essays by Shé

Archive for 2022|Yearly archive page


In Love on November 25, 2022 at 5:12 pm

My dentist looks like a Bollywood star. Again.

The first time this happened, I was living in Hermosa Beach, and Dr. Bhalla was her name. Not only beautiful, she was kind, sensitive, and listened well.

Dr. Ameer, on Kaua’i, is the same, though a different gender. They both have gentle senses of humor.

When I was a kid, my dentist imitated Donald Duck to make me laugh. He also handed out lollipops afterward. Job security?

Today I only need an old filling replaced, which takes less than thirty minutes. The drive to the appointment takes longer, and, on the way, a young girl dances near a waterfall.

There was a time that I watched Bollywood movies almost exclusively. I like that the men are emotional too, and everyone — young to old and back again — dances.

That is what I wish for all of us — a filling dance.

Shé circa 2011
Shé as a Love Fairy, circa 2011


In Love on November 18, 2022 at 8:24 am

The relatives continue to bash me, sending regular give-me-your-inheritance communiqués. But my reactions are changing: Pain and Sorrow are taking a back seat to Anger and Humor.

Anger says, Block the mo-fos! So I converse with Hope, point out that it’s been ceaseless for six months, mention previous egregious behavior, and she finally concedes.

Humor suggests I embrace my inner Cruella deVil, and asks, What would Maleficent do? They remind me that it’s useless to expect dialog with twisted thinkers, though Clíodhna knows I’ve tried.

One morning, after blocking their numbers and addresses, I wake up super happy: I never have to listen to them again! My time is my own! I feel light, a thousand pounds of agony sloughing away.

Once I attended a children’s play. The witch was so-so, and I thought, I could do so much better. I hadn’t performed in years, but the spark wasn’t dead.

I am bitch and beloved. I am the wolf at the door. I can protect myself.

Shé on-set, Manmade Road, circa 1980s
Shé on-set, Manmade Road, circa 1980s

Straight to the Ocean

In Love on November 11, 2022 at 9:58 am

I was conceived in the Bahamas, on my parents’ honeymoon. Nine months later, I emerged in Arizona, a desert fish. Despite my surroundings, I managed — always — to find water to splash in, swim in, and play in. Waterbaby, they called me.

My first ocean was the Pacific, off San Francisco. I was four, and according to my mother, I ran straight in. When a big wave knocked me down, I laughed, and got back up. I still do this when I’m tumbled. The ocean is hilarious.

But there was a time when I forgot this fundamental need. Rivers are great, as are lakes and ponds and streams, and even the Salish Sea. But the open ocean — she calls me. And for 20 years I ignored her, believing that a job was more important, relatives were more important, success was more important.

All lies. Ocean ocean ocean, she murmurs.

Finally I got sick enough to hear her. Dying, diagnosed with long-term mold toxicity (caused by stagnant water — hello!), I got my ass in the car and drove straight to the ocean, seventy-five miles away.

And stopped dying.

It wasn’t overnight, but it was a beginning, a commencement, a voyage back to my inner waterwoman. And healing.

Ocean Lover by Shé, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 6" x 6"
Ocean Lover by Shé, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 6″ x 6″


In Love on November 1, 2022 at 10:27 am

They are holding hands, leaning back and spinning. Their twirling (or maybe their laughter?) generates light. Around and round, faster and faster, gazing at each other, eyes on the prize: mother and son. There is only Love.

It was time: five months after she left her body. She began the process on Johnny’s birthday, May 28, the day the doctor called.

I pack her ashes in the red knapsack, similar to one I had as a kid. I also pack Coe Coe’s ashes, who mothered my mother and grandmothered me.

It’s sprinkering at the trailhead (baby-brother-speak for sprinkling). The path is muddy; I slip, but don’t fall. Turn right at Mango Trail, her favorite fruit. Another quarter mile to the big banyan tree.

“Are you a witch?” a perceptive little Maui girl asked her once. Mom was up in the canopy.

“I’m a Tree Witch!” she responded. And she was — spending hours on, under, or near various trees throughout my life.

Coe Coe first, to lead the way. I unscrew the cap of the filigreed blue bottle her granddaughter gave me on our last visit. A breeze blows the ashes over Hanalei Valley, where the river sparkles down to the sea. Next, Mom, all around the gloriously wide trunk. A fold of it makes a protected alcove facing the misty mountains and ocean. I place yellow ginger blossoms in the sweet spot.

After tossing two fuchsia orchids over the bluff, I raise my arms to the cloudy sky and thank her for birthing me.

Thank you for this day. Thank you for this life. Thank you for this body. I am loving you.

Mary Pat and Johnny, 1964

Mary Pat and Johnny, 1964

Hungary 1989

In Love on October 27, 2022 at 3:08 pm

I got the part in Howling V. Hunh. I was sure they’d give it to the blonder cheerleader frequenting the Mary Lou callbacks, but no — I’m going to Budapest. For years I’d been saying my last name was Hungarian (it isn’t), now I’d be there — filming! — for five weeks.

Got my passport, gathered an entourage to see me off at the airport, and away I went, toting my Prozac, The Courage to Heal, and Johnny’s Puppy.

Cast and crew stayed at an old hotel. I was next door to Victoria Catlin, who went on to Twin Peaks fame; she graciously shared her dried pears.

Milk came in a bag, most folks smoked, and a pair of shoes cost Hungarians a month’s wages. I grew up on food stamps, but was suddenly rich in the Eastern Bloc. The producers found me a dance studio that played old Michael Jackson hits in the ballet class. Stephanie Faulkner (her character was killed early in the movie) defended me to a big German woman in the baths (my hair wasn’t covered). I bought, for the first and only time, a couture dress, as well as a silk-lined wool cape to help with the winter weather.

Down the avenue, on one of my rambles, I found a sidewalk flower vendor. We took to each other straight away: she, short, brunette, and friendly; me, tall, blonde, and sad. Instant smiles commenced. She did not speak a word of English, I spoke a few words of Hungarian (köszönöm, igen, nem, kesztyűt, zokni — thank you, yes, no, gloves, socks). But we both spoke the language of flowers. Each week I visited her, and came away revived. My tribe!

I hung out with the FX team (I was the werewolf), and my translator took me to dinner in the country where I tried venison. But there came a day late in the Mafilm shoot when the dour people of Budapest actually smiled (the flower lady had been the exception). It was some sort of holiday: kids rode on men’s shoulders holding balloons, adults laughed and sang, musicians played in Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square). Rumored to be a poet’s birthday, but also — wow! — the end of Communism. It was as if the White Witch of Narnia had finally been vanquished. And I was privileged to see it.

Hungary 1989, photo by Shé
Hungary 1989, photo by Shé


In Love on October 18, 2022 at 11:58 am

Three feet below me, dark-skinned, about four feet long, swimming along the bottom of the sea, tail moving side to side: shark.

I disagreed with, and eventually laughed at, my biological father today. I was trying to understand why he sent his bizarre attack email, but he refused to explain. He called me irrational, and said it was pointless to talk to me ever again.

I turn toward shore and swim quickly and quietly away.

"Higher Love" by Shé, acrylic on canvas, 8" x 10"
Higher Love by Shé, acrylic on canvas, 8″ x 10″


In Love on October 13, 2022 at 11:21 am

On the north shore, there’s a particular reef full of many species of fish, large and small. Sometimes I also see turtles. To access it, I rappel down the cliff, holding onto ropes with both hands and stepping backward. The beach is at the bottom.

I also travel backward in time, looking hard at the past. I was anxious a lot, worried about family, school, work, friends, money. I rarely enjoyed my life.

Luckily, I keep coming back to dance. Today my partners are fish: black and white mini-Hindenburgs, orange and indigo needle-noses, flat round burgundies, striped cream and chocolates, Mondrian color blocks, mottled reds, and shy dappled night skies. Shafts of sunlight stream down on us all.

My mother read aloud to us when we were young: Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Dylan Thomas, C.S. Lewis. I recently found The Chronicles of Narnia in a Little Free Library in Kapa’a. The sexism surprised me. Perhaps she left those parts out.

Yesterday I paddled into a male-only line-up at Secrets. My ingrained sexism kept me shy until one of them tried to snake the wave in front of me. “Oy!” I said, stroking quickly over the top in front of him. He did me a favor, though, because I started charging it. Caught a ride and stood up. Present, baby!

I am learning to see, to really see: the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. We are all these, and more.

Bullfighter by Shé, 6″ x 9″, acrylic on canvas paper, 2022; after Susan Orlean’s “The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup.”

Wahines on the Waves

In Love on October 4, 2022 at 12:18 pm

Bethany Hamilton. At Maureen’s this morning, a break I surfed all February, March, and April. Wow!

I grew up in L.A, so celebrities don’t usually thrill me. But I am still smiling hours later after watching this professional surfista paddle out one-armed. Part of it has to do with gender. I didn’t know any girls who surfed when I was young, only boys. I didn’t even know I wanted to surf until I caught that wave at Otter Rock in August 2017. This is for ME!

There were clues. As a water woman, I’ve always known and been friendly with surfers. Then — hunh — my next door neighbor in Olympia was a female surfer. When I evacuated the Pacific Northwest, I ended up in Pacifica one day, and watched a woman paddle out into big waves. I left a card on her windshield asking about lessons. Who, me?!

After returning to L.A. County, I happened to read every surfing book in the library system. In particular, I kept checking out Louise Southerden’s Surf’s Up: the girl’s guide to surfing. An Hermosa Beach neighbor gave me his Wavestorm, and when he changed his mind and took it back, I cried.

Then — just for the heck of it — I signed up for a free surfing class in Manhattan Beach on my 52nd birthday; taught by women, in honor of International Women’s Day. But by the time we got to it, I was too scared to stand up. Turns out I don’t like to be pushed into waves. (Actually, I don’t like to be pushed at all, which is pretty funny considering how hard I push myself.) But, I caught two rides on my belly. And that was enough stimulation for one day. I went back to bodysurfing and swimming, which I’ve been doing since I was a kid.

But the universe kept saying, surfing surfing surfing. I replied, Not me, I can’t do that. But slowly (near-death is a great incentive), I allowed my inner surfista to emerge. Which is why I love wahines on the waves, all ages and abilities. Including me.

Wahine Wave by Shé, acrylic on paper, 11.69″ x 16.5″, 2022

Acting Happy

In Love on September 27, 2022 at 11:21 am

“How did you get into acting?” asked an aficionado of Howling V recently (I played the pink-sweatered sweetie in the movie). The smart-ass answer used to be, “I’ve been acting happy my whole life.” But I was also enthralled with the performers at the Agoura Renaissance Faire when I was a kid. The costumes! The humor! The physicality! The emotions, all on display!

Fast forward to my early twenties, San Francisco. One day I spy a sign in the window of The Other Café, go in, and sign up for the Miss Haight Ashbury Beauty? Pageant. The first year, donning a Roseanne Roseannadanna wig, I sing, “I’m ugly to look at, repulsive to hold,” a piece my mother performed at a talent show on the Jersey Shore one summer in the 1950s. Still onstage, I de-wigged, slapped on a fedora, and Bing Crosby’d, “I’m dreaming of a blonde actress.” Then, flinging the hat into the audience, I morphed into Marilyn singing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

Had. A. Blast.

The second year, now platinum blonde, I put a humerus bone in my top-knot (thanks to my kinesiologist mother), wore a faux-leopard-fur bathing suit, and carried a club, à la Pebbles. And that was just the bathing suit competition.

I quit my job at the bank and took an acting class. Then I auditioned for a summer training program. Got in. Hunh. Lotsa fun, and a lot of hard work. And compatriots! We went to cattle calls together, and attended each other’s open mic nights and showcases. My tribe! I was hooked. And so it began.

Shé performing at the Miss Haight Ashbury Beauty? Pageant, early 1980s
Shé performing at the Miss Haight Ashbury Beauty? Pageant, early 1980s

Bat Signal

In Love on September 19, 2022 at 1:39 pm

I bought the ring after Emmett died. When you pressed the button on the side, the Bat Signal lit up. It was hugely satisfying. John and I used to tear around the house with towels around our necks, fighting crime. Nanananananananana – Batman!

I’d snagged the window seat on a flight to Oakland. The plane was full, except for the middle seat in my row. The last passenger to board wove her way from seatback to seatback, and the fit, dark-haired guy on the aisle stood to let her in. A flight attendant took her carryon to the back, and she shoved her purse under the seat in front of her. “The kids are with the in-laws on another flight,” she smiled, “in case something happens.” She tossed her curly hair out of her face. “I’m with the body.”

Airborne and leveled out, she ordered cocktails, then confided that this was her last flight of the day, she was newly widowed, the in-laws wanted the kids. “Not gonna happen.” When her first drink arrived, the guy on the aisle paid for it. He paid for all of them. “Thank you! Everybody is so nice!” He looked at me, and I silently agreed. She was in our care for the duration.

She was heading home after the military memorial. She noticed my ring, and I showed her how it worked. “I love it!” she said, so I pulled it off and gave it to her, saying, “Maybe it’ll come in handy.”

She exited the plane as she entered, reeling from side to side, smiling, chatty. But this time the Bat ring lit her path. Yeah, I know, just a bauble, a bangle, a steel gew-gaw. But it brought me comfort. I hope it did the same for her.

Hearts Aloft by Shé, 2019
Hearts Aloft by Shé, acrylic on canvas, 2019
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