essays by Shé

Posts Tagged ‘art’


In Love on June 21, 2022 at 1:22 pm

“Paint the ocean,” said my dad, but I didn’t dare. His huge 3D map of northern California covered a wall of his house, sans sea, and I was afraid to screw it up. I was fifteen.

Back in kindergarten, though, I painted a picture for my mother every day, so she would be alive when I got home. She was pregnant and bedridden, and the story was that she would die if she got up. (She often got up.) My favorite painting from that era was thick lines of alternating orange and brown hues, creating a square tunnel effect. A family friend was impressed, “Perspective!”

Eventually Mom gave birth to a healthy baby boy, whom I called Didi. Painting pictures faded, and Didi became the artist. Later I painted my face and body, then became an actor-dancer, proficient in character make-up and costumes. Then a writer, painting with words.

One day my young artist friend Maureen left her body suddenly and for good. Shocked, I signed up for art class, as a way to grieve. One of my pieces featured actual seaweed and stylized ocean folk. During a summer job, I painted scenery for a teen-written performance piece, and helped another friend with a mural.

Then a girlfriend got the idea to make a fish ladder out of a wooden utility ladder. (We lived in salmon country.) She created a school of beaten copper fish and asked me to paint water on the ladder, from sea to stream. I put it off, thinking, again, that I didn’t want to screw it up, but she persisted.

It was gorgeous.

I’ve always loved color and texture and shape and design. I created letterpress books bound with ribbons, elaborate guerrilla poetry pieces and flotillas, and painted sea creatures on furniture. I whitewashed the walls of my Hicks Lake shack in broad swooshes, and, in Flagler Beach, added cinnamon-colored sand to pigment, experimenting on big canvases. A Hawaiian friend gave me a tube of gold Liquitex for my birthday, and I had a field day.

The extreme joy of painting is anchored in the fact that I don’t have to be good at it. I can just do it for me. Just for fun.

Elizabethan Ocean Woman by Shé, acrylic on canvas, 2022

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
%d bloggers like this: