48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Essay #4: contortions

In Love on March 28, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Contort: [L contortus, pp of contorquere, fr. com- + torquere to twist
– more at TORTURE]:

to twist in a violent manner: to twist into a strained shape or expression
syn
see DEFORM.

–Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

I have been doing Authentic Movement for about a year with a woman who has become my friend. For an hour or so once a week, we take turns moving exactly as our bodies decree. It is a huge relief. Once a week I can do what I want when I want how I want.
No judgment.

It took me a while to believe there was no ‘right’ way to do authentic movement.
It’s authentic to me, get it?

Many times her movements reflect how I am actually feeling, not how I think I’m feeling. Many times this information is a shock to me. Last week, during her turn to move, she contorted her body into a corner until she was small and twisted. It looked painful. And familiar.

Bingo — message from god:
I have been contorting myself. Again.

Many times I don’t even know I’m doing it. I contort myself for family, friends, work.
I contort myself to fit your schedule, not mine.

Last night I hung up on my brother. I’m not proud of it.
I was trying to express my hurt feelings. He has a layover in Oregon on his way to Hawaii. It didn’t seem to occur to him to visit me.
In other words, I wanted to see him and I was afraid he didn’t want to see me.
Definitely a sore spot, if not an oozing canyon. I’m afraid no one wants to see me.
He twisted my words and accused me of guilt-tripping him. “You should be happy for me,” he yelled. We were both yelling. In the back of my mind rose the thought: I am paying for this call, this long distance call to someone who refuses to hear me.
Why am I paying good money to be ignored?

Why am I paying good money to be ignored?

Why am I ignoring me?
My needs, my desires?

Why am I contorting myself to please others? Why don’t I please me?

“We live in the experience we’re actually having,” said Michelle Obama to Oprah Winfrey (O Magazine, April 2009).

Am I?
Or am I stuck in a familiar contortion, running out of breath, twisting myself to fit what I imagine you want?

I don’t have to twist myself out of my true shape.
I can rise early or late, listen to love or hate.

Unwrap, unfold, inhale.
Extend. Expand. Exhale.

Undeformed, fully formed.

Unconstrained, fully named:
Me.

Free.

Essay #3: spring cleaning

In Love on March 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Dandelions are about to bloom. Time to dig ’em up and boil them for a nourishing tonic.

Out in the rain last week, I dug in the dirt, getting wet and feeling fine. Or was I melancholy? Moods pass through me like weather: Hello Anger! Oh, Regret, back so soon? Aloha, Sadness.

I don’t mean to sound flippant. Sometimes these visitors are quite painful. Anger scares the hell out of me.

Last night, I read The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit. One of the girls commented on how beautiful their mother is when she’s angry. That reminded me of how men used to say, “God! You’re beautiful when you’re mad!” and how demeaning it seemed. Ah, isn’t she cute when she’s upset.

But last night I looked at it differently. When energy flows through us unhindered, we are beautiful, whether it’s instigated by joy or love or anger.

I’m not talking about violence, though I used to think they were the same. Violence is what happens when Anger is ignored. Shove Anger away for long enough and she becomes Depression, dangerous and life-threatening.

For years I forced myself to put away my performing jones and join the ‘real’ world. And what happened? I was (unknowingly) furious at myself. And that rippled outward.
Self-loathing interferes with world peace.

Audre Lorde said, “Anger is loaded with information and energy.”

I’ve strangled anger for so long she’s found all kinds of ways to sneak out and wreak havoc: turning to Jealousy and Frustration for help, attacking my body with pains in the neck, inflaming the bottom of my foot. I was hobbled by hatred.

Anger doesn’t wait for permission. She surges up and forces me to notice that something is wrong now. Good girl Politeness finally takes a back seat, though she struggles for control. “Mustn’t be angry. You don’t want to scare anyone.”

Recently, I gave myself permission to be pissed.
Coincidentally (if there is such a thing), I auditioned for Elektra. You know, the Greek play about the woman who wants to kill her mother to avenge her father? She slipped right in, under my skin. Her hatred blew through me like a scirocco. What a relief to let her have her say.

When I talk myself out of anger, she digs in her heels and fights harder. When I allow her to speak, she stomps around a bit, then leaves of her own accord.

I have spent most of my life listening to others: parents, teachers, friends, lovers, bosses, critics.

I am learning to listen to Love, which means also listening to Anger. Listening to me.

It’s spring, sweetheart.
The old life is over.
Begin again.

Essay #2: the monster is a puppet

In Love on March 14, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I recently watched The Empire Strikes Back. George Lucas came on before the film to explain that this was a different version than had first appeared in movie theatres. In the original, he said, “the ice monster was a hand puppet.”

His comment struck me.
The terrifying monster that almost kills Luke Skywalker…was a small hand puppet.

How many of my monsters — or fears — are merely puppets?

Here’s a recent example: I couldn’t pay the rent on time this month. For days my mind threw up grim images of an angry landlord, eviction, living under bridges, homeless in the rain. When I finally got the courage to call him, he said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m just glad you’re all right. We’d hate to lose you.”

Monster? Hand puppet, operated by my mind.

Fear contracts: muscles, vision, life. I’ve been stuck in a contraction, bracing myself against the next bad thing. Fear has run me down, squeezed me small, hidden me away.

I have been flinching at life, not living it.

Fear was no longer a useful message, but a screaming background noise I tried to ignore. I pushed past fear, moving fast, hoping she wouldn’t catch up.

During a difficult conversation with my dad recently he said, “You are living such a marginal life.” And he is right. I have been cramped and small and walking on a thin line, trying not to fall. Living on the margins, instead of within the full text of life, spread out, taking up space.

I marginalized myself, trying to be good, perfect, lovable, wanted.
Thinking I had to deserve happiness.
I didn’t know that monster was a puppet. I thought it was going to kill me.

During the same conversation, I told my father I used to try to be the daughter I thought he wanted, which is why we never had a truthful interaction. I was afraid he wouldn’t love the real me.

My father said, “You never had to do anything except be your own happy self.”

And that’s the real monster, believing I’m not enough.
Spending time and energy trying to prove otherwise.

Fear is afraid. And what should you do when, say, little kids are afraid?
Ignore them? Scream at them?
No.
Condemnation is not a useful healing tool.

Lately I’ve tried something a little different: dancing with Fear. Listening to her. Holding her on my lap. Breathing.

This is not always easy to do.
It’s so tempting to run away or drown her out with distractions, e-mail, DVDs, whiskey.

It takes practice.
When I remember, I acknowledge instead of ignore, dance instead of fight, listen instead of run. I say to Fear,
Come into my heart and lie down
Rest your weary self
You are enough – right now.

The monster is only a puppet.
You can take your hand out anytime.

Essay #1: accent on E

In Love on March 7, 2011 at 1:24 am

Today marks the 48th anniversary of my birth. To celebrate these years on the planet, I plan to post 48 personal essays here, one every Monday. Why?

A few years ago, my best friend died.

Again.

The first time it happened, I was 4 and he was my brother John.

The second time, I was 44 and he was my dog Emmett.

Both young males, both had cancer, both loved me unconditionally and unceasingly.

The second loss brought up the first one in extraordinarily painful, but ultimately healing, ways.

Flash back to New Year’s Eve 2007
I am in an examining room, with the door closed.
Veterinary staff are trying to resuscitate Emmett, on a table in another room. I can hear them, but I can’t see them.
I am on my knees, praying.
Love pours through me and out the closed door toward him.
It’s huge, this love, and effortless.

My friend Dinah arrives and I grab her hand, hard.
The vet comes in, says, “We’ve been working on him for half an hour.”
I understand this to mean that he has left his body for good.

I follow her out the door. Turns out, he’s been facing me the entire time. We’ve been facing each other, through the closed door.

As soon as I see him, I know he’s gone. I nod to the vet tech and she stops CPR. She’s crying, too.

I pet his gorgeous black malamute fur, his huge plumy tail.
“Thank you,” I tell him. “I love you. I’m sorry.”
Over and over:
Thank you.
I love you.
I’m sorry.

These are crucial phrases. They can get you a long way in various situations. Perhaps we should memorize them in a few different languages:
Gracias. Te amo. Lo siento.
Merci. Je t’aime. Je suis désolé.
Grazie. Ti amo. Mi dispiace.
Danke. Ich liebe dich. Es tut mir leid.

Sting sings, “Love is a big fat river in flood.”

My heart broke open that day. When I focused all my loving on Emmett, wringing every ounce from every cell of my body, I unknowingly let the big fat river of love break its banks and forge a wide-ass channel. I can’t even see the other shore. Could be an ocean, for all I know.

With Emmett as my focus — my Buddha, my Jesus — I discovered that I am swimming in love. We all are.

Emmett’s secret name was joy.
I finally realized that mine is, too.

Thanks for reading.