48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

Essay #28: permission

In Love on September 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Someone recently asked permission to use a poem of mine in her movement therapy class. She invited me to attend when she read it, with the added incentive, “You can dance to your poem!”

This pissed me off. Who the hell is she to give me permission to dance to my own poem? I kept trying to feel grateful and flattered, but I didn’t.

Weeks went by and finally the penny dropped, the triggering belief emerged: I have been waiting for permission most of my life — to love, to dance, to sing, to act, to publish… to exist!

I’ve been waiting for permission from folks I wouldn’t trust to take out the garbage correctly. No wonder I’m angry at non-dancers teaching dance class, non-writers publishing books. Jealousy joins the bandwagon, stirred up by the thought: if I’m not good enough, they sure as hell aren’t.

Have I mentioned that self-loathing interferes with world peace?

Turns out, once again, I am the one holding me back: thinking, “I’m not good enough yet but if I study another twelve years, maybe I will be.”

The fact is I don’t need anyone’s permission to do what I want, when I want.

So now I’m angry I’ve wasted so much time: auditioning for shows instead of working on my own; applying for jobs instead of creating them.

But was it a waste? Maybe this is all part of my damn (read, wonderful) journey here. Tripping stressfully along until someone finally comes up to me and says point blank: you can dance to your poem.

Of course I can. And this coming ArtsWalk in downtown Olympia, I will.
7pm October 7 at Fusion Studio, 302 Columbia NW.
Come by if you can. I’ll be singing Alleluia, gratefully.

Essay #27: stuck

In Love on September 12, 2011 at 7:53 pm

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my car lately, driving to rehearsals far away. “So far away… Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” sings Carol King.

Sometimes I get stuck in traffic. I try to relax, breathe, let it be, but the truth is I hate it. I’m afraid I’ll be here forever, trapped on a bridge over the Nisqually River, with hundreds of noisy, stinky, hot cars. Pierced in Pierce County, unable to move, 40 more miles to go.

Is there a benefit to being stuck? Do I really want to go that fast? In that direction?

The last time I got snagged in traffic, I pulled off the next exit, over the pass, and headed the other direction, towards home. I remembered I have options.

My thinking gets stuck, wedged in a rut, caught in catastrophe. Hear a funny noise? Car’s about to break down. Lost keys? Stolen, and burglars are planning a visit. Ringing phone? Got to be bad news, Bear.

I get stuck expecting the worst, which doesn’t always happen. The noise turns out to be a passing motorcycle. The keys are in a jacket pocket. There’s good news at the end of the line. “Fate is kind,” sings Jiminy Cricket.

Is that true? Perhaps I’m fused to how it used to be, not how it actually is. Glued to outdated thinking (i.e., I should’ve known better). Anxiety wears and tears me down.

Must I expect anything? Is it possible to react to what is actually happening, instead of what I’m afraid will happen? The truth is, I always have a choice. There are consequences, sure, but there are options, too, despite what Fear tells me.

Perhaps I’m not so much stuck, as gathered. Collected. Assembled. Pulled and pooled together.

“Come together,” sing The Beatles, “Right now, over me.”

Essay #26: labor

In Love on September 5, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Labor: to work hard; to struggle to do something very difficult or very tiring; [of love] something demanding or difficult that is done just for pleasure rather than for money (Word 2011 Dictionary)

I am posting this from my new (to me) computer.
I have been dragged into the 21st century. Finally.

Garth Brooks wrote a great song – Kickin’ and Screamin’ – about a man who doesn’t want to get married, then doesn’t want to get unmarried. He’s dragged kickin’ and screamin’ to the wedding, then to the divorce. He sings, “Lord, we never want to be here… sure don’t ever want to go.”

I’m not quite that bad, but I am fairly cautious when it comes to change. Even when it’s in my best interest to, say, upgrade my computer, I cling to the old one.


There’s a great British-ism: take a decision. Instead of making a decision (as we say in the USA), you let the decision come to you. This computer decision has been a long time coming, but it finally arrived. Yeehaw.

I am learning – you probably already know this – that almost everything’s easier with support. Not just financial, but moral support. To get to this place, typing on a new keyboard, I needed to: talk to my computer-savvy friends; consult experts who weren’t on commission; debate the merits of Mac vs PC; test drive various configurations; process the information and mull things over.

Time passed.

Then, evidently, I needed my dad to say, “Hey, what are you gonna do about a computer?” Thank god, he took it upon himself to research prices of various hardware and software, check out craigslist, then show me the listings and suggest I respond to a few. He also gave me some cash.

That’s the level and detail of help I needed to find my comfort zone, drive my ass to Seattle, and purchase a new-to-me iMac.

Self-reliance is over-rated.
Happy Labor Day.

Essay #25: bike rack

In Love on August 29, 2011 at 12:38 pm

How to affix a bike rack so it acts as a barrier between road dirt and your butt:

First, barter with a guy at a garage sale and buy a Specialized mountain bike for thirty dollars cash. From his roommate, buy a bike rack and a bungee cord for a buck. Roommate explains that the bike rack needs different hardware to attach to the bike.

Ride home. Chain bike to post and push bike rack up into carport rafters until rainy season starts.

Rainy season starts earlier than expected. Notice a dark, wet stripe up your butt from biking down a merely damp road.

Fish bike rack down from rafters. Set it over bike’s rear wheel — rack legs extend down either side of the wheel. See screw holes at the bottom of each rack leg. Fit them over the screws protruding from the wheel well. Perfect. Use current hardware to affix bike rack to seat-post, despite earlier warning.

Set out for the Co-op. Bike rack falls off three blocks from your house. Pedal back. Push bike rack back into rafters. Buy bright yellow rain pants.

Notice dark wet stripe extends up your back to your shoulder blades, above the pants. Remember bungee cord.

Fish bike rack down again. Attempt to remove non-feasible hardware. Cuss.

Track down toolbox in laundry room. Drag everything inside where it’s warm. Get mud on newly installed (but ugly) carpet. Make tea known for its calming qualities. Drink it.

Outside, spray rusted hardware with WD-40. Inside, remove useless hardware and place on no-longer-clean counter. Go back outside with naked rack and bungee cord.

As before, fit rack leg screw holes over screws protruding from bike’s rear wheel well. Perfect. Hook one end of the bungee cord to the flat horizontal part of the bike rack, wrap the cord around the seat-post, then hook the other end on the other side of the rack.

Test it: grab the back of the rack and pull it away from the seat-post. Watch it snap back into place, secure.

Smile. Enjoy the rainy season, stripe-free.

Essay #24: halfway

In Love on August 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm

I am halfway through the 48 essays I promised to post.
It has not gotten any easier.
It is still hard to write the truth and share it with you.

Seems simple enough: write a bunch of words, edit them, then publish on the worldwide web. Many people do it every day.

Simple, yes, except for my thinking: it’s not perfect, no one cares, it’s too hard.

Listening to love is not as easy as it sounds.

Every week I get up in the middle of writing and say, “This is crap. Jesus.”
Ladies and gentlemen, we have entered the chaos part of the writing process, where finishing an essay feels impossible. If I stop here, I am doomed.

Instead, I go for a walk, or make a cup of tea, or do the dishes. Then I sit down again, and try once more to string words into a pleasing sequence.

Because I care, which is a good enough reason to do it. And it is hard, but also supremely satisfying. For 24 Mondays in a row I have kept my promise to myself no matter what: exhaustion, deadlines, tempting opportunities. Regardless of what else is going on in the world, the community, the family, I show up for myself.

Side-effect? Happiness. Pride of accomplishment. Each week, after publishing another essay, I celebrate by playing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Keeping a promise to myself is a big deal. A big hallelujah deal.

24 essays into this truth-telling experiment and a few things have changed:
I am healthier. I am happy more often. I am more resilient.

I am also performing more. Saturday night I dressed up as a pirate and, with my shipmates, entertained folks before an outdoor showing of Pirates of the Caribbean. Argh.

Next Sunday I’ll perform my poem, “Can You Surf?”, at a street fair, then write Instant Poetry for a few hours. (Tagline: You give me five words, five minutes, and five bucks; I give you an original poem. Kids love it. They try to stump me with words like baseball shark, decapitate, and ninja gorilla.)

I have also found, or it’s found me, writing work I enjoy. I get to interview motivating movers and musicians, and help people actively preserving our planet.

“We get to carry each other,” sings U2.

Not, we have to carry each other, but we get to. It’s a privilege. We care for and are cared for, in turn. No one should get stuck only carrying, or only being carried. It’s all about balance.

So climb aboard. We’re halfway there.

Essay #23: billboards

In Love on August 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm

I spent last week in Southern California, where I grew up. Huge billboards line the freeways, featuring smiling women or men, posing sideways, with the phone number: 1-800-GET-THIN. “I lost 100 pounds!” they boast. Lap band surgery.

My stomach hurts just thinking about it.

I have felt fat most of my life, regardless of actual body weight. My earlier film career did nothing to dispel this, and the dance world is notorious for encouraging self-loathing. All those studio mirrors, all of us striving for perfect form. I could not look at myself with love, only criticism.

Recently I found an old picture of me dressed as a skeleton for Halloween, face painted like a skull. I remember putting that outfit on — black long-sleeve t-shirt and pants, with ironed-on bones. Loose clothes, covering what I thought was an over-sized body.

Looking at that photo now, I see clearly that I was thin, if not skinny.

Why the distortion? Even now, depending on my mood and the mirror, I can easily gain or lose 20 pounds in an hour.

Lying eyes.

Feeling fat‘n’ugly (that’s one word) is a symptom of a different unhappiness, not related to reality. The body is easy to attack when things are out of whack.

After Jill’s funeral, everyone came back to her parents’ house. Later in the day, her 7-year-old son opened the door to her childhood bedroom where I was lying down, trying to cool off. “Collier!” I said, sitting up. “Do you want to come in?”

“No, thank you,” he said, sliding the door closed.

Shit, I thought. Shit. I’m the wrong person. I am the wrong person, in his mother’s room.

I got up, and eventually found him in the pool, playing with his cousins. I jumped in and joined the splashing. I did my shark imitation, grabbing his toes so he could shriek and leap out, then cannonball back in for revenge. I wanted him to see who I was, not who I wasn’t.

Feeling like the wrong person is not new to me; it’s an old, familiar belief. I should be dead, instead of my brother John.


My intelligent body compensates for these thoughts by blowing up like a puffer fish: I will take up space. I will exist.

Besides, isn’t it rude to disparage this god-given body and brain? I don’t criticize gifts from others.

I did see another billboard in California, near my friend’s house:
Enjoy Everything.

Good advice.

Essay #22: packing

In Love on August 1, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Last time I packed for a funeral, I was in high school. I don’t remember what I packed, or what I wore. But I do remember telling Mr. Perry, the marine biology teacher, that I was going to Arizona because my grandmother had died.

Mimi, my mother’s mother, always sent the perfect clothes for my awkward body. She made Christmas ornaments by hand, with photos of us, or our names in glitter.

I don’t remember how we got there, but I do remember the open casket…

… and thinking, who the hell is THAT? wearing Mimi’s dress?

She had on way too much make-up, and her wig looked funny. My mom reached in and rubbed off some of the blush, and smoothed her hair.

I don’t remember crying, either. Confusion seemed to be the emotion of the day. Mimi was gone. Not hiding or smiling or pointing out closer parking spaces to my grandfather. She simply wasn’t there.

It was unsettling.

The next thing I remember is Thanksgiving, months after the funeral. My grandfather was still living near the golf course, but now he was dating Myrt.

Show a picture of my grandmother to Central Casting, ask for the complete opposite, and they’ll send you Myrt: dour, thin, plain. Definitely not a Magonigle, nothing wild about her. But that’s another story.

Today I am packing for Jill’s funeral. Black skirt, black blouse, black shoes. But I also fold in a black and white cotton shawl, batiked with a fish design, as well as a bathing suit. We are both Pisces, Jill and I, with birthdays two days apart. Maybe I’ll do some swimming for the both of us.

Essay #21: jill

In Love on July 25, 2011 at 2:25 pm

My childhood friend died last week. Jill. She had a hard life: anorexia, substance abuse, broken marriage. She had a 7-year-old boy she adores. Adored. Adores.

I’ve known Jill most of her life (she’s three years younger). Our physical therapist mothers met when we were little. When Nita (her mom) took maternity leave to have Jill’s baby brother, my mom filled in for her at work. During my baby brother’s funeral, I stayed with them.

Jill had the most gorgeous red hair, Celtic red, coppery red. And beautiful freckles, all over her body. We used to dress up in fancy nighties, adorn ourselves with jewelry, and put on plays. We laughed ourselves silly.

A few times a year, the four of us met, mothers and daughters, in downtown L.A, halfway between our houses. We’d eat at the same Chinese restaurant, Man Fook Lo, then go to the symphony or the theatre. We saw The Nutcracker together every Christmas.

At one point when we were kids, Jill had a pony. I was so envious. She had everything: a pony! A swimming pool! Parents living together!

But ponies and pools and married parents have little to do with happiness.

One year my mom and I got to the restaurant first. We snagged a booth, and a few minutes later Nita came in, followed by Jill.

She was beyond thin. She was skeletal. Her usually pretty face was merely a skull covered with skin. If she hadn’t been with her mother, I may not have recognized her.

We weren’t supposed to talk about it. No one said, anorexia. No one said, Jesus Jill! What the hell is going on?

If you can’t discuss the problem, you can’t offer to help.

Her father was an eye doctor, yet her vision of herself was so distorted that even as a size-2-wearing-woman (she was about my height, 5’8”) she was convinced she was fat. Too big. Taking up too much space.

A few years later, Jill visited me in San Francisco. She was marginally healthier then, though I still wasn’t supposed to talk about it. So I ate for both of us.

A part of my childhood died last week. Jill. About a month ago she ‘friended’ me on Facebook. I wrote her back immediately, happy to hear from her. I don’t know if she got the message.

Essay #20: operating systems

In Love on July 18, 2011 at 5:47 pm

“Update your operating system.”
Hotmail, Yahoo, WordPress, Facebook – they all say the same thing:
You will not receive the full scope of services until you upgrade your operating system.

They’re right. My operating system is way out of date. It’s getting harder to send and receive messages, information, data, code. It affects how I communicate with the world.

Most of my life I ran a fear-based system. My brain was crowded with scary messages:
you can’t have what you want; you don’t deserve to be happy; you’re unlovable; you’re a loser; why bother, no one cares; there isn’t enough, you’re not enough.

For someone who doesn’t like horror movies, I seemed to be starring in one every single day. And I don’t mean Howling V.

Believing these lies made life extremely difficult. I was suspicious of kindness, afraid of change, reluctant to pursue happiness. I lived in poverty.

Fighting these thoughts was exhausting. “I think I can, I think I can,” may’ve worked for the Little Engine, but not for me, not in the long run.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find out these thoughts are not unique to me. Nicole Kidman is jealous of Penelope Cruz. Jennifer Lopez thought she was a loser. Ted Turner doesn’t have enough money.

We are all tuned in to radio station K-FKD, as writer Annie Lamott calls it. All lies, all the time.

Well, folks, it’s time to change the station, and update the system. I am tired of the same-old, same-old.

Radio’s on the computer nowadays, so maybe, when I upgrade, I’ll be able to hear something different.

Listening to Love – a whole different operating system (not compatible with Fear 3.0 or higher).

Stay tuned.

Essay #19: tania

In Love on July 11, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Do you actually need that screaming voice in your head telling you to get out of bed? Is there a kinder way to treat yourself?

Tania is the name of one of my screamers. She’s like a personal assistant: in charge of the mundane parts of my existence — paying bills, doing laundry, looking for work.

She used to push push push, all the time, past the point of exhaustion: query editors! mow the lawn! build a website!

Tania made long, long lists — with tight deadlines — that tired me out just to look at them.

Out of desperation one day, I invited her into my morning meditation. “What!?” I said, “What is the problem?”
“You’re not listening to me,” she said.
“Because you are screaming,” I pointed out.
“I am screaming because you are not listening to me,” she said.

Neither one of us (and yes, I know I’m talking about a part of my own brain) likes chaos. So we made a deal. I would stop tuning her out, and she would stop screaming. It’s been a slow process, but it started like this:
“Pay the bills!” screams Tania.
“I can’t,” I say, “I don’t have the money.”
“Can you pay one bill?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, “I can do that. I can pay one bill. But I was going to the library. Can I pay it later?”
“No!” she’d say, at the beginning. “Pay it now!”

After awhile, as I did what she asked when she wanted me to, she was willing to negotiate deadlines. As long as I kept my word, she was quite reasonable.

These days she seldom speaks above a whisper. And I’ve come to rely on her to remind me to take care of business. “The Visa bill is due,” she said last night. “Oh, thanks,” I said, and sat down and paid it.

When I ignore her – screaming.
When I listen and communicate – no screaming.

Which would you choose?