48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

Essay #21: jill

In Love on July 25, 2011 at 2:25 pm

My childhood friend died last week. Jill. She had a hard life: anorexia, substance abuse, broken marriage. She had a 7-year-old boy she adores. Adored. Adores.

I’ve known Jill most of her life (she’s three years younger). Our physical therapist mothers met when we were little. When Nita (her mom) took maternity leave to have Jill’s baby brother, my mom filled in for her at work. During my baby brother’s funeral, I stayed with them.

Jill had the most gorgeous red hair, Celtic red, coppery red. And beautiful freckles, all over her body. We used to dress up in fancy nighties, adorn ourselves with jewelry, and put on plays. We laughed ourselves silly.

A few times a year, the four of us met, mothers and daughters, in downtown L.A, halfway between our houses. We’d eat at the same Chinese restaurant, Man Fook Lo, then go to the symphony or the theatre. We saw The Nutcracker together every Christmas.

At one point when we were kids, Jill had a pony. I was so envious. She had everything: a pony! A swimming pool! Parents living together!

But ponies and pools and married parents have little to do with happiness.

One year my mom and I got to the restaurant first. We snagged a booth, and a few minutes later Nita came in, followed by Jill.

She was beyond thin. She was skeletal. Her usually pretty face was merely a skull covered with skin. If she hadn’t been with her mother, I may not have recognized her.

We weren’t supposed to talk about it. No one said, anorexia. No one said, Jesus Jill! What the hell is going on?

If you can’t discuss the problem, you can’t offer to help.

Her father was an eye doctor, yet her vision of herself was so distorted that even as a size-2-wearing-woman (she was about my height, 5’8”) she was convinced she was fat. Too big. Taking up too much space.

A few years later, Jill visited me in San Francisco. She was marginally healthier then, though I still wasn’t supposed to talk about it. So I ate for both of us.

A part of my childhood died last week. Jill. About a month ago she ‘friended’ me on Facebook. I wrote her back immediately, happy to hear from her. I don’t know if she got the message.

Essay #20: operating systems

In Love on July 18, 2011 at 5:47 pm

“Update your operating system.”
Hotmail, Yahoo, WordPress, Facebook – they all say the same thing:
You will not receive the full scope of services until you upgrade your operating system.

They’re right. My operating system is way out of date. It’s getting harder to send and receive messages, information, data, code. It affects how I communicate with the world.

Most of my life I ran a fear-based system. My brain was crowded with scary messages:
you can’t have what you want; you don’t deserve to be happy; you’re unlovable; you’re a loser; why bother, no one cares; there isn’t enough, you’re not enough.

For someone who doesn’t like horror movies, I seemed to be starring in one every single day. And I don’t mean Howling V.

Believing these lies made life extremely difficult. I was suspicious of kindness, afraid of change, reluctant to pursue happiness. I lived in poverty.

Fighting these thoughts was exhausting. “I think I can, I think I can,” may’ve worked for the Little Engine, but not for me, not in the long run.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find out these thoughts are not unique to me. Nicole Kidman is jealous of Penelope Cruz. Jennifer Lopez thought she was a loser. Ted Turner doesn’t have enough money.

We are all tuned in to radio station K-FKD, as writer Annie Lamott calls it. All lies, all the time.

Well, folks, it’s time to change the station, and update the system. I am tired of the same-old, same-old.

Radio’s on the computer nowadays, so maybe, when I upgrade, I’ll be able to hear something different.

Listening to Love – a whole different operating system (not compatible with Fear 3.0 or higher).

Stay tuned.

Essay #19: tania

In Love on July 11, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Do you actually need that screaming voice in your head telling you to get out of bed? Is there a kinder way to treat yourself?

Tania is the name of one of my screamers. She’s like a personal assistant: in charge of the mundane parts of my existence — paying bills, doing laundry, looking for work.

She used to push push push, all the time, past the point of exhaustion: query editors! mow the lawn! build a website!

Tania made long, long lists — with tight deadlines — that tired me out just to look at them.

Out of desperation one day, I invited her into my morning meditation. “What!?” I said, “What is the problem?”
“You’re not listening to me,” she said.
“Because you are screaming,” I pointed out.
“I am screaming because you are not listening to me,” she said.
“Oh.”

Neither one of us (and yes, I know I’m talking about a part of my own brain) likes chaos. So we made a deal. I would stop tuning her out, and she would stop screaming. It’s been a slow process, but it started like this:
“Pay the bills!” screams Tania.
“I can’t,” I say, “I don’t have the money.”
“Can you pay one bill?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, “I can do that. I can pay one bill. But I was going to the library. Can I pay it later?”
“No!” she’d say, at the beginning. “Pay it now!”

After awhile, as I did what she asked when she wanted me to, she was willing to negotiate deadlines. As long as I kept my word, she was quite reasonable.

These days she seldom speaks above a whisper. And I’ve come to rely on her to remind me to take care of business. “The Visa bill is due,” she said last night. “Oh, thanks,” I said, and sat down and paid it.

When I ignore her – screaming.
When I listen and communicate – no screaming.

Which would you choose?

Essay #18: independence

In Love on July 4, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Today I took my independent self rollerskating. Wearing clothes made by others, I drove a car made by others, fueled by petrol drilled by others in another country. I parked on a street and rolled down a path made and maintained by others. I had a bottle of city water from a tap that runs whenever I turn the handle, due to – you guessed it – the work of others.

I am not independent. I am interdependent.

My red Webster’s Dictionary (Ninth New Collegiate) defines independent as: not subject to control by others, self-governing; not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct; not requiring or relying on others.

Given my morning, I’d say I rely on others most of the time. I may not look to others for opinions or guidance (who am I kidding? I’m a voracious reader, constantly influenced by others’ stories and perspectives), but I definitely require others to help me get through the day.

Poppyseed bagel – who picked the poppies? gathered the seeds? Who milled the wheat and turned it into flour for the baker? Who milked the cow, made the cream cheese, packaged it, stocked it on a refrigerated shelf in my local grocery store?

Yeah. Independent, my ass.

Funnily enough, my dictionary doesn’t define interdependent. However, it’s happy to tell me that inter- means between, among, in the midst, reciprocal.

And that’s exactly what we are: in the midst. It’s a populated planet, and we’re surrounded, most of the time, by others.

We rely on each other, whether we know it or not. And that’s where inter- enters. Others rely on me, too. We’re all necessary in some way. Someone is waiting for this essay right now. Or these words that came to me the other night:

There’s no them
only us.