48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

Essay #25: bike rack

In Love on August 29, 2011 at 12:38 pm

How to affix a bike rack so it acts as a barrier between road dirt and your butt:

First, barter with a guy at a garage sale and buy a Specialized mountain bike for thirty dollars cash. From his roommate, buy a bike rack and a bungee cord for a buck. Roommate explains that the bike rack needs different hardware to attach to the bike.

Ride home. Chain bike to post and push bike rack up into carport rafters until rainy season starts.

Rainy season starts earlier than expected. Notice a dark, wet stripe up your butt from biking down a merely damp road.

Fish bike rack down from rafters. Set it over bike’s rear wheel — rack legs extend down either side of the wheel. See screw holes at the bottom of each rack leg. Fit them over the screws protruding from the wheel well. Perfect. Use current hardware to affix bike rack to seat-post, despite earlier warning.

Set out for the Co-op. Bike rack falls off three blocks from your house. Pedal back. Push bike rack back into rafters. Buy bright yellow rain pants.

Notice dark wet stripe extends up your back to your shoulder blades, above the pants. Remember bungee cord.

Fish bike rack down again. Attempt to remove non-feasible hardware. Cuss.

Track down toolbox in laundry room. Drag everything inside where it’s warm. Get mud on newly installed (but ugly) carpet. Make tea known for its calming qualities. Drink it.

Outside, spray rusted hardware with WD-40. Inside, remove useless hardware and place on no-longer-clean counter. Go back outside with naked rack and bungee cord.

As before, fit rack leg screw holes over screws protruding from bike’s rear wheel well. Perfect. Hook one end of the bungee cord to the flat horizontal part of the bike rack, wrap the cord around the seat-post, then hook the other end on the other side of the rack.

Test it: grab the back of the rack and pull it away from the seat-post. Watch it snap back into place, secure.

Smile. Enjoy the rainy season, stripe-free.

Essay #24: halfway

In Love on August 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I am halfway through the 48 essays I promised to post.
It has not gotten any easier.
It is still hard to write the truth and share it with you.

Seems simple enough: write a bunch of words, edit them, then publish on the worldwide web. Many people do it every day.

Simple, yes, except for my thinking: it’s not perfect, no one cares, it’s too hard.

Listening to love is not as easy as it sounds.

Every week I get up in the middle of writing and say, “This is crap. Jesus.”
Ladies and gentlemen, we have entered the chaos part of the writing process, where finishing an essay feels impossible. If I stop here, I am doomed.

Instead, I go for a walk, or make a cup of tea, or do the dishes. Then I sit down again, and try once more to string words into a pleasing sequence.

Because I care, which is a good enough reason to do it. And it is hard, but also supremely satisfying. For 24 Mondays in a row I have kept my promise to myself no matter what: exhaustion, deadlines, tempting opportunities. Regardless of what else is going on in the world, the community, the family, I show up for myself.

Side-effect? Happiness. Pride of accomplishment. Each week, after publishing another essay, I celebrate by playing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Keeping a promise to myself is a big deal. A big hallelujah deal.

24 essays into this truth-telling experiment and a few things have changed:
I am healthier. I am happy more often. I am more resilient.

I am also performing more. Saturday night I dressed up as a pirate and, with my shipmates, entertained folks before an outdoor showing of Pirates of the Caribbean. Argh.

Next Sunday I’ll perform my poem, “Can You Surf?”, at a street fair, then write Instant Poetry for a few hours. (Tagline: You give me five words, five minutes, and five bucks; I give you an original poem. Kids love it. They try to stump me with words like baseball shark, decapitate, and ninja gorilla.)

I have also found, or it’s found me, writing work I enjoy. I get to interview motivating movers and musicians, and help people actively preserving our planet.

“We get to carry each other,” sings U2.

Not, we have to carry each other, but we get to. It’s a privilege. We care for and are cared for, in turn. No one should get stuck only carrying, or only being carried. It’s all about balance.

So climb aboard. We’re halfway there.

Essay #23: billboards

In Love on August 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm

I spent last week in Southern California, where I grew up. Huge billboards line the freeways, featuring smiling women or men, posing sideways, with the phone number: 1-800-GET-THIN. “I lost 100 pounds!” they boast. Lap band surgery.

My stomach hurts just thinking about it.

I have felt fat most of my life, regardless of actual body weight. My earlier film career did nothing to dispel this, and the dance world is notorious for encouraging self-loathing. All those studio mirrors, all of us striving for perfect form. I could not look at myself with love, only criticism.

Recently I found an old picture of me dressed as a skeleton for Halloween, face painted like a skull. I remember putting that outfit on — black long-sleeve t-shirt and pants, with ironed-on bones. Loose clothes, covering what I thought was an over-sized body.

Looking at that photo now, I see clearly that I was thin, if not skinny.

Why the distortion? Even now, depending on my mood and the mirror, I can easily gain or lose 20 pounds in an hour.

Lying eyes.

Feeling fat‘n’ugly (that’s one word) is a symptom of a different unhappiness, not related to reality. The body is easy to attack when things are out of whack.

After Jill’s funeral, everyone came back to her parents’ house. Later in the day, her 7-year-old son opened the door to her childhood bedroom where I was lying down, trying to cool off. “Collier!” I said, sitting up. “Do you want to come in?”

“No, thank you,” he said, sliding the door closed.

Shit, I thought. Shit. I’m the wrong person. I am the wrong person, in his mother’s room.

I got up, and eventually found him in the pool, playing with his cousins. I jumped in and joined the splashing. I did my shark imitation, grabbing his toes so he could shriek and leap out, then cannonball back in for revenge. I wanted him to see who I was, not who I wasn’t.

Feeling like the wrong person is not new to me; it’s an old, familiar belief. I should be dead, instead of my brother John.

Outrageous.

My intelligent body compensates for these thoughts by blowing up like a puffer fish: I will take up space. I will exist.

Besides, isn’t it rude to disparage this god-given body and brain? I don’t criticize gifts from others.

I did see another billboard in California, near my friend’s house:
Enjoy Everything.

Good advice.

Essay #22: packing

In Love on August 1, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Last time I packed for a funeral, I was in high school. I don’t remember what I packed, or what I wore. But I do remember telling Mr. Perry, the marine biology teacher, that I was going to Arizona because my grandmother had died.

Mimi, my mother’s mother, always sent the perfect clothes for my awkward body. She made Christmas ornaments by hand, with photos of us, or our names in glitter.

I don’t remember how we got there, but I do remember the open casket…

… and thinking, who the hell is THAT? wearing Mimi’s dress?

She had on way too much make-up, and her wig looked funny. My mom reached in and rubbed off some of the blush, and smoothed her hair.

I don’t remember crying, either. Confusion seemed to be the emotion of the day. Mimi was gone. Not hiding or smiling or pointing out closer parking spaces to my grandfather. She simply wasn’t there.

It was unsettling.

The next thing I remember is Thanksgiving, months after the funeral. My grandfather was still living near the golf course, but now he was dating Myrt.

Show a picture of my grandmother to Central Casting, ask for the complete opposite, and they’ll send you Myrt: dour, thin, plain. Definitely not a Magonigle, nothing wild about her. But that’s another story.

Today I am packing for Jill’s funeral. Black skirt, black blouse, black shoes. But I also fold in a black and white cotton shawl, batiked with a fish design, as well as a bathing suit. We are both Pisces, Jill and I, with birthdays two days apart. Maybe I’ll do some swimming for the both of us.