48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Essay #17: water dance

In Love on June 27, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Last Saturday, I joined dancers in 60 cities around the world in a 24-hour performance event that rolled through the time zones from Australia to Hawaii: Global Water Dances.

We all started at 5pm, local time, on June 25. In Olympia, I lead the opening ceremony at Watershed Park. The night before I still didn’t know exactly how it would unfold. Saturday morning I prayed for help and — boom! — words came to me.

I dressed in blues and greens, stuck a sprig of sage behind one ear, adorned myself with jewelry from both sides of the family, and painted my face with blue ocean waves. I drove to the site early, walked down to Moxlie Springs and filled a jug, singing along the way. Trudging back up the hill with the bottle of water balanced on my head, I flashed on the multitudes of women doing the same thing throughout millennia – carrying water back to the clan.

I sat on a bench near Moxlie Springs Basin, where 27 springs jump out of the earth to meander down to the Salish Sea. A salmon run. The source of Olympia’s water decades ago, now protected in a city park.

In a big wooden bowl, I mixed waters from the springs, the Pacific Ocean, and an artesian well. Berd, the videographer, turned up, and soon after, the troupe of dancers, also dressed in shades of blue and green. Gorgeous.

Before the public arrived, we held hands and closed our eyes, listening to the springs. Then the dancers scattered along the path.

I sat on the bench and started humming. After awhile, I opened my mouth and let the sound out. Karen joined in, then Meg, then the others — all of us toning together, high notes, winding notes, low notes, loud, soft. The water carried our voices, our voices carried the water. We came to silence and I began reading the words to the gathering crowd:

Maori say, From nothing comes the begetting.

Wash away your belief that you are not necessary, connected, welcome, loved.

Make a wish, set an intention.
As you walk through the forest, meditate on this wish, this intention, this prayer, this dream for peace and clean water.

What’s water but the generated soul? asked the poet Yeats.

Listen to it, see it, feel it:
Under the freeway, in the air
On your skin as sweat and tears
In your mouth and salty blood

We are part water, not apart, not separate
Shall we treat each other with reverence and respect?

In this bowl are waters from Moxlie Springs, the Pacific Ocean, and a well blessed by the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers.

I bless you with the waters of the world, as you in turn bless me.

Receive it. Give it.
Go in peace.

I handed the bowl to Karen, dipped my hands in the mixed waters, and anointed her head and shoulders. She then handed the bowl to Meg, dipped her hands in the water, and blessed Meg. Then Karen headed down the path, following the stream, while Meg handed the bowl to someone else and blessed him. In this way a chain of blessings wound its way through the crowd, then one by one they followed the stream through the forest. Everyone received a blessing, and everyone gave a blessing. Linda’s son, Yasha, blessed me last.

I skipped down the path to catch up with the quiet line of meditating people, winding our way to the sea. We would stop and release our wishes into Indian Creek, dance together at Yashiro Japanese Garden, then parade to Puget Sound to watch our wishes go out on the tide.

Essay #16: rest

In Love on June 20, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Rest.
Why is that so hard to do?

Last week I crashed. I said yes to too many projects, and became stressed to the point of intense headaches and sleeplessness.

It’s almost midnight when I notice a sign in the window on Martin Way: Abrupt Edge.
Metaphorical, but true. I didn’t know I’d fallen over it until I found myself inarticulate, weeping and cursing all noisome creatures.

When you’re so far over the edge it’s only a memory, the thing you need most is the thing you can’t have: rest.

A neighbor decides to pressure wash her house, then throw a party.
An air show flies overhead. My irritation is an indication of dis-ease. Usually I run up the hill to see better. I love jets.

Lying in a dark room wearing earplugs, I eventually crawl up and out of the hole.
Tomorrow I audition for a well-respected theatre company. I’ve been preparing for months, memorizing text just for them. But I almost wrecked it, exhausted by too many emergencies and urgencies.

Some folks use illness to rest. Big corporations give sick days as incentives.
But I don’t want to be sick. I want to be my true self, happy to play, able to work. And that means resting when I need to. Not pushing through.

Resting is a radical act of self-love.
Rest your eyes, rest your body, rest your mind, rest your soul.

Rest.
Before you are arrested.

Essay #15: sing out

In Love on June 13, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I have a song in my heart. But somewhere along the way to growing up I decided I wasn’t good enough to sing it. Recordings of my voice made me cringe. I sounded squeaky, and girly. I wanted a tough-babe smoky growl – muy macha.

Whenever I think I should be different than I am, it causes problems. Sigh.

Pre-self-consciousness, when I was a kid, we sang everywhere: at home, in the car, on camping trips. My mother sang us to sleep every night. I used to make up songs on the way home from school. I didn’t worry about being ‘good enough.’

Two nights ago, on the way home from the grocery store, I passed a yard patrolled by a frantic, barking hound. Doesn’t matter how often she sees me (I’ve lived down the street for years), she prefers to announce my presence to everyone within a quarter-mile radius.

Last night, she ran along the fence as usual, but could only grunt and wheeze. Apparently she’d had her vocal cords severed. Someone had removed her voice.

This is not okay.

I silenced my song out of fear: that you won’t like it, that I’ll sing off-key, that I’ll do it wrong. But silence became a habit that was hard to break, even when my health depended on it (domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty).

Not only did I silence my song, but I silenced my desires, my dreams. I have reams of poetry, stories, essays, scripts, and, yes, songs — bundled away in composition books and loose-leaf binders. Filing cabinets full of writing, rarely shared, yet carefully moved from place to place over the years.

It’s easier for me to speak up for someone who cannot. Even a fearful, not-too-smart dog should have the option to speak, to sing.

She deserves that much.
And so do I.

John Lennon didn’t like his voice much, but he sang anyway. Maybe I will, too, with a little help from my friends…

Essay #14: joy is a vitamin

In Love on June 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm

“I’ve wasted enough time not being happy,” said Jessica Lange (Oprah Magazine, April 2009). “I regret those times I’ve chosen the dark side.”

So many brilliant, beautiful women choose the dark side: actors, writers, mothers. There’s tons in the arts, exploring the seamy side of life. Which is fine. But when it becomes your only reality, when it became my only reality, it almost killed me. I forgot about joy. I turned away from love. Happiness was a myth I couldn’t access. I was out of balance — koyaanisqatsi.

Now that I’ve found my happiness code, where do I install it? Everywhere? Every day?

A few weeks ago I tried to talk myself into auditioning for a play I do not like, produced by a playhouse I do not respect, for minimal pay. I thought it would be “good” for me, good practice. The day of the audition I woke up crying.

I finally let myself cancel the appointment. A week or so later, in conversation with an actor who worked with this particular playhouse, I learned that rehearsals are grueling and the director mean and moody. I had been spared.

I’ve spent way too much time making myself do things I don’t want to. I defer fun until the house is clean and the dishes are done and I have a good-paying job.

But joy is a vitamin – you need a little every day. “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats,” wrote Iris Murdoch.

Continuous small treats.
And they don’t have to cost much. I can treat myself by making spaghetti al pesce for dinner, blowing bubbles, rollerskating, dancing, jumping in the water, picking flowers. Playing.

Recently I made French toast for breakfast. I had the right bread and my favorite syrup and plenty of butter. As I was cooking, I felt an upwelling of pleasure and happiness. “You gave me what I want!” The kid in me danced around and laughed. “Thank you!”

My French toast happiness fed me for days. Everything was easier — work, communicating, even running errands.

Joy is so much cheaper than misery.
Try it.