48 essays by Elizabeth Shé

Posts Tagged ‘truth’

Essay #36: patagonia

In Love on November 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm

My father is going to Patagonia tomorrow, to build a bridge. Just like old times.

When I was a kid, he worked for the federal Bureau of Public Roads, building bridges and roads in the mountains. I remember riding shotgun in a yellow-orange government truck, somewhere in California or Oregon or Washington. I remember evergreens against a blue sky on winding roads, the fragrance of hot pine pitch, jumping in cold swimming holes, the Bookmobile stopping by the trailer, playing Crazy Eights. Summertime.

A friend just called. He’s 42, and having a hard time believing he deserves to be on the planet. He was molested by his best friend’s father when he was a kid. “Maybe it wasn’t such a big deal,” he said. “Worse things happened later.”

“It was a big deal,” I tell him. Maybe that’s why worse things happened later.

Our reactions to each other carry weight. One of the reasons I was able to express my distress to the too-intimate hugger last week was because my father believed me. He didn’t try to talk me out of my feelings. He told me to trust myself. Take care of myself.

My friend told his mother what happened, the next day. “What did she do?” I asked.

“Not much,” he said. “Not much.” Her (non)reaction made him doubt his own.

To make things even more like a Greek tragedy, the childhood best friend with the lecherous father killed himself a few weeks ago. My friend recalled a recent conversation with him about how they protected their mothers from their true feelings. “How do you do it?” my friend asked. “I lie,” said the childhood best friend. “I say everything is fine.”

After I was molested as a teenager, I didn’t tell a soul. I thought it was just me, an isolated case.

Total bullshit.

The longer I’m on this planet, the more often I hear my thoughts come out of somebody else’s mouth. “I’m a loser. I’m unlovable. I’m not good enough.”

What if we’re all picking up random broadcasts from Radio K-FKD? What if it ain’t true? None of it?

Change the channel. Build a bridge. Tell the truth.
We’re listening.

Essay #32: masks

In Love on October 17, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Last October, I drove to Arcata, where my brother was living, to rendezvous with my father. I hadn’t seen him in 11 years.

While I was gone, someone burgled my loft. They dumped out a duffel bag and filled it with art supplies, jewelry findings, and a wooden sewing box containing a rose-gold bracelet my grandmother gave me.

Last week, almost a year later, I realized they had also taken my masks: two outrageously feathered and sequined mardi gras masks from my mother – one blue, one red; another, made by a fiber artist friend, with intricate paper flowers; and a black, beaded store-bought mask with opalescent feathers dripping down.

To recap? I went to see my father and lost all my masks.
It’s hard to get more metaphorical than this.

“Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth,” says Elizabeth Gilbert’s friend, quoted in the book Eat Pray Love.

After Emmett died, I found it easier to tell the truth. I had nothing to lose.
Don’t get me wrong, I still get anxious, depending on the topic and the person I’m talking to, but I just got so damn tired of holding up a mask.

I dropped the ill-fitting perfect-daughter mask, the perfect-worker mask, the everything’s-fine mask, and the mask with no mouth that doesn’t allow me to say No.

Without one, I can breathe easier and see better.
And – holy cow! – people can see me, which hasn’t been as bad as I anticipated. Has actually been healing.

What a relief that someone came and took them away. And to find out I don’t need them after all.

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.

Revelation.

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.