essays by Shé

Archive for the ‘Love’ Category


In Love on September 12, 2022 at 11:36 am

Neither your cruelty nor your kindness have anything to do with me.

I can stop trying to please or ameliorate or grovel or lie or be grateful or tiptoe.

I don’t have to hide or avoid or ignore: I can speak up. I can question. I can disagree.

My opinions matter. My feelings matter. I am not stupid or foolish.

I can protect myself now, and also ask for help; and ask and ask and ask until I receive it.

I exist. I take up space.

I am welcome here.

Existence by Shé, 9"x12" acrylic on canvas paper, 2022
Existence by Shé, 9″x12″ acrylic on canvas paper, 2022

Fish Friend

In Love on September 6, 2022 at 1:19 pm

Green, silver, tiny, and in my face. Quick fish darts to my mask: once, twice, three times. It is possible to laugh through a snorkel tube.

I’ve seen at least 25 species of fish this morning. This one’s about an inch and a half, if that, two-tone: mottled green along the top half, silver along the bottom. When I float awhile, arms outstretched before me, it snuggles against my skin, rapidly finning to keep close. Big eyes, relative to its body, with a teeny undershot jaw. Cute little tail, pale.

We look at each other a long time. How would it describe me? There was this huge creature! Like a turtle without a shell. Weird limbs, attenuated, with small flippers at the ends. Very pale, except for fine seaweed at a knobby end near the torso, above humongous eyes. A couple dark blue and black stripes, crosswise.

We’re all mysteries to each other.

Blue Reflection Two, acrylic on paper, Shé 2022
Blue Reflection Two, acrylic on paper, Shé 2022


In Love on August 30, 2022 at 11:53 am

Mimi and Pappap took us to Ireland when I was eleven. Great-Aunt Maude had died — one of my favorite relatives of all time — and left enough for the five of us to tour the island. It was fabulous. There was an Irish wolfhound at a castle that allowed my five-year-old brother to ride. My grandparents took me through the Waterford glass-blowing works — Pappap lied to the ticket seller, telling her I was twelve, what a thrill! And Mom and I bought Connemara marble earrings, and danced to bagpipes.

Best of all, my mother rented a horse-drawn caravan after her parents left. I was horse-mad then, still am, and begged her to let me drive. Not happening, said my physical therapist mom. She took one look at those massive muscles, knew what they were capable of, and gripped the reins herself. I was supported by the locals though, who could tell she was terrified. “Ach, Mary P, let the child drive.” Still not happening.

We made it unscathed, and probably very slowly, to the Philbin’s farm. There we stayed for two solid weeks. Darkie was all mine to feed and groom! She ate most of her food the first night, tucking into the bin at the back. Luckily, we were parked in a big grazing pasture: she wouldn’t starve, and other caravaners shared their vittles.

What is a caravan? A tiny wooden house on wheels, like a gypsy wagon. Unlike my current tiny house, there was ample head room. But just like my T@B, the kitchen was indoors and the dinette converted to beds. It was perfect. There was a fire ring outside, and I was in charge of it every night. Twilights were long; it was light until 11 pm at the end of May, and Mom read Irish writers aloud. I still remember impish Brogeen and scary fairytales.

We were good there, our family, maybe the best ever. During the days we usually went our separate ways. I hung out with the horses, my brother hung out with Farmer Philbin (“all this could be yours, son”), and Mom found adults to play with. We were happy, content, satisfied with our lives. We had space. We had stars. We had a tide pool to swim in. We were home.

Shé on Darkie, John holds the lead line, Ireland 1974
Shé on Darkie, John holding the lead line, Ireland 1974

Severing Ties

In Love on August 23, 2022 at 10:01 am

I recently accepted the sad decision to sever ties with a brother. I will no longer tolerate his atrocious behavior. He has lost the sister who sang him his first song ex-utero. He has lost the sister who helped raise him. He has lost the sister who loves him beyond measure.

It was not an easy decision, I did not take it lightly. I had to constantly remove Nostalgia’s rosy lenses to get a clear-eyed view of our relationship. When I was able to wrest the frames from my face, I saw decades of disrespect, and the heartache I endured believing it should not be so.

It was so. It is so.

Perhaps he will use his inheritance to go to rehab. There is no shame in addiction — it runs in the family — but it’s a shame to lose a sister.

He’s a funny, talented, handsome guy.


Shé and brother, 1969
Shé and brother, 1969


In Love on August 16, 2022 at 12:44 pm

“Donate a share of your inheritance to my daughter promptly,” demanded James, and I laughed. It reminds me of his “great idea” in 2018 to hand over my brand-new 4Runner. No matter that I was 2000 miles away, trying to reconcile with our mother.

Whenever I start a creative project, inevitably there is a backlash. The bigger the project, the bigger the backlash. I noticed this years ago, while preparing for my first gallery show. I was up in the studio painting words of love in different languages, one word to one gorgeous orange sheet of waterproof paper at a time: Habibi, Ahava, Alskar, Bhalobasa, Cinta, Eshgh, Grá, Kjaerlighet, Liefde, Pyaar, Szerelem. My body was shaking, I was scared of screwing up. The dominatrix in my head said, “Who are you to be visible? Who are you to take up space? Do you really think anyone cares what you have to say? You’re an idiot. And you’re ugly to boot.”

Yet I persisted. There is nothing wrong with Love, I thought. Folks around the globe agree, see? The Beatles were right, and the converse is true: all Love needs is You. Which is Me. I am putting the word out there again. And this time I am remembering to apply it to myself.

Now I have three books in the works and the backlash is huge. “Keep your eye on the prize,” said a therapist once, then reminded me, “You’re the prize.” Oh. Right.

Shé, Love Translated Too, 2010
Shé, Love Translated Too, 2010

Memory Problems

In Love on August 9, 2022 at 11:10 am

My father seems to have memory problems. He forgets that his only daughter loves him and means him no harm. And so he writes venomous missives.

The first time this happened, I’d just published “Free Love Ain’t” in a national anthology of essays by folks who’d survived so-called counterculture parents. Back then I read and responded to his poison pen letters and bizarre accusations for months. Finally realizing his contempt was bottomless, and his words were killing me, I returned them to sender. He then sent a registered letter, which a friend of mine read. More of the same, she said, so I burned it.

Hiking through the mountains recently, I noticed that the intensity of his current wrath is similar to that back in 2000. Then a funny thing happened: it dawned on me that it has nothing to do with me. Not one thing. It was a huge relief. I’d heard this theory, of course, and understood it intellectually, but here, on this mountain, on this island in the middle of the Pacific, I comprehended it viscerally. And smiled. I’ve done nothing wrong. I do not deserve his disrespect. I never did.

I’ve heard him talk to himself. His self-loathing rivals my mother’s. I imagine that his thinking is much worse than anything he’s ever said or written to me.

I know I’ve inherited their bad behavior. I, too, have said and done terrible things to those I love. These days I talk to Rage instead of stabbing anyone with it; talk to Grief instead of drowning in alcohol; talk to Terror instead of sprinting down the road. They’ve been highly educational. Best of all? They dissipate after bit, and I am lighter. The tide of Happiness comes in, with waves of Compassion.

I wish him well, I always have. And I wish me well, too.

Shé with Dad and Mom, 1963
Shé with Dad and Mom, 1963

Turning Toward

In Love on August 2, 2022 at 12:14 pm

Turn toward. Did I hear that? Think it? Know it? I get out of bed and write it down. Turn toward. Don’t worry about turning away, turn toward YOU, turn toward happiness, turn toward your strengths, turn toward your desires.


I turn toward the mountains by hiking them. I turn toward the sea by playing in it. I turn toward a new family by contacting Big Sisters. I turn toward happiness by writing every day. I turn toward joy by dancing.

The relatives seem to believe that the world is a dangerous place, that I am dangerous, and so they attack. I stand up and say NOT SO FAST. It is hard, because I love them. I do not want to hurt them. But I will no longer allow them to hurt me. I will not let them derail my joy anymore.

It is easy to be pulled into the morass of blame and shame and pain — we’re all hurting. But I am trying to remember to turn toward compassion. Beauty. So I bike to Secrets and swim awhile. Lotta fish! and purple seaweed. The ocean supports me, and I rock with the swell. Peace. Eventually I get out and walk over to a small waterfall to rinse.

I remember sitting in the front yard in Olympia, Malamute Emmett by my side. The love I felt for him was immense, overwhelming, and I began to weep. Love flowed through me, changing and healing me as I loved on him. I was immersed in it, we both were.

I want to turn toward Love. There is nothing better in this world.

Emmett Ocean Shé, circa 2002
Emmett Ocean Shé, circa 2002

4 Months in a Jetta

In Love on July 26, 2022 at 11:22 am

Nine years ago, at the recommendation of a doctor, I evacuated my home in Olympia, Washington. It was terrifyingly difficult to breathe, and she suspected long-term black mold toxicity. I could not keep any paper, fabric, wood — my life’s work, basically.

Wearing a hazmat suit and mask, I sorted through my belongings, setting cast-offs on the curb: books, instruments, costumes, art and supplies, music and stereo, movies and players, furniture, clothes, plants. I filled several recycle bins with journals, stories, poems, essays, scripts, songs, profiles, novels. My kayak went to the neighbor boy who made his mother call the EMTs the week before (he knew I was in dire straits before I did). I mailed my mother’s wedding dress, made by my grandmother and archivally stored for decades, to my niece.

What little was left — my computer and printer, a fire safe with documents and hard drives, jewelry, a few of my grandmother’s tea cups, Johnny’s Puppy, myself — fit in the Jetta. After I was gone, two hired men hauled to the dump whatever the neighbors didn’t take from the giant Free Store in the front yard.

Still very weak, I hit the road, looking for a clean place near the ocean to recover. Due to my body’s toxicity (all systems were affected: lungs, heart, organs, glands, nerves), my senses were extremely heightened. Lights were brighter, noises were louder, and fragrances were overwhelming. I could not tolerate the industrial cleansers most motels, hotels, and airbnbs used. Campgrounds were better, but crowded.

Searching for a quiet, safe abode was exhausting. I needed rest. I needed to salinate and exercise the poisons out. And so I slept in my car. I used public bathrooms and showers, and became almost psychic in my ability to find outlets to boil water for tea, oatmeal, soup, eggs. I was determined not to die. I kept my job by working in libraries and coffee houses.

Cold forced me south, finally finding comfort in Los(t) Angeles County, where I grew up. I crept into residential neighborhoods at night to sleep, then drove away before dawn. I skated the bike path for hours, and jumped in the ocean every day. I worked. I continued posting episodes of my serial novel, Letters to Lulu. After four months in the Jetta, I came across the Seaside Motel in Redondo Beach. Kitchens, said the sign, so I pulled in. The owner showed me a room on the top floor: clean, with an oven, bathtub, fridge, and big flat horizontal bed; best of all, no hellacious cleanser smell. The first four months in the Jetta were over.

Shé, Seaside Motel, Redondo Beach CA, 2014
Shé unbowed, Seaside Motel, Redondo Beach CA, 2014


In Love on July 19, 2022 at 1:13 pm

So, my baby brother would rather hire an attorney than apologize to me. What happened to him? The boy I watched over when my mother was too nuts to do so? And, get this, my father paid the retainer.

Wow. I am a swan, not an ugly duckling. I do not fit the fam. Nonetheless, I am weepingly distressed, and feel foolish — how is this a surprise? Did I not notice the years of estrangement — from all of them?

Hope is a drug, and I am an addict trying to break free. I so want a family that I ignore cruelty, neglect, abandonment, spite, lies, conspiracies. My father moved 400 miles away and married another woman. “I’ll be back when I finish studying,” he told my five-year-old self when I got up the courage to ask.

Later, my mother read the restraining order on my then-boyfriend (he went to her house when he was served) and believed his excuses. “I know what you say happened,” she said when I confronted her.

All these years I’ve felt like the crazy one, but the Voice of Authority is the Voice of Lies. It is time to trust my Self. It is time to say NO, that is NOT how it is, that is NOT how it was, that is NOT acceptable behavior.

It is time to build my own family. It’s not too late.

Seeds of Peace, installation by Shé circa 2008
Seeds of Peace, installation by Shé circa 2008

Dancing Aunties

In Love on July 12, 2022 at 10:35 am

Peach, green, blue: aunt, aunt, niece. They sit around the dining room table heads down and focused: crossword, sudoku, school-work. I gaze at them from the kitchen, quiet — they are flowers. I revel in their presence until one of them looks up. “Hey!” their smiles feed me. A song comes on the niece’s laptop, and suddenly I am dancing. “Turn it up.” I hold a hand out to one auntie, then the other. “I can’t dance,” tries the younger, but I am deaf to her pleas and move the chairs away.

The older auntie has moves! She is a cool cat; hips and shoulders swaying, she partner dances with her sister. The niece is laughing, flinging her arms and bopping to the beat. We sing, do the bump, vogue, Fosse. Grief and joy bubble up and out, flung wide by angled arms.

Peach, green, blue shirts whirl around the floor. I’m a black-eyed Susan, both niece and auntie, replete.

The nieces on the way to pick blackberries, July 2022, photo by Aunt Joan
The nieces on the way to pick blackberries, July 2022, photo by Aunt Joan
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