What's Your Story

Guest Post: Journaling a Lifetime by Meghan McDonnell

If there’s one thing I love, it is learning about other people’s experiences on this life journey. It’s a way to learn new ideas and share in compassion with the obstacles, joys and events that mold us into our unique self. I was very intrigued when Meghan Hill reached out to me about her memoirs that she is publishing from her lifetime of journals. Not everyone has the bravery to share so willingly with strangers, but I think it’s an action more of us should practice.

Why I am Publishing a Lifetime of My Personal Journals
By Meghan McDonnell

In December 2015, I published Minor, Novice, and Limbo, the first three volumes in a series of ongoing journals I have been writing since I was eight years old. I’m 36 now and currently at work on the next 25 books in this series. Each one is roughly 80,000 words and I will continue publishing them until I have caught up to present day. The journals are an ongoing autobiography. They are an invitation to readers to engage with the arc of an internal life (mind, heart, and soul) of an American woman from childhood up through adolescence and into adulthood.

Writing is the only thing I have ever done consistently. I can’t help but record life. I feel compelled and it doesn’t feel like a choice. As for why I am publishing what I write, it’s similar to what George Mallory said when asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest: “Because it is there.” My words and stories are here and I want to share them with people in hopes that they will feel known, understood, less alone, and more human. It would please me greatly if the journals inspire people to write more and share their own experiences as a means of catharsis, preservation, and connection. Girls and young women often struggle to find their voice and their place in the world. The journals are a blueprint for how I found mine.

Over the years, my loved ones have inquired, “How’s the writing going?” They know I write all the time and I think they wonder when I will publish a novel. My sister told me no one will read what I write as long as it sits in journals lined up on my bookshelves. Whenever my brother and I talk, he asks me what I’m doing for work. Depending on the month or year, I say waiting tables, doing admin for a law firm, making bookmarks, or whatever else has constituted my checkered job history. He listens and always says, “Well, that’s for the meantime. But we all know you’re a writer.” And in June 2013 at an annual girls’ weekend, one of my oldest friends made a suggestion: “What if you published your early journals serially? My niece is twelve and she’d appreciate reading the thoughts of another young girl.” This set something dormant off in me. I thought, “Why publish just the early ones? Why not publish all of them?” Within a month, I began.

I had no idea what I was getting into. I had published an ebook on Amazon two years prior, a book about organizing. I had several years of experience as an organizer and enjoyed going into people’s homes and helping them through the physical and emotional process of editing and refining their spaces. This was a safe topic for me to try my hand at writing a book about. I learned a lot and sold a few thousand copies. But when I started on the journal project, I had a host of new problems and questions to address:

  • Will anyone care or read them? (I’m not famous or distinguished.)
  • What’s the point? (I don’t know of anyone who has ever done this.)
  • Is there value or meaning in all these words? (This may be self-indulgent and narcissistic.)
  • Why can’t I stop writing? (I’m not a real writer because I don’t write novels and I’m not a columnist or reporter, but I write every day.)
  • Is this what I am meant to do with my life? (All I want to do is write.)
  • Then the more pressing questions:
  • How will I protect the identities of the people I love who are written on almost every page?
  • What are my ethical and legal responsibilities?
  • Will I publish anything that could hurt someone in any way?

I still don’t have answers to some of these questions. They morph and change throughout the process. This is my great experiment. I love every aspect of it. It has driven me to obsession. At times, I have resented my inability to stop working on it or thinking about it. I can’t get enough of it. Restlessness and a desire for purpose have defined most of my adulthood. Working on the journals has quieted these habits of being. I found something that keeps my interest and attention and that I can work on for endless hours with focus and precision. I have to believe it’s for something larger. Though I can’t see what that is yet, I keep going. Knowing I have at least 25 more books to go, I realize how important it is for me to take care of myself physically, psychologically, and emotionally. I get consumed by my past, and the pain and joy laced throughout my relationships and history. I have no problem with structure or discipline when it comes to writing and publishing but for my health and well-being, I need social outlets and support so I don’t become a version of Hemingway in his final years. When I transcribe what I wrote so many years ago, I feel raw and vulnerable. Sometimes I try to pad this with beer or cigarettes. But it doesn’t work. I come face to face with myself and all the versions of me that have lived thus far.

My books are unique in their scope and in the consistency with which I’ve kept them. I explore all the levels and layers in myself, my relationships, and my experiences. Passages range from the mundane to the mystical, from distinct details and observations to overarching universal themes that anyone can relate to. The e-book versions include hyperlinks to the many cultural references I make to songs, books, and films, adding atmosphere and experiential currency. The books contain no chapters. The format is dates of entry and sign-offs. The books have an ongoing, fluid nature with a mixture of long and short entries, large concepts and daily detail, life, humanity, reality, and imagination. The journals take readers on a fearless, vulnerable journey into their own emotions and experiences. They address most of the things we ignore, suppress, and deny. They are a relief to people and a liberating opportunity to take off our masks and loosen the binds that tie us – all the criticism, judgement, and workaday conformity that we tolerate daily. We often feel frozen when we look within. My books thaw this freeze.

I record my life in story to tell the truth. We all experience the gamut of emotions, I just happen to write about them, explore them, find meaning in them, and once in a while, transcend them. There is no shame or rage or depression so great that story, writing, reading, talking, and listening can’t alleviate it. My books bear this out. Identification of suffering may be one of its inherent antidotes – to share lightens it, to speak of it, bring it to light, begins to dissolve it. I have an eye toward suffering, but also to the joy and mystery of being alive. We all want to confess. I do. In my journals, I have written what I observe and hear. Observation and listening as a form of reverence. I absorb others’ stories, alchemize them with my own, and pour them back out in writing. I break a lot of writing rules. I don’t have the luxury of punching up what I wrote with creative license. The material was already written. But in transcribing, I’ve been surprised by how much natural story emerges when you simply write down your life as it happens. I could hazard guesses about what my 16 or 21 or 30 year-old self thought or felt or said. But I don’t have to because I recorded it. Not everything. But enough.

Grab one or all three of Meghans books on Amazon.
Minor: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0195KUAG4
Novice: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B019CXZV2W
Limbo: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B019CXZY1K


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What's Your Story

Kiyoshi’s Journey: A Hip Hop Balancing Act of Inner Peace and Sustainable Living

This guest post is part of the What’s Your Story project here on this blog.

My name is Kiyoshi Shelton.  My artist name is Kiyoshi.  I was born in Saginaw, Michigan and received my first introduction to music from my father who is a music teacher.  He was a band director who always taught different bands growing up like the high school marching band and the jazz band.  My father started me out playing guitar when I was an 8 year old child and I would make up songs on my guitar when I was a child.  All of my siblings played instruments. My oldest brother Akira became a professional jazz musician as a teenager and would later produce the majority of my music to this day.  My brother Akira used to break-dance and play Yo MTV raps and popular rap songs during the 1988-early 1990’s golden era of hip hop so this is how I got introduced to hip hop and learning about rap music.

In addition to being heavily into music, our family was also a very church-going Christian family that attended church multiple times during the week.  In 9th grade, I began rapping at church and writing poems and raps during my high school classes.  I would rap at church often and the following year, I soon began entering youth poetry slam competitions.

In college, I was known for winning a lot of the local talent shows and soon built my reputation as one of Metro Detroit’s most creative and talented artists when I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The year after graduating from Eastern Michigan University, in 2006, I read the book “The Secret.”  I discovered “the law of attraction” and that opened the door for me to begin reading various spiritual and self help books and watching countless youtube videos on spirituality, conspiracy theories, and the mind-body connection.  I started getting more into spirituality, metaphysical studies, and learning about different religions around this time.

In 2008, a friend of mine told me about the benefits of yoga and how it could also help me perform better as a performer.  The first yoga class I took was a hot bikram yoga class in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the winter of 2008.  I enjoyed it but because of the high cost per class, I didn’t pursue yoga until 4 years later.

In 2010, I decided to move to San Diego after attending a self-help/how-to-make-more-money-and-better-your-life seminar in downtown San Diego.  I felt the calling to move to San Diego because of the lovely, warm weather and I felt deep down inside that it was the place where I was going to grow a lot.

In February of 2011, my girlfriend at the time and I packed our bags, drove cross-country, and I started a job as an admissions counselor at a University in San Diego.  It was a job where you were required to talk on the phone in a cubicle for the majority of the day.  After a while, I got fed up with the repetitive nature of the job and felt stuck.  I start noticing myself get heavier as I was eating a lot of the delicious Mexican and other San Diego restaurant foods I wasn’t accustomed to.

I knew I needed a change and in the beginning of 2012, I decided to workout and run regularly during my lunch breaks and eat way healthier. I started attending conscious events and yoga festivals in the Spring of 2012 and was hooked ever since.  I was meeting super friendly people who were in shape and driven in life.  The atmospheres of the yoga events I attended were very heart-based and full of love.  Most of the people were so welcoming and non-judgemental.  I loved everything about yoga.  It complemented my lifestyle as a performer and overall person.  It made me feel more alive and in tune with my body.  I could think clearer, I was able to dance more freely, and feel more confident about myself.  As a result of my healthy eating lifestyle, regular yoga practice, and working out at the gym, I lost 20 lbs and was feeling better than ever.

Since then, I have been an active part of the yoga community here in San Diego and have made many lifetime friends because of yoga.  Some of my closest friends are these two guys named Dru and Crisanto.  They go by the name “Mental Physix.” (www.mentalphysix.com)   I met them at a yoga class in San Diego that they were DJing at.  I found out after the class that they come from a similar hip hop background like myself and are also heavily into yoga and doing music.  The first time we hung out was at Bhakti Fest in Joshua Tree, California (www.bhaktifest.comhttp://www.bhaktifest.com) We started hanging out more, traveling together, performing together, and collaborating on different projects together.

2012 was a pivotal and significant year for me in regards to growing as a person and musician. In 2012, I decided to create a project that was empowering and inspirational, different from the typical hiphop on the radio.  I wanted to bring more balance into the world of music and hip hop.  Understanding the power of affirmations, I decided to do something unique and have each chorus/song title on this project serve as a positive affirmation.

Since its release, I have performed at many music and yoga events like Bhakti Fest, Shakti Fest, One Love Movement Fest, and others.  I have performed rap, spoken word, and music in yoga classes and yoga dance parties.  My music is very uplifting with positive messages and the topics in the songs I write range from talking about health to chakras to dancing to current social issues people face.  I even have a song I am working on with the Los Angeles legend: DJ Drez.

My mission is to actualize social change through the collective power of music, dance, and community while restoring balance, inspiration and respect to the Hip-Hop and global arenas. My music engages audiences worldwide with a highly interactive, exhilarating and authentic stage performance, while conveying a clear message of positivity, health, sustainability, social justice, and Love.

KiyoshiI am now a 34 year old yogi, inspirational music artist, and passionate lover of health and fitness.  I currently reside in sunny San Diego and always find time to attend the numerous conferences and festivals in and around this beautiful state of California.  After moving here from Ann Arbor, Michigan two years ago, my life has changed dramatically.  I have consistently practiced yoga since early 2012 and since that time, I have grown tremendously spiritually and mentally.  Festivals such as the SDYoga journal conference, Bhakti Fest, and the Tadasana Festival have all had a significant, positive impact upon me.

In addition to yoga and acro-yoga, I occupy my time by creating/writing music, ecstatic dancing, attending music festivals, laughing and cracking jokes with my family/friends, working out, reading and watching films, hula-hooping, surrounding myself with like-minded individuals, spending time at the beach, hiking, puppetry, and enjoying life in every moment.  Loving, laughing, and learning are 3 principles in which I live by.

Today, with over 15 years of creating rhythms and rhymes, I have toured internationally to perform at socially conscious events, festivals, and venues all over. I plan to get my yoga teacher’s certification some time this year, continue inspiring through hip hop, touring with Mental Physix, and bring our shamanic rhythms to classes all over the world.

Be inspired, visit Kiyoshimusic.com or follow on Facebook and Twitter.



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What's Your Story

Will You Share Your Story? My Childhood of Books Evolved Into A Lifelong Love of Storytelling

In my youth I devoured books and became lost in worlds beyond my own. It didn’t matter if the stories were fake or real. I was just as absorbed reading about fictitious characters like Pippi Longstocking or Nancy Drew as I was by the courage of real life stories like Ruby Bridges, Pocahontas and Anne Frank.

My mother loved to read and encouraged me to read books well beyond my recommended age group. Thanks to her own natural curiosity, I became a bookworm at an early age.

What has changed since those young years is my knowledge that not all struggles are physical or imminently dangerous. Much of what we endure is emotional, rooted in an internal space. As an adult I began reading books about those who struggled with mental illness, low self-worth,  addiction, unexpectedly life-changing news and illness. Not all stories are about pain, some are based on waking up to joy and love that encouraged a new direction in life.

We all have a story to tell. In the spirit of Story Corps and Humans of New York, I want to share more stories about individual empowerment. These don’t need to be awesome, just valuable. When meeting new people I wonder, what valuable lesson do they have? What can they teach me? I want to share your story here on this blog. It can be a small part of your journey or a summary of your whole journey. The decision of what to share is yours.

So….. are you ready to share? Check out the What’s Your Story page and send me a message.

I’m an artist and writer with a focus on art therapy. If you would like to support my heart work, please consider becoming a monthly patron on Patreon.com/Loviedo. For $1 a month*, you can fund programs like my D.I.Y. Therapy: Healing Depression E-course, my monthly “Radical” e-zine and other creative healing projects, like “Cultivating Radical Self-Love: A Collaboration of Healers, Artists & Writers“.
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What's Your Story

Open Heart, Open Home: Lisa’s Story

The following is part of the What’s Your Story series where people share experiences of personal development, overcoming obstacles and healing.

When I was 16, I was put into foster care. In less than two years I was placed with four different families in three different cities, all at the whim of the state and the courts. It was scary and confusing but most of all, lonely. Being thrust into the home of strangers, expected to adapt and fit in without causing any trouble. Learning new rules, different expectations with each new home, your things stuffed into trash bags with each new move. And all of it, completely outside of your control.

I arrived at Eula’s house 21 days after entering foster care. Following my case worker up the stairs to enter this newest stranger’s house. I didn’t know what to expect. My heart beating in my chest as I waited to meet my newest “mother” as we stood outside her parlor in the hallway. In the house behind me I could hear voices and laughter drifting through the air, and an occasional glimpse of the body attached to those voices. Looking around the large house, I thought to myself, maybe I could fit in here.

Knocking on the parlor door, my caseworker entered, leaving me to stand alone while I waited for them to call me in. A short time later, I heard them call to me to join them. I shyly shuffled in, looking down at my shoes, hands fidgeting in front of me. When I heard Eula say, “Look up at me child, let me see you.”

Slowly raising my head, I saw Eula for the first time, sitting in her chair, smiling at me. Giving me a nod when our eyes met, she raised her arms and said, “Come here child, it’s going to be okay now.” I walked into her hug, tears in my eyes, feeling as if I had come home.

Eula loved each of us, all of foster sisters and I, and we all loved her in return, welcoming us as we arrived on her doorstep like a long lost daughter. On warm evenings, we would all gather around her outside on the porch and share stories. She would listen to us talk about school, the boys we liked, and our lives in general, smiling indulgently at each of us as we talked. She accepted each of us for who we were, giving us unconditional love, no matter what our situation may have been prior to moving in with her. “A clean slate”, she declared to each of us coming into her home. What happened in the past was the past. From here on out, we would only be judged by how we acted now, both privileges and punishments based solely on our present behavior. I loved her dearly for that. I think everyone in her home did.

Sadly, I was only allowed to stay with her for four months before being moved again, to another city, with another family. None as warm or as loving as what I had had with her. But while I was with her, she taught me to accept people as they were and to never hold their past against them, to take in those in need of help and to love them while they were with me. I have carried those lessons with me for the rest of my life.

I now own a large house of my own, often filled to capacity, and sometimes beyond with people who need a second chance. It started out slowly, more by accident than design, a young 17-year-old girl who’s parents had chosen drugs over her. Then a 17-year-old boy who had been thrown out of a religious sect, left sitting at a gas station, all of his belongings stuffed into garbage bags. Then two young men, one recently released from the Army who had lost their apartment. From there, it snowballed.

Each person who left, to be replaced by someone else, brought to me by someone I had helped before. They come to me broke, desperate, often scared, and with nowhere else to go. They come to me because the system we live in is broken, without adequate safety nets, and very little compassion. They come to me because they need a second chance, a hand up when the world has pushed them down. They come to me, because they have no place in our society, but desperately want to have one.

I have for the last ten years taken in hundreds of people. I have taken in pregnant women, who when they could no longer work, lost their homes because there is no paid medical or family leave in our country. I have taken in ex-vets, who after going to war find it difficult to readjust to civilian life, and find our country has forgotten their service as soon as they took off their uniforms. I have taken in ex-cons who cannot find work or a place to live because they made a mistake. A mistake more often stemming from poverty and desperation, rather than any true malicious intent. I have taken in families when one of the parents has lost their minimum wage job and they could no longer afford to live on their own. I have taken in all those that society has washed their hands of or simply looked away saying, “It’s not our problem.” The ones that fall through the cracks of our fractured society.

I often laugh and say that I’m running a flophouse, but it not that well organized. It is not run as a shelter, it is my home, and while they are with me, it is their home too. Each person treated as family, free to come and go as they please, safely secure in the knowledge that there is someone who cares about them as they put their lives back together. There are very few rules in my house, only two really, help when you can and respect the people around you. My house is often filled with laughter, music, and chaos, each person adding to the tapestry of our lives here, making it a vibrant place to live. I have had artists, musicians, fire spinners, poets and painters, and a variety of other characters have graced my doorstep over the years. They stay with me for awhile, there is no time limit, only when they are ready do they move on. Stepping out of my house with confidence that they can make it on their own, to scatter across the city, and the country, some as far away as Alaska and Hawaii.

In all my years of doing this and all the hundreds of people I have helped, only twice have I had a problem with someone who, with regret, I had to remove from my home. The most common problem I have is simply that there is only one bathroom for sometimes upwards of twelve people. I dream of the day I will have enough money to put in a second bathroom, but until then we cope as best we can, while waiting for our turn. We share what we have, help each other out, support each other when things are bad, and celebrate with them when things are good. Each new person learning what it is to belong to a family again, or maybe even for the first time.

I give each of them my unconditional love, I accept who they are without reservation, and I give each of them a clean slate as they walk through my door. Everyone deserves a second chance to get it right, to learn from their mistakes without paying for them for the rest of their lives. To learn how to stand up proudly and feel worthy of being treated like a person, someone who matters, maybe for the first time in their lives.

I have made a difference. I cannot change the world, but I can change the world for one person, and for me, right now, that is enough.

If you would like to read more story’s about Lisa’s life, you can find her book on Amazon at: Amazon.com/dp/B0160LJXNC  Or you can follow her on Goodreads at: Goodreads.com/author/show/14534843.Lisa_Orban

My life did not end up where I thought I would be when I was young and was asked what do you want to be when you grow up? I know the answer now, when I grow up I want to be happy. I still haven’t grown up, but I have learned to be happy, and maybe some day I will figure out the rest. Until then I will continue to stumble along, laughing at myself and my mistakes, learning from them and sharing them with others.

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Do you have a story of how your life changed for the better? Did you overcome a tragedy, depression, addiction, illness or a rough start in life? Everybody has a story. Please visit the What’s Your Story? page to share yours.


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