essays by Shé

Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

Words of Love

In Love on May 17, 2022 at 1:17 pm

“I’m not dead,” said John. I’m sitting on his grave in Queen of Heaven Cemetery. The headstone dates read: May 28, 1964 – September 30, 1967. Today is September 30, 2019. I’ve been here before, but I’ve never heard him quite so clearly.

I believe him. And it is a huge relief. I have spent decades missing my Irish twin. No need.

Is this wishful thinking? I ponder. There was the time I was suicidally depressed, lying on an old futon in Venice. Suddenly, he was there, physically holding me. My body felt his body. My body knew his body. We spooned. The comfort was indescribable.

For how long? Infinity. Long enough for me to remember that I am loved. As are you. As are we all.

Yesterday was my father’s eighty-fifth birthday. We Skyped, at my instigation. I wanted to see his face. Surprise: he is aging. He is slower. So am I.

After we disconnected (is that possible?), I sat on the edge of my bed and listened to Sorrow and Fear. Then I distracted myself with work. Then I took a nap. And then, fortunately, my neighbors irritated me. Hello Anger. I was able to get righteously pissed-off at their unapologetic thoughtlessness, cigarette smoke, and noisy boy ways. Finally I hopped on my bike and pedaled to Kilauea Point. Shearwaters nest there, burrowed into the red dirt cliff. That worked for awhile, then herds of humans arrived to glory in the sight as well. Ocean ocean ocean. Our original home.

Up a hill, nice and sweaty, I take a road I’ve been curious about. Why not? It leads to a cemetery, with Italian and Japanese names. One Omar Kalif. The view of the mountains is incredible, west of me, west of the sea. I lie on the poky grass and watch the sky. Mynah birds discuss various edibles.

The mountains say, all is death, nothing is death. As I look at their sheer majestic mass, I remember: oh yeah, nothing dies, everything dies. Clarity. Terry Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegle, a race of small fightin’ folk, believe that this is heaven. They can’t die because they’re already dead. Nothing to fear.

Since hearing my brother’s voice so clearly that day, I’ve taken to talking to him. I know he has my back, and my best interests at heart. And while I’m at it I talk to Maureen and Mimi and Pappap and Nana and Grandpa and Coe Coe, Wild Bill Magonigle, and even a rotten uncle. Why should I be deprived of their excellent advice?

Johnny and Shé, 1966

Going to Be Happy

In Love on May 10, 2022 at 2:34 pm

“Fore!” yelled a woman some distance away. I looked from the albatross resting on the green, toward the sound. “This is a golf course!” she shouted, gloved hands raised, a club in one.

I know it’s a golf course, you privileged rich human, but strong old feelings quickly rain down on me: fear, shame, anger. I walk away slowly, defensively. I’ve never understood the lure of golf, a ridiculous game. Doesn’t she know that an albatross baby lives near a palm over there? That its parents soar like gods when they bring her food? That they dance and hoot and duck and strut in an albatross dance that we’d do well to imitate?

But she’s right: I’d forgotten that folks whack small dense balls at great speed across this grassy knoll overlooking the Pacific. It can be dangerous. Not everyone cares about birds. The birds themselves are no fools; they nest near trees.

And golf — I may have to change my judgmental mind. I recently read a Jamie Sumner novel whose protagonist is a girl with cerebral palsy. Miniature golf is something she does well, roundly beating her un-wheelchaired friends.

Later, I realize it’s about belonging. Where do I? And the wretched embarrassment — get out of here! But like a bounce, it occurs to me: what if her anger is to my benefit? Do I really want to be struck by a ball? The golfer did me a favor. And perhaps my mother did me a favor when she said, “There’s no room for you,” when I was 17 and we’d been evicted again. She was talking about the new place. Through all the drama and violence, I stayed by her side. I was loyal. Available. Family. Imagine my shock when she was not.

Options. I forget they exist when I’m hunkered down surviving. I don’t have to walk across golf courses, now that I’m reminded of the perils. And I never have to live with my mother again, or take care of her. My days as Susie Savior are over. I can float in the ocean and watch the black and white polka-dotted eel watching me from the seabed. I can follow the pale yellow school of fish, dappling like coins in the sunlight. I no longer have to wait to live my life, to discover that — oh! I love surfing! oh! I love snorkeling!

Yes, I am scared of the ocean, yet I go in every single day. Because I want to. Because I need to. Because I belong.

Muse Shé and painter Brian Mark in front of his piece, Going to Be Happy, 1991

Essay #50: t(r)ooth

In Love on May 3, 2022 at 1:19 pm

I lost a tooth recently. Well, that’s not exactly true, I know where it is: off the coast of Kaua’i. I swam it out from Polihale State Park, past the breakers, and dropped it in the celadon water. Thank you!

53 years ago, give or take, I found a shark’s tooth on Myrtle Beach, way over on the east coast of mainland United States. Are we even now?

It was tooth 24 — mine, not the shark’s — right in front of the lower jaw. There was no trauma that I know of, it just slowly began to erupt, to rise up out of my crowded mouth. Although, as a pre-teen, I begged for braces on that bottom row. After the orthodontia was removed, my teeth slowly, over the years, moved back into place, the front ones a little more crooked, just as before. I’m guessing #24 finally got tired of living sideways and said, “I’m outta here.” Either that or the other teeth booted her out.

I don’t much care for crowds either, and try to avoid them. I park a fair distance from grocery stores, tend to surf or snorkel early, love to be out after dark. The stars! The quiet! The spaciousness! I remember walking down the middle of Santa Monica streets as a teenager, relaxed and free. High school was hard: noisy, crowded, scary. Who are all these people? I’d gone through a much smaller elementary and junior high with groups of familiar children, most of us in the same classes.

So why do I live in a tourist destination? The warm water and astonishing marine life. Yes, I have to travel through Stepford (aka Princeville) to get to the best snorkeling, biking past golf courses, manicured resorts, and construction crews. “Good morning!” I say, “On your left!” But once I’m in the Big Blue (actually green at Hideaways), I am home. “Good morning,” I say to the black and white polka-dotted fish. “Aloha,” I call to the sea turtles. “I see you,” I tell the flat, camouflaged sandfish on the bottom of the ocean. “Yikes!” I avoid the toothy hot-pink eel poking out of the reef. I hover nearby — out of biting range — and eventually she closes her mouth. I’m too big to chew.

They are family, more so than my own species. I hate to leave, so wear a shorty wetsuit and hood to prolong my stay. By the time I crawl out, my skin is pruned and my body cold, aiming for the sun. Sometimes I sit in the shallows, laughing. That rockfish! Perfectly still. “You don’t see me. I am a rock. Begone.”

When I am in the ocean, I do not miss my tooth. I have plenty. No one remarks on its absence. Actually, no one remarks on its absence on land either, but I’m more self-conscious. Maybe I need a boat, the better to spend even more time at sea. I hear the dolphins are friendly. Maybe they can spare a tooth.

OneBlueHeart, acrylic on canvas, 2020
OneBlueHeart, acrylic and glue on canvas, 2020

Essay #49: surfista

In Love on April 28, 2022 at 2:24 pm

Fat, old, ugly — that’s what the mirror said this morning, that bullshit trifecta familiar to many women. Women? Maybe it’s a human condition, not strictly personal, which doesn’t make me feel any better as I try to insert contact lenses so I can go surfing. Fuck. Who am I kidding? Surfing is a young man’s sport.

EXCUSE ME?! Rell Sunn, Lisa Anderson, Rochelle Ballard, Frieda Zamba, Bethany Hamilton, Keala Kennelly, Layne Beachley, Sarah Gerhardt, et al. Gidget, for crying out loud. Not to mention Anke, Rose, Keiko, Jamie, Heidi, Eve, Erin, Tami, Sophie, and countless other women whose names I don’t know because we’re too busy trying to catch waves.

I feel better once I’m astride the royal blue bike, board in rack, pedaling toward a nearby break. Yeah! I’m going surfing! Who cares if I’m old, fat, and/or ugly — it’s irrelevant. Besides, to whom is that mirror comparing me, Joan Allen or Alicia Witt from a recent (to me) movie? Would I trade places with them? No. I am pedaling to the ocean that surrounds Kaua’i. I do this often. I have spent HUGE amounts of time NOT doing this. And it made me very unhappy.

At Kane’s I grab a ride out the back on a rip current, a recently acquired skill. Then I watch the water a good long time, noting how and where and when the waves break. I have a highly sensitive nervous system, which means the bod takes in a lot of information that needs processing. So I go slow, acclimatize to the environment. I have been to this particular break before, so am a bit more relaxed. I’m able to catch a wave fairly quickly, and I’m up! balanced! and peeling down the line, riding energy along the face of the wave, almost to shore. Wow!

That may not sound like much to you, but I came to surfing late. 54, to be exact, almost five years ago. Every wave is different, every break is different, every board is different, every day is different. It’s not like riding a bike on a firm road, where, once you get the gist, you’re outta there — world here I come! No. Surfing takes patience, perseverance, strength, flexibility, endurance, and access, not all of which are available to me at any given time.

When I return home, thrilled with the session, I cover the mirror with a stylized print of sea turtles. No turtle has ever told me to lose twenty pounds, put on make-up, or lie about my age. The only communications I’ve gathered from them is, “Woo-hoo! The ocean!” (Florida hatchlings); “Who are you?” (Hawaiian juveniles); and “Gimme more lettuce.” (Mississippi gopher tortoise).

May you be well.

surfista shé, photo by Jimi Valentine
Surfista Shé, photo by Jimi Valentine

Essay #48: h(om)e

In Love on February 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Om is the whole universe coalesced into a single sound and represents the union of mind, body, and spirit (yoga.about.com); used in contemplation of ultimate reality (Webster’s 9th New Collegiate Dictionary)

A few years ago, I was in the habit of going to Woodard Bay a few times a week to swim. Part of a natural reserve, it features a quiet inlet that’s usually people-free. One particular day it was sunny and calm, so I took my time getting in and out of the water, instead of the mad dash and dip I usually do when swimming in the Pacific Northwest.

After I dried off, I sat on the beach a while, soaking up the sun, the salt air, the barking of distant harbor seals, herons grumbling and rumbling overhead, the soft plash of the Sound against the shore. The tide was coming in.

Eventually I got up and headed back toward the park entrance, about a mile away. And I noticed a strange thing. The forest was gorgeous. Each individual evergreen, each bush of salal and blackberry, each nettle was magnificent.

I slowed to take it in. Was it the light? I felt as if I had never seen this place before, never noticed how stunningly beautiful everything is. I stopped and looked around… and realized that there was no difference between me and the trees. None.

It wasn’t a huge gong-like revelation. It was quiet, as if it had been there all along, and I just now noticed. I was looking at god. I was looking at me.

I felt an incredible peace. There is no they, only us, all together. One. I got it, viscerally, and started weeping with gratitude. I knew in my bones (which are leased, at best) that there is nothing wrong — not with me, not with the world, not with anyone. Ever. We are all love(d).

In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “It was the most basic of events. It was heaven, yes. It was the deepest love I’d ever experienced, beyond anything I could have previously imagined, but it wasn’t euphoric. It wasn’t exciting… It was just obvious. Like when you’ve been looking at an optical illusion for a long time, straining your eyes to decode the trick, and suddenly your cognizance shifts and there — now you can clearly see it!”

My experience of Oneness lasted an eternity, an hour, three minutes. I don’t know how long I stood in one place, or when I started walking again. I am, now, slightly embarrassed to relate this incident. Don’t intelligent people scoff at the idea of god? I do believe that god is love is god, but I also don’t proclaim it to strangers (or at least not very often). But it happened to me, this experience of the Divine, more than once.

And just to bring the notion home, I have only to read the Woodard Bay interpretive sign again:
Like the scent of saltwater, you are welcome here.

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.

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