48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

Essay #47: falling

In Love on January 30, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Gee, but it’s great to be back home. Home is where I wanna be. I been on the road so long, my friend. ~Simon & Garfunkel, “Keep the Customer Satisfied”

I went to California last week, to see my dad and stepmom. I was scared to go, afraid to fall back into old family patterns and behaviors.

After the snowstorm, however, I decided to let myself fall. Instead of trying to remember to be my (new! improved!) adult self all the time, I gave myself permission to relax and relapse. I planned to dust myself off and try again: be Me.

What a relief. Instead of expending great amounts of energy trying not to fall, I just went with it, like a martial artist. Those smarties assume they’re going to fall, so they practice, learning to land as free from harm as possible. When I studied aikido a few years ago, we practiced falling and rolling a lot, on good thick mats.

My favorite aikido move is rolling from standing, although when Sensei introduced it, I thought he was nuts. A somersault from standing? TO standing? I can’t do that! Scared scared scared.

“You can do this,” he said. “I know you can.” So I practiced it slo-mo over and over. And watched kids and teenagers doing it easily — whoosh!

One day, I just went for it. I stood at the edge of the mat, threw myself forward across the floor, tumbled along my arm shoulder hip — whoosh! and then I was up, on my feet, facing the same direction on the other side of the room.

“I did it!” I said, thrilled to my completely intact bones. Then did it again and again. And found out how much easier it is to do quickly. Momentum can be your friend.

All that week at work, I strutted around, finally understanding the cocky walk of arrogant men. Sauntering to the restroom, to a meeting, to a co-worker’s cubicle, a voice in my head repeated, “Ha! I can roll from standing! I can do anything!”

Oh California, I’m coming home. Will you take me as I am? ~Joni Mitchell, “California”

Essay #46: powerless or powerful?

In Love on January 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Big storm last week, with knee-deep snow. It knocked out power and phone and thousands of trees. The tall locust in the back yard cracked, and several huge limbs crashed down, scraping the house. My next-door neighbor heard it and yelled, “Are you okay?!” A broken branch dangled 15 feet above the northwest corner of my roof. She stood lookout in the front yard while I gathered blankets. I slept at her house that night, frightened.

That kind of fear doesn’t dissipate immediately, especially since the branch continues to hang over the house. I called the landlord (no phone), his son (no response), and two arborists. Yesterday one of the tree men made it down the drive and took a look. “I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” he said, “the branch is hanging by some strong cords. Locusts are resilient, like taffy. But listen to your intuition. If you get scared, get out. And beware of the wind.” He estimated three weeks before he had time to take it down. So relieved to finally have an expert opinion, I started crying. I break down after the catastrophe.

Back in November, I emailed an alleged friend: I am uncomfortable with the way you hug me sometimes. Too intimate. Distressful. Her response? “I am not coming on to you.” No apology.

Because she was out of town, I continued to attend rehearsals for a dance we were both part of. But eventually she showed up. I ignored her and tried to tough it out, but my body was deeply unhappy. I needed to feel safe. I needed to speak to her. After rehearsal, I asked another dancer for moral support. Without mentioning names or details, I said, “I have to speak to someone about something difficult. Will you wait for me?” She said, “Yes, no problem.”

The too-intimate hugger and I stepped out into the hall. “You got my e-mail?” I said. She nodded. But imagine my surprise when she started to tell me how hurt she was. “I was slammed!” she said, hand to heart. My friend Anger started to get up. What? No apology? No how are you? This is the person you protected for several months, struggling with how to preserve the friendship? Anger raised my voice and shook my head. No no no no no! The discussion became heated. A dancer yelled down the hall, “Good NIGHT, Elizabeth! See you MONDAY.”

In other words, shut up and go away.

Since we weren’t communicating anyway, I did shut up and went back into the studio for my street clothes, shaking so hard I couldn’t put my shoes on. Everyone left, even the one who promised to stay. The choreographer gave me a brief hug, told me how to lock the door, and departed. I sat in the dark for a long time, until I stopped crying. Not one person asked if I was okay — not then, not since.

I receive almost daily emails from the collective’s listserv about rehearsals and labs and brunches. I answer none of them, and dropped out of the dance piece.

I shut up and went away.

And took a good hard look at the people I had been spending so much time, energy, and money on. Dance, for me, is about joy and self-expression. But if I don’t trust the people I’m dancing with, Joy takes a holiday.

The power is back on in my house, and the phone works. I am no longer four years old, waiting for the roof to cave in. I can pack a bag and get out.

Essay #45: kings

In Love on January 16, 2012 at 1:13 pm

On Christmas Day, a Buddhist monk gave me a present. I’d been ill, bedridden, but had decided to walk to the Vietnamese temple to say hello to Quan Yin and the other gods. The sun was out and the sky was that crisp winter blue I love to see behind green trees. Bundled up, walking slowly, I entered the grounds near the largest statue, and immediately saw a monk. Rats, I thought. People. But the monk merely nodded, we bowed slightly to each other, and he ambled away. Leaving me to it, I thought.

I moved closer to the huge sculpture of… Buddha? Quan Yin? How do you tell them apart? and aren’t they just various faces of god, the universe, and everything? But that’s a different essay. I began to chat, say thank you, how are you. Checking in. The monk returned. Sigh.

I turned toward him politely, because, well, he’s a monk! He held up a large sheet of thick paper. A drawing in pastels and ink, lots of green squiggles and black dots, and oh, a brown trunk. Seemed to be a tree, some kind of pine, and writing on a slant beside and under it.

The monk gestured and spoke in Vietnamese, pointing to calligraphy near the bottom of the drawing. “Thich Nhat Hanh,” he said, the first words I understood. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist writer, who Martin Luther King Jr. described as “an apostle of peace and nonviolence.” The writing was a quote. Here it is, grammar intact:

Breathe and Smile
Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky.
I join my hands in thanks
for the many wonders of life
for having twenty-four brand new hours before me.
The sun is rising.
The forest become me awareness
bathed in sunshine.

Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment!
Breathing in, there is only the present moment
Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment.

I laughed with delight — god is not subtle! To my surprise, the monk handed me the drawing and motioned for me to take it. “Happy Christmas,” he said.

After a few rounds of “No! Really?” I said, “Thank you.” He allowed me to give him a very brief sideways hug. “Happy Christmas,” I said. Smiling.

Essay #44: what if?

In Love on January 9, 2012 at 4:34 pm

What if there was nothing riding on your success or failure? No approval or disapproval, no appreciation or disappointment, no money, no love, no friendship, no future work. No pressure. Nothing.

Would you do the difficult task? Would you even try, or would you drop it altogether? Maybe you’d gleefully fool around, exploring different possibilities with simple curiosity. Or take a break and let the subconscious deal with it for a while. Maybe you’d ask for help, or be more open to suggestion — no shame, no blame, everything’s beautiful, as Dancer Meg says.

When I face something challenging, like writing an essay or dancing upside down, a loud voice takes up residence in my head: I am never going to be able to do it. No way. When I look a little closer, I detect two conflicting beliefs: I must, and I can’t.

I must triggers fear and dread. I can’t triggers despair and lethargy. Not your healthiest cocktail. Usually, I force myself to overcome these exhausting thoughts. Try to give myself a little pep talk, or some such. But, really, there’s nothing peppy about it. More like the sergeant in Private Benjamin (or any other war movie): Get out of bed, you lazy loser! Get a move on! Time’s a-wasting! Just do it! Fucking Nike.

Screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno, United States of Tara) claims to enjoy the process of writing more than the thrill and relief of having written. I want that. I want to enjoy the process, the #$%&* journey. I want to enjoy my life. (Radical idea!)

Today, tired of the overwhelming thoughts and resultant sick stomach, I tried something different. Instead of resisting, I investigated them, meditated on them, one at a time. Must I do it? Can I do it?

Must I? No. These are not commissioned essays. I’m the one imposing the deadline. I do not have to post anything today or ever again. Do I want to? Yes. These essays are a gift to myself. I want to keep my promise to publish. There has been a dearth of Elizabeth, a paucity, a lack. I have been holding back.

Can I? I have no idea. I’ve posted 43 essays so far. Chances are good I can do it again. We’ll see.

Handy little phrases, no? Must I, Do I want to, Can I.

Evidently I can, because here’s essay #44. Only four more to go.
No pressure.

Essay #43: welcome

In Love on January 2, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Welcome: admitted gladly, freely invited or permitted; synonyms: comfortable, wanted

Last night I watched Cary Fukunaga’s film version of Jane Eyre. It opens with Jane running across the moors in the rain, periodically falling to the ground weeping. “Jesus,” I thought. “What a loser. Running around without gloves, not bothering to keep her cape closed or the hood up.” Of course she washes up on a friendly doorstep, not quite fatally ill, and recovers.

When I was 17, in the middle of a fight, my mother told me she had found another house to live in. There was no room for me. Devastated, I ran out the door, jumped in the car, and drove to find my boyfriend. “Let’s move in together,” he said. A friendly doorstep!

Unfortunately, I believed that if your own mother doesn’t want you, you’re lucky if anybody does. If you’re not welcome at home, it’s a miracle you’re welcome anywhere.
This is what is known as faulty logic.

For decades I was convinced that my welcome could wear out at any time. At home, at work, with friends, lovers, family — I could never rest, or get comfortable. I had to be ready to go at any moment. In order to survive, to protect myself, I thought I had to know which way the wind was blowing, what people were thinking, what they might do. My natural sensitivity became extreme.

Today I tried an experiment. What if I were welcome… everywhere?
What if I did not need to know what others had up their sleeves?
What if my paramount concern was my comfort? my happiness?
What would that be like?

Turns out, I would be like Emmett. You’re having a party? Here I am! You’re going for a walk, a drive, a bike ride? Let’s go! He always assumed he was a part, not apart.

Do I ever welcome myself?

When I listen too long to a neighbor’s chatter instead of saying, “Gotta go,” I put her comfort ahead of mine. When I plan a party I don’t want to host, who am I considering? Not me.

Who is wandering the moors instead of sitting by a fire sipping brandy, saying, “Look, this is not working. You have got to let the mad woman out of the attic.”

Come in from the cold. The fire is lit.