In this episode, host Brittany Sessum talks to storyteller Eric Clow, who talks about his journey with pride and bravery to live an authentic life and share his stories called "Coachella" and "Letter to My 10-Year-Old Self."
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Storyteller Eric Clow
Eric Clow is an Austin-based writer and musician. His dogs and birding hobby feature prominently in his poetry, as do his experiences living with a disability. His original music reflects his sincerity and twisted sense of humor. He works at Art Spark Texas, offering creative opportunities for artists with disabilities.
Host Brittany Sessum
Brittany Sessum is a Houston native and Army veteran that loves making connections with others. She has a passion to serve her family, the community, and her country by giving back in any capacity. She believes that her passions and actions live beyond herself. Brittany loves writing poetry, reading, traveling, and working as an entrepreneur.
For more information about Art Spark Tx and the Speaking Advocates Program click this link: https://www.artsparktx.org/speaking-advocates/
Intro and outro music - Sunbathers by Scandinavianz
Music by Scandinavianz https://soundcloud.com/scandinavianz
Welcome to to True Tales by Disability Advocates, authentic voices of people thriving with disabilities. Whereindividuals use the art of storytelling to change the world. The True Tales by Disability Advocates podcast is produced by Art Spark, Texas Speaking Advocates Program. Keep listening to hear how life's challenges can spark a desire to speak out and advocate for themselves and others.MsBoye Live Radio:
You are listening to the premier of The True Tales by Disability Advocates. The podcast where advocates harness the power of storytelling to build community with their peers and hope to develop empathy in others. Recognizing that everyone's life is enriched by the inclusion of multiple voices, Art Spark Texas has been training disability advocates as storytellers for over 20 years. A team of disability advocates creates True Tales to give voice to the personal stories and lived experience of disabled storytellers. We offer our unique and often unrepresented perspective to the growing community of podcast listeners worldwide. Season one, we'll showcase stories from the Opening Minds, Opening Doors and Speaking Advocates trainings over the last seven years. In this episode we hear from Eric Clow, the original coordinator of The Speaking Advocates Program. Who shares a brief history of the programs and two stories he wrote as a participant in the Opening Minds, Opening Doors trainings. First, he takes us on a camping adventure with his best friend at a music festival as a typical 19 year old, who happens to have Muscular Dystrophy and use a wheelchair? His second, beautiful story, is a letter to his ten-year-old self about the journey he will have as he grows up. How his first encounter with a group of disability advocates helped him come to love his own disability. And become a disability advocate himself. Your host for this episode is Brittany Sessum, Houston native, poet, mother and Army Veteran.Brittany Sessum:
Welcome to the podcast where we change the world one story at a time. I'm Brittany Sessom and I'm your host. Our story teller this week Eric Clow will tell stories of how he learned pride and bravery to live an authentic life. So Eric, before you share your story, there is a saying that your mind is like a parachute, it only works when it's open. You participated in a program called Opening Minds, Opening Doors, both as a student and as the coordinator for six years. From there The Speaking Advocates Program was created. Can you tell us a little bit more about the history of the program?Eric Clow:
Sure thing. Opening Minds, Opening Doors was a grant project of Arts Spark Texas from 2013, until 2017. And then from there, people that participated in the program wanted to stay in touch. They wanted to keep writing and presenting stories and socializing. So as you mentioned, Opening Minds, Opening Doors was the original program that Speaking Advocates evolved from. Speaking Advocates was the name that they gave themselves and they would meet on a monthly basis to keep in touch. So, really the main idea of Opening Minds Opening Doors was that we use storytelling to open people's minds about what people with disabilities are able to contribute and what they can accomplish. Opening up people's minds about disability and what's possible, that opens doors of opportunity for individuals with disabilities. In employment and just being involved with the community and just living a very engaged life. So that's how the Speaking Advocates program came about.Brittany Sessum:
Thank you Eric, let's hear your first story.Eric Clow:
Coachella. In this photo, my friend Reese and I pose at our campsite outside the Coachella music festival in Southern California. I am 20 years old. Reese is 19. We were good friends from high school, and this was our second trip to Coachella since graduating. We position ourselves between two tents and under a canopy made from the backup tent, rain cover. Behind us a Tiki style umbrella, casts a shadow over green grass. A cooler filled with snacks and vitamin water rests on the grass. Before our neighbor's tent. Appearing at bottom left is half the roof of a bamboo bird house we bought that day at Walmart. The bird house was on sale and we just had to have it for our camp site. Sadly, no birds came to nest at our campsite, but it looked cool. Reese and I both smile. He wears black cargo shorts, a green shirt, aviator sunglasses, and a black hat turned backwards. He makes a peace sign with his fingers. I wear a tan cargo shorts and a white t-shirt with a picture of George W. Bush and the words "Dumb shit happens when you don't vote". A rolled up yellow bandana worn as a headband encircles my short blonde hair. Each day at Coachella, the temperature rose to 115 degrees. And I would soak this bandana in the ice, cold water of our cooler and tighten it over my forehead, so the cold water would run down my face, flushed red with the heat. I hold something in my hands that obscures George w Bush's face on my t-shirt, but I cannot figure out what it is. I hope it's nothing inappropriate. This photo reminds me of the ridiculous stunts we pulled that we still laugh about to this day. When we arrived to the campgrounds we noticed a security checkpoint in the middle of this long fence where a security guard searched through everyone's bags. A sign on the fence listed official festival contraband, many items on the list made sense like weapons and drug paraphernalia, but then it mentioned musical instruments. Now this was an injustice. How could a music festival ban instruments? Since we had brought my acoustic guitar, we decided to protest. First we studied the security carefully. We identified two security guards in total, one at the checkpoint and the second who monitored the full length of the fence. Then we initiated our plan. I went through the checkpoint first and Reese stayed outside with the guitar. Once inside, I met Reese at our rendezvous point. And while the second security guard briefly turned the other way, Reese threw the case over the fence. I caught it and rolled full speed across what felt like a football field of grass till I reached the safety of the tents. I had no idea if the security guard actually chased after me, but I refuse to turn around and find out. Later we noticed several other campers with guitars and other instruments, and we realized the security guards didn't actually enforce that ban and our caper had been completely unnecessary. A lot of incredible musicians played the festival that year, Prince, Portishead, The Raconteurs, but my favorite was Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. He rocked the festival grounds with an hour long set of his greatest hits and followed that up with "Dark Side of the Moon", in its entirety. When he played "Wish You Were Here", I literally wept like a child. I remember a woman looked at me and wondered if I was okay. I said, "Yeah, I'm just having an emotional moment." I still think that's the best cry I've ever had. I chose to tell you about this photo because I spend a lot of time feeling stressed out and being hard on myself, and this photo represents a moment when I was surrounded by friends and truly having fun. I felt genuinely excited about being alive. Sometimes we forget the world is an amazing place and there's nothing like good times and good people to remind you of that.Brittany Sessum:
Welcome back. I'm Brittany Sessom, I'm here with Eric Clow, Austin based writer and musician. His original music reflects his sincerity and twisted sense of humor. He works at Art Spark Texas offering creative opportunities to artists with disabilities. Thanks for sharing your story with us today Eric. Tell us what are some of the things that you accomplished through Speaking Advocates?Eric Clow:
So, The Speaking Advocates Program over the four years of the grant, we trained approximately seventy five individuals with disabilities across the state of Texas, to write their stories and to present their stories. Many of them even went on to present their stories at conferences that we didn't actually need to go and assist them. They just found out about the conference. They submitted a proposal and they went and presented. That was I think, the height of our achievement as a program. We also developed this curriculum, which is all inclusive and accessible for folks with disabilities. So those are some of the things that we're most proud of in the program. On a personal level, I learned how to write stories. I re- familiarized myself with the joy of writing. One of the things that I learned in the stories that I shared with you today is that just, you know... I was forced to go through multiple drafts of each story. I learned It helps me to kind of loosen up a little bit and to let some of my perfectionism slide so I could let the best part of the story shine. The program it also, helped to inspire me to get out performing music as well, because it got me used to the idea of performing, presenting to an audience.Brittany Sessum:
So Eric, if a person wants to keep up with you or join Speaking Advocates, where would they go? And what are the requirements?Eric Clow:
So the best place to learn about Speaking Advocates is to go to the Art Spark Texas website, and that's Art Spark T X dot O R G. And if you go to the programs, you'll find Speaking Advocates there. Of course, Ms.Boye is our current program manager. And so she's always a good person to contact. If you want to know more, get involved. Her email is B O Y E at Art Spark Tx.org. As for requirements, it is a program for individuals with disabilities. Beyond that, the only other thing that you need to do, if you want to get involved is just bring an open mind and be ready to, write and to step outside your comfort zone a little bit. Because storytelling, when you're writing your own personal stories and you're getting up and presenting them in front of a live audience, that's something that is outside a lot of people's comfort zones. Just come with an open mind and, be ready to challenge yourself a bit.Brittany Sessum:
So. I just want to say Eric, it's great chatting with you so far. I'm so thankful that you were able to come and share your experience and enthusiasm with our audience. Everyone, you heard it here, please go to Speaking Advocates at Art Spark, Texas.org Speaking Advocates or you can email Ms.Boye at Boye at Art Spark Texas.org. Just like Pinterest, we're going to have to put a pin in it, but stay with us for Eric's second story.Eric Clow:
Letter To My Ten-Year-Old Self." Dear ten-year-old Eric, you just found out your dad is gay. You asked him plainly on the front porch in a way only a chilled out, born and raised California and kid "Dad. Are you gay?" Yes." "Who are you gay with?" I'm not gay with anybody." You must have looked confused because he went on to explain, "You don't have to be gay with anybody to be gay. You can just be gay." Oh," you said, "cool!" Knowing this changed nothing in how you feel about your dad. It's just another truth. You have to learn like Santa Claus, isn't real. Or you have this invisible thing called Muscular Dystrophy. Now add Dad's gay to the list, but don't worry in time. You'll realize that being gay is probably the least complicated thing about your father. Now for some bad news and a little less than a year, you will break your femur skateboarding. I know what you're thinking, but sadly, no, the trick you attempt is not awesome, nor is it at all worth the excruciating pain you will experience. Still you'll eventually walk away with a gnarly scar and quite a tale to go with it. And more than that, you'll learn that accidents like this one have the uncanny power to bring people together and that even seemingly mortal enemies like your mom and dad can make amends over time. After four weeks in the hospital with nearly endless deliveries of A&W chicken sandwiches and Tomatina's garlic knots, two dozen Nintendo 64 games, your sister's boyfriend will temporarily loan you. And the only VCR in the entire hospital, you will be released in a partial body cast and start fifth grade as the coolest kid in school. When you get back on your feet, one of those other truths will become real for you. This invisible thing called Muscular Dystrophy. You will need to use more and more support from your arms to do things like stand up from the floor or a couch. You will be a little slower when you run during basketball and kickball games. It might not seem like much now, but it will be enough to prompt you to ask your basketball coach if you can address the entire team and tell them you have Muscular Dystrophy, so they understand your limitations. For several years, you will see Muscular Dystrophy as the enemy and you will fight it and you will measure your self-worth only in how effectively you can overcome this unseen force or how much you can inspire others with your valiant attempts. But something magical will happen when you're 17, you and your stepdad will take a cross-country road trip, and you'll find an entire community of people with disabilities, just like you. But they won't be anything like the tragic weak people you might imagine. These people are proud of the community they are a part. They wear their disabilities like badges of honor. They say the word disability, because it feels good to say. They protest and get arrested if necessary because they recognize their greatest limitations come from the society around them, not from the differences that color, who they are. These people become your new heroes and there'll be practically begging for a power wheelchair by the time you're 18. Learning to love your disability will make you strong enough to work through the bigger challenges that lie ahead. So have fun. Take some risks, fail miserably. Go outside, wander aimlessly. Get an instrument and make some noise. Get 10 instruments make even more. Fall in love again and again, because the right woman will enter your life at the right time. Most importantly, love yourself. Your life is a wild adventure and you have just begun. Live it up kid!Brittany Sessum:
Welcome back we're still here with Eric. Thanks for sharing your story with us today. Eric, majority of the time, some of the things that are painful that we go through can inspire people to see beyond where they are. Can you tell our listeners when you came up with "Letter to my 10 Year Old Self?"Eric Clow:
Sure. I wrote this story in our 2017 class in Austin, Texas, and I responded to one of the prompts that our instructor used, which was "Write a letter to your 10 year old self or to your 70 year old self." I just gave it a try. And this is what came out. I didn't really know what exactly would come up, but as I started thinking about what happened when I was 10 years old, suddenly I realized that there's so much happened. Um, it was really the time when I first started experiencing the impacts of my disability. It was when my identity was shifting a bit and also it was when my dad came out. That obviously, um, was just a very important time in my life. Basically, it was significant. It was a time of change and realizing who I was.Brittany Sessum:
So Eric, tell me, when did you realize like your heroes, you had come to love your disability?Eric Clow:
I think I learned to love my disability in that trip that I describe in my piece. Basically, seeing other people with disabilities who had learned to love their disability and, and who were proud of, of being a part of the disability community. That love was just infectious. You couldn't interact with these people and not feel excited to know that you're a part of this. And throughout my childhood and high school, my disability was a source of shame. It was something that I felt like I had to overcome in order to be a whole human being. Realizing that I didn't have to be ashamed of it, realizing that it could actually be a source of pride and a power for myself. That's when I learned to love my disability.Brittany Sessum:
So what are some things that you want people to take away from "My Letter to My 10 Year Old Self?"Eric Clow:
I think, you know, one interesting thing about writing to your ten-year-old self is that your ten-year-old self will never read it, but maybe some other ten-year-olds might be able to hear that. Basically it was what I'd want any ten-year-old to know about life, you know. To never lose their sense of excitement and wonder at the world and to pursue all of your dreams, no matter how impossible they might sound and to embrace who they are to embrace all the aspects of themselves. Obviously there's a large part of the story is on my disability and how I learned to accept and love my disability. The other part of it is my early exposure to the LGBTQ community. And, that was through my dad. I think that that moment I I've, I've just always embraced and tried to embrace all aspects of people that I interact with. And to, recognize that the disability community is a unique community, but some of the struggles that we face are similar to the struggles that say LGBTQ folks face and people of color face. And that really, we just need to embrace all those different groups of people. Our differences, you know, and what makes us unique, are just, things that we should be excited about, things that we should, you know, cherish. And also recognize that one thing we all have in common is that we all have these unique differences. So that's really what I want people to take away from that story.Brittany Sessum:
Thank you so much, Eric, for your commentary. It was like truly inspiring. I'm not going to lie, I really loved your piece.Eric Clow:
Thank you.Brittany Sessum:
And I really appreciate you coming on. So, once again, it was great chatting with you, Eric. If you want to keep up with Eric, his Instagram handle is, "Disabsurdity" and you can catch Eric's music on band camp. If you were not able to write any of the links mentioned throughout the show, don't worry, all the links are in the description box of this episode.MsBoye Live Radio:
You've been listening to Episode One of True Tales by Disability Advocates. Your host for this episode was Brittany Sessum. Kaye Love was our producer. Editing and mixing by Kaye Love and Msboye. The script and production team also includes Kamand Alaghehband. Special, thanks to our guest Eric Clow. I'm Msboye coordinator of The Speaking Advocates Program at Art Spark, Texas. Sparking the creative in everyone. Don't forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.John Beer:
All episodes of the True Tales by Disability Advocates are free on Apple podcasts, Spotify, and anywhere you get your podcasts. The program is funded in part by a grant from the Texas State Independent Living Council, The Administration for Community Living and individuals like you to learn about The Speaking Advocates Program. Sign up for our newsletter at Art Spark, Tx.org. That's A R T S P A R K T X dot O R G. The free virtual training is open to people of all disabilities, no matter where you live.