next.
Now she is a woman. I adore her – she is stubborn, strong, smart, funny and wonderful. She is impossible to get mad at. She is Tina! She is her own person, you never know what she will do next. She is wacky, sincere, passionate and wise. She is beautiful, inside and out. I am so very proud to call her my daughter and my friend.
-so hard to keep this under 16 pages.
Thank you!” – Laurel

“When I met Tina, the first thing that struck me was her fearlessness. It wasn’t something she just put on to face the day, or a show of any kind, her fearlessness was something that came from deep within her. She truly knew who she was, and wasn’t afraid to be who she was. I admired her immediately!
As the years have passed, and I have gotten to know her more, I only became more astounded by the awesomeness of Tina! Just to list off a few attributes (off the top of my head):

Tina is…
(of course) Fearless
Kind
Generous
Beautiful
Fierce
Confident
Creative
A Wonderful Mother! Nay SuperMom!
Talented
Loving
Strong
Smart, wait, Super Intelligent…would Genius be too much?

I have seen her take on things (that no one really wanted to do) and give them all of her energy, wisdom, and creativity, and turn them into something amazing. She knows how to engage people, make them feel welcome, and at the same time, be firm and stand up for what is right. She knows the power of her “No”, which is something some do not ever learn. She also knows the power of her voice, and uses it wisely, kindly, firmly, and with grace. The best part of all of this, is that all of the qualities she possesses within herself, she is passing on to her beautiful girls. (Honestly, I would willingly offer myself up for adoption if Tina would adopt me…that’s just how great of a mom she is.)
This world is a better place because Tina is in it, and I am a better person because I know her.” – Nancy

“I think it’s safe to say Tina and I jumped into our friendship feet first!
It was only a short time after becoming friends with Tina that we started scheming to get our families together for an extended camping trip. Our husbands had not met and our kids were virtual strangers, but hey, Tina and I liked each other so that’s all that mattered, right!?
Somehow we pulled off an amazing trip full of wonderful memories and made lifetime friends.
Being friends with Tina is easy, I don’t feel that I am somehow competing with her, or have to try to impress her on some level. And, as women, I think we all know how this feels with some of the people in our lives.
She has a diverse group of friends, family, and interests, so she has something in common with everyone, And judges no one. Tina has a lovable quirkiness, is always quick to share her beautiful smile, crack a joke or offer consolation when needed. She has an uncanny sense of knowing if you need to talk or just want to hang out and have a quiet drink, or seven.
She is a proud nerd, a craft queen, and a fierce list-maker, in fact her lists have lists!
Tina is a beautiful woman, a caring mother, dedicated wife and loyal friend. She will admit her faults, and always tries to rectify the wrongs in her relationships. Her generosity is boundless, there is always room for you at the dinner table or your favorite beverage in the fridge, she’ll even give you the last of her tequila.
Becoming such close friends with someone at this point in my life was unexpected but has made me remember that life is ever changing and never rule out the possibility of inviting people into your heart. From Lady Dates to camping trips, Tina is one of my favorite people to spend time with.” – Karla

“It is the best when neighbors get along. Even better when they become friends. To the moon when they can help one another through the daily grind. Tina and her wonderful family are of the third kind. I could not feel more blessed to have such a great neighbor and friend. I believe our friendship formed when I had my third child. Her girls adored the new babe and gradually we started talking and leaning on one another. Well, at first it was me doing all the leaning ~Tina made sure to get my little guy to and from school each day. I still cannot express how absolutely amazing and helpful that was. That is the Tina I have come to know: sweet, generous, non¬judgmental, compassionate and silly.
As a neighbor, I can always count on Tina to have that cup of sugar or embroidery hoop. My kids are welcome to come by to jump themselves silly on the trampoline or stay for an all day hair-dyeing session. Her house always has an open door. Tina gives it to my kids straight, in a funny and irreverent way that I like. And when the time calls for it, she can be super serious too. I really like that about her – she doesn’t take herself too seriously. And the best part about being neighbors with Tina is the food. Good homemade food. If she mentions something she is making that sounds good
and I intimate that I might really like to try it, she brings it over. Immediately. Lots of it! The best.
As a friend, Tina is loyal and really very sensitive. I have been through a lot in the past year and she has been very respectful of my space, all the while being very sensitive to what I might need~ more often than not that ends up being a really good beer and an open mind. She understands some of my struggles more than most people and she is very careful and sensitive to those particulars. I never feel judged by Tina. She accepts me as is.
Tina is beautiful. I really love her quirky and cute style ~ a mix of tomboy and glam. I think she is an amazing role model to her two girls. She sends the message to them that they can be who they are. You see it in their distinct personalities. And they are both so nice, so interesting and sooooooo funny. Like their mom.
I think Tina is pretty rad and I think anyone is lucky to count her as their friend. I know I do!” – Jenn

“I’ve known Tina almost longer than I’ve known anyone else in my life and I’m so proud and amazed at the person that I’ve seen her become over the years. She’s a bold, intelligent, creative woman who doesn’t always see what an incredible person she is and what an inspiration to other people around her.
One of the things that I like best about her is that she comes off as fearless, even though I know her life isn’t easy. She’s never afraid to be honest and tell you what she’s thinking. But behind the honesty is also a ferocious caring. She tries to do a lot for the people in her life, even when it involves her sacrificing part of her time, her resources, or even herself. Tina is one of those women who always seems to have room for one more, whether it’s sitting at the dinner table or camping or just being friends. I don’t think she realizes how much all the little things that she does add up in the long run.
Along with these traits of caring, she’s also incredibly intelligent (though like most genuinely smart people, she has no real idea or belief of this). She can think up the most amazing creations and then put them to life. Sometimes that’s a costuming project, other times it’s building some sort of incredible macabre contraption. She reads voraciously and even better, she shares what she learns and what she likes with other people, bringing her gift and understanding of books to those around her. She’s also quick-witted and comes up with solutions to a lot of everyday problems that most other people would just give up on or let go. Tina has always been both resourceful and a lot of fun, two things that don’t often go together.
I could go on and on and probably still not really hit the essence of what I want to say, or how much I admire her. I am so very glad to know her and that she is someone that my children look up to. I wish I had the words to say really how awesome she is but there aren’t enough out there!” – Gwen

“Tina is so very STRONG. She gives herself, without hesitation, to her family and friends. Strength is something that is hard to come by.
TIMELESS BEAUTY. Tina has a beauty that is far deeper than many get to see. While she can pull off anything and everything, she holds a fascinating inner beauty as well.
She is LOYAL. Having a constant person in my life has not always been easy, but with her it has.
Tina is PROTECTIVE. She cares so deeply for those in her life that she will stand by you. Even when she does not agree with you.
Only someone who possess the ability to truly LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY is able to stand by. Even when things are tough.
TRUSTWORTHY. When Tina is a friend to you, be assured that you can confide anything in her.
Tina is incredibly HONEST. This is a quality that very few people get to say they possess. Tina can.
The amount of PASSION that is put into everything Tina does shows what kind of person she is.
Only an ADMIRABLE person has all of these things.
UNIQUE, LIVELY, LOVING, INTELLIGENT, CARING, KIND.
These are just a very few of the things that cross my mind when I am asked to describe my best friend. Tina is the conditioner to my shampoo.” – Brandi

“I am honored to have the chance to write about my beautiful friend Tina. She and I often laugh about how we met when our children first started preschool at Bryant. I had moved to Tacoma when my twin sons were tiny infants recently home from a long NICU stay. As they grew to school age, it was quite apparent they had serious developmental issues. I didn’t know a single person in Tacoma, and was so isolated those early years that I hadn’t made any friends. I would stand on the playground waiting for school to end, scared and sad at what new bad news would await as the teachers brought the children out. Every day, this beautiful young woman would also be there. As soon as she walked in, the other moms flocked to her, seemingly drawn by her incredible light. She was clearly the “it girl.” Naturally, I hated her. Maybe hate is too strong of a word, but I certainly turned all my negative emotions on her, the perfect mom with the perfect kids and her perfect friends. I stood there watching every day, willing myself not to break down in tears.
Then one day, Tina simply walked up to me and introduced herself. She said she had noticed me always alone, and invited me to come stand with her and her friends any time. This is the heart of what Tina does and is: she draws people in with her grace and warmth, making them feel welcome and accepted. She takes care of people. Time went by and we formed an unlikely friendship. I learned part of the reason she was so popular on the playground was she had been suckered into being PTO president when nobody else wanted the job! I also learned that she is not perfect; she is delightfully imperfect. Tina’s specialty is taking in and nurturing people like me, the misfits, the broken people, the weirdos, showing us love and acceptance. Over the years, as my children’s disabilities have grown worse and have shown to be permanent, she has been an amazing support. Most people are uncomfortable with others’ grief and actively discourage it. Tina has supported me and allowed me to grieve and cry and helped me to accept my situation and heal in a way no one else in my life has done, not even my closest relatives. She has brought joy to my world when nothing seemed joyful.
Tina is what I call “an old soul.” Young enough to be my daughter, she has grace and wisdom far beyond her years and my years as well. She endured and experienced more adversity in her childhood than many people do in their lifetime. A child of divorce, she dealt with having an absent father. She and her sister nursed their mother through three bouts of cancer. Tina developed a woman’s body while still essentially a child, and had to deal with all the weirdness society puts on girls who develop early. She has dealt with her own medical issues and lives in near constant pain. Despite all this, she is strong and cheerful and constantly takes care of everyone else. Tina is endlessly generous and kind, a trait she got from her amazing mother and clearly has taught to her amazing daughters. Her entire family is kind and accepting of my children. Her daughter has protected my boys at school even at her own social jeopardy. That shows how well Tina raises her children!
Aside from her beautiful personality, Tina is also just a gorgeous woman. She naturally has the kind of beauty women like me spend hundreds of dollars at Sephora trying to get! (Not that she and I can’t shop the hell out of a Sephora store together!) Tina radiates beauty. I love how daring she is, and has so much fun changing and playing with her look. She likes to make fun of herself and her interests and quirks, and I believe she has no idea how much people admire her.
Tina, I am so proud of you for going through with this, and I hope you have a wonderful evening! I love you!” – Linda

jaymeins Jayme ~
“Insecurities I feel comfortable sharing with a room full of people? Ha! How much time do you have?

Growing up, I was a fairly confident kid… as much as kids can be, I suppose. Smart, precocious and extroverted were adjectives that many of the people in my life would use when describing me. I had a great childhood. I was highly advanced in early academics, was involved in music and sports at an early age and had plenty of friends throughout my teens. It was, by all accounts, a regular upbringing, with plenty of confidence-boosters to go around. Except for one thing: My parents weren’t around. I mean, they were around in the sense that they were home on occasion, made sure that we had food to eat, were enrolled in school and that we always had a roof over our heads. You know, the basics. But when it came to the supportive, present and encouraging parents that every kid needs in those formative years (and I so craved), they just couldn’t put away their “pre-kids” lifestyle and my sister, brother and I were often left to figure it out alone.

This affected me in many ways, but I think the biggest psychological impacts have been creating an enormous feeling of never being good enough for the people in my life, as well as an intense fear of failure. Winning combo, right? I covered it well for many years, but, the older I get the more these fears manifest in aspects of my life that I never imagined they would. Relationships (of all varieties), college, work; all of these crucial paths of adulthood have been covered over with the insidious weeds of abandonment and no matter how I try to maintain them, they always return.

I have forgiven my parents, but its another thing entirely to shed these insecurities that linger. I have an abundance of amazingly supportive people that surround me, a positive outlook and a bright future. Even still, I often can’t shake these questions that constantly circle my head. “Do they really like/love me, or are they just here?” “Am I (insert adjective here) enough for him/her/this?” “Did I do a good enough job?” These and other worries plague my thoughts, as well as a voice that screams from deep inside “You are going to fail. Don’t even try, because you will never be as ______ as ______.”

So what do I do? Carry on through life feeling mediocre and quitting everything as soon as it starts getting really good? I just can’t anymore.

In the past year, with the help of a very special person and one of the great loves of my life, I am learning to see and really know that I am good at many things and that I am worth loving. I hope being a part of this project only further instills this in me, and I look forward to it.

I can only be me, and though I may still struggle with who that is, I have to be the best version of me that I can, and trust that it’s enough.”

Jayme’s friends and family:

“Jayme is brave, strong, cultured, loved, fearless, beautiful, creative, and an amazing sister.” – Kenna

“Hello, Alana. Awww Yes, Sweet Jayme. Beautiful Sparkling Blue Eyes, Fun Hair Always, Sweet Smile, Fun Fun person to hang out with, hard hard worker. Love Her with a heart as Big as Her!!” – Peggie

“Miss Jayme is:
~full of love and life.
~wise and insightful beyond her years. An old soul.
~has a contagious laugh that lights up a room.
~a special friend.
Hope this helps! It’s truth!” – Angie

“Jayme is a beautifully honest woman who is compassionate, yet still takes care of her own needs. I find her to be very creative; so much so that I wrote it twice on my list of adjectives for her. She is loving, warm-hearted and thoughtful, even while delivering brutal truths. I was immediately drawn to her twisted but fabulous sense of humor. She is adventurous, open-minded and progressive. She cares about her community and making it a better place–whether it be with her thought-provoking writing/conversation or her contribution to the local music scene. She’s also one hell of a drinking buddy!” – Kelsey

“Well what can I say about jayme-jams? She a balls out trailblazer. After becoming a transplant to Tacoma, she now exists as one of my major music resources & she’s a woman! Her skill, talent and ambition will take her so much farther & she’s already done so much. She has a strong & open heart to so many people, not just close friends. Always has a smile for me – even when she doesn’t feel like smiling, it’s still there. I couldn’t imagine her not being my friend and each & every day I feel closer to her. She’s so important to me. I have a huge toothache & am trying to squeeze this in before I pass out…while things of all sorts happen everywhere, I’m glad I get to experience some of those things with Jayme.” – Lindsay

“I’ve not met many people as caring and selfless as Jayme. This sweetness and care is infectious, and is quickly felt by those who have even just met her. She’s honest. Not to a fault…I find that term to be an excuse to be an asshole…just honest. Like Little House On The Prairie honest. Good, real.
Her tenderness has certainly affected me in so many positive ways over the course of our relationship. She teaches me patience, to slow down and reflect before judgment. To forgive. To improve.
Jayme is a fantastic woman and a fantastic friend. All should be as lucky as I.
Thanks,
Jason”

mackenzieins Mackenzie ~
“Mackenzie’s bag o’ insecurities:

Things I think sometimes when I’m in a room with a bunch of strangers, and maybe a few friends:
• I need a funny story so I can be engaging
• I hope no one tries to talk to me because I’m not sure I really want to have a conversation with a stranger. Nor do I want to act interested.
• Great, now I’m trying to avoid people. Stop being a bitch and socialize!
• Why does [random friend] keep flitting around the room without me? I must not be interesting enough.
• People keep gazing through me when I’m talking. I must be talking too much.
• Conversations aren’t being sustained! I must be talking too little!

I took the last couple of weeks to really think about what makes me insecure. I, of course, fell upon the usual suspects at first: body image, intelligence, money, etc etc, but none of those things really rang true to me. OF COURSE, throughout a lifetime these things have affected me in one way or another, but I realized what really got me to shut up and go inwards was this: I feel as if I am unlikable.

I’ve worked in the service industry, so my firsthand experience with being deemed “unlikable” actually happened more often than I’d like to think about. I feel, because I’m not immediately accessible, willing to listen to a stranger’s story about whatever happened in their life, or smiling all the goddamn time, I am not a likable person. I know in my heart, that it’s PROBABLY not true, but because of my experiences, and working with co workers that were extremely “likable”, “bubbly”, “always smiling” and “a joy to be around”, I keep finding myself trying to figure out their secret to being so popular.

But the “likable”-thing didn’t just start when I was waiting tables and tending bar, I remember it even earlier in my life; not necessarily a specific event or circumstance, but more of a feeling of being not as “cool” or fun to hang around. In grade school I was always reading books, and more often than not, had an opinion about what the kids were doing and whether or not I liked it, so when I voiced these opinions, they wouldn’t hang out with me. It’s not that I was “bossy” per se, but that I didn’t always want to do the things the other kids did. On the other hand, when I got older (middle school) and was quiet, I was teased and picked on because I WOULDN’T say anything. It was a classic case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. In high school, things got moderately better because I joined a sport, but in the end I still didn’t feel like I fit in my group of peers because I didn’t want to do my makeup over and over, I didn’t want to get drunk ever, I didn’t want to make fun of everyone all the time. When it came down to it, I just wasn’t very…”likable”.

Growing up when and where I did (Olympia, 1990’s, Revolution Grrrl Style Now!) I learned to be proud of my voice and the things I could say, the minds I could change, and really? The freedoms I was allowed to have. But I still can’t get past the whole “likable”thing. I’m not “nice” enough. I can’t feign interest like so many people that I know (people that will honestly say to me later that they can’t stand the person they were just talking to), and I just don’t giggle that much with strangers. I like to save that stuff for the friends that have earned it by making me spit beer out of my mouth in a full bar.

So, to be honest, I’m not a 100% sure if this is my insecurity, or if I’m airing my frustration with the weird sets of “rules” we put ourselves though to find a place within the pack. All I know is that I think of it everyday, when I meet people for the first time, when I go to work, even when I’m with my friends. I’m never quite sure if my people will stick with me, once they find out I’m not super friendly and sometimes I can be a bummer.

There! I did it!”

Mackenzie’s friends and family:

“I’m so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to watch Mackenzie grow into the person she is today. It’s been so inspirational to so many people watching her take enormous risks and step so far out of her comfort zone to better her life. I’ve never met anyone so passionate, driven and goal oriented, and I’m so proud and amazed by her accomplishments every day.
When we met each other we were both a little lost. We were searching for different things, but instead found a sisterhood in each other. Growing up, all I ever wanted was a sister, and I was lucky enough to find her at 22.
In the beginning, I got to know her as a fiercely loyal friend willing to fight for what she believed in, no matter if it was the popular choice or not. As more time passed, I found in her a loving, emotional and empathetic sister who would do anything to protect her family. I got to witness her amazing love for my brother, which almost brings me to tears to think about. And now, after all these years, she has grown into such a confident, determined woman and I am so proud I get to tell people she is my sister.
Even if they don’t ask, I’m probably still gonna tell them.
Mackenzie– I love you more than if you were my blood because you are the family I choose. Thank you so much for being the beautiful, brave, intuitive woman you are. And for being my hero.” – Megan

“Let me first say that I am so glad to have the opportunity to brag about one of my favorite people in the WORLD… my friend, Mackenzie. We met at a time and age when everyone is finding themselves and riding on the coattails of adolescent insecurities – college. Mackenzie had the most refreshing self-confidence, raw honesty, and sense of identity of anyone else I had met up to that point in my life. We quickly became close friends, and eventually roommates. Although we now live on opposite coasts… 3,000 miles between us… I count her among my closest friends.
When thinking of what to write about Mackenzie… what words describe her best… almost every cliché good quality fits. The irony here is that Mackenzie is the least cliché person I know… the LEAST. When she first brought me to a scenester garage band show in Olympia, it was apparent to me then (and has been proven countless times since) that she is the essence of punk rock.
When I talk with her about losing her father to a long struggle with cancer, her strength, kindness, and empathy emerges in the most loving and authentic way.
Throughout our 15 year friendship and a lifetime of experience with people from all walks of life (the millionaire wasps of Manhattan… the political elite of Seattle… Ivy Leaguers… Art school hipsters) Mackenzie’s brain power rises to the top every time. She is a wicked sharp intellectual powerhouse. Unlike many uber intellects that I have come across, Mackenzie uses her powers for the good of the common (wo)man… gracing us normal-brained folk with her unique brand of humor that is a pure manifestation of her nerdiness.
She is constantly making me laugh. I am compelled to articulate the perpetual contribution Mackenzie makes to the feminist movement… not in a pretentious, overt way… but in the way that, by merely being the amazing woman she is, she inspires me to embody all of the aforementioned amazing qualities that seem so effortless for her. Mackenzie is infectious. I have never not wanted to be around her.” – Emma

“When I think about Mackenzie these are the things that come to mind: her big heart — love for her family and friends; creative; free spirit; brave and beautiful; smart and sassy; fun to spend time with and always lots of love.” – Kirby

“Hello Alana,
Hopefully this is what you were looking for!
Without coming off too much like a list but more of a description of what I see in my sister, Mackenzie.
-Caring
-Beautiful like her mother and strong and determined like her father
-Brave-Willing to take chances for things she believes in and stays the course
-Creative
-Someone I can Truly look up to as more than just a big sister, but as a role model
**On a side note, wanted to say what you are doing is pretty cool and good luck with it all!” – Kyle

“Kenzie is one of the bravest people I have ever met. Not fearless (she’s got all sorts of fears.) Not in a military action or cancer survivor sense; but in knowing her fears and limitations, and then just blowing past them like they can’t touch her. So many “I can’t-s” and “I’ll never be able to-s” have been voiced, ignored, and then proven wrong that I sometimes think she’s started making them up to make me feel better about myself.
She is an engine of wish-fulfillment for herself and those around her, and in the six+ years that she has been my other half, I still can’t figure out how she does it. My role as resident devil’s advocate/naysaying realist has become a figurehead position. It’s not through methodical planning or evil genius, just determination and intuition. You know those wishful thinking moments everyone has? She’ll say ‘wouldn’t it be nice if ___’ and then it happens. Because she made it happen.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if I could do my hobby full time?”
A year and a half later, she’s quit her job to run her own company.
“I’d like to own my own home some day”
A year later, we are signing mortgage paperwork.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if you quit your crap warehouse job and worked in IT?”
Six months later I’m doing database analysis and don’t dread going to work every day.
She made an offhand quip about buying a village in Spain a while back. I went ahead and downloaded the Spanish language tutorial on Duolingo, just to be safe.
She amazes me daily. I wish I could be more like her. I love her.” – Gabe

nicholeins Nichole ~
“Disappointment…that is my biggest insecurity. Hearing the word that I disappointed is what hurts me. I feel that everything I do is not enough and that anything I do is never enough. So to hear the word “disappointment” is the worst thing I can hear about myself.”

Nichole’s friends and family:

“Nichole is a relatively new friend to me. We met shortly after our sons were both born prematurely in November 2011, and bonded over the struggles of sick, tiny babies. I have learned a lot about motherhood from her, as she is a seasoned mom of 3. She has endless patience for her children and her love overflows around them. She puts her family above herself every single day and is constantly on her way to another activity, helping out in the classrooms, taking the kids to appointments, and still manages to chat with me about our days.
I see Nichole struggle to find enough time in the day for all her family’s activities, and rarely has an hour to herself, even when sleeping! She is so generous with her time and love, and even though I know she is exhausted and at times frazzled, she still holds her youngest till he falls asleep, even if she is stuck in a chair, dying to go to the bathroom, with a toddler wrapped around her torso. We send silly pictures back and forth of the crazy ways our kids have fallen asleep.
I wish Nichole got more appreciation for all the sacrifices she makes for her family. She is an amazing mom, a wonderful wife, and a kickass friend. When other women would have cracked under the pressure, she gets up and does it all again the next day. She’s an inspiration on how to be selfless and loving and never ask for anything in return.” – Ashley

“Hi, I’m Nikki’s mother-in-law, Maggie. Nikki is beautiful on the inside as well as the outside. She has a huge heart and open arms. She is always available to anyone day or night, which makes her extremely reliable. She’s also a very good friend.
I love her great sense of humor. She is delightfully funny. She is so much fun to be with! She laughs easily and makes friends easily because she is compassionate and quite lovable. She’s a great mom and an amazing wife. We are so lucky to have her in our family.” – Maggie

“She is a wonderful mother, very intuitive about her children’s health. Sometimes I think she knows their are ill before they do.
She is a giving and caring person, for animals as well as people. Nikki is family-oriented, she has a large extended family as well as blood relatives and shows the same love and consideration for both equally. She has a great sense of humor.” – Vontell

“She is kind loving and caring…Nikki has this inner core of strength – when something bad happens, she is there standing strong, and when it all calms down, she still is the last to sit down. Strong; hits the ground running. Kind and giving – would give you her last dime. Compassionate – when someone she cares about is about to break, she offers the first hand up. She shows that in this great big world and the grand scheme of things, there are still pure loving hearts…Her laughter makes my heart swing…triumphant and loves to share it with everybody around her. Her heart is open and she is the first one to say, “just tell me what to do” and she is out the door. When it comes to her babies, and other’s babies, she is pure love and joy…She’s my kiddo and I adore her.” – Sissy

connieins Connie ~
“I guess my biggest insecurity is a few bunched into one big one. I always feel like I’m the outcast, like no one really likes me – they just act like they do just because they feel bad. I feel like that awkward sympathy friend; like I drive everyone up the wall because I’m annoying and have mass anxiety problems so everyone hates to be around me. It’s like “Oh well I don’t want to make her feel bad so we’ll hang out even though she is so annoying and her anxiety problems are ridiculous, like seriously, who is afraid of food.”

Connie’s friends and family:

“Connie is an amazing mother, whether she sees it or not; she is an amazing fiancé, putting up with all the crazy me and my family can muster. She is beautiful both outside and in. She’s a little stubborn, but it’s cute; she is creative and fun and always tries to tackle everything at once. She is patient. And, most of all, she is forgiving. She cares so much for her friends and tries to always understand what they are going through before she makes a decision.
Idk if that is how this is supposed to be set up but it’s from the heart.” – Jace

“Connie is a free-spirit, she always has been. She is an artist in every form, from her clothing to her photographs to her drawings. She is fun to be with. Connie loves Anime and making her own and Teagan’s costumes for the Sakura Con convention. She has a great laugh and a beautiful smile. She loves the outdoors and being in nature. She’s a great, caring, and loving Mom. She’s stronger and more courageous than she thinks.” – Deneall

“There’s a lot that I can say about Connie but to make it simple I’ll stick to a few things that best describe her personality.
Strong: Connie is strong, far stronger than I think she even realizes sometimes. She has been through a lot emotionally and still has everyday challenges to face and has handled it better than anyone I’ve ever seen. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and is an awesome mom and person.
Genuinely good person: Connie is that person that you wish nothing bad ever happened to because she just has a good soul. Whenever I’ve needed her she’s been there for me regardless of how I’ve been as a friend. She even allowed me to stay with her for several months when I needed it. At one point she even provided more than half my son’s wardrobe! She’s full of compassion, sweet, feisty, and full of energy!
Fun: Connie is the one person who I call when I want to go on an adventure which in our case means driving to the bookstore, sitting in the car and talking for hours, going on a walk, or even the occasional grocery shopping. Just sometimes we even include clothes or shoe shopping. She’s a functional good kind of crazy and that makes for some pretty fun conversations.” – Lisa

Thank you for your time. Please leave a comment if you are so inclined.

and here are links to past groups:

Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, TEENS!
Group 3, 55+
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 7, MEN!!

a birth story.

annalee’s birth story.

This is one of my favorite shoots of all time. It is the first (and only, so far) time that I had the privilege of shooting what can be described as the most beautiful and unique experience in a mother and father’s life – the birth of their child. Every birth is so unique and I can honestly say now that I feel like every birth should be captured in photos.
There are obviously photos that I’m not sharing with you here, as they are only suitable for the Varnell family (as oddly discreet as they still turned out to be!), but I hope these capture and convey the experience and beauty that was Annalee’s birth.

On that note, I feel there is an intrinsic beauty and sexiness that comes along with a mother giving birth. Call me crazy, but I see it here.

Know a pregnant woman who should have this experience captured? I would love nothing more. Please have them contact me at alana.t.photography@gmail.com
I wrote a while back about why I’m the person for the job, so, besides the photos here, you can read my thoughts on that, if you’d like.
varnell1annalee133annalee137annalee008annalee095annalee066annalee053annalee040annalee017annalee011annalee004annalee022annalee009varnell2annalee012varnell3annalee100annalee003annalee018annalee019annalee001annalee015annalee002annalee010annalee157annalee160annalee088annalee090annalee060annalee048annalee006

louis & kevin got married!

This blog post has been a long time coming…like, over seven months time. Let’s just say that I’ve been busy. In any case, I had the privilege of shooting this beautiful couple’s wedding in August 2013. I considered it a great honor to be asked to shoot Louis and Kevin’s wedding, as they were trusting me to not only capture their beautiful/emotional/crazy fun day, but it was also my first LGBT wedding to be able to shoot. And it was A BLAST! I mean, did you have Tina Turner at your wedding? Probably not… Thank you to Louis & Kevin and to their amazing family and friends that made this day so awesome. And to the cutest ring-bearers ever. louiskevin_1louiskevin_4louiskevin_2louiskevin_5louiskevin_3louiskevinw10louiskevin_29louiskevin_11louiskevin0069louiskevin0190louiskevin0173louiskevin0180louiskevin0213louiskevin0208louiskevinw6louiskevinw15louiskevinw16louiskevin_30louiskevin_31louiskevin0275louiskevin0265louiskevin0264louiskevin0256louiskevin0250louiskevin0244louiskevin0241louiskevin0238louiskevin0230louiskevin0229louiskevin0227louiskevinw12louiskevin0321louiskevin0302louiskevinw28louiskevin0456louiskevinw20louiskevinw21louiskevin0553louiskevin0547louiskevin0543louiskevinw7louiskevinw27louiskevinw26louiskevin0147

group 7! – MEN!!! (nope, not women) men: raw. honest. loved.

ashfinalallenfinalnickfinalianfinaljoshuafinal

Men.
My eyes have been opened.
As I was prepping to leave for this particular group, my boyfriend’s words to me were this: “The only advice I have for you tonight is, don’t be surprised.” I didn’t quite know how to respond to this, except to admit that I actually had no expectations. In all honesty, with each group that has taken place, I have learned to have no expectations. Things seem to go along the same, and things seem to go along different. I learn things with every group and I was MORE than ready to learn things with this one…and learn, I did.

When I started this project, it was with the primary intention that women discuss insecurities, stop with the trash-talking and tearing each other down, and instead, start building one another up.
Soon after the first group, I began to receive inquiries from both men and women as to when I would be holding a men’s group.
A men’s group? Why would I do a men’s group? Men aren’t known for trash-talking and tearing one another down, right? Men solve their problems, generally physically, right?? Honestly, that’s where my ignorant brain naturally went.

Well, as the project continued, I really began to appreciate what so many participants have mentioned as being beneficial: that it is liberating. That it promotes discussion among families and friends. That we are reminded that we are not alone. That our insecurities lose their power.

So, my thought then became, why NOT do a men’s group? Even as I was unaware of entirely what it would achieve, it was worth a try. As I began to think about it more and more, I began seeing the topic of “manliness”, what it means to “Be A Man” appear around me more and more. I found myself watching the trailer for the new documentary from the team behind MissRepresentation – a new film called “The Mask You Live In” , which addresses societal pressures put on young boys and, in turn, carried into adulthood…pressures to “MAN UP!”, to not be sensitive (“What a pussy!”), to not be emotional (“Men don’t cry! Get over it!”), to BE A MAN.

After viewing that trailer, I was sold. This needed to be addressed. And so, I began to seek out the men that had inquired about the potential of a men’s group, along with a few men whom I just saw as being brave, honest humans.

Group 7 was born. I knew that a men’s group would be received well in general, especially since the majority following this project are women, and what woman doesn’t want to know what the men are thinking? But, I also didn’t want any potential for negativity about men being vulnerable before we even started. So, we tried to keep the eventuality of this group really quiet.

One thing I can tell you after this group…men are more sensitive, emotional, and introspective than society seems to give them credit for. They often desire to express themselves as gentle and caring, but this is pretty much beat out of them by our culture…leaving us with a world of violence and anger. Because that’s what is acceptable. That sort of machismo and swaggering arrogance ends up being mistaken for bravery. To me, and to most, I think, that sort of braggadocio is equal to douchebaggery (it is a word in its own right and serves a purpose here, so, it is staying).

True bravery is honesty.

True bravery is these five men.

These men admitted, as the majority of the women participants have, that their participation in this project initially had them anxious, “really fucking nervous”, and apprehensive. Not knowing what to expect. But, in their words, they found the project bold and daring. They felt it challenged the preconceived notion that it’s not acceptable for men to be vulnerable, open, and honest.

Here are some of their words on that topic of being vulnerable:

“The expectation is to “Nut up. Walk it off.” – Why can’t it be, “Let’s talk about why you feel this way. Let’s have a conversation’?”

When a man appears emotional, the response is, “Look at that pussy.” “Let’s continue to tear him down because that’s not what a man is. You’re not supposed to be weak.”

The resulting “lashing out in violence and the increasing suicide rate is because men don’t really talk about things…’I’m gonna be quiet about it. I’m gonna MAN UP.’ We’re supposed to internalize…just don’t talk about it…we don’t talk about it.”

They wanted to participate because they felt it would be “an interesting switch – it might change the context of what the original project was. Men are so different from women in regards to how they look at each other, how they treat other, how they expect behavior from each other. It’s entirely different. I thought the possibility for the unexpected was really, really interesting and I wanted to be a part of that.”

“Once you put something like this out there, it’s easier to diminish its power. Maybe it will be easier to not dwell on what is dissatisfying about myself.”

“I think it is a wonderful outlet…thought I could help shed some light on the male perspective. Wanted to be able to share that we are sensitive, we are caring, and that we can love each other just as much as anyone else.”

“I thought the men’s group would be really interesting – a different take on the whole thing…a completely different perspective. This broadened the horizons in a really interesting way – a more global perspective.”

And, so, they jumped in. And they were ready for discussion.
And discuss, we definitely did.

In preparation for these groups, I always do some online research.
According to the many articles on the internet, many of men’s insecurities have to do with the physical, just like women. Their hair, their bodies, how they perform sexually. Let me just mention that none of these things were mentioned in our discussions on this night. Why? I don’t know. Maybe they’re not an issue with these five guys? Maybe what they mentioned as their insecurities are much deeper and effecting than the physical self-image? Or maybe, as I suspected with the teen group that we did, these are still things that they don’t want to put out there for others to nitpick? Those are questions for these men. And ones that I didn’t broach…not because I am not interested…merely because I forgot, and there were so many other interesting things we were discussing.

Like…
* societal views about providing for a family
* feelings of disgust at one’s seemingly innate character
* feelings of inadequate intelligence
* feeling that one has made no impact on others
* feeling a failure

All of this discussion brought some seriousness, a lot of laughter, a lot of relating and understanding, and, yes, even tears. And when there were tears, there was no “Man Up!” spoken. There was no name-calling. There weren’t even expressions that conveyed anything close to those things. Rather, there were hugs. There was compassion. There were words spoken in reassurance. It was beautiful to witness and to be a part of.

And when these men heard the words that their loved ones wrote in about them, their expressions cracked. There was some lip-biting, some nervous laughter, some big smiles. There was vulnerability and there was appreciation.

I am indebted to these men for being so vulnerable and so open. You also will likely feel the same after reading all of this.

(Thank you, you five. I love each of you and I appreciate you so very much.)

Before you get into their stories, I leave you with some words from them about the evening in general…

“Nobody gives a shit about what makes you feel bad about you in your normal life, and quite justifiably, being a white male. But, in a room with people who are supporting you and who are interested in why you are feeling that way and interested in how you can move past it, I think that’s a major advantage in niche projects like this.”

“What surprised me was the openness – how willing people were to be personable and vulnerable and speak on terms with people we’ve never met before in a very open forum, as well as in a compassionate and caring way. I think it says a lot about what we are capable of as people.”

“This project was a really inspiring process. A way to connect with people in a very different way, and a very easy way. I would definitely recommend it for others – it was very liberating and definitely cool to be a part of.”

“Now I feel relieved. It’s nice to just get that out into space, about how I feel about myself, as I don’t always say exactly what I mean. I can give great advice, but sometimes I don’t listen to myself.”

“I think everyone should do this project. Any preconception you had about this project will probably be shattered and blown up into just the most amazing thing. It’s a really great experience. Tonight was a lot of fun…It brought a lot of perspective to everything as to what I can do and what I should do, as well as the fact that there are others, friends and family, who are supportive.”

“It’s good to get this out there, and if it can help other people, that’s good. Now, knowing how other people think about me, maybe I can bring that into my own self-identity.”

“I would recommend that others participate. It’s a great occasion to think about yourself and your place in the world. You realize that you’re not alone and that people love you…that’s it. Everything you think about yourself is really just you thinking it about yourself, getting too much into your own head.”

“I would like to see men more open and honest with each other…if you’re having trouble, your friends should be there for you. You should value your friendships on something deeper and not so vacuous. You should really mean it when you say that you are someone’s friend and that you love them…and it’s not just the beer talking.”

And now, meet Ash, Allen, Nick, Ian, and Josh…(and know that I am incredibly excited about the idea of more men’s groups…so, bring it on!)

Here is a video clip of some of the men’s responses to Josh succumbing to a little emotion…

ashinswAshley ~

“Since perhaps my mid-teens, and even more-so during my adulthood as I stumble across increasing self-awareness, I have considered myself to be a mostly dishonest, larcenous, opportunistic coward, and I fear that the people I love will at some point see through the curtain of practiced, semi-decent behavior that I have learned to use to distract them with. Being good is not reflexive for me. I still have to consider what “the right thing” is. During an extremely candid conversation with one of my oldest friends, we agreed that I was a rat-person – my natural state, without the positive influence of my loved ones, is one of running, hiding, stealing and raw self-preservation. These are not traits I admire in anyone.”

Ash’s friends and family:

“Ashley is a swell fellow… the swellest of fellows you’ll meet in this meadow. Ahead though, I will say that he is well put-together.
Ashley is a gentleman, a loving husband and father to his beautiful wife and children.
He is passionate of his artistries…his music. From Can to A.C… UK RnB… Completely unpredictable, however, and it will be researched and catalogued. Cliff Notes available after the session along with refreshments.
Have you seen any of his tattoo work?
I also just like to just hear Ash talk. It’s hypnotizing. Like a bass line to a Tricky song. Or a devil in Helsinki. Hypnotic and frenetic, calm and fantastic… and he can always make me laugh, and laugh fucking hard.
I love Ashley, for he is a great man, and my friend.” – Nick

“I met Ash years ago when he answered the door of Jamey’s house, looking like he just woke up from a nap. He was immediately friendly and lovable. Ash is one of the most enthusiastic, loyal, and devoted people I have ever met. He lights up a room with his joie de vivre. I am proud to be in the Hand Panther Fan Club. My husband has carried on a love-fest bromance with him for years, and it is nice to see how well Ash gets along with everyone in Jamey’s life. It’s not every man that can abide living with his wife’s ex, much less fully integrate that person into the family. He is ‘effing awesome. And you can take that to the bank! Hearts!” – Diana

“Alana,

1. Ashley loves…wife, stepchildren, family members & extended family, friends, & Orr. A special love was his late maternal grandmother, Rose. They had a special bond.
2. Ashley loves music of the alternative type. He collects albums & is very knowledgeable about music of this genre.
3. Ashley is extremely artistic & is learning the art of the tattoo.
4. Ashley most likely has a genius I-Q & an exceptional emotional I-Q.
5. Ashley has always liked to read. He retains what he reads.
6. Ashley once was an elementary school spelling champion!
7. Ashley (& Jamey) chose a wedding date that includes the numbers 666…
8. Ashley very much resembles his late maternal uncle Eddie A. Pettit.
9. Ashley gives great hugs!
10. Ashley once went by the nickname of “Deed”.
11. Ash’s middle name is Dean.
12. Ashley raises chickens in his back yard.” – Zella

“I don’t see Ashley often enough. He may not know it, but he has been one of my best friends since I met him in 2004 when he worked at a record store on 6th Avenue. My memory of that time is a little blurry, but what I remember is he accepted me coming into the store routinely, picking his brain about music and hanging out for WAY too long. I found him easily approachable, but I remember trying not to overstep my boundaries, so I would consciously spend a bunch of time looking through the racks and let him do his thing. I realize now that maybe I didn’t really need to do that – I think he probably enjoyed the fact that I asked him so much about music, and what was good, and what wasn’t, and what he recommended this week and why and what kind of music is THAT and wow they did WHAT for this record by the ocean lining up a bunch of microphones along the shore? Because Ash likes sharing his abundant enthusiasm. That is one of the many things I love about him. He has such an enthusiasm for life and art and music and fun and finding meaning in things, people, situations. I have often repeated to him something he said to me once: “Enthusiasm is important. It makes the world shiny.”

Like many of my friendships, music is more or less an entry point and common bond that translates into something much deeper. Ash has always been someone I’ve looked up to, but it never made for an uneven friendship even as I went through a lot of formative years, my twenties, with him and Jamey and the whole family. He always treated me with respect and kindness as I was kind of awkward and probably really obviously looking for direction in life and seeking new things, whatever they were, while figuring myself out. Ash has had enormous patience with me over the years.

Ash is a critical thinker – so intelligent and creative, good-humored and funny, gentle but no pushover, responsible but never a bore. Despite all of this, he is not at all arrogant or prideful. Rather, he seems humorously self-deprecating more often than not. I see most of these characteristics in his family life. From what I can tell, I think he loves his family more than anything. I mean, that’s as it should be, right? But, it is so clear with Ash. I remember shortly after he and Jamey got married, I was hanging out at the record store with him ’til he closed up shop. He got his bike and we parted ways outside. He said, “See ya, dude, I’m gonna go home and hang out with my wife!!” He was super excited. Pretty sure he still is.

Ash has taught me so much about how to be a loving, responsible, interesting, interested, thoughtful adult that isn’t afraid to be himself, but also isn’t afraid to change himself when he really should. He probably doesn’t realize that he taught me so many of these things but that’s because he doesn’t try to force others around, and all I had to do was be his friend and observe. Though we may not see each other often (lately), I can always count on him to be my friend. Ain’t nothin’ change.” – Joshua

“Hi Alana,

What is there to write about Ash? Well, first let this be said. He possesses a wonderful child like spirit and a loving heart. There are few who are as inclusive without some unseen or recognizable motive. Ash possesses a passion for music and creativity that is only challenged by the love he holds for his wife and family. He is an inspiring guy!

Thanks,
George”

“Every time I go out for Chinese food and look at the Chinese Zodiac placemat I am reminded of my friend Ash when I look at his birth year in the sign of the Monkey. Of course the positive traits of his Chinese Zodiac sign fit him to a “T”- intelligent, dignified, romantic, optimistic, quick-witted, sociable, and he has always been a motivator in the various projects we have undertaken together. And it’s only fitting that the year he was born the governing elemental sign was METAL!! He, too, has been like a brother to me, and I love him sincerely and dearly…” – Anthony

“To Ashley whom I love,

You are the most amazing person I have ever met. ferreals. You are the only person I have ever wanted to be around all the fucking time. Or even some of the time. Or any of the time ever. You have my favorite brain, my favorite laugh, my favorite dumb jokes, my favorite hands, my favorite…um…eyes.

Hey! I think you’re the best.

I miss you when you’re gone! Every morning I consider myself lucky to be waking up with you. Every day I consider myself lucky to be having lunch with you. Every evening I consider myself lucky to be climbing into our delightful bed with you. (The fact that you let me have the remote isn’t lucky; it’s just a testament to your sweet and giving nature.)

You are one of the most self-reflective, self-aware people I have ever known. (Despite your constant insistence it’s not true…) I see you looking into you, trying to consider things from all sides, genuinely trying to resolve issues within yourself and with others. It’s something I wish I consciously did more often.

You are an amazing dad. I see you with our kids. That is love. That is compassion. That is a desire to see someone do what you never could, and to have what you never had. You never wanted kids, then at 23 you were sucked into a ready-made family – you jumped in feet first and never looked back. They never doubted you for a second and you can see it when they tell you they love you.

You are brave. What? You don’t know how to do something? You just teach yourself or find someone else to teach you and then, bam. You do it. (It’s one of those talents that I am in awe of and always selfishly wish you would use it for things that would benefit me. Didn’t you say you were going to learn how to sew me dresses??) Your ability to be happy as the center of attention is an act of bravery I can never imagine accomplishing. Singing. Talking. Playing. You don’t even care. As long as you are having a good time, it’s on and awesome.

You are gallant. For someone who so brazenly insisted he was a misogynist at every turn all those year ago, you have never, ever, been anything but the best kind of feminist. You have given the kids an excellent example of how someone should treat other humans. Fairly… with decency and courtesy… not like meat…(for the record, I don’t think that getting a boner when I cry makes you a misogynist, I think it makes you a husband.)

You are pretty funny. Now…don’t get too excited about this one. While you may be the funniest person I have ever known…you are still not as funny as you think you are. And I love you anyway.

I worry about how you see yourself. I remember the first time I saw you naked. Kinda…it may have been the second time…we were pretty drunk the first time. You were perfect. 10 years later, still perfect. Your giant calves and scary warrior thighs. Your lil cuppy bottoms. Your hair shirt. Your long torso. The best forearms ever. The hands you touch with completely. You are my perfectly man-shaped man who can pick me up whether I want you to or not. You are strong and amazing to me. Your body is strong and amazing to me. I just John Mayered and then deleted it. I’m kind of regretting it. I’m gonna try and keep moving so I don’t go and put it back in…damn.

This letter is going on too long and not saying everything the way I want it said. I love you. More than anything. You are the brilliant, hilarious, beautiful, and brave man I never knew I needed. I couldn’t imagine a world without you.

Wife” – Jamey

alleninswAllen ~

“Initially sitting down and thinking about insecurity, or the insecurities that riddle through my daily life all the way to the grand scheme of things – I was hard pressed to find a few that really screamed out at me. It’s been my experience that these insecurities – or defects, rather – tend to snowball together. However, I was able to file it down exceptionally.

The insecurity that I feel in every crick, every step, and seem to see everywhere, is whether I have the ability or aptitude to provide. It seems to have some foothold in my life and dare say some of my personality. The notion of being able to provide, to take care of, to create security. Growing up in a traditional home where my father made most of the money and provided for nearly all that we as a family were able to do financially; paired with social standards and a community that flaunted a bravado of the haves and have-nots, seem to have hammered this idea that I must be able to live up to these unreasonable social expectations.

I think there’s an incredible difference between doing what you have to do in order to survive, for yourself, your family, whatever the reason. But there is an entirely different connotation I feel with this notion of failing to provide; that I’m not at a point professionally where I can afford a house, or the accommodations that a family would call for. I’m single; I don’t have kids or a wife…no one to provide for except myself. With that said, I still seem to attribute this lack of ability to some, if not most, of my confidence, attitude, emotional responses, and more prevalent in most of my failed relationships…that’s not to say it’s the majoring factor or the absolute reason. But I can’t seem to help but feel that my monetary prowess has a significant role in what the opposite sex finds attractive about me. Logically, I know this not to be true in all cases, but, emotionally, the thought definitely has weight.

At the core of the matter, rationally, I believe that at this point in society, households call for dual income. I know that if a time comes where I’m involved with someone, it will undoubtedly be both of us contributing so we can provide for each other. I also think that couples should do whatever is in their best interest as a unit. Whether that means he stays home to take care of the kids and daily duties while she goes off and makes that coin, or if it’s in a more “traditional” sense. We can mix and match roles in a family unit any which way, it all boils down to what a family unit decides is acceptable for them – not society or its expectations.”

Allen’s friends and family:

“I’ve know Allen for a little bit over two years now; in that time I have had the great pleasure to watch him grow from an on-edge, frustrated, fearful, and angry young man into the person he is today. I would characterize Allen as thoughtful to the point of insightful, honest and courageous to the point of being vulnerable, and, though I know he has fears, I have watched him be fearless.
Allen is also a talented musician, which he claims is a blessing and a curse. I have had the pleasure to sneak in and listen to him play when he thinks he is alone and the passion he has for music carries into all other aspects of his life. He is also tremendously supportive and loyal. I would never have guessed that I would have forged a friendship with the young man I first met, but am glad that today I can count him as such.

My apologies for the tardiness of this letter, his request deserved a much more prompt response.

Good luck on your ambitious project,
Daniel”

“Straight-forward
Allen tells it like it is, really. Whenever I ask him for advice, it always makes sense in a very simple way. I think that brings out a lot of his own honesty and reflects on his moral character because I can trust him.

Creates bromance!
The first couple times I met Allen I was hesitant to ask another guy for his phone number because it might have been perceived in a different way. It started there and now it has matured into something only “true bros” can understand.

Intelligent
Music-literate
Positive Influence and Feedback
Imaginative
No FEAR.
All Heart.

Learner
Allen is very good at learning new things. His mind tends to pick up activities/hobbies easily and during discussion, it can be easy for me to follow.

Commitment
He’s a go-getter! We all have our bumps in the road, but Allen handles situations with such class that his mindset is always committed to succeed.” – Austin

“Allen has made a lot of really positive changes in his life over the last few years. He is introspective and examines his motivations and intentions. He is always trying to improve himself, his relationships, and his life. While his sobriety is important, he will not settle on just being sober, but puts a lot of thought and effort into being the best human being he can be. He has overcome a lot and managed to come out on the other side stronger than ever.

Allen is a no bullshit kind of person. He calls it as he sees it. You never have to wonder what he’s thinking, or what his true intentions are…he’ll tell you. 🙂 While he may be brutally honest at times, he has a heart of gold and would never purposefully hurt anyone. He might seem like a tough guy on the outside, but you could never call him unemotional. In fact, he probably experiences emotions more deeply than most. He can be found at the gym lifting weights, or at home working on a craft project. He will talk openly about his feelings, which is (unfortunately) not common enough with men. He is empathetic and gives loves freely and easily, whether to his friends, romantic relationships, or his bitchy cat. I can’t believe he hasn’t strangled that cat yet.

Allen is tenacious. He doesn’t easily give up on anything he wants. He puts more thought, time and effort into accomplishing his goals than probably anyone else I know.

And, most importantly, Allen is one of the most loyal people I know. He’ll do anything for his friends and family. He’s one of those people you can call anytime or anywhere when you need help and he’ll drop everything to help you…even if it’s an annoying, terrible task you need help with. He greatly values relationships in his life and accepts others for who they are. He is the kind of person you know will be your friend for life. Never in my life have I experienced men who will call and chat on the phone for an hour talking about nothing in particular, and I am very thankful that James has that kind of friendship with Allen. His friendship means so much to James and I and we are very grateful to have him in our lives.” – Jenn

nickinswNick ~

“I feel dumb. Everyone talks me out of thinking like this. Oh you know about music. Not like all my music-minded friends! (nearly all of you!) … I’m not book-smart. And I am barely street-smart. Conversations are fleeting and daft… full of jokes and one-liners. Deep inside, it can become paralyzing. Ignorance is bliss? Yes. And dumb.”

Nick’s friends and family:

“Nick is one of the most beautiful people I have the privilege of knowing, inside and out. He is a shining example of what a human being should be- kind, generous, warm, humorous, and above all, caring. And to top it all off, he’s devilishly handsome! I love this man like a brother and will continue to for the rest of my days…” – Anthony

“When Nick shared that he would be doing this project, I wondered what in the hell kind of insecurities he could possibly have.
Nick is brilliant, strong, kind and gentle. He is the kind of person you want to have on your side. He is an example, a leader, an overwhelming warm sun on a cold day.
There is so much strength within him and I’m not sure if he realizes that. He has faced down societal and personal adversity throughout much of his life with quiet fortitude. I admire this about him and have been grateful for the opportunity to learn this from him because I have been one to piss and moan about the isolation society has placed on me as a person.
He is a most amazing musician with an unmatched strange creative capacity like this world has not yet known. I hope that he will be able to share this with the whole world and they will love his music and ability as much as I do.
Nick is my love. Nick is my miracle. He is what I needed at the right time. He is someone to look up to.
“Clouds disappear when they see you…” darling. And I know that those aren’t just my sentiments.” – Melinda

“Nick has been my friend, probably my closest friend, for almost twenty years. I could say my favorite thing about him is just how much he is able to make me feel loved, because he is so fucking good at that – I can plummet down the deepest oceanic canyon of terrible darkness and there at the bottom would be Nick, waiting to give me a hug and let me know he’s got me. That wouldn’t be enough explanation, however, and that’s more about me than him anyway. No, what is wonderful about Nick is his fearlessness, and his confidence. Regardless of where he is, whom he’s around, or what the situation is, Nick doesn’t alter or dilute who he is for anyone’s sake. To everyone’s great benefit, Nick is unfailingly honest and hilarious; he’s genuine and kind and unwilling to take any shit from any assholes. He’s the example of how we should all hope to be – willing to be good people by just being ourselves.” – Ashley

“Nick has been in my life 4 years now. He is tall, handsome, sexy, has a sense of humor, is thoughtful, kind, caring, easygoing, empathetic, sensitive, selfless, and loving. The universe has somehow allowed our meeting together so that I may share a life with him. He has so much talent writing words to me, and brings me flowers just because. He knows me so well he sometimes anticipates what my wants are. He is a great father to our kitties- and will thus be a great father to our human children one day. He has the best smile in the world – even more so when he shrugs his shoulders, and his humor is in touch with mine. He can see the art and beauty in things that others may look past, with a childlike wonder. He is much more knowledgeable about music than anyone I know, and remembers minute details in things I never would have. He is intelligent and has some of the most brilliant epiphanies that make you wonder why something had never been thought of. He listens to me when I ramble on about anything. He is open-minded to new things and brave. He makes sure he compliments those who deserve it, though he is modest himself. He wants everyone to be happy. How can I not love him? I cannot say enough good things that will do him justice!” – Chris

ianinswIan ~

“My insecurities are like everyone else’s. Being alone, being in a bad relationship. Being hated, or worse, not being loved. I so want to be in love but I find that I don’t really leave room in my life for those opportunities. I’ve been in so many unsuccessful relationships that I have fire-walled myself and I shy away from true intimacy. It’s easier to be alone than to have to accommodate another person’s feelings, insecurities and mannerisms.
My biggest fear is not leaving a mark on the world after I’m gone. Not having any impact at all, good or bad. I just don’t want to be easily forgotten by the people I value.”

Ian’s friends and family:

“Ian,
Understated. If I had one word, understated is the one I would use for you. I used to think you were quiet, but over the years I’ve come to realize that you are contemplative. Some thoughts escape your lips, but most escape in music, photo, video, and story. Creative and skillful, you are able to select a medium that delivers the particular message you want to convey. And, once delivered, you are careful to weigh whether it had the intended impact.
It took many more years for me to understand the balance of your will and heart. Do you remember when you asked me to give a blanket to a transient? Do you recall recording a friend’s wedding vows, and later, a dying man’s memories? I remember these things about you.
Your heart is generous and tender, and a vigorous will protects it against thieves and misfortunes. You may just as easily lend your hand to a stranger as you would decline an invite from a friend, if each serves the greater purpose that you have in mind. Your peace with that state of being is formidable and brave. I respect you deeply for having something to protect, and for protecting it fiercely.
I cannot omit the trust I enjoy when I count on you as a confidant. Never a gossip and always a friend, the secrets spoken to you are harbored for safekeeping. It may seem like a small thing that all people can manage, but it is a rare gift.
You are a respected man and a cherished friend.” – Rachel

“I call Ian my dark MacGyver because he can fix anything with a piece of tinfoil, a penny and a wooden peg. The dark part of my loving nickname doesn’t come from the shade of his soul but instead, his slick fashion sense. Ian’s soul is most likely a shimmery gold color due to his propensity to help as many people as he can, in whatever way he can. He loves his mother and tells her every day. He is always kind and respectful to everyone he meets. He is distinguished and handsome which makes him popular with the ladies, even if he doesn’t realize it. He is a thoughtful and wise father who always makes time for his son. And he is an extremely talented filmmaker and computer genius. We have been friends so long and have been through so many things that I can honestly say we have made it to sibling status. I can go to sleep every night knowing that if anyone ever hurt me, that they would be murdered within 24 hours.” – Rhi

“Kind
Articulate
Creative
Attentive
Warm
Bigger than life
Human
Complex
Funny
Big smile
Respectful
True

My wonderful friendship with Ian began in high school, over twenty years ago. Out of the many people that I have been in contact with from high school over the years, he is probably the only person from that time period who has retained their awesome character traits and intriguing personality that made me love him so much to begin with. Because of this, I have much respect for him. He has always been a kind human being. He is warm and attentive when engaged in conversation. He is creative and articulate, which has only gotten better with age. To be cliché, Ian is like a fine, complex wine whose character and intricacy have developed into a richer and truer human being over time. I love his logical mind, his creative enthusiasm and curiosity for everything in life, and his respect for all people. On top of all of this, he has a beautiful smile and a smart sense of humor. Definitely a keeper!

P.S. Ian, If you ever need me to write you a match.com ad again, just ask! ;-P

P.S.S. Just kidding and I love you!” – Trish

“Alana,

I have been following this project and have been moved to tears several times. I “sort of” know Rhi and Rachel, and think they are connectors and magic makers – I include you in this magic making. Thank you for such a powerful project.

I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to submit a testament of love for Ian Price. He’s a parade and a fist full of wildflowers and a whirlwind of warm vanilla smells and all kinds of sunbursts and favorite sweaters all rolled into one blue-eyed package.

Here is my testament:

I’m pretty crazy about Ian. I get a little swoony when I see him, but not for the reasons you may think. Yes, he is tall and mysterious seeming. Yes, he has extremely sexy body language. Yes, his voice is enough to send your heart end over end.

But I am crazy about Ian for so many more reasons:

I am crazy about Ian because he is so gentle. He will hug you and mean it with his entire self. When he speaks to you his voice is so full of kindness and compassion that you are overwhelmed with gratitude. His words are always honest and loving and they feed you. Ian is always generous with his words. He gracious with his praise. He means it when he says your art meant something to him. He is sincere when he gives a compliment.

Ian is fiercely loyal. I have no question that Ian would lay down his life for his friends/family. Ian is admirable. Ian’s son Sage has had the benefit of having a father figure in his life that leads by incredible example. Ian has been a man of integrity and compassion and strength. I think it’s beautiful that Ian has shown Sage what family means and that family cannot be defined by others. Ian has built a family through his character and because of this his family loves him deeply and truly.

I am crazy about the way Ian treats women. I know Ian considers women equal to him. Still, Ian has a way of making women feel adored, revered, and a little magical. Ian will open every door for you but still consider your contribution to be very valid. It’s a delicate balance that only Ian seems to manage so sensitively.

I am crazy about Ian’s sincerity. He is sincere and kind and intensely thoughtful. Ian is thoughtful. If you have ever received a mixed tape or birthday present or hell, a cigarette from Ian, you know what I mean. It’s a thoughtful exchange meant to make you happy in a very personal way. That’s another of Ian’s gifts – making you feel special to him.

Ian loves to share – if he loves something, he can’t help tell you about it, show it to you or introduce you to it somehow. Ian is a person who wants everyone to feel that amazing feeling he has discovered. It might be a song or a movie; it might be a type of coffee or a piece of art. Whatever it is, it’s a thrill to see his face when he shares this discovery with you. Ian isn’t about ‘being first’ or having ‘finder’s rights’ – he genuinely wants to see you giddy and excited. My favorite way Ian shares is through his talents. Sure he will fix your computer, but he’ll do a little extra because that’s his style. His talents are never wasted. His talents are shared, taught, gifted and always humble. Ian is humble in the most beautiful way.

To me, Ian is profoundly experimental. Ian might want to touch you in a way that you’ve never been touched, kiss you slowly to an entire Deftones album or let you cook him some crazy vegan pepita dip to eat with gluten free crackers. I love this about him.

It looks like I’ve already filled a page and I have so much more to share about Ian’s incredible qualities. If there was one thing I would want Ian to know about himself, it’s that he has impacted my life greatly. I trust him. We may not see each other as often as I might like, but I think of him often and it’s always a gorgeous daydream. I don’t know anyone else whom I could phone up and share a personal pain or joy and have the person on the other end embrace me with the sort of kindness and ease as Ian.
Any time I get to spend with him is remembered in my mind as a sort of suspended scene in a film or piece of music – seductive and powerful. Ian makes me feel like the time we shared was completely given into. I am ever so grateful that there is a man out there who can find and embrace the beauty in me that I haven’t discovered in myself.

These are some words that came to mind when I first thought of this project and what I might say about Ian:

Passion
Generous
Creator
Respected
Surprise inside!!
Comfort
Hands
Trust
Genuine
Kittens!!
Explorer
Appetite
Courageous
Seductive

Submitted with pounding affection,
Miss Rucker”

joshuainsw
Joshua ~

“I often consider myself a failure. Incredibly unreliable. The most fitting words I can come up with to describe the feeling are “extreme underachiever.” I have been given every opportunity in the world, had every advantage…to be successful, stable, self-actualized, all that goodness…and I seem to have botched it at nearly every turn for most of my life. I have had so many chances, so many great opportunities to run with, and I have routinely come up short. It has improved in the last couple of years, but I still manage to not live up to all of my responsibilities and create a lot more work cleaning up after myself or playing catch-up – whether it’s as a friend, a son, or brother, or in creative projects, or, fill-in-the-blank, whatever aspect of life.
Why do I feel that way? Well, I feel like if I look at what I’ve achieved in life as an adult, or even going back into middle school days, it just doesn’t feel like nearly as much as it should have been. And it’s become this weird self-fulfilling prophecy thing. Feeling like such an underachiever has led to self-destructive behaviors and thought patterns over the years that have affected relationships, jobs, my self-image, and caused high anxiety and depression.
At this point I don’t know – it’s a chicken or the egg thing, I don’t know if the anxiety and depression that came first, or what. It’s hard to make a logical narrative of it, but these things have been feeding into each other. I compare myself to others and what I see others have achieved. I look at what is needed to simply survive in the world, what is considered a worthwhile skill set, and I’m just scared of whether or not I can make it, if I’ve come far enough yet and how I’m going to keep myself afloat and whether I have worked hard enough, and of course thinking I should have worked harder in the past.
Looking at the mistakes I’ve made, I’ve felt compelled to reassess my identity and I make what is, of course, ANOTHER mistake of abusing myself and basing my identity on my screw-ups, my shortcomings, the things I didn’t accomplish. Essentially I’m refusing to forgive myself for how I’ve upset other people’s lives and my own, and these things overshadow whatever other qualities I have…they, in turn, become the focus of my anxious mind and start to define me to myself.

I think I might be getting redundant. In my case, I’m not so sure I feel the way I feel because of much societal pressure necessarily, though I do believe it has affected me somehow. How could it not? We want to respect ourselves innately, to believe we are good enough, but depending on where you look or who you listen to, there are measures and guidelines and ideas that “if you really respected yourself, you wouldn’t do this, and you would have done this and achieved this,” etc etc. I guess.
But for me, I think I am just battling myself. I don’t have very many negative people in my life, and, to my recollection, I’ve never kept company with many people who have torn me down. I’ve done an excellent job of that all on my own.
Since I was a little kid, at least as early as 4th grade, I’ve gotten extremely frustrated with myself, anxiety building over time, leading to failure, ignoring the problems, throwing myself into something that will distract me (books, video games, music, movies, whatever), and I couldn’t keep pace with what was expected of me in school. I’m not stupid, I know that, and that makes it all the more frustrating.
I didn’t understand what it seemed like everybody else understood and it made me very angry with myself and ashamed. Years of poor grades and not having much to show for myself didn’t do much for my self-esteem. And that has kind of carried over into my adult life, I suppose. I don’t feel like I have a lot to show for myself.
But I’m beginning to realize that I’ve been looking in the wrong places and have been using a really screwed up way to measure my value and self-worth. It’s safe to say that I have spent a good portion of the past ten or fifteen years hating myself and fighting with anxiety and depression, and I’m working on undoing a lot of that.
This is all a huge bummer to write and probably to read, though it feels good to get out, in a way. I really don’t want to leave this on a sad note so I want to mention that I know I have a lot of people that love and care about me, and if I’ve got all these good people in my life, I must be doing something right, and I’m trying really hard to turn all this crap around in my head. I’ve made a lot of progress in the past few years and I work on it more every day…it’s a lot of work because I’ve spent a long time with this idea of me being a failure, a huge underachiever, my own brain chemistry seeming to fuel this process – it’s only been more recently I’ve put what seems to be the appropriate work into turning it around.
This letter is a lot more disjointed and messy than I hoped it would be, but that somehow seems appropriate, too. Well, anyway. Didn’t I say I would wrap it up hundreds of words ago? Okay, I’m done!”

Josh’s friends and family:

“Josh is:
Kind
Caring
Deep thinker
Emphatic
Sweet
Loving
Funny
Witty
Quick thinker
Always makes me laugh and smile

Josh is intelligent and thoughtful. Josh is a person I proudly call my brother. Josh has been my friend since 1984 and has a very special place in my heart and my life. Josh is just plain awesome! :-)” – Susan

“Josh is a very loyal friend, and is always there to support or help anyone in need of it. His human form carries one of the most gentle and generous souls I’ve met in this lifetime. Simply put, Josh is one of the good guys, and one of the best people I’ve known, and I am more than proud to share a birthday with this man.” – Tyler

“Josh
A Dissertation

Everything I wish I could say positively about myself is contained in Joshua. He is due north in our internal GPS, as he is the destination of goodwill when we ourselves need direction in how to treat another.
Need we a soul to relate, he is that part of the human cloud – the giver of hugs that seem as if they should be costly, as they are warm as any you could wish for, but he distributes them freely as though the silo of affection resides in creative commons.
He may not realize at times how valued and effective he is as a friend, mental colleague, and fellow occupant of this Pacific Northwest. As I write this, I try to separate our good times from our bad, to focus on each, and note the differences. This proves folly, as I have not a single memory involving Josh that has ended in anger, or confusion of what emotion I am supposed to convey in response to our time together.
Anyone familiar with Josh knows that any amount of time spent around him leaves them rejuvenated in some fashion. He affects myself with intoxicating conversation, resulting in altered ways of viewing our ever-changing surroundings.
The modern human condition, which I believe to affect both Josh and myself, is what I like to think draws us to each other. He is one that takes his auditory surroundings and bends them to his will. This has left a profound imprint on myself.
What others see as noise, he has taught me to hear as those beautiful rejections of what few care to hear, themselves pushing it off as unfashionable. Being regarded as undesired overflow is what many may hear, but they are the ones inflicting borders on themselves with rules on what dictates art. Josh has no such boundaries in his creativity, and this is one of the great many reasons I so highly hold him in admiration. I’ve met many that I view as dust in the human eye, but he is the spark. Had we more sparks like him, many things that plague us as a species would cease to be, such as violence, a tendency toward rudeness, and lack of compassion. I am a better person for meeting, and having spent so much time with Joshua.” – Jacob

“If there was a legitimate way to measure it, I believe wholeheartedly that Joshua would top the list of the most empathetic people I have ever met. He has a picture of a heart tattooed underneath his forearm that I assume is meant to be symbolic, but anyone who has spent more than a moment’s time with Joshua understands that he genuinely wears his own heart on his sleeve. It is his willingness to listen and take on ANY emotion of a friend or stranger alike that is proof of how strong he is and how much he is willing to carry for another human being.
He’s also incredibly talented. His penchant for creating unique sound has left me inspired since I first witnessed it. His writing skills, both creative and academic, are off the charts. I like to think of myself as an avid proponent of diversity, but I sincerely believe we would be living in a better place if there were more Joshua’s in the world.” – Kurtis

“Kind, Courteous, Sensitive, Smart, Loving, Sharing and a good heart.” – Donna

“Oh, sweet Joshua.
You worry just enough. Your heart is just soft enough. And your mind is perfectly open. I am so very glad to know you. I wish you could see yourself the way others do.
You’re pretty great. ❤

Love,
Jamey

P.S.
(I thought it would be super funny if I wrote something really long and verbose…but I couldn’t get it to say what I wanted. So I didn’t do it. Obviously)”

“The world is a hard, terrible place and is filled with horrible people spending their days being awful to one another in a seemingly unceasing cycle of dismal abuse. Amidst all of this, Josh dares to be sensitive and enthusiastic, sweet and supportive, and perpetually interested in making things better for himself and the people he cares about, sometimes at a cost. Josh remains vulnerable and accepting and willing to find wonder in the world around him.” – Ashley

Previous project groups can be found here:
Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2 – TEENS!
Group 3 – 55+!
Group 4
Group 5
Group 6
Group 8
Group 9, Moms & Daughters:
Melissa & Lily 
Liz & Caitie

group 6! women: raw. honest. loved.

angelfinal
ryanfinal
kristenfinal
karlafinal
katiefinal
leahfinal

Listening without preconceived opinions.
That is what these nights are about.
This is not an easy task. In life, you enter a room, you assess who is there, you form your own judgments about them. It seems to be a natural place for our brain to go.
The difference about these nights is that you know you are about to learn some of the inner workings of these people…you’re going to get very real, very fast.
The idea is to forgo those assumptions, as you are certain to find out that either you are so far off, or there is a lot that has gone into making this person the way that they are, with this particular negative feeling that resounds in their being.

These groups cause us to open our minds a little bit more each time, learning what makes us each unique and also what makes us each so similar.

This has proven interesting enough in the past groups, but this one was unique in its own way, in that I had asked a beautiful transgender female friend to be a part.
There is a definite beauty, strength, and resilience to everything about Kristen. She was able to really make the struggle that so many transgender people experience personal and real to those of us who may not have been familiar with this. I trust that you will be as enlightened as we were by her words and the words of her family and friends who see her as such a role model and brave woman.

Another super interesting part of this project (that was really driven home in this particular group…so much so that I strongly felt the need to write about it) was the fact that it definitely seems to attract women who have experienced a certain lack of maternal love in their lives.

A daughter’s need for a mother’s love is one that is of prime importance.

That need isn’t lessened at all when the love isn’t there. The only thing that happens is the need is then combined with the horrible understanding that this one person who should love you unconditionally…
doesn’t.

This next part is going to be interesting/difficult/emotional for me to put down in writing for strangers, but it is time. So, here goes…

As this project has continued, and as I meet at least one or two of these maternally neglected women in every group, I really understand how much of a driving force that very issue has been in my own creation of the project. Growing up with a mother who “doesn’t know how to love” (as she once told me), but was quite adept at the criticism, the indifference, the humiliation, the abuse…caused me to live life always feeling unsure and doubtful.

Doubtful that I was deserving of love.
Doubtful that I actually should be experiencing any happiness from some amount of success…doubtful that that success can actually even be attributed to my own actions.
Doubtful that any happiness I may be experiencing is a happiness that will last.
Doubtful that I deserve it if it does.

I had internalized all of those negative messages as a child; as a daughter like any other daughter, who desperately needed that acknowledgement, that approval, that love from her MOM; I internalized all of that negative self-worth and have continued to carry it like a gigantic anchor pulling me underwater over and over again.

This negative self-worth and lack of confidence hasn’t always been visible to others. Sometimes I seem to compensate somehow in the respects of having a very outgoing, happy demeanor/personality. But, it is there. It is always there.

I must admit to myself now that I really used to feel that somehow there would be some magic age when I wouldn’t feel this way anymore, or there would be some magical day that my mother would suddenly discover that she could and should love her children (and grandchildren).
That doesn’t happen. At least, it doesn’t happen for everyone. It hasn’t happened for me, and I have come to terms with the fact that it won’t happen.

If you are one of these daughters that can relate, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you can’t, you are probably reading this with that frown that says, “You must be confused. MOTHERS LOVE. That’s just what they do. Your mother loves you. You need to repair this relationship.” As if it is in my power to do so. As if I would just continue the rest of my life without having a mom if I had another choice. I would love to have a mother.

It is a definite faux pas in our culture to say, as a woman, that you don’t have a relationship with your mother…that your mother is toxic. The natural, cultural reaction is to believe that a mother’s love is automatic and instinctual. It’s not something that I used to converse about regularly and is not typically something that I put out there for strangers to read.

Even writing this, besides that hesitation of publicly voicing such things, I have experienced definite feelings of uncertainty and fear…fear of making her upset if she was to read this.
Truth: she won’t read this. She has no idea I even do this project. I’d be surprised to know if she’s ever looked at one piece of my work as a photographer. And yet, my natural inclination is to care about her feelings…to fear her disapproval…to not wish to cause her any amount of pain, regardless of the pain I have always felt. It’s crazy. And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

That is why I am writing this.

Period.

I have met a significant number of women who feel this very same way. And it’s time for some solidarity. It’s time to relate to one another and find strength in numbers…to know we’re not alone.

This seems to happen in every group. There are always a few women who bring up these feelings at some point. I’m never looking for it, but it finds me every time. That’s what happened with this group, group six (I’m not saying that all of the ladies felt this way about their mothers, but, when you have more than three in a small group of women, it’s enough to talk about). And I think it sort of blindsided all of us. And it resulted in some very emotional, very intimate conversation. Some very necessary conversation that felt, while sad, also very comforting. Somewhat healing.

So, I ask that while reading these ladies’ stories, you keep these topics in mind. Check your judgment at the start. Possibly leave your comfort zone. And open your heart.

And now, please meet the six lovely ladies.

angelins Angel~ “I led myself to believe this project would be so easy to do. I thought I knew what insecurities I had and could easily “pen” them. I’ve learned that it’s not knowing what I don’t like about myself; the hangup was putting them down on paper and seeing them in black and white, staring me in the face. Then I asked myself if I truly wanted to do this. That’s when it hit me…….insecurity!!!! I was insecure about sharing that part of me with other people and myself, afraid they would attach their thoughts to mine and feel the same. As my daughter and my cheerleaders have said……”New Year – New You”. I truly believe that. I’m always trying to be a better person, Mom, girlfriend, daughter, coach, sister, friend, etc. I’m so happy this project was pushed to the New Year. It has more meaning behind it for myself. In honor of my girls and myself, here are my insecurities:

Since childhood, I have been told I am fat, big-boned, husky, thick, etc. I have fought my whole life with those messages playing in my head. It’s a battle everyday to accept who I am and “love” me. It’s hard for me to try on clothes and not play the past in my head when looking at my “tire”. My second chin was the highlight of teasing all growing up. It still bothers me today. It’s the first to go away when I’ve lost weight and the first to come back when I’ve gained it back. Why couldn’t it have been my breasts or butt to do that? Not my face! Argh.

This leads me to my freckles. It has taken over 30 years for me to accept my freckles, that I’m stuck with them. There are days I love them, but I wish I didn’t have them. I love them when they cover up an acne problem or when they blend in to make me look tanned. Dating was always a challenge with men loving the brunettes and blondes more than the gingers with freckles. I’ve tried creams and lemon juice to erase them, like Mr. Clean’s scrubbing pad does to boo-boos in my house. I have finally found a man who loves them. Now, I need to love them.

I’ve been told I’m too serious and that I need to relax. I laugh and joke around all the time. I know sometimes I can be serious, but, is that how people really see me? Do they only see that side? Is that what I only let some see? I don’t want people to think I don’t like to have fun, because…..I DO!

These are the main insecurities that are constantly on my mind. My prayer is that Alana’s project helps change the way I look at myself. Like I said earlier, I’m always looking at ways to improve myself and be a better me.”

Angel’s friends and family:

angelletter1angelletter2angelletter3

“Angel is a beautiful woman. She always brightens my day. Even when her day has been horrible, she smiles, praises the Lord, and makes you laugh. I never have to wonder how she feels about me or if I might offend her. She is straightforward and honest. What you see is what you get with Angel. I love that about her. I pray that she will be in my life as long as possible.” – Ryan

“Angel is beyond funny. She has such a passion for life and cares so deeply for everyone she meets. Her hugs are the BEST! She is a great mother and friend. I value the time we spend together. I pray she knows just how wonderful she is. Love, Mandi”

“Angel is a remarkably resilient person. She perseveres through every setback with strength and optimism.  As a mother, her protection and empowerment of her daughter sets forth an unquestionable example of true love.” – Hassan

ryanins
Ryan ~ “Unsure.
I am unsure what my major insecurity could be.
I am unsure that I am able to write this well.
I am unsure when faced with a task in a group. I know what I am to do. I have done it a million times. Yet, I find myself unsure, deferring to their expertise.
I am unsure how people will take my humor. I am unsure that I will be able to hold a conversation with someone I barely know at a party.
I am comfortable with who I am. I like me. I like me around my best friends. But, put me out there with the general public…coworkers, acquaintances, etc…and I am unsure that I will be me.
Ryan, Unsure I wrote this well.”

Ryan’s friends and family:

“My girl Ryan is a determined beauty. Her brilliant mind is moving at 150mph, and she is usually ahead of everyone. Creativity waits patiently for her time, and it has to wait a little longer behind Ryan’s passionate love for her children and husband. She is full of wonderful gifts to offer the world. And, most of all, she is loved by her Heavenly Father who made her to be His very own. He celebrates the wonderful woman she becomes even more than all of us who love her so deeply.” – Rebecca

“Ryan is an amazing woman! She is a go-getter and straightforward. I find her love of Christ and family unwavering and something I look up to. She finds a great balance in life, which is so very hard to do. She brings laughter to all situations and is super crafty. I treasure our friendship!” – Mandi

“So, Ryan. She’s one of the most welcoming people I know. She is just a genuinely sweet lady, always down to help out in any way she can. I have always felt totally comfortable around her. She’s funny, crafty, a great mom of three (also known as SuperWoman), and smart. She has a very reliable vibe about her, which sounds weird but that’s how I feel. She just seems very in reality. So glad she was one of my first friends in Washington.” – Mallery

“Ryan is…
A witty and extraordinary woman. She is extremely smart and ingenious. She thinks in a way that I admire; so creative. She is real. Not a phony bologna. Because she faces reality, it causes her to make good decisions for herself and her family. She appears balanced. I just love her hair…and her eyes…and her skin. I remember when I first met her, I just thought she had such a pretty face. She is ready for adventure and that is why I think I like her so much. My only wish is that I loved closer to her so that our kids could be best friends and I could hang out with her more. She is perfect for my brother. She is extraordinary.” – Sarah

“What can I say about Ryan that hasn’t already been said?
Ryan is an all around beautiful person! She knows what she wants and is not afraid to tell you. She is very creative and can help you think outside the box when working on a project. You might look at it and say, “It should be done this way.” Ryan takes a look at it, takes out a couple unnecessary steps, and makes it more simplistic than before. She’s a genius. Ryan has a smile that will light up a room with a laugh that is infectious. You can’t help but join in, even if you don’t know what’s going on. I treasure our friendship.” – Angel

“Ooooh, boy’s name. I love Ryan. She was the first to welcome me into The Significant Others of The Hooligans and/or Johnny Appleseed and the Red Delicious. She has never been anything but kind. She isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. She is determined. She will work to get what she wants. If I haven’t talked to her in months but call her up and am all “I need adults!,” she’s all, ” You know how to make phone calls? Also, I’m already on my way with a bottle of homemade wine.” and is there in like half an hour. Big-bottom girls make the world go round. She is a wonderful mother; you can tell her kids adore her. She is faithful; to God, her husband, her family, her friends, even her acquaintances. You may not think you’re hot, or a good mom, good wife, or good person, but Ryan thinks you’re all of that and more and she’ll let you know. One of the best things about her is she doesn’t judge. She is a friend to all. She treats my family and other friends like they’re her own. She is crafty like MacGyver. She’ll make you a fabulous dress out of dental floss, Cheez-Its and a couch cushion. She is fantastic, sweet, loving, caring and just amazing. I love you Ryan!” – Becca

kristeninsKristen ~ “My name wasn’t always Kristen. I wasn’t always seen as a woman, although I have been in my soul since I was born. I finally stopped being one of the many faces I wore for most of my life; took off the mask, and six months ago started hormone replacement to become her. I have never felt more like the person I want to be, and as someone whose life was a ride that could be seen on the Richter scale, finally a calm has taken over.
Thinking about this subject is more of a look at the past versus the present and future. Before my transition started, I can honestly say my life was stifled by these insecurities: fears of loneliness, being unemployable, broke, homeless, friendless, shunned, and wondering if I had the fortitude to go through with it, knowing that it was coming either way. Most of these I have surpassed, yet some still remain. Now my main fears go to how I interact as a female – will I ever be seen as a true female, or just as a joke or weirdo? Will I ever pass fully amongst strangers? As someone who can confidently walk into any room and be myself, sometimes that’s the easy part. Seeing heads come together for whispers behind my back and people stuttering over pronouns when confused, I fear that this will never end, so I have to live up to even higher standards to show that I am real.
My fear is not that I won’t continue along this path, but that I will be alone in doing so. Will I ever be a normal girl? I am not a drag queen, streetwalker, insane, unbalanced person…am I seen as one? My decision has been accepted by my family and friends; they have all shown great support and none have walked away. Taking the next step in accepting myself and what is now the reality, is the challenge I face.”

Kristen’s friends and family:

“Kristen is really an inspiration to all transgender people. Men and women! How brave to finally become the butterfly you always knew you were after spending half your life in a conflicting cocoon! She is a kind person and always has a great compliment to share. She is funny and knows how to shine a light of laughter when her friends need it. Most of all, the beauty of Kristen is modestly unknown to her. Although obviously, and sweetly, insecure at times…all whom she befriends believe her to be an example of what a loyal, eager, and strong friend can be.” – Bridgette

“Kristen is a very amazing and diverse person. She is real and deep; completely nonjudgmental of everyone and completely accepting of nothing but love and positivity.
She’s going through a major transition and is learning how to accept a whole new person…it appears as if it’s like watching a 15yr. old discover everything for the first time…she is loved and supported through this major process.” – Alegra

“What to say about Kristen…well, I can’t talk about Kristen without talking about Chris, because I’ve known Chris longer than I have known Kristen; they really are one in the same for me and I love them both!!! So, with that said, let me tell you about Chris. I met Chris through my son Brian, because they were friends and bandmates. Chris has always been a big part of Brian’s life and always had a hug and smile for me!!! He and Brian shared so many fun times and some of the best were the podcasts; omg really…. it would put me on the floor laughing!!! “Ron Paul is Rock and Roll!!!” I also have a photo of Chris with Brian just a couple of hours before he died. They were so happy after playing that night! Chris never left my side the day of the memorial; he put black stripes on my face and gave me Brian’s caveman pelt to wear…long story.
Now, on to Kristen…I remember seeing changes happening and I sent Chris a text and that’s when Kristen and I talked for the first time…it was a beautiful, open and honest conversation. I support and love Kristen, and I’m proud of her that she is able to stand up and be whom she really is deep down in her soul!!! She has the same heart and spirit as when we first met and I just want to say: Kristen, I love you, I’m proud of you, and I know Brian is looking down and saying, “Oh yah, this shit is good!!!”” – Rosie

“Kristen and I have been friends for a long time. We have seen each other through many transitions and states in each other’s lives. She was so very brave to come out; she was so afraid that she would lose everything when and if she did. She lost a lot. I am so proud of her. Chris was tenacious. Kristen is tenacious tenfold.” – Kate

“Kristen has been a friend of mine for about fourteen years now. I miss her very much and am anxious to meet the real Kristen. I have always loved and admired her for her talent as a musician and tattoo artist. I miss our drunken play/real fights in the front yard. She has been there for me when I needed many times and I hope I have for her as well. She is a witty, smart, thoughtful, fun, wonderful human and I love her and am extremely happy for her to be comfortable in her own skin:) Love you, Kristen!” – Jo Lee

“I’ve loved Kristen every day of my life. Her charisma is like a heart magnet; everyone loves her and enjoys being with her. Kristen has the most contagious laugh in the whole wide world! And her quick wit puts people at ease and lightens even the heaviest of times. Her heart is more deeply sensitive than she likes to let on, which makes me so grateful she’s giving herself more permission and safe space to feel & heal the powerful emotions in her big beautiful heart. And her creativity knows no bounds! From music to tattoos to cooking, she’s always found a way to earn a living marching to her own beat. I’ll always love her creative free spirit.
Thanks for doing this, Alana. I hope you ladies have a lovely, meaningful & memorable night!
Warmly,
Jeni
(Kristen’s sister)”

“Hi Alana,
I’m Kristen’s girlfriend.
They say the best things come to you when you aren’t looking, and I wasn’t. I was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time last November, and when our eyes locked, I knew I was meant to share my life with her – luckily, she felt the same!!! It may sound crazy but it’s true. After that, our motto was, “One week can change your life”. I can’t imagine not having this amazing person in my life, and I know I will be a better person for having known her – I already am.
Kristen is the kind of woman I aspire to be. She is smart, extremely focused, and driven… and so, so talented in so many ways (an incredible artist, chef, musician). Her drive is contagious, and if you don’t have it, she will instill that in you – that you have the potential to become what you never thought you could be, or could achieve. I feel like she’s made me a stronger person, with more drive and passion than I have ever felt, and I’ve only known her for a few months.
While I’ve been a female for 44 years, she has only been outwardly for less than a year. You would never know it. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to have to live in a body that you know was not meant for you. She seems far more comfortable in her own skin than I have ever been. She is the most confident, beautiful, sexiest woman I’ve ever met…not to mention funny, encouraging and compassionate. One of my favorite things about her is the way she smiles when she thinks no one is looking, and the way she slowly bends over to pick something up when she KNOWS someone is watching! Discovering your body and femininity at her age must be so exciting! You’d think that I would remember that she used to be a boy, but it’s something I rarely even think about, and when I do, it’s like “oh, yeah…whatever.” She is so confident in her sexuality – and who could blame her with those beautiful eyes, petite frame, perfect curves and soft skin. I often ask her advice on girly things, and she doesn’t hesitate (even when it’s unsolicited) to tell me tips on applying make-up, how to get the most volume out of my hair, which shirt looks better, what earrings I should wear… etc.; and she’s always right, I think :)! I never had a sister or anyone to teach me those things (I’ve always been a bit a of a tomboy), but she definitely knows what she’s talking about!
Kristen has been through so many things in life, and lived through tragedies that would crumble a person – more than I would wish on my worst enemy. But, she is strong and resilient, and doesn’t dwell on the past and drown herself in negativity, which would be the easy way out. Just another testament to her inner-strength. Knowing what she’s endured and is going through in her transformation from male to female, makes her the strongest, most courageous person I’ve ever met. She says that transitioning was not the hardest or most courageous part – but having to live a lie everyday as a boy was. Still, I can’t imagine the emotional toll it must have taken, and I am so proud of the woman she has become because of it. Knowing what she’s been through, and continues to go through, makes my everyday problems seem so petty, and I’m grateful to her for giving me this new perspective on life. I can’t wait to see her continue to blossom and grow, and to be an active member in the transgender community. I know she is going to end up helping out a lot of women through their transition, and I can’t think of a greater role model.
In closing, I f#cking love this woman, and anyone who takes the time to get to know her will quickly recognize her strength and beauty as I do, both inside and out.” – Tammi

karlainsKarla ~ “I feel that most people misjudge me. I’m not hard, rude, or even mean, but those seem to be the words I hear most about me. Don’t get me wrong – I have a pretty tough exterior and love to poke shit, and try to do that with those that ‘get’ me and my humor. I’m sarcastic and witty with a crass sense of humor. I do have a hard time with people that refuse to use their brain and want myself or others to think for them.
I guess I’m honest to a fault, wear my emotions on my sleeve, and hate unfinished business, liars and cheats.
So, what that is interpreted as in most people’s views – that I’m a Fucking Bitch. Or just mean.
I may be one or the other on occasion, but very rarely together at the same time. As ‘mean,’ and ‘terrifying’ (did I mention that one?) as I am, it really takes a lot to make me mad. Anger is a waste of time, life is too short to be pissed about stupid shit.”

Karla’s friends and family:

“There really is no easy way to sum up Karla. She is loyal, fierce, kind, and generous. She is honest and sensitive, compassionate, and loving. Upon meeting her, you think she is absolutely radiant and then, if you are lucky enough to become her friend, the word “radiant” isn’t enough to describe her.
Karla is one of the most amazing mothers, not to mention women, that I have met. Every obstacle that life tries to throw in her path is met with determination, intelligence, and courage. She’s inspiring.
Karla is a great friend. Hell, great doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’m so glad I became one of the lucky ones.” – Tina

“Brave.
Strong.
Honest.
Those are the first 3 words that come to me when I think of my sister.
Karla, you are one of the most amazing women I know. No matter what life has dumped on you, you have always learned from it and become a better, more determined person. You are an inspiring mother who has raised two of the greatest people I know. Over this past year, you have helped my daughter learn that it is okay to just be an individual and not to make excuses for who she is. You are beautiful, passionate, loyal and caring. I’ve always seen you as brave, strong and honest and I now know you also have a soft, squishy side too. I’m so glad you are my sister and that our family is finally coming together. I love you.” – Karissa

“When Karla told me about this project and asked me to write this for her, I was shocked for two reasons. First, she seems like the coolest person ever, with beautiful children and a great husband. She admitted that she had insecurities and was nervous about this project. What?? Karla?? She is so strong, sassy, and confident. She has such great style in the way she dresses, does her makeup and hair, and by the tattoos she has chosen. I really didn’t think she cared what anyone thought of her.
Secondly, I couldn’t believe that she was asking me to write about her. I mean, I feel like I’m so lucky every time she wants to chat with me a little. That she considers me a friend and trusts me to do this blows my mind. Really, she is the coolest. It’s like the coolest kid at school asked me to be their buddy for the field trip. I think everyone feels special if she wants to kick it with them. Gah, I would never say “kick it”, but, I just wrote it because I want her to think I’m cool enough for her… but now I’m thinking that it is a very uncool thing to say and she’ll know that. That’s how cool she is!
More seriously, Karla is such a good mom; you can see how much she loves her kids and what lengths she goes to for their health and well-being. I also admire that, although her love and trust has been abused in the past, she opens her heart to love and trust again. That takes strength. And Karla has plenty of that!” – Heather

“Karla has many, many positive and charming qualities! Karla and I have been friends for well over15 years, and I think of her as a sister more than a friend. She is probably one of the most honest and loyal people I know. Her witty sense of humor and straightforward personality are priceless! But Karla’s best and most important quality is the love she has for her children. There is no better quality than love, and Karla is full of it!!” – Jennifer

“Karla has always been strong-willed and sometimes hard to deal with as her mother. In spite of that, or maybe because of that, she has been a fantastic mother. To me she is a strong intelligent woman and I am proud to be her mother. Have always loved her and always will.” – Alithe

“Karla has an inner strength that can not be pinpointed. She did not have a family structure that was common; her Mother was one of the least “conventional” people I have ever met. Her father from another country and not accessible. But still this inner strength. Not from what we usually get to build from, but from within.
She accepts the unusual, doesn’t judge by the usual list, but interprets relationships in her own way. She can talk to anyone, get into any private party or group she wishes and then encourages everyone to over come their own boundaries. My life is richer and forever changed indirectly with her friendship. I found myself within a place I would not have found myself in without her. A conduit for me…. and I wish I could have had more time to learn more about the real Karla…I wonder who really does know the real Karla.” – Brandy

“My Darling Sweetheart
Karla is my wife because I appreciate, respect, cherish, and love everything about her. Some may say Karla is brutally honest; I don’t think that’s a bad thing (I kind of depend on it). It’s not an easy task to get into her heart, but, once you’re there, you’re in for good (and that heart is bigger than most could ever know or imagine).
I know that I’m a lucky man because I share my life with a woman who is not only my counterweight, (as I am hers), but is also someone who believes that hard work SHOULD pay off and that a sense of entitlement is an incurable disease (what I’m getting at is that Karla works hard, which is a very admirable trait as far as I’m concerned). I know that my wife is stronger, smarter, and braver than she gives herself credit for (well, she is very intuitive and she knows it)… but I don’t think she knows how much those around her know and admire her strong and adamant personality. Karla has a great sense of humor, and knowing how to use it definitely helps keep our relationship even and balanced.
I could go on and on, but, the bottom line is that we all learn the most from the hardest experiences in our lives. Therefore, I fully support your project knowing that Karla will get more from this experience than she is (afraid/anticipating) ready for. Don’t hold back; and, thank you… in my eyes Karla is the most beautiful woman (in any and all ways) that I have ever and hopefully will ever know.
Honestly and sincerely,
Nathan”

katieinsKatie ~ “When I was a little girl, I was shy…and painfully so, as a result of not looking like everyone else. This caused me to become an observer. I saw the way that people treated one another and it just made me even more afraid to interact for fear of being put under a microscope and judged. It wasn’t until my late teens or early 20’s that I finally began to come out of my shell. Now, in my mid-30’s I find myself toggling between yearning for social outlets and fearing them. When I am in social situations, I feel both physically and verbally clumsy. The wrong things come out of my mouth. I forget how to just sit or stand or navigate amongst people or do anything at all. There is a constant fidgeting and looking around the room to make sure nobody saw me do this or that embarrassing thing.
People scare me. The myriad of possibilities in any given relationship shakes me to my very core. I am constantly thinking about how people must hate me or think that I am stupid or hurtful, or that I don’t bring enough to the table. In the end, I feel that it’s best to keep socializing to a minimum. Then the loneliness battle begins and I to ask myself why I don’t fit in with anyone. There are no answers. There is no right thing.”

Katie’s friends and family:

“Katie is an amazing mother. She always puts Oliver’s needs before hers. She stays on top of his development and health. I don’t think I’ve ever met a happier little boy.
She loves life. She finds enjoyment in simple things. She also has a sense of adventure that makes her unafraid of new experiences.
Katie is the best roommate I’ve ever had. She is a great cook and isn’t afraid of housework. I always have fun hanging out with her at home.
She is smart, sweet and funny. Katie is great at figuring out a solution to any problem. She has a way of making people feel good about themselves. Her sense of humor can be a little cheesy but it’s always funny.
Katie is a very strong woman. She never gives up. Whenever life knocks her down she gets right back up ready for more. She has a very positive attitude. Her assurance that things will work out has given me confidence on several occasions.
She is very supportive of her friends and family. She is also very frank with them. She has told me when I was being an idiot or making a mistake but she has always stood by me.
Katie is a beautiful woman but she isn’t conceited about it. A lot of men are very attracted to her but she doesn’t take advantage of it. She doesn’t think less of people because of their looks.
Katie is one of the best friends I’ve ever had. She is one of the most supportive and reliable people I’ve ever known. My life is better for having her in it.” – Joe

“Katie is interesting and always full of surprises. You see, she has a sort of dual personality, so
it’s like having two friends for the price of one.
On one hand she is sweet and bubbly, full of laughter, always ready to make the joke, and can somehow consistently find the words to lift one up when they’re feeling low. She is the ultimate cuddly, cookie-bakin’ mom that will kiss all of the boo-boos, and is equipped with art of being polite, gentle, and loving.
On the other hand she is this super smart, quick-witted, sex kitten, party girl who wants to get into the best kind of trouble and ultimately, have a good time. Underneath her charming purity lurks an intense sexual appetite that makes her down right irresistible to men; and even as a compact, concentrated dose of adorable, she packs a determination and strength that has brought her through some incredibly tough times. Nevertheless, she has taken them on, all on her own, and here she is today standing stronger than ever and ready to take on more.
Her cooking and especially her baking are outstanding. I look forward to Christmases where she has spent time making mountains worth of cookies. It looks and smells like a festive bakery explosion and fills me with the warmest most pleasant feeling of being home. Katie just wants everyone to be happy. She wants everyone to feel secure and safe, that they have had enough to eat, have enough blankets, and are comfortable and warm. One of my favorite parts of Katie is how she much she blossomed when she became a mother. She is the ultimate storybook fun mom, complete with apron and rolling pin. She stepped into the role like she had planned her whole life preparing for it. She gives everything she has to Oliver. On top of all the technical aspects of raising a child on her own, she makes it a priority to make sure that Oliver is having enough fun. They take trips to the zoo, children’s museum, and nature parks or just have wacky time at home. She is incredibly encouraging and rewards his victories more than she punishes his crimes. She is raising him to be a sweet, gentle, honest, and positive man. She is doing it the absolute right way in my eyes. Winning at motherhood.” – Rhi

“Katie isn’t just a great friend. Katie is the best kind of friend. There’s a comfort about her, an ease she has with herself, which makes it easy and comfortable to be around her.
She listens without judgment, smiles all the way to her eyes, and hugs with her whole heart. She’s trustworthy. I never worry about my secrets or my vulnerabilities when I share them with her, because I know they’re safe in her hands.
One of my favorite things about Katie is that she doesn’t take things for granted, and doesn’t just take things at face value. What I mean by that is that she’s not afraid to look closer or dig deeper. Too many people just skim the surface of their life, and just do the minimum they have to in order to get by, but Katie’s not like that. She loves to learn new things, whether it’s about herself or her job. She’s not afraid to work hard.
She is so strong. I’ve been so incredibly impressed with how she’s handled motherhood, and (sweet, smart, beautiful) Oliver is proof positive at how amazing she is at it.” – Kris

leahinsLeah ~ “My biggest fear is that it will never get easier and it will never get better. The random, weird things that don’t happen to most, happen to me on a regular basis. I always used to be optimistic and laugh about the absurdity of it. My motto was that if my life wasn’t full of chaos I would be really bored. I kept most of it to myself, unless I could spin it into a funny story. People close to me would make remarks about how they were having a problems but it wasn’t “Leah luck.” Regardless of whether I told people what was going on or tried to hide how hard of a time I was having, it took its toll. Friends got sick of it and turned their back on me. Now I’m 30 years old and my positive outlook is fading. My walls are coming down and I leak out negativity more and more. Over the years I have lost so many friends that I am terrified to even have them in my life. It doesn’t seem fair or beneficial to them. I feel like it is completely out of my control all around. I can’t control this ‘bad luck’. I can’t help not wanting to reach out. Sadly, my mask of trying to pull off being normal and happy is weakening and I am commonly labeled a bitch. When I was 11 years old a member of my family told me, “You were dealt a shit hand from the start and there is nothing that will change that.” I have always remembered that. The older I got, the more I understood it. My life is a poker game and I have a shitty hand I can’t fold and I can’t win with. I am left not only to worry about myself but how it will affect everyone around me. At times I feel like a outsider to my friends and family. When do I stop believing in myself and start believing what everyone else thinks?”

Leah’s friends and family:

“Leah has never known this, but as long as I’ve known her (since 2002) she has had the most sexiest legs, sexiest tits, and beautiful face that I have known amongst my friends and family… She’s one of the strongest person I know. She’s gone through a lot of shit but she sure knows how to deal with it. It may not always be right away, but she knows how to overcome it. Leah is one of the kindest, kindred persons I know – most giving, giving, giving, giving with all her heart person I know (and I mean she is the only person I know who has such a heart). Leah is so smart and creative – she will figure out how to do anything – she looks it up and reads about it…she will do it on her own: car, house, plumbing – you name it she can do it!!!!!!!!! If I ever feel at a loss with anything in my life…anything, and I mean anything…I know I can come to her!!!!!!! I know I don’t see you enough and we don’t hang around enough, but, I do love you, Leah, I truly love you!!!!” – Jessie

“First words that pop into my head when I think of Leah:
Independent
Strong
Spontaneous
Random
Sensitive
Supportive
Quirky
Fierce
Kind-Hearted” – Candice

“I’m so blessed to have met Leah. Life can be tough for her at times, but it amazes me how she never gives up. Leah is seriously the strongest, most determined person I have ever met. She has had more struggles in the last month than I have had in a lifetime; yet, she continues to stay strong and fights to become the best she can be. No matter what crazy events are occurring in Leah’s life, she still puts her friends’ minor problems ahead of her own. She has a heart of gold and will do anything for anybody. She is the definition of a true friend. She is an amazing listener and always has perfect advice. She is smart as a whip and can do anything she puts her mind to. Leah is one of those friends that are hard to find, I am so unbelievably thankful and lucky to have found such a true caring person to call my best friend. Thank you for always being here for me, Leah. You have made a huge impact on my heart and I am going to miss you a ton!
Love, Crystal”

“This is harder than I thought it would be. Not to find good things to write about my friend Leah…that part isn’t hard, because there are a lot of good things to say…the part that is hard is finding the right words to say about her, and where to start. This girl has so many layers…so many dimensions…and I find out new things about her all the time, still…after all these years.
I met Leah when I returned to Washington, about a decade ago. The first thing I remember thinking about her was how FUN she was, and how ALIVE she seemed. She was vibrant, energetic, and loud. No offense, Leah, but it’s not like you don’t know that the “loud” part is true 😉 Heh. Anyway, we started hanging out, mostly at Magoo’s. Ahhhh…good ol’ Magoo’s. We would drink, smoke, laugh and party, and I remember those days with much fondness.
We got to know each other better as time went on. I learned that Leah is fragile, while exuding a strength and perseverance that I can’t even understand sometimes. I learned that she is funny as shit and can laugh at herself, even when life is dealing her a craptastic hand. I’ve never met someone who just keeps picking herself up, dusting herself off, drying her eyes and moving on and getting what she has to get done, done, like Leah. She has had more than her fair share of obstacles, but every day she tries to be a better person, in spite of all that.
She also is constantly striving to be a great mom. When I was pregnant, we had a lot of talks about early motherhood, and she was in a great position to give good advice. At that time, she was a new mom to her year and a half old son and was able to share a lot of what she was experiencing as a fresh mom. She was also able to share a lot about the jacked up parts of being pregnant…that weird stuff no one tells you! It was so nice to be able to have her tell me “if this really not so awesome thing happens, don’t freak out. It’s gross or weird and it sucks, but it’s normal. And it won’t last forever.” And guess what? Most of those weird/gross things happened, and I didn’t have to freak out, because I had a friend that knew me well enough to know that it would be super helpful to be warned! ☺
But, back to Fox…she does the coolest stuff with and for this kid. He’s traveled to a bunch of cool places, had lots of exciting experiences, and has a ton of good pictures he’ll be able to look back on for the memories he might not yet retain. The craziest part is that she is doing this as a single mom. I don’t even pretend to know how hard that is. Shit, being a mom is hard enough with a supportive partner! But, she loves her son, and she shows him that love in a lot of admirable ways. I love how honest she is about being a mom…the crazy parts, the awful parts, the amazing and awesome parts, and how she feels about all of it. She is honest about her mistakes, and delights in her triumphs. I know her relationship with her son will grow to be stronger and flourish as the years go by.
Leah is a very caring friend. She always goes out of her way to make her friends and loved ones happy…gives the most thoughtful presents, makes sure something is planned for someone’s birthday so they feel special, sends Christmas cards every year. She is also supportive and shows a lot of love to those close to her. She is sympathetic and empathetic (sometimes maybe a little too much so…) but she can’t help it…she just feels.
Recently my 103 year old grandfather in California fell ill and was in a concerning situation regarding his care. Leah brainstormed different ways that I could be of help to him, and even offered to try to figure out a way to go to California with me if need be. I know she would have followed through with that, too, if it had come down to it. That’s the kind of thing she would do for her friends.
In closing, I love you, Leah. You are funny, clever, thoughtful, smart, an artist, a writer, a dreamer, a dedicated and loving mother, and a wonderful friend. I see beautiful things in your future, and hope you never forget your worth and the wonderful things about you. I am grateful and glad we are family, always, near or far. XOXOXO.” – Sylvia

“I am writing to you regarding Leah Cunningham. I have known Leah personally for 8 years, and have always known her to be an organized, responsible, and an easy going individual. I met Leah at Russell Investments where she and I became instant friends. I was new to the area as my husband was in the military and we had just made a move from Buffalo, NY to Ft. Lewis, WA.
Leah was there for me to listen to my stories of being infertile and wanting a baby and was there when I told her the good news that the fertility treatments worked and I was pregnant. Leah was there to hug me and offer compassion when my husband deployed to Iraq and I was 7 months pregnant, she was there for me no matter what the circumstance. I was lucky to have her as a friend then and I am lucky that we still remain friends now. Even though Leah and I do not speak as often as I would like I am happy that our paths have crossed, truly.
She is an inspiration to me, no matter what she was going though in life she managed to keep a smile on her face and still wants to make others happy. There was never a dull moment with Leah and her optimistic attitude became contagious you couldn’t help but smile too. Leah now has an amazing, beautiful little boy, Fox and she is the most fantastic mother. I remember when she came to visit me in my new home in Richmond, VA and she wanted to show Fox Washington, DC. She took picture after picture so one day she can show him all the fabulous places he has visited, I know she continues to do that whenever they go somewhere new. She is doing a great job and I admire her. I want nothing but much success and lots of happiness for my beautiful friend, because that is exactly what she deserves.” – Rachael

here are links to past groups:

Group 1, Part 1: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/women-raw-honest-loved-part-1-2/
Group 1, Part 2: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/women-raw-honest-loved-part-2/
Group 2, TEENS!: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/teen-version-women-raw-honest-loved/
Group 3, 55+: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/55-version-women-raw-honest-loved/
Group 4: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/group-4-women-raw-honest-loved/
Group 5: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/group-5-women-raw-honest-loved/

louise (aka nana)

As we delve into more project groups and more discussion about the project in general, I really want each of these ladies to get their story released on its own merit. I know how intimidating it is to sit down and read an entire blog post, let alone one that contains eight or more ladies’ stories to read. We have about five minutes sometimes, and I want you to have the chance of making five minutes of your day a beneficial, uplifting read. So, re-releasing the fifty-one participants’ (so far) stories as singles is what I am doing. I even downloaded a handy ol’ “number generator” app on my trusty lil phone to do so (because I am a genius AND because I’m bad at making decisions).

I will not insult your intelligence by posting my various thoughts on each group with each ladies’ story. What I will do is include the link to my blog about that particular group and that particular night, and you can feel free to check that out if you feel so inclined. What I will include with every post is the link to the blog from our original group, which has the explanation behind the reason for the project and how it goes about. You can find that here: Women. Raw. Honest. Loved. Group 1.

Today’s lady: #33 The coolest Nana I’ve met (besides my late Nana, of course) Louise, from Group 3, 55+!
h
ere is a video clip of Nana from that night as well: Louise reads her insecurity

nanafinal

nanainsLouise (aka Nana) ~

“I had a lot of insecurity growing up. I felt I wasn’t good looking enough. When I started school in first grade, I couldn’t read or speak English – only German – and I was humiliated that I didn’t understand. I always had the feeling that the other kids thought I was backward. I felt I would never be able to meet everyone else’s expectations. Because of this, I haven’t trusted people or that they are going to do what they say they are going to do….hence, I ask them and remind them many, many times.
I have no regrets at this point in my life. I did when I was a kid, but at this time I have none.”
~Nana added that evening: “I have no regrets. I was married. My husband’s dead. I have a daughter. I have three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. There is nothing to regret.” She elaborated further that being a part of the Lutheran Church has proven the most positive element for her: “You trust your people.” She associated her lack of regret and insecurity into her later years with being a part of that community…staying close to people and sharing and confiding in them.~

Nana’s friends and family:

“Funny, Loving, Thoughtful, Smart, Giving, Helpful” – Sherri

“*One of my favorite people of all time!
*My feisty redheaded aunt–and even though her hair has turned silver, to me she will always be a redhead.
*Sweet, thoughtful, beautiful.
*Has to be related to the wonderful Betty White–they have the same vivacious personality.
*Loves her family to the “nth” degree (and that includes nieces and nephews).
*Don’t know what I’d do without her–and don’t even want to think about it.
*Wonderful sense of humor–even about herself. She can make fun of herself and her foibles–like no one else.” – Phyllis Schneider

“What to say about my Grandmother…
When I was a kid, we clashed. We are both very strong-willed & opinionated; I’m so thankful now that this is something that I got from her. Since I’ve been a mother myself, we have definitely grown closer. Watching her interact with her great-grandkids is amazing. They adore her & she LOVES them so much, her whole world seems to revolve around them. She is smart & funny & silly, which is everything anyone could want in a Nana.
She had a tough time as a child, which has obviously shaped her interactions with others in her life. She is a hard-worker & a bit of a perfectionist & holds those around her to a high standard. She would give her family anything & everything they need. She has an undeniable faith that has never wavered. She is a wonderful cook & hostess. Her sense of humor, sometimes unexpectedly raunchy, keeps all of us on our toes. She loves to dance & still thinks that Dean Martin is a dreamboat. I love her very much & I am so thankful that over the years I have gained some insight & understanding that has allowed us to become as close as we are today.” – Paige

Group 1, Part 1: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/women-raw-honest-loved-part-1-2/
Group 1, Part 2: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/women-raw-honest-loved-part-2/
Group 2, Teens!: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/teen-version-women-raw-honest-loved/
Group 4: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/group-4-women-raw-honest-loved/
Group 5: https://alanatphotography.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/group-5-women-raw-honest-loved/

mara.

As we delve into more project groups and more discussion about the project in general, I really want each of these ladies to get their story released on its own merit. I know how intimidating it is to sit down and read an entire blog post, let alone one that contains eight or more ladies’ stories to read. We have about five minutes sometimes, and I want you to have the chance of making five minutes of your day a beneficial, uplifting read. So, re-releasing the fifty-one participants’ (so far) stories as singles is what I am doing. I even downloaded a handy ol’ “number generator” app on my trusty lil phone to do so (because I am a genius AND because I’m bad at making decisions).

I will not insult your intelligence by posting my various thoughts on each group with each ladies’ story. What I will do is include the link to my blog about that particular group and that particular night, and you can feel free to check that out if you feel so inclined. What I will include with every post is the link to the blog from our original group, which has the explanation behind the reason for the project and how it goes about.

Today’s lady: #12, Mara. There was already a single post made for Mara back in April, so, I’m just reblogging that here.

alana t photography

This is the countdown of the last of the women’s individual posts until the blog all about our night doing this project with some outstanding teen girls will be released. Only three more of these awesome women to go after this…thank you for taking the time to read their individual stories that they so honestly and openly shared with you. It makes this all worth it.

The blogs about women were long. Real long.

For the sake of none of these women’s honest, heartfelt words and loving messages from their friends and family going unseen, I’m going to be posting each in a single blog every couple of days or so until I am able to finally get the teen session executed and up to share. So that you can take just five minutes and read one woman’s “story” and maybe find comfort in the way you can relate/understand/empathize/etc.

They…

View original post 829 more words

liz.

As we delve into more project groups and more discussion about the project in general, I really want each of these ladies to get their story released on its own merit.  I know how intimidating it is to sit down and read an entire blog post, let alone one that contains eight or more ladies’ stories to read.  We have about five minutes sometimes, and I want you to have the chance of making five minutes of your day a beneficial, uplifting read.  So, re-releasing the fifty-one participants’ (so far) stories as singles is what I am doing.  I even downloaded  a handy ol’ “number generator” app on my trusty lil phone to do so (because I am a genius AND because I’m bad at making decisions).

I will not insult your intelligence by posting my various thoughts on each group with each ladies’ story.  What I will do is include the link to my blog about that particular group and that particular night, and you can feel free to check that out if you feel so inclined.  What I will include with every post is the link to the blog from our original group, which has the explanation behind the reason for the project and how it goes about.  You can find that here: Women. Raw. Honest. Loved. Group 1. 

Today’s lady: #44 The lovely Liz, from Group 4.

lizfinal

lizinsLiz ~

“I’ve always been “almost.” 
All my life I’ve heard “You’d be so pretty if…”

If I was taller.

If I had better skin.

If I had a tan.

If I lost some weight.

If I had bigger boobs. 

I’ve heard how I never finish anything. I’d be such a good mom if I had follow-through. I’d prove my intelligence if I would finish school. I’d use my creative aptitude better if I worked faster and turned it into some sort of business. 

And, I’ve always felt incomplete. I’d fill that void with a baby, if I could have one. Or, maybe a dog, if my husband didn’t hate them. Or, a best-friend, if I got along with others.
I’m almost good enough. Almost pretty enough. Almost cool enough. Almost perfect. Almost almost.”

Liz’s friends and family:

“Best friend
Amazing mother of 3 beautiful children
Crazy talented
Beautiful
Caring” – Katie

“Some things about Liz that are AMAZING:

-She is a wonderful mother. Her kids always come first to her.
-She is inspiring to me, as a crafter, as a mother, as a human.
-She says what she means, even when it’s difficult to say.
-She is gorgeous, inside and out.
-She is genuine.
-She follows her dreams.
-She is trusting.
-She is supportive.
-She is kind and expects nothing but a smile in return, like she shares the life philosophy “Create the word you want to live in” with me. I don’t know if she really does, but that seems to be a sign of it.
-It’s not necessarily about her, but I wish we lived closer together.

I hope that is enough. I could go on and on about her, but I think I hit the top points here. She is incredible.” -Andy

“My words for her are: courageous, incredible, beautiful, strong, deep, dreamer, perfect.” – Ethan

“Hi Alana,

I’m writing about my daughter-in-law, Liz…she’s an amazing young woman.
Liz is open – what you see is what you get.  Her emotions are on the surface…she’s passionate about things, animals and people.  She lets you know how she feels and there’s no hidden agenda.
Liz is a wonderful mother – her kids know that they’re the center of her world.  She lets their creativity shine, and their happiness is a testament to her involvement in their lives and the love she gives them.
Liz is a free spirit – she marches to her own drummer in her own way.  She is on a quest to explore herself and her place in the world, and she’s willing to try new things.  She’s growing by leaps and bounds and her potential is endless.  With her intelligence, the sky’s the limit.” – Alvarita

“Intelligent
Loving Wife
Extremely dedicated to ANY project
Very creative
Artistic
A loyal friend
Imaginative
Resourceful
Inventive
Knowledgeable
Devoted
And…above all…an AWESOME mother!” – Duane

“Lizzy has had many experiences, good and bad in her 30 years, and I think the lessons she has learned are the most important “facets” of her life. She has compassion, empathy, and sincere tenderness for those in need.
She is very creative and, whatever she attempts, she does well.  I’ve always admired her ability to teach herself things that she found interesting …knitting, computer skills, gardening, home schooling, quilting, yoga, to name a few.
Her sense of humor is quirky and entertaining, especially when she bleats like a lamb or burps the ABC’s!
When Liz became a Mother, I think she found her niche in life.
Her parenting skills are imaginative, loving, patient, and nurturing.
I don’t think Lizzy has “found” happiness, I think she has worked hard to create a happy life for her husband and family by making wise decisions, backed by a thoughtful evaluation of her options.
I am proud to be her Mom!” – Diane

“Traits about Liz:

Fiercely dedicated
Fantastic mother
Hauntingly good singing voice
Wicked awesome & meaningful tattoos.” – Zoe

“Liz was an unmistakable and remarkable turning point in our son Ethan’s life.  Her independent spirit, willingness to take risks and explore, and appreciation of art and all things beautiful, both aligned with our son’s entrepreneurial nature and challenged him to see and appreciate new things himself.  She helped him come out of his social shell, sharing with him a zany and attractive sense of humor and that “sealed their deal” as soulmates.  And when they had children, they both grew themselves as they dedicated themselves to being great parents and rearing wonderful children.  Liz is inquisitive, exploratory, sometimes daring, very bright, articulate, and not afraid to voice an opinion…character traits that are shared in many respects by our son and by our family in general.  Ethan has said many times that Liz changed his life and made him a better person.  I completely agree.” – Rick

Each group can be found here: 

Group 1, Part 1
Group 1, Part 2
Group 2, TEENS!
Group 3, 55+
Group 4
Group 5

rosie.

As we delve into more project groups and more discussion about the project in general, I really want each of these ladies to get their story released on its own merit. I know how intimidating it is to sit down and read an entire blog post, let alone one that contains eight or more ladies’ stories to read. We have about five minutes sometimes, and I want you to have the chance of making five minutes of your day a beneficial, uplifting read. So, re-releasing the fifty-one participants’ (so far) stories as singles is what I am doing. I even downloaded a handy ol’ “number generator” app on my trusty lil phone to do so (because I am a genius AND because I’m bad at making decisions).

I will not insult your intelligence by posting my various thoughts on each group with each ladies’ story. What I will do is include the link to my blog about that particular group and that particular night, and you can feel free to check that out if you feel so inclined. What I will include with every post is the link to the blog from our original group, which has the explanation behind the reason for the project and how it goes about. You can find that here: Women. Raw. Honest. Loved. Group 1.

Today’s lady: Rosie (Today, this is one of two stories I’m posting, as Rosie and Tiffany were just interviewed with me on a little local radio show that will air on Sunday. They talk about the effect the project had on them both. It’s some good stuff. They both made me cry. No joke.) – Rosie was part of Group 3 – the 55+ Group!

rosiefinal

rosieins

Rosie ~

“What are my insecurities…WOW…I have a few. Body image; Am I smart enough; Am I good enough; and my huge fear is losing my son, Jim, or my husband and my mom. I think they are all connected in a way because when one tape starts in our head the others do seem to find their way in and join the loop. They all feed off one another, and if you are not careful it turns into one big self-bashing party. It’s funny – as you get older some of the same tapes play- just different words find their way in to replace others. Let’s take our boobs…. when we are young it’s, “I wish they were bigger”, and now it’s, “I wish they were firmer.” Or, “I’ve lost 15lbs so why do I look the same?”…. We defeat ourselves before we even get out the door. That’s just to touch the surface.
As for regrets…to be honest, I only really have one and I try not to let that one eat away at me. I wish I had not missed my son Brian’s last show…. because he died that night and for some reason we seem to think ” if I would have been there…” so, with that said…would the outcome have been different? No. I feel like I let him down…but did I? No. Was he sad that I didn’t come? …I really don’t think so, because I never missed a show or very few. But why that show?? …Why did I have to feel too tired to go that night??!!!! We never know when someone is going to pass…be it of natural causes, or, like my son, an accident. Either way, we can’t change the outcome. I would if I could… believe me. I live it everyday…the intense pain.”

Rosie’s friends and family:

“Rosie is gentle, loving, and has gumption. She’s many more things than this, but I’ll focus on those three for now. Babies love her and she’s like Snow White when it comes to animals. It’s quite magical, really. Even wild birds love her. She’s loving and gentle to everyone but also doesn’t take shit, which is good. She has been through a lot of pain and heartbreak but it’s never made her hard or jaded. No chips on her shoulders; just love for everyone. She’s always wanted the best for me even though “misery loves company”. We’ve been miserable together and I’ve never felt like she wanted me to be anything but happy and to have joy in my life. She’s super hot and gorgeous too.
I’m blessed to have her in my life for those times when no one else gets what it’s like (she will know what I mean) there are parts of Rosie and I that are frozen in time together. It’s hard to explain, but it’s kinda like I will always be her daughter-in-law. And there are a lot worse things to be. I love her and I’m really glad she’s a part of this project. Besides everything else, like I said before, hot and gorgeous and photographs so beautifully.” – Dana

“Rosie is a fun-loving and nurturing person that provides self-care by her many forms of art. She has an infectious laugh and is very supportive of those around her. To know her is to love her. Luckily she has become close to me as I have mentored her in her photography and she is always a great confidant of my personal secrets and problems, which it’s generally hard to find someone with those qualities without judgment. She is a woman whose presence is known when she is in the room because of the light she radiates.” – Bill

“My mom has the kindest heart of anyone I have ever known. She will go out of her way to make anyone and everyone happy. She is one of the strongest people I know and I am proud to have her as my mom.” – Jim

“It is pretty serendipitous that her name is Rosie because she sees most situations or people through a rose-colored lens. Mama sees the best in people even if they are terrible people. She sees the best in everything. When Brian died, it was one of the darkest places I have ever seen her in and she still found positive things about people whom I was not so sure about. This does not mean that she’s going to let anyone take advantage of her. She has lived three lives already and she has taught me much about people. I truly believe that she is one of the most selfless people –she puts others first before her own needs even it is someone undeserving.
She was the first person to truly teach me the meaning of love. When you truly love someone you love ALL of them including the bad parts, and they can never complete you; We find love in everyone and everything, not just one person. Would I have survived without her in my life? Maybe, but my life is more fulfilled with her support and unconditional love. She is not my blood mother but that never stopped her from loving or supporting me even when Brian and I were at odds. We all know how important he is to her; and to me :)” – Athena

“You know that person in your life who, no matter what your day or month or week has been like, always manages to make it seem better? Rosie is that person. I have always referred to her as my “white shining light; the cool calm center of the universe” in a room full of chaos. She is beyond charming, yet has a calmness and grounding nature about her, like she sees only the best parts of you, and, in turn, you become a better person for having been around her. In the past few years, Rosie has faced more heartbreak and devastation than most could face in their lives, and though I know each and every day is hard, she manages to face it with an infectious smile and a joke or two. She is the strongest person I have ever met.
We became close after her oldest son, Brian, died in a tragic accident. Though it is hard to explain, we have shared experiences regarding him that I think only she could understand, though I felt strangely honored and saddened to have shared them with her. She loves both her sons with a palpable intensity that I wonder if, at times, it must be exhausting. Yet almost effortlessly, Rosie still manages to spread kindness to those around her, patiently listening and offering guidance, advice, and infinite wisdom.
She isn’t afraid to tell you the truth. She’s delicate in a ladylike way, but not fragile. She has a laugh that will light up a room, and in her hugs you find peace. I know I speak for many more than myself when I say that I look forward to the time I get to spend with Rosie, for her love is something that radiates from her and we always have a good time.
Rosie has certain magic about her, an impish charm that is inherent in her sons. She loves to laugh and as I said before, hers is contagious.” – Leah

“Rosie is: Special person with a huge heart. Lots of talent with a lens and with clay! :0)
Beautiful smile, with an intenseness behind her eyes that is sometimes beautifully haunting, relaxing, mysterious and loving.
I’ve only known her for a few years but feel like I’ve known her for hundreds of years.” – Larry

“She

She is a seer.
Where others find flaws and doubts,
She’s a believer.

She is a spirit.
Where others will shy away,
She will not fear it.

She is a mother.
When others have lost their home,
She’ll give them cover.

She is a sunray.
When others live in the night,
She gives them warm day.

She is a feeler.
When others will pain and toil
She is their healer.

She is a shoulder.
Where others are burdened down
She’ll take the boulder.

She is something new to everyone she meets.
She’ll find the beauty underneath the beast.
She never puts her needs before the rest.
Because of that, her damage is repressed.

A fragile line she walks from day to day,
While sorrow is just barely held at bay.
Her strength renewed in pictures she collects,
While insecure emotions genuflect.

I’ve tried to share with words limited to few
All the lovely things my friend can do.
But how is one to possibly explain
All the splendor found within the rain?” – Jessi

“I met Rosie through the Tacoma based record label that was the home for a band I was in called The Jupiter Order. Rosie was photographing a show that we played at and I met her afterwards through Raymond, who played the keyboards in the band and is co-owner of the label.
The following two years of discovering whom this eclectic artist and amazing person is has been a delight, and after seeing recent photographs of her doing a fashion shoot as a model, it was another brilliant revelation. Her persona comes through in the photographs! The photographer even commented on how her warmth and bright soul saturated the shots!
Rosie is an exceptional person, who I have grown to be friends with and admire! She is sensitive, caring, and intuitive to a fault! I’m writing these things to introduce you to her, but in a very short time, you will discover these things for yourself!” – Scott

“I have known Rosie for about 6 years now. We got to know each other better after the passing of her son, Brian. In that time I can honestly say that I have never met anyone with a heart as caring as Rosie. She also has an eye for composition that few have. She sees everything through the viewfinder even on the rare occasion that she leaves her camera at home. I know that she struggles every day with emotional pain and I feel bad that there is nothing I can do to help but I also know that she is stronger than she thinks she is.
Rosie always greets you with a hug and not only asks how you are but is truly interested in your answer.” – Corey

tiffany.

As we delve into more project groups and more discussion about the project in general, I really want each of these ladies to get their story released on its own merit. I know how intimidating it is to sit down and read an entire blog post, let alone one that contains eight or more ladies’ stories to read. We have about five minutes sometimes, and I want you to have the chance of making five minutes of your day a beneficial, uplifting read. So, re-releasing the fifty-one participants’ (so far) stories as singles is what I am doing. I even downloaded a handy ol’ “number generator” app on my trusty lil phone to do so (because I am a genius AND because I’m bad at making decisions).

I will not insult your intelligence by posting my various thoughts on each group with each ladies’ story. What I will do is include the link to my blog about that particular group and that particular night, and you can feel free to check that out if you feel so inclined. What I will include with every post is the link to the blog from our original group, which has the explanation behind the reason for the project and how it goes about. You can find that here: Women. Raw. Honest. Loved. Group 1.

Today’s lady: Tiffany (Today, this is one of two stories I’m posting, as Tiffany and Rosie were just interviewed with me on a little local radio show that will air on Sunday. They talk about the effect the project had on them both. It’s some good stuff. They both made me cry. No joke.) – Tiffany was part of Group 5 .

tiffanyfinal

tiffanyTiffany ~

“I believe that my biggest insecurity is to be unlovable – or insignificant.

When I was 16, my mom informed me that if she had it to do all over again with me, she would have chosen to have an abortion.  She perhaps had made the wrong choice to keep me. I was just too much.  Too hard to deal with.
In my head, I read that to mean, unlovable.

When I was 21, my mom sent me my own “special” holiday letter.  It was on neon pink paper.  She informed me that ‘I must think I’m pretty special with all of my friends and family by my side – but one day they would all leave me.  One day I’d die alone.’
I’ve always been so terrified that that was somehow some horrific prophecy.  That I would be a terrible friend and people would just drop like flies and I’d end up alone and unloved.

I lay awake at night and critique what kind of a friend I’ve been.  I worry that I have not given enough, or done enough, or perhaps I’ve taken too much.  Perhaps I’m truly not good enough to have the friends I have, or the family who loves me.
Perhaps deep down, I really am a very unlovable person.”

Tiffany’s friends and family –

“Hello, I’m Tiffany’s cousin, Heidi. When I got the email about this project I was SO excited at the prospect of writing something that is true and amazing about her and her reading it and fully ingesting it. And the timing is good too, because I just had my birthday and she sent me the sweetest, most heartfelt message that I did not feel worthy of. So here’s some payback:
Tiffany is immensely kind, fiercely loving, and probably the single most unselfish person I know (really, it’s true). She acts out the love of Jesus in a very real way and is always, always ready to put someone ahead of herself.  She has empathy deep and wide; real, raw empathy – the kind that is able to take a relationship deeper and into a more caring place.  I love you as family and I love who you are!!!! You are so perfectly you.” – Heidi

“Hello there!  Here are some words about my insanely awesome homegirl, Tiffany.
Exquisitely Raw
Inherently Funny
Grace Giver
Full-Hearted Mama
Love the project! Cheers!” – Lauren

“I’ve known Tiffany since we were six years old. She is one of the best listeners that I know.  She’s never made me feel like she doesn’t have time for me even if she’s dealing with her own issues. She has a huge, compassionate heart. She can knit. She’s crafty. She cooks. She’s clean & organized. She’s not afraid to take chances. She is brave & bold. She’s been through a lot and, while it may hold her down for a moment, she never lets anything keep her down. I’ve seen her confidence soar as a writer and a mother. She has gorgeous, sparkling eyes, the sweetest button nose, perfect teeth with the most inviting smile. Her skin is absolutely flawless. She has a wonderful fashion sense and fierce loyalty to those she loves. When she sets her eyes on something, you cannot get in her way. She’s feisty and intelligent. Her husband and daughter are extremely lucky to have her and I’m lucky she gets my humor & calls me friend.
xo to infinity (or google, whichever is longer).” – Rosie

“This is really inspiring! How do you always know about this cool stuff?
I would love to say nice things about you, I do it all the time when I tell people about my friend Tiffany. I just hope what I have to say makes sense.
I think you are strong; the way you have handled some of the challenges you have faced – how you keep trying; keeping an open dialog about what you’ve been through, in hopes that you might inspire someone else to be strong – that takes the kind of inner fortitude people can only respect.
I think you are brave. To try where you have failed before;  to question yourself, your beliefs, and push past the negative to create and become something positive and beautiful – that is spirit to inspire even the most fearful.
I think you are pretty; not just because you are my friend, and not just because you have nice features – like your sweet little nose and puckery lips – but because you care about how you look. It’s not the most important thing to you, and some days just aren’t as good as others, true for all of us, but the things you do to express who you are through your looks – fun necklaces, bright knit sweaters, printed tights – are just examples of the types of uniqueness that bring out your inner beauty.
I think you are diverse; with your vitamin/personal pharmacy bag, false eyelashes, whole foods, tattoos, cloth diapers, shoe collection, owl items, unique bags, breastfeeding, on and on…all of these pieces make up your amazingness.
I think you are selfless; way more selfless than most I know, including myself. The dedication you have to your family, the sacrifices you have made for your daughter, the energy you give to the work you do – these all could only be understood by someone who truly appreciates how rare these values are, especially all in the same person.
That’s probably more words than you need…and I could go on…but I probably ought to get to sleep. Please let me know if there is anything else you need!” – Lisa

“As I sit here thinking about what to write about Tiffany – it makes me laugh because there are so many amazing things about Tiffany that when I try to come up with the ‘most perfect thing to say’ – it makes me want to call Tiffany and ask her because she has an amazing way with words!  LOL!!
Tiffany is real.  Real in everything she does.
She is a friend – a true friend.
She is an amazing Mom – who does not take ONE SECOND of that for granted and for that (and many other things) she makes the world a better place.
She is honest.  I think that is something that has become a little ‘gray’ over time – not with Tiffany – SHE. IS. HONEST.  And I believe honesty and trust go hand in hand.  If you know someone is honest – you can trust them!  I trust Tiffany with all of my being.  She is ‘that guy’! 😉
Her humor is, well, there are no words.  SHE IS HILARIOUS!!  Her descriptions of things just kill me!  I should just call her ‘Thesaurus’ with all of her descriptive words – – words that no one else would’ve thought of!  She NEVER fails to make me laugh and I love her for that.
I also love her heart.  Tiffany will cry with me – that’s a sign of empathy.  She has a very deep heart and a kindness about her that seems to be missing in the world nowadays – not with Tiffany though – it’s there.
All of this wrapped up in to one happy, full of laughter and kindness – BEAUTIFUL PACKAGE. 🙂  And God blessed her & Dave with Presleigh = = that just made the world a better place.  Tiffany is an amazing Mother that most people could learn a lot from.  God love you, Tiffany – you are one of a kind and absolutely amazing and I love you to the moon and back.  I’m beyond proud to call you my friend.  God bless you. :)” – Kristin

“Hello, my name is David.  I am Tiffany’s husband.  I was very happy to find out that she decided to participate in this project.  For too long I’ve been saddened by her less than stellar opinion/image of herself.  She is usually willing to offer 4 negative things about herself to 1 positive thing.  She is in my opinion, the only one who believes these negative things to be true.  If she can obtain a level of peace with herself, or perhaps a better understanding of just who she really is and how others truly see her, then, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an evening of her time.
My wife is quite possibly the most kind, generous, stubborn, and unselfish person I have ever met.  All of these traits, especially the stubbornness, have allowed her to be married to the likes of myself.  Her kindness is displayed daily by how she treats those around her.  She is quick with a smile, and to help those in need whether there will be reciprocity or not.  She is generous with her spare time (of which there is little with a 9-month-old toddling around).  She has volunteered to help the homeless, and was all set to volunteer at a shelter that provides temporary/emergency housing for child victims of domestic abuse if and when a parent gets hauled off to jail and CPS is unavailable due to the late hour.  She would have followed through with that except that we found out to our extreme joy that we were expecting our own child, and thought rest a more prudent course.
Her stubbornness, I believe, is what has carried her through to where she is in life today.  Being born to an extremely selfish (sociopathic, in my opinion) mother who ripped her away from her loving and adoring grandparents at whatever whim she deemed appropriate, so she could “play” mother , and take her into whatever drug-addled, abusive relationships she was in at the time could have sent her down a terrible path that we see too often in our society.  Instead, she persevered; refused to repeat the cycle.  She yearned for, and learned a better way to be.  She refused to be like her mother and was too stubborn to falter from her decided course. She was born with hips that weren’t perfect, a fact that has caused her agonizing daily pain.  She could have given in, become sedentary, and turned to alcohol or drugs to keep the pain away.  Instead, she tucks her chin down, and continues forward with her life.  She accepts the pain as part of being alive.  She hardly even says a word about it.
She displays her unselfishness to me daily.  We (mostly she) have decided to raise our daughter in a more natural way.  From breastfeeding, to higher quality foods with ingredients you can pronounce, to cloth diapering.  All of these things are not the easy way.  We both read a lot in our spare time.  While I am usually checking out the latest effort from Tom Clancy or John Grisham, she is reading about better, more natural ways to feed and take care of our family.  She is reading books about how to teach our daughter sign language so she can communicate with us before she can talk.  She is continually thinking about how she can make me happier, or what new and exciting recipe she can try to bring a smile to my face.
I’ll wrap this up with these final few thoughts about my wife.
I have never second-guessed my decision to ask her to marry me.  It is, and will remain forever, the single best decision I’ve made in my life.
She is my moral compass.
She is my lighthouse on a foggy night at sea that keeps me off the rocks.
I don’t know, and don’t want to know what I’d do without her.
Selfishly, a part of me hopes that she never does figure out what an amazing person she really is, lest she wonder what the hell she’s doing with the likes of me.
Thank you, Alana, for doing this – I think that it is a great venture.  I sincerely hope you’re able to get all the support and traction you need to turn this into a bona-fide movement.  Perhaps Oprah will come out of retirement and invite you to her couch one day to sing your praises.” – David