essays by Shé

Posts Tagged ‘happy’


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

Struggling with Wait

In Love on July 5, 2022 at 6:33 am

I have been heavier. I have been lighter. It rarely has anything to do with calories. Mostly it has to do with happiness.

When I set my needs and wants aside – for work, family, friends – I suffer. Self-loathing sets in, the mind attacks the body: you’re fat. You’re over-weight. But in fact I’m over-wait: waiting for permission to exist, to write, to paint, to dance, to surf, to swim, to live how I please. I am distracted by others’ needs and wants, thinking they are somehow my business.

I’ve heard, and intellectually understand, that there is no right way to Be. But ‘monkey see, monkey do’ has a strong pull. I follow ‘rules’ for housing, working, playing, loving with no consideration to the quiet inner voice that murmurs, ocean ocean ocean or dance your ass off or write your truth or look at the stars or leave this moldy house/relationship/job.

I believed I should be available: phone on and answered; responsive to the knock at the door; ready at work. I set aside my need for solitude and happiness, and made myself sick — over and over and over again. I was over-weight and over-wait.

Nowadays the phone is only on three days a week. I cruise the internet for research, then turn off the computer. After a lifetime of waiting – for parents, bosses, lovers — the only thing I want to wait for these days is clarity. I give myself permission to be happy: to play in the ocean, speak my truth, blow bubbles, float with gardenias while remembering my mom; to paint, write, look at the stars, take up space. Be Me.

I am shedding wait.

Love Translated Too, choreographed by Shé
Love Translated Too, choreographed by Shé, circa 2010

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 #14: joy is a vitamin

In Love on June 6, 2011 at 3:42 pm

“I’ve wasted enough time not being happy,” said Jessica Lange (Oprah Magazine, April 2009). “I regret those times I’ve chosen the dark side.”

So many brilliant, beautiful women choose the dark side: actors, writers, mothers. There’s tons in the arts, exploring the seamy side of life. Which is fine. But when it becomes your only reality, when it became my only reality, it almost killed me. I forgot about joy. I turned away from love. Happiness was a myth I couldn’t access. I was out of balance — koyaanisqatsi.

Now that I’ve found my happiness code, where do I install it? Everywhere? Every day?

A few weeks ago I tried to talk myself into auditioning for a play I do not like, produced by a playhouse I do not respect, for minimal pay. I thought it would be “good” for me, good practice. The day of the audition I woke up crying.

I finally let myself cancel the appointment. A week or so later, in conversation with an actor who worked with this particular playhouse, I learned that rehearsals are grueling and the director mean and moody. I had been spared.

I’ve spent way too much time making myself do things I don’t want to. I defer fun until the house is clean and the dishes are done and I have a good-paying job.

But joy is a vitamin – you need a little every day. “One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats,” wrote Iris Murdoch.

Continuous small treats.
And they don’t have to cost much. I can treat myself by making spaghetti al pesce for dinner, blowing bubbles, rollerskating, dancing, jumping in the water, picking flowers. Playing.

Recently I made French toast for breakfast. I had the right bread and my favorite syrup and plenty of butter. As I was cooking, I felt an upwelling of pleasure and happiness. “You gave me what I want!” The kid in me danced around and laughed. “Thank you!”

My French toast happiness fed me for days. Everything was easier — work, communicating, even running errands.

Joy is so much cheaper than misery.
Try it.

Essay #6: the happiness code

In Love on April 11, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I’ve been editing a website for a non-profit.
Uploading text has been simple enough, but suddenly I was unable to change photos.

I followed directions, to the letter. The new photo appeared in the draft, but when I updated and uploaded the page — no photo.

I tried again and again. Maybe I didn’t click all the buttons, check all the boxes.
The photo wouldn’t change.
It should’ve changed (I did everything right!), but it didn’t.

Eventually, frustrated, I stopped and sat and thought.

Computers do exactly what they’re told. They follow programming, to the letter.
Since it wouldn’t do what I asked, it must be doing what someone else asked.
Something I didn’t know about.

Sure enough, I dug around and found other programming in effect, overriding my commands to change the picture. Unbeknownst to me, someone had added header code. I neutralized the code by de-selecting it. Now I can add and change photos 15 times a day.

I didn’t create the underlying code, but it affected me, nonetheless.

Which lead me to think about my ‘happiness code.’

Over the years various people tried to convince me that I deserve to be happy. I rarely believed them. Despite different therapies and methods — affirmation, visualization, cognitive this, meditative that — the picture wouldn’t change.

Perhaps my ‘happiness code’ got deleted, or changed into ‘unhappiness code.’

One day, after her name popped up in too many places to ignore, I checked out Byron Katie’s book, Loving What Is. She advocates investigation. Her method in brief: write down the thought or belief, then question it — is it true? Let the answer arise.

Turns out I’ve been believing lies:
You shouldn’t be happy – your brother is dead.
You shouldn’t be happy – your mother may die.
You shouldn’t be happy – your father left.
You shouldn’t be happy – you are bad.

Installed and coded in five-year-old flesh.
Along with millions of other conflicting beliefs.

I don’t deserve to be happy – is that even true? What’s the reality?
Deserving has nothing to do with happiness. I can think of many people (warmongers, anyone?) who do not deserve to be happy. Yet there they are, blithely blissful, regardless of what I believe.

And if the tables were turned, and I was dead and Johnny alive, I wouldn’t want him to believe some stupid ass concept like You don’t deserve to be happy. That’s crazy! I’d want him to be as happy and healthy as possible, every single day of his life.


If it’s not true for him, it’s probably not true for me.

I didn’t create the code, but I am learning to change the picture.

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