48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Essay #8: power or protection

In Love on April 25, 2011 at 8:03 pm

There is a Norway Spruce in the front yard – 40 or 50 feet tall, evergreen and gorgeous, it shields me from my neighbors’ view. When the setting sun hits it, the trunk turns golden orange.

I look at this tree often: when I’m writing, eating, chopping vegetables. It has protected and shaded me for seven years. Buffered street sounds. Hosted birds and squirrels.

Unfortunately, it’s slated for destruction. Power lines run through the limbs. They could snap in a high wind. The electric company asked the landlord to remove it. He in turn asked me to get bids from arborists.

I call three companies. I am complicit in the death of this tree. An accessory.

I feel powerless. Not my tree, not my land. I have to do what ‘they’ say, even if it hurts me. Child-like thinking: adults are in charge, I have to go along.

Or do I?

Why don’t I take a stand: Hell no, Spruce won’t go!
Ain’t no use, we love the Spruce!
Start a group: The Spruce Boosters.
Call on Zeus: we need some juice!
Where is Butterfly whatever-her-name-is when you need her?

On the other hand, I owe the landlord rent. Do I sacrifice the tree to stay on his good side?
Is a tree just a big weed? Is this big ass Spruce messing up my feng shui? Is this why I’m drowning in debt? Because Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, can’t find my door?

As I am writing this, an arborist calls. He can take the tree out Wednesday morning, if that works for me.

I hate change. Well, that’s not entirely true. I like how my face is changing as I get older. I like that I can be honest with people in ways I couldn’t before. I like that I care less what people think. Change is gonna come, croons George Benson.

Should I call the arborist?
What will happen if I remove the barrier?

If people can see you they can hurt you, yes?

If people can see you they can love you. Yes.

Essay #7: speeding down the highway

In Love on April 18, 2011 at 11:12 am

Sunday afternoon, driving north on 1-5, I see flashing lights up ahead – cops.
Is it a round robin? (That’s a swerving maneuver used to slow or stop traffic.)

Wait — one of the cops is speeding toward me, heading south on the northbound side of the highway — what the hell!?!

Another cop follows, siren screaming, lights flashing, and then I see a small silvery beige car ahead of them, nearer to me, and I register reality — three cop cars are chasing a beige car heading south on the freeway. Toward me.

I have good brakes. The many Seattle-bound drivers around me have good brakes. From 70 miles an hour to a dead stop. All of us. No smashing. No crashing.

The beige car zooms past me on the right, flying down the highway against traffic, trailing police. What’s that math problem? One driver starts at point A traveling 70 mph, another driver starts at point B traveling 100 mph. Driver A stops her beautifully crafted Toyota on a dime as driver B heads for the airport in the wrong lane, on the wrong side of the highway, with a police escort.

After they pass us, we (Drivers A) stay where we are for several minutes — askew and scattered across five lanes of interstate highway. We breathe. Feel our blood, still in our bodies. A miracle. A woman in a white car near the breakdown lane is laughing. Adrenaline rush.

Slowly, we start rolling, and soon we’re doing 70 miles an hour again. My eyes are wide open. Here’s proof, once more, that I really have no idea what’s going to happen. Ever.

How could you prepare for something like this? It ain’t in the driving test, baby.
All I can do is be present, take things as they come, even if they are speeding toward me, breaking all the rules of the road.

Am I driving at high speed in the wrong direction? Sometimes it feels like it.

Turns out the beige car crashed into a red car about a mile or two behind me. Every single person survived. The red car driver — after a head-on collision! — was not even hospitalized.

Another miracle.

Essay #6: the happiness code

In Love on April 11, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I’ve been editing a website for a non-profit.
Uploading text has been simple enough, but suddenly I was unable to change photos.

I followed directions, to the letter. The new photo appeared in the draft, but when I updated and uploaded the page — no photo.

I tried again and again. Maybe I didn’t click all the buttons, check all the boxes.
The photo wouldn’t change.
It should’ve changed (I did everything right!), but it didn’t.

Eventually, frustrated, I stopped and sat and thought.

Computers do exactly what they’re told. They follow programming, to the letter.
Since it wouldn’t do what I asked, it must be doing what someone else asked.
Something I didn’t know about.

Sure enough, I dug around and found other programming in effect, overriding my commands to change the picture. Unbeknownst to me, someone had added header code. I neutralized the code by de-selecting it. Now I can add and change photos 15 times a day.

I didn’t create the underlying code, but it affected me, nonetheless.

Which lead me to think about my ‘happiness code.’

Over the years various people tried to convince me that I deserve to be happy. I rarely believed them. Despite different therapies and methods — affirmation, visualization, cognitive this, meditative that — the picture wouldn’t change.

Perhaps my ‘happiness code’ got deleted, or changed into ‘unhappiness code.’

One day, after her name popped up in too many places to ignore, I checked out Byron Katie’s book, Loving What Is. She advocates investigation. Her method in brief: write down the thought or belief, then question it — is it true? Let the answer arise.

Turns out I’ve been believing lies:
You shouldn’t be happy – your brother is dead.
You shouldn’t be happy – your mother may die.
You shouldn’t be happy – your father left.
You shouldn’t be happy – you are bad.

Installed and coded in five-year-old flesh.
Along with millions of other conflicting beliefs.

I don’t deserve to be happy – is that even true? What’s the reality?
Deserving has nothing to do with happiness. I can think of many people (warmongers, anyone?) who do not deserve to be happy. Yet there they are, blithely blissful, regardless of what I believe.

And if the tables were turned, and I was dead and Johnny alive, I wouldn’t want him to believe some stupid ass concept like You don’t deserve to be happy. That’s crazy! I’d want him to be as happy and healthy as possible, every single day of his life.

Revelation.

If it’s not true for him, it’s probably not true for me.

I didn’t create the code, but I am learning to change the picture.

Essay #5: interested or invested?

In Love on April 4, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I woke up this morning thinking about interest. I am not talking about money. Or maybe I am.

I am talking about being interested in thoughts and feelings versus being invested in them, i.e, being affected by them, driven by them, disabled by them.

I accidentally broke the glass in a picture frame. I tugged a towel off a high shelf, which then came crashing down and broke the glass over Yoko Ono. She was not amused. Or maybe she was.

The outpouring of mean, critical, accusatory thoughts shocked me. My mind screamed: Useless, stupid, lazy idiot! What the hell is wrong with you! You should know better!

Scary and dangerous – all those glittery sharp shards.

I decided to experiment. Instead of suppressing these vituperative spewings, I sat and wrote them down. It was hard – I’ve never been comfortable with screaming people. (Is anyone?) But I decided to treat myself and my thoughts with “curiosity and kindness,” as Geneen Roth says in her book, Lost and Found. “Surprise them with compassion,” as Morgan Freeman says, playing Nelson Mandela in the film Invictus.

Eventually, my pulse rate slowed. My breathing deepened.
The glass is shattered and cannot go back to the shape it was.

I thought about how my identity is shattering. How my background level of terror is subsiding. How it’s easier to be around strangers, or in unfamiliar surroundings. How I allow myself to speak up, to perform, to publish these essays.

In my old identity, I was hiding, turning away from love, from people, from connection. The glass kept them out.

In the far distance, I see another way of being:
interested instead of invested
present instead of impressing
compassionate instead of critical.

In the latest Co-op News (April/May 2011), OlyKraut co-founder Summer Bock says “Taking good care of your little world – an arm’s length around you – is so radical and seems so small when there is so much happening in the world… [but] You start taking good care of yourself and over time you can expand your reach. If you can get to where it becomes second nature to nurture yourself, you have stopped buying into the oppression.”

Even Martin Luther King, Jr. remarked on the need to squeeze the slave out of himself.

Nelson Mandela is free now. Are you?