48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Archive for November, 2011|Monthly archive page

Essay #38: signify

In Love on November 28, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Step into a world where you matter.

What does it look like? Who populates it? What’s it like to be cared for? cared about?

Imagine: you are heard … acknowledged … visible.

Do you have to fight for space? for food? for approval? for love? religion?

Do you have to gird your loins and strap on a battle-axe just to go to the grocery store?
Do you have to lie or cheat or steal to protect yourself or your family?

Several years ago I worked for a state agency as a communications specialist. One of my assigned projects rubbed me the wrong way: enumerating the benefits of giving to charity. I’m not against charitable giving, mind you. I’m against the State marketing it or guilting you into it.

Despite this, I wrote and edited and printed and webbed. At the end of the project, the manager (who reminded me of a favorite auntie) came to my cubicle and handed me a key chain. Dangling from it was a small silver star, an inch or so in diameter, etched with the words: you make the difference.

Not you make a difference, but you make the difference. You make the difference, you, sitting right here in this forgotten office, in a building outside of time, in the southwest portion of a western state. WE SEE YOU. You make the difference.

I know the key chain was probably made in bulk in Taiwan or China. I know that everyone on the project got one. How far did it have to travel to remind me that I am here. I take up space. I matter.

During an episode of Glee, Kurt’s father looks him straight in the eye and says, “You matter, Kurt. You matter to me.”

When you live in a world where you matter, you speak up when someone treads on you. You voice your opinions, feelings, desires. You ask for help until you get it. You say no when you want to, and yes when it feels right. You take care of yourself. Your matter matters.

Imagine that.

Essay #37: thanks

In Love on November 21, 2011 at 3:35 pm

My friend Anger came to call and I finally let her in.

Turns out Shame had been shrouding her like a dense fog, blurring her edges, slurring her words. She was almost invisible.

Acknowledge my feelings, said Anger, loud and clear now that Shame has evaporated.
When I am ashamed to be angry, I cannot hear her message, and cannot act on the information.

In The Dance of Anger, Harriet Goldhor Lerner writes, “Anger is neither legitimate nor illegitimate, meaningful nor pointless. Anger simply is. To ask, ‘Is my anger legitimate?’ is similar to asking, ‘Do I have a right to be thirsty? After all, I just had a glass of water 15 minutes ago. Surely my thirst is not legitimate. And besides, what’s the point of getting thirsty when I can’t get anything to drink now, anyway?”

Don’t kill the messenger, listen to her. Anger tells me it is not okay to disregard my feelings. It is not okay to attack me, hurt me, belittle me, ignore me, suppress me, hush me, or tell me I’m making much ado about nothing.

Anger has my back. If I don’t allow her in, I cannot defend myself. Lerner writes that “the pain of our anger preserves the very integrity of our self.” She compares it to the pain of touching a hot stove: it protects your body from further damage.

Pull the veil of Shame aside, and shine a light into the murk. Stop believing the propaganda instead of the evidence.

She shouldn’t ignore my feelings, I thought yesterday, when faced with proof of the exact opposite. She shouldn’t behave as though nothing is wrong.

Hello?! Why should she treat me any better than I treat myself?

Once again, charity begins at home. Know thyself, said the Greeks. Why have a panoply of emotions if we don’t need them? Drop the mask of Shame and look:
You really are love(d), Anger and all.

Thanks for Listening.

Essay #36: patagonia

In Love on November 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm

My father is going to Patagonia tomorrow, to build a bridge. Just like old times.

When I was a kid, he worked for the federal Bureau of Public Roads, building bridges and roads in the mountains. I remember riding shotgun in a yellow-orange government truck, somewhere in California or Oregon or Washington. I remember evergreens against a blue sky on winding roads, the fragrance of hot pine pitch, jumping in cold swimming holes, the Bookmobile stopping by the trailer, playing Crazy Eights. Summertime.

A friend just called. He’s 42, and having a hard time believing he deserves to be on the planet. He was molested by his best friend’s father when he was a kid. “Maybe it wasn’t such a big deal,” he said. “Worse things happened later.”

“It was a big deal,” I tell him. Maybe that’s why worse things happened later.

Our reactions to each other carry weight. One of the reasons I was able to express my distress to the too-intimate hugger last week was because my father believed me. He didn’t try to talk me out of my feelings. He told me to trust myself. Take care of myself.

My friend told his mother what happened, the next day. “What did she do?” I asked.

“Not much,” he said. “Not much.” Her (non)reaction made him doubt his own.

To make things even more like a Greek tragedy, the childhood best friend with the lecherous father killed himself a few weeks ago. My friend recalled a recent conversation with him about how they protected their mothers from their true feelings. “How do you do it?” my friend asked. “I lie,” said the childhood best friend. “I say everything is fine.”

After I was molested as a teenager, I didn’t tell a soul. I thought it was just me, an isolated case.

Total bullshit.

The longer I’m on this planet, the more often I hear my thoughts come out of somebody else’s mouth. “I’m a loser. I’m unlovable. I’m not good enough.”

What if we’re all picking up random broadcasts from Radio K-FKD? What if it ain’t true? None of it?

Change the channel. Build a bridge. Tell the truth.
We’re listening.

Essay #35: bat qol

In Love on November 7, 2011 at 5:05 pm

“If it bothered Avery, it can’t continue.” –letter from a mother to Dear Abby about her daughter and possible sexual abuse, published 10/21/2011

Another mask smashed to the ground yesterday, taking a bottle of holy water with it.

I made it a few years ago, after Emmett died – a white wolf-dog face with an iridescent heart on the forehead. The damage? One ear sheared off, the better to hear you with, my dear.

Last week I told a so-called friend that I was uncomfortable with her too-intimate hugs. Distressed for months, I kept rationalizing: perhaps it was cultural differences, or an occupational hazard – we’re both dancers. But no other friend slides her hands down my sides as a way of saying hello.

“I think you should trust your intuition,” said a neighbor. “Do you feel like this with everyone who hugs you?”

“No,” I said.

“Well then,” she said.

Right.

I tend to doubt myself, to see other perspectives instead of my own. To see the ‘good’.

“Focus on the positive!” said another so-called friend, during a troubled relationship a decade ago.

“That’s why I’ve stayed so long!” I replied. Stayed and ignored the ‘negative’, ignored my intuition, ignored the small voice inside, the bat qol.

Hebrew for daughter of a voice or daughter of the voice of god, bat qol is “she who speaks in whispers and half-seen images.” (Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice; jewishencyclopedia.com)

Thanks to the broken mask, I now have another ear to hear with. And this one I can stick in my pocket for emergency listening.

My father called to see how I was holding up. “You should be proud of yourself,” he said. “I know how difficult that was for you.”

“I should’ve done it earlier,” I said, “though I guess it’s an improvement over the past.”

“I don’t think you should do that,” he said. “I don’t think you should go there. This was a very big deal.”

He’s right.

I am no longer pretending nothing’s wrong. A lie of omission is still a lie, especially if I omit myself.

With these three ears, I am listening to love, trying to hear the truth.