Episode 54: Visiting with Taylor Clay and her story, “Penguin Crossing”
SSPP ep 54 TAYLOR CLAY “PENGUIN CROSSING”
Taylor Clay visited with hosts Kerry and Jenette to chat about her story, “Penguin Crossing,” from the 2022 show in Champaign, IL. She shares how disability impacts her daily life and how she has embraced the taunt that haunted her in elementary school.
ANNOUNCER 00:00 Raising women’s voices. One story at a time.
Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
[music: The She Said Project theme]
JENETTE JURCZYK 00:26 Well, we’re having a grand old time here at The She Said Project Podcast. Welcome back to the studio one more time. I’m your co-host Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of The She Said Project.
KERRY ROSSOW 00:37 And I’m your Co-Founder, Kerry Rossow. Number one Jenette Jurczyk fan.
JENETTE 00:41 Oh, well, that’s very sweet of you, Kerry Rossow.
KERRY 00:43 I love you.
JENETTE 00:44 You know, I’ve loved you for a very long time. You changed my life. I mean, not everyone knows the story. But you created The She Said Project. And a couple years later, I found you. I maybe stalked you in a parking lot. I… The details are fuzzy. But I fell so in love with the mission that you guys created; and I wanted to be part of it. And you welcomed me in with open arms. And here we are many years later, but now getting to reconnect with the women who have appeared on stage at That’s What She Said in different cities across the country. Now, almost, we’re getting there.
KERRY 01:21 It’s pretty great because you get so close with these women during their cast’s season. And then the show’s over and everybody goes back to life. And the podcast is sort of that great way that 1000 times a week, someone will pop in my head. And I think I wonder how they are, what they’re doing, or what the feedback was. And now that we have the podcast, it’s great because everybody can come along and get updated together.
JENETTE 01:41 Absolutely. And this week, we’re bringing it right back here to home where it all began because our guest today appeared on stage in the flagship mothership show of That’s What She Said in Champaign Urbana, but really, really recent. She was in our 2022 cast – our first show back after that we took a year off… just because.
KERRY 02:03 Gap year.
JENETTE 02:04 Gap year.
KERRY 02:04 Everybody else is doing it. [Jenette laughs]
JENETTE 02:07 We’re not going to talk about why. But this was a really special performance by a really special lady. So let’s, let’s bring her out here. Taylor Clay, welcome to the podcast!
TAYLOR CLAY 02:17 Thanks for having me, ladies. It’s kind of weird to be like, sitting there with you. Well, sort of cause I moved. But yeah, I’m there.
JENETTE 02:29 I know you shared your story with us here in Champaign, and then you took off. So now you are checking out other parts of the country, maybe going to talk about bringing That’s What She Said to more parts of the country. But let’s talk about your experience here in Champaign. What made you say yes to being a speaker in That’s What She Said?
TAYLOR 02:50 Oh, that’s a difficult question. I think it was just the unique opportunity to tell my story from my perspective. Because growing up, I was on the news and in the media constantly. But it was always a story about me. I was not the one telling the story.
KERRY 03:08 Interesting. And how was that? Did it feel empowering to sort of take the reins and like, let me actually tell my own story?
TAYLOR 03:16 I would definitely say so. And it allowed me to say, “Look, here is actually who I am. Here’s what everybody thinks. But that isn’t everything about me.” It was an interesting experience. It was emotional. I miss all of you, and the 10 other ladies that were in my cast, and I’m hoping if I’m able to come home, we can reconnect. But I think the interesting thing is just how many connections from the experience I’ve been able to make. And I think people that I grew up with have been able to better understand what it was like to be me.
JENETTE 03:55 No one knows what it’s like to be you except you. But I think now we all we all have a little more insight into your world. So Taylor, you mentioned you grew up being on TV a lot being in the news a lot. Can you share with our audience why?
TAYLOR 04:10 Sure. So when on a basic level, I am a triplet. My maiden name was Morefield. My dad has been in radio and media my whole entire life and I got involved with different news events and things and I was a fundraiser kid for Easter Seals in Bloomington when I was younger, I’ve done a lot of public speaking ,a lot of news appearances related to the different causes that I was involved in as a kid. So, performing is not new. However, being on the Virginia Theater stage was new. That was a little bit nerve-wracking to see like 1500 heads sharing at me [Jenette laughs]. That was a little nerve-wracking.
JENETTE 04:56 Nerve wracking for you. Like you said, you, you have been in front of cameras, you have been in the public eye. And just from the moment we met you, you have been the most positive, vocal, you’re an advocate for yourself and for everyone in your world. I’m surprised to hear you say that you were nervous.
TAYLOR 05:17 I think I was nervous from the fact of like, something out of my control, potentially going wrong, right. So like coming from a theater and a media background. You always think about the mic breaking. Or I remember in rehearsal, we had an instance where one of the music stands that we use to hold our scripts broke apart. [laughter] So, just those little things because you try and make everything as perfect as you can. Right. But obviously, we’re humans and part of human nature to make mistakes.
JENETTE 05:55 Maybe your human nature. I don’t know. Definitely not mine.
TAYLOR 05:58 Oh, no?
JENETTE 05:59 No. And Kerry, I’ve never seen Kerry make a mistake ever.
KERRY 06:05 She might have a vision problem. But that was the great thing is everybody just everybody that was sort of the whole point like this is this is life. It’s messy. And we all just help each other out and keep moving.
TAYLOR 06:15 Yeah, I definitely got that kind of vibe from our whole entire cast. Because we had so many different perspectives we had, Joan, I mean, she’s going on what I think she turned 80 this past year. We just had so many different perspectives. And I love that we are able to learn from each other and embrace the messy, the messiness that is life.
JENETTE 06:38 It was a really good group. And coming out of COVID, your cast in particular probably had a lot more mess potential to take into consideration than most but you guys handled it like pros. So let’s play your performance so we can all enjoy it one more time, and then we’ll talk about it. Okay, here is Taylor Clay on stage and That’s What She Said Champaign, Illinois 2022 with her story, “Penguin Crossing.”
[Recorded on February 25, 2022 at the Virginia Theatre, Champaign IL]
TAYLOR 07:10 I’ve had a pretty interesting life story from day one. Well, actually, it started before day one, my sister, brother and I shared a womb for nine months before we were dubbed Baby A, Baby B and Baby C. And I was Baby B. Being born a triplet is wild. And like many things, it has its pluses and minuses. One positive for me was I grew up having my two best friends with me all the time. However, since we were born 12 weeks early, all three of us developed Cerebral Palsy. My best friend Matt likes to say, having CP is like ordering your body off of wish, instead of Amazon [laughter]. The CDC defines CP as a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance. And it’s the most common disability in childhood. Cerebral means having to do with the brain and palsy refers to muscle weakness. In my specific case, CP looks like falling down if I sneeze while standing, dropping things and leg and back spasms when I’m tired or cold. And did I mention peeing my pants randomly? Fun fact. I peed my pants in Disney World [laughter]. It’s okay. I laugh about it too.
08:54 Since my siblings struggled with the same things I did growing up. I never knew I was different. Having leg braces and walking funny was normal. Well, preschool was a rude awakening. One of my earliest memories was my first day of school. I was almost three years old, and I walked in the door pulling my walker behind me with my aid just behind and then it happened. I took one step into Mrs. T’s classroom, and I saw 20 pairs of eyes staring back at me. And that moment I looked down at my feet, took a deep breath and thought to myself all right, I’m on an island so I’ll have to do this myself. As unfortunate as this sounds, this is the reality for most of us with disabilities, functioning in the world that’s not made for you is a big shit sandwich [laughter].
10:00 This reality is exhausting. To be frank, society forced me to stand up for myself and become independent. Sure, it’s part of my personality. But sometimes I wish I could turn that part of me off. Sometimes I wish I didn’t walk funny. Or when I was little, I wanted to be able to safely go down the slide during recess without help. I wanted to be able to run and play on the playground with my friends. But I walked slower. I couldn’t play tag, I’d get too tired. Walking on wood chips on the playground was hard. My feet didn’t, and if I’m honest, I still don’t know how to walk on uneven ground without falling down. I wish I didn’t have to have PE adapted for me, so that I could participate. I couldn’t go outside and play in the cold snow because I would get too cold, and my muscles would shake and become painful. Yet, I wanted kids to see me for who I was. I was a girl who liked baby dolls, drawing and playing house. My favorite color was and still is pink. Yet all they saw was the walker, crutches and leg braces. When I was in second or third grade, kids started calling me “the penguin”. Because of how I walk. I waddle it’s fine. I truly don’t know any different. This is my normal, kids would taunt me when I came down the hallway, “here comes the penguin.” As I got older, I started to learn about penguins. Did you know that they mate for life and take care of one another. They carry things using their feet. I carry things between my knees when I’m in my chair. As I got older, I started to take power back from those little meanie heads that called me “the penguin”. When I left home to go to college, I had a sign that hung on my door. It said, “penguin crossing”. It looks like a caution sign. And to this day, it still hangs on my childhood bedroom wall at my parents house. I saw that sign every day. That sign was a reminder that labels didn’t define me. I could create my own reality. The only definition of me that matters is the true one I create [applause].
12:48 My diagnosis came with certain restrictions and expectations. It will be hard to live independently. It will be difficult to find a loving partner, and my favorite it will be near impossible to have your own children. Well today, my husband, Will and I are parents to an able-bodied, beautiful little boy [applause]. And man, oh man, does that come with its own set of challenges and chaos. I know many young moms belong to mother’s groups to connect with their peers. As a millennial, I automatically go to two spots for support. Reddit and Facebook [laughter]. There are groups and sub Reddits for everything from corgis to stupid crap your kids did. Sure, there are parenting advice forums. Those are dime a dozen. But I was looking for support before I had my nugget. But I couldn’t find what I needed. Sure, I found plenty of groups out there. But I needed a group of mamas and dads that have disabilities. My search was fruitless! There were no groups on Facebook or pages on Reddit. For parents with disabilities like mine. I was flabbergasted. Wheelchair users have access challenges everywhere. And quite frankly, caring for our own children should not be one of them. Having CP has taught me to get creative when I do things, but it takes time to figure out what works. Thankfully, I was able to reach out to some of my wheely friends that are also parents and find out what worked for them. But what happens when someone is newly in a chair or doesn’t know anyone else who uses a wheelchair that also cares for small children. Sure, we all have to adapt. That’s part of parenting, and especially disability life, but just once, it would be nice to have a resource to go to that offer suggestions and tips from parents that have been through it.
15:21 It seems the world wasn’t quite ready for parents with disabilities like mine. You see, I’m living in one of the first generations of people with CP to make it to adulthood [applause]. So we need to come together as a society to normalize moms, dads, and families with disabilities. I would like to take my son to the store without getting questioning stares. During one such shopping trip, I was actually asked by a stranger if he was my son, or if I was “babysitting”. Excuse me? What? As I calmly answered, “Yes, he’s mine.” What I really wanted to say was, “Yes, he’s my son. Would you like to see my leaky boobs, and C section scar?” Look, look, I didn’t come here to give you a PSA on ADA laws, or the need for accessibility. I didn’t come here to brag about everything I have overcome so you can feel inspired. I’m not here to be your inspiration porn [applause and laughter].
16:42 I’m just trying to live life as normally as everyone else challenges and all, I’m choosing to focus on the great things I have in my life. I have an amazing family. My siblings taught me countless lessons, one of the most important lessons I learned was to see that every person has value, and something to offer the world. My husband Will is truly my rock. No matter the day we’ve both had, he is there to listen and help pick up the slack when I simply don’t have it in me to do everything I want to during the day. He’s also the first to recognize my limits, and encourage me to take time for myself. And I grew up in a community where I saw myself in a community of scholars and educators, I saw people like me. Society tried to put me in a box for their comfort. But because I grew up right here, in this community, I saw people like me doing incredible things, and making something of themselves. I now have a small trinket plate with a penguin on it sitting near my kitchen sink that holds my wedding rings when I’m cooking or baking for my family and friends. That penguin plate with those rings on it reminds me every day that I defied everyone’s expectations. I am a wife, a mom, a sister, a student, an advocate, and so, so much more. And still a penguin. But I’m a proud penguin [applause].
JENETTE 18:47 So Taylor, you really owned that stage. So, I don’t. I don’t believe you were nervous at all. I didn’t hear it.
TAYLOR 18:55 I hide it well [chuckles]. I think the interesting thing that came from the whole experience is, how my advocacy has grown and shifted and morphed and how I’m now working side by side with you and Kerry and a little bit with the teen program and just helping to make advocacy and also the knowledge of disability more of a forward thought as opposed to an afterthought for That’s What She Said.
JENETTE 19:33 I learned so much from you in our process of writing your story and learning about what life is like for you. You certainly opened my eyes and that is one of the whole goals is by us sitting on that stage and sharing your story. I know that there were women out there who learned something you got to open minds and open hearts that night. And if we can accomplish that at every show, I mean that’s the goal. And I love that the gift that you brought to the show you’ve continued to bring to The She Said Project. Because what we’ve learned from you, we are now writing into our programming, we’re writing it into our guidelines. As we grow into more communities, you have been an advocate on behalf of all people with disabilities so that The She Said Project can not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. And so we’re looking to you for your advice and your expertise on how we as an organization can be more inclusive.
TAYLOR 20:33 It’s a very heavy job, but I love it [Jenette chuckles], because it’s what I do all day long, every single day, my husband has even gotten to where to go into a building completely without me and notice things and be like, “That’s not as accessible as it could be”, or “that’s backwards”. So I think it’s even opened his eyes a little bit.
KERRY 20:59 On the personal side, what was the feedback you got from your friends and family after the show?
TAYLOR 21:05 My cousin cried [chuckles]. And I was like, “Oh, my goodness, I didn’t mean to make you cry.” And she’s like, ‘it wasn’t necessarily a bad cry’. She’s like, ‘having not seen you on the stage for so long. And then also knowing your story from the outside and living it along with you, and then kind of reliving it with you’ And you just being so raw and real kind of helped her realize how much the experience that that I spoke about, influenced me as an adult growing up. And I think it also has helped people realize that society sucks. Mom shaming is a thing. It should not be a thing. And I’m not immune to it.
KERRY 21:54 No, I can’t imagine anybody is.
JENETTE 21:56 I love how you just put it out there.
KERRY 21:58 Yep.
JENETTE 21:58 You did, you just put it out there, living in a world that is not made for you sucks.
TAYLOR 22:03 uhh hmm
JENETTE 22:03 And you just call it for what it is. But even more so you defined what could make it better. You were looking for support groups, you were looking for parenting advice, these, these resources should be out there. And now we can have those conversations because you stood up or sat down and you spoke, you know, the things that suck, you’re starting conversations.
KERRY 22:28 Well, and it really it just opens eyes, because all of us look at the world through our own filter. And until somebody else gives us a shot to look through somebody else’s filter for a sec, you don’t know. So, having representation and someone at the table to point out what others might not have on their radar is really important.
TAYLOR 22:45 I definitely agree. And also with this advocacy work, and something that I tell you and Jenette all the time, Kerry is, while I can be an advisor; I’m approaching this whole project of accessibility and our policies and our procedures from my reality. So, if there is someone else with another disability, they’re going to have to teach me about their reality. I have friends all over the disability spectrum that I’ve been able to ask those difficult questions about anything and everything as we’ve worked to create this framework for our partners. But the important thing, I think, is that we want this to change and morph and grow and improve. Like you said, we’re not only going to talk the talk, we’re gonna walk the walk, and it’s not going to be, it’s I don’t think the project is ever going to be finished. It’s always gonna change, it’s always gonna grow.
KERRY 23:44 I hope so. And I think that’s what makes you so good at what you do is your candor. And you just never know what’s gonna come out of your mouth. But it’s really a gift because you don’t, you know, sometimes people are uncomfortable about the unknown, or what they don’t feel like they know about. And so when you say stuff like the you know, it just sucks, or you just put it right out there. And then it gives everybody permission to just have an open and honest conversation and ask questions.
TAYLOR 24:08 I think you’re right. And also at the same time, my lack of filter has gotten me in trouble more times than I can count. [Kerry laughs]
KERRY 24:16 Well, you’re in the right place, then.
TAYLOR 24:17 Yeah, like I wonder who can relate to that [Kerry laughs]. But I think at the same time, being it like you said, being able to be that voice isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And also knowing your audience. Right?
JENETTE 24:30 Right.
TAYLOR 24:31 So like, as I got to know everyone that was in, that was in my cast, I became more and more comfortable about speaking my truth. And I think that something that the program and the framework that you use Jenette to cultivate these groups, these very supportive groups of women, and this amazing show. You develop this support network for the cast members. And the thing that I think always surprises me, and probably this might be a secret, is we don’t know what the show is gonna look like until the very, very end [Kerry laughs].
JENETTE 24:31 Shh, don’t give it away. We always know what we’re doing here, at She Said [Taylor laughs].
KERRY 24:38 It makes me think of Kelly Hill, when we were asking her to be in the show, you know, am I ticking these boxes. And so in the beginning, where it does start where we’re thinking about representation, it does start with checking a box. But then it’s only about representation, we don’t necessarily want you to talk about being of color, or gay, or in a wheelchair, we just want everyone to have a seat at the table. And so then it is the magic of waiting and going through all of the brainstorming sessions with Jenette and finding what it is, how you’re going to weave in a story and what story it’s going to be. So it is kind of this beautiful surprise when we land on it.
TAYLOR 25:55 It was so fun for those of us that were able to attend our final meeting together and watch the show back. All of us got really emotional, some of us more than others. But I think, even though we felt barely disconnected from these pieces coming back together, just brought all of those emotions back. And I think what’s amazing about the live shows is that you feed off of the audience, you feed off of your cast mates, and the people behind the stage and their energy. And in those moments where you feel like you can’t go on everybody else is holding you up. Because some of these stories are emotional. But we manage to balance the sad with the happy and the funny. And so I’m really looking forward as the podcast season goes forward, everyone meeting the other women and letting them tell their side of the story. Because these women are all older than me.
KERRY 27:03 Watch it, watch it. Watch it, Taylor.
TAYLOR 27:07 I still feel like they’re my friends. They’re my equals as opposed to pleople that.
KERRY 27:12 Elders.
TAYLOR 27:14 Yeah, I hate to use that word. Because to be honest, you and Jenette are like friends and everybody else in the cast. And I know that any of you guys if I needed anything, and I was back in Champaign, or even if I wasn’t, somebody would find a way to meet whatever that need was.
JENETTE 27:33 What I’m hearing is you unraveling everything that we’ve intentionally put into place, it’s almost as if you’ve read our mission statement, [Kerry laughs] you know, but,that’s exactly it is, you find this very powerful, but very unique and diverse group of women, you put them through this intimate yet powerful experience. And these connections are built and created. And they are strong, sharing stories creates strong bonds, period. And I’m so glad that that was obvious to you, that you took that away with you that these women are there for you. And it doesn’t matter that they’re eight or 80. These are women who shared an experience. We stripped away all the small talk, we found the deeper connection, those moments that we can all relate to, and we can all share. And it stays, it stays. I love that you’re now in Portland, and yet the connection is still deep. So that speaks volumes to me. And I thank you for bringing that up.
TAYLOR 28:33 You always say Portland, it’s Seattle.
JENETTE 28:35 Darn it.
KERRY 28:36 That’s how we pronounce it here. We pronounce it.
JENETTE 28:38 Yes.
KERRY 28:40 Portland.
JENETTE 28:41 Portlandattle . P land. Portatal. Portatal? Seattle, I appreciate you bringing that up Taylor.
TAYLOR 28:49 There’s so many times where I’ll find myself seeing something or someone will say something and it will make me think is, one of the other ladies or you or Kerry. And I’ll be like, Oh, you’re not with me. They can’t enjoy the funny. So sometimes I have no other choice but to send a text message and say, “Hey, someone said this today. And it made me think of this.” And I think just having those little inside jokes and inside quips with the cast and being reminded of them, still allows me to be close while being so far away.
JENETTE 29:26 And how have you found moving to a new city? Have you found the community to be accommodating? You spoke out about our community here and that you saw yourself here in this community and I felt a little proud like what you were sharing that you know, this community did not represent restriction to you it represented opportunity. And have you found that as well in Seattle?
TAYLOR 29:51 Yes and no. Places like doctors offices and things like that, that have to be accessible are but it’s not Champaign-Urbana. When I think of Champaign-Urbana, I think of campus and the surrounding community. And every single one of those buildings has a push button door or curb cut, or a ramp, and Seattle and the surrounding area where I’m at. I’m like, 30 minutes from Seattle. So Seattle ish. It’s not stellar, but it’s not the worst that I have experienced. So it’s made me kind of take a step back and realize how much work there is still to be done.
JENETTE 29:51 And I have a feeling that you’re not going to keep quiet about it either.
TAYLOR 30:09 Oh, no, as soon as I connected with my church out here, I went to my eclesiastical leader, and I was like, who do I talk to about this building because this could be better. Yeah, that was the first words out of my mouth.
JENETTE 30:53 There are so many ways this world could be better for all people with different abilities. Taylor, you are going to continue to open eyes and open hearts anywhere you go, and everywhere you go, and also make the world a better place as you do it. And so I hope that some of our friends who are listening with us today also got to experience a little bit of Taylor Clay. And we could laugh with you, but we can also learn from you. I want to thank you not just for being here on the podcast today, but for saying yes to That’s What She Said in Champaign; for saying yes to coming aboard our team to help us know what we need to know so, we can know better and be better as we go out and create more opportunities for women. We want to be that advocate with you, alongside you, lifting you up raising women’s voices. That’s what we do. Thanks for your help girl.
TAYLOR 31:49 Thank you because to be honest, being an advocate without help is exhausting. But I feel like sometimes people don’t know how to advocate for themselves or for others. So as a result of not knowing how they don’t often speak up, and then those of us that all we do is advocate we get burnt out. So it’s really important to me to hear you say no we’re doing this alongside you. Because now I know that when I’m tired I have a team behind me that’s gonna pick up my slack and carry it on.
JENETTE 32:27 I love everything you just said, [chuckles] it’s true you’re on our team and we’re on yours and so for anyone listening who wants to be on Team Taylor you know you can reach out contact The She Said Project pay attention to the work that we’re doing as we grow into more communities and you will most certainly see more of Taylor Clay. But for today that’s all the time we have. We thank you so much for joining us for more incredible women’s stories where we can all, you know, we can all shine a little brighter, because we learned something new and connected with our, our fellow ladies, our fellow women if you were. Kerry, I connected with you today.
KERRY 33:06 Yay! we’re holding hands – just so that you can know.
JENETTE 33:11 Literally.
TAYLOR 33:11 Aww my hand is outstretched
KERRY 33:13 Oh we got you, you hold our hand all the time I there’s nothing greater than seeing those texts come through from you. So thank you, signing out, keep those texts coming, over and out.
[Music: The She Said Project Podcast Theme]
ANNOUNCER 33:28 Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in the podcast for the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to https://shesaidproject.com
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management, empowering women to live their best lives.
Taylor Clay visited with hosts Kerry and Jenette to chat about her story, "Penguin Crossing," from the 2022 show in Champaign, IL. She shares how disability impacts her daily life and how she has embraced the taunt that haunted her in elementary school.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.