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are you dancing?

'Love to Love' by Elizabeth Shé
‘Love to Love’ by Elizabeth Shé



Isn’t that a warm and inclusive word?

You are welcome here!

I was recently struggling with two apparently conflicting beliefs: I shouldn’t be ugly, and I shouldn’t be beautiful.

There’s intense pressure on women to be beautiful. It supposedly adds value, worth. Magazines, television, films, videos — all capitalize on this. We’re inundated with images of the “right” way to look.

As a result, jealousy is rampant. I’ve been on both the sending and receiving end of jealousy and I’ve come to realize that:

Comparison is the tool of the devil.

I am ME! You are YOU! Ain’t that grand? How fabulous and healthy that we come in all colors, all shapes, all sizes.

There is no, one, right HUMAN.

Jealousy is exhausting and ruins relationships. When I was 17, my body and face morphed into beauty personified. I went from cute to goddess, which was confusing and scary. Men and women suddenly reacted to me completely differently. Friends behaved oddly. I was not prepared for the attention and venom. The hate in my mother’s eyes shook and cracked my foundation of love. Instead of helping me through this bizarre transition, she threw me to the wolves.

“I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with a beautiful daughter,” said my maternal grandmother, TO MY MOTHER.

It made me crazy. It made me suicidal. It made me angry. It made me completely isolated from any kind of support network, and prey to smooth-talking predators. Self-loathing blossomed within me. If my own mother doesn’t want me…

Honor roll Susie became arm candy. My looks superseded my native intelligence, my sense of humor, my innate creativity.

So being beautiful is dangerous. But what about ugliness?

When I was at my most diseased, being slowly poisoned by mold (unbeknownst to me), I weighed close to 200 pounds. At 5’7″ this was not healthy for me.  When I finally evacuated the house, I realized that if I wanted to live — and apparently I did, because I found myself driving toward the sea — I did not have the time or energy to hate myself anymore. Choose it or lose it.

I chose love. I chose to live. I chose to cut myself a break, to love myself as I would my own daughter, my own best friend. Compassionately, gently, tenderly. Forgivingly. Tolerant of mistakes and missteps.

It takes a lot of practice. Yeah, baby.

Last week I discovered, within myself, that:

Hate = Hurt

I have been deeply unwelcoming to “ugliness” — ignoring anger, hating fat, belittling sorrow, demeaning desire. Judgement crushed me into depressions over and over again. So hard to breathe. To love. To heal. To BE.

Enough of that! I can be both beautiful AND ugly.

I hereby welcome ALL my hidden thoughts and beliefs, the beautiful and ugly, joyful and sorrowful, disgusting, painful, sick, healthy, pornographic, violent, poor, prosperous, dark, light, depressed, happy. I welcome Eeyore AND Winnie-the-Pooh. And Tigger, too!

ALL of ME. Why not love ALL of ME?

Why not love ALL of YOU?

We’re here for such a short time.

“Seeds of Peace” by Elizabeth Shé: eggshells with rosemary for remembrance and the message, You are the Seed of Peace

I am loving you

Nothing is more important than loving. Nothing.

Yesterday, Shadow greeted me at the fence of his corral when I pulled up the car. I’d been out marketing. Instead of unloading the car immediately, I walked over to say hi. It’s so nice when someone is happy to see you!

We hung out for a while, and I reached up to scratch around his ears and forehead, removed the sleepers from his eyes, smoothed the fur under his chin. He put his long soft nose very gently next to my cheek and breathed me in. It’s been a long time since I allowed anyone that close to me. It felt like peace. It felt like love.

Last night, after unpacking and bathing and cooking and eating and cleaning and meditating, I started crying. I don’t want to love because I don’t want to lose. I shouldn’t love Shadow because he isn’t “mine.” I’m bound to lose him.

But when I turned that sentence around, I started laughing: Shadow shouldn’t love me because I’m not “his.” Ridiculous! We love who we love, whether they are “ours” or not, whether they live for three years, six years, or 90. Whether we have one day or one minute together.

I remember sitting next to Emmett under the pine tree in our front yard in Olympia one balmy evening. My neighbor was visiting and I was petting Emmett’s thick Malamute fur, scratching behind his floppy ears, massaging his ruff. I started crying. I thought my heart would burst, unable to contain the pure quantity of love I felt. “I love him so much,” I told her, and she nodded.

Sometimes it seems as though I’ve lost everyone I’ve ever loved. I don’t want to subject myself to that pain again.

Ha! Good luck with that, my darling! We are all terminal, every single one of us. So why not love along the way? Why turn away from the soft nose against the cheek? The kind word? The gentle rain of love falling on you right this minute?

Besides, I don’t really have a choice. I love who I love when I love. The so-called rational mind has nothing to do with it. It’s all heart.

“Cowboy Heart” by Elizabeth Shé


Today marks the ninth anniversary of Emmett’s death. Time is indeed a bizarre, weird, fluid concept.

We met the day after a winter solstice party. I was in no mood to socialize let alone make new friends.


Knock knock knock.
Knock knock knock.

I drag myself away from The Prairie Home Companion and go to the door, trying to plaster a semblance of a smile on my snoot.

It’s Llyn, my then-girlfriend. Did she lose her key? “I’ve brought company,” she says, with a real smile.

I look down. And there he is: big, black, and beautiful. He wags his plumy tail. “It’s you!” cries my heart. “Hello!” says my mouth. And that was it: love at first sight.

The next six years completely changed the direction of my life. I made time for play, for fun. For adventure. We went almost everywhere together, even the movies. Therapy, even!

One time, at the beach, he found a particularly noxious-smelling salmon carcass. He rolled in it, of course, which didn’t worry me too much at the time. He was always rolling in interesting smells. I knew it’d wear off. But when we were in the car heading home, my eyes began to stream with tears. The stench! I stopped to roll every window down; it didn’t help. And when I looked at him in the rear-view mirror, there he was, proud as could be, tongue hanging out. “I am a badass,” said his expression. “I rule.”

He was also kind. Once we were walking back from the library when a young man and a very young dog approached us. “Do you mind if they play?” asked the guy. “I’m trying to help him socialize.”

“Sure,” I said. By this time Emmett was a full grown Malamute mix. He was easily ten times the size of the little dog. Nonetheless, he began to play with him, very carefully. He threw himself to the ground, pretending the puppy had knocked him over, and let the puppy climb all over him.

This is the same wolfy dog that killed a chicken, and took down a young deer.

After Emmett died, I felt him near me, especially when I walked one of our familiar routes. We often walked at night, so I was used to not seeing him for long periods; his black coat blended into the shadows. He’d run ahead, or lollygag behind. But we were always connected. And one whistle — his special whistle — usually brought him to my side.

In the hardest times after the evacuation, when I didn’t know where I was going or how or if I was going to live, I’d feel him again: walking with me in the dark. My quiet, strong, kind companion. Emmett Ocean Shé. I am loving you.

Emmett Spirit Mask, by Elizabeth Shé
Emmett Spirit Mask, by Elizabeth Shé

horse painter

“We should have a party,” I said to two of my neighbors a couple of weeks before Halloween. “We’ll dress up a la Dia de los Muertos, have live music, a fire. I’ll paint the horses.”

They laughed. But come October 30, my vision came to fruition. Despite the rain earlier in the day, 50+ humans showed up, most in costume. Another neighbor invited her face-painting friend, so when I looked across the fire on the patio that evening, I saw singing calaveras and flowers, and even a pirate crab.

I started painting the horses in the morning. First I brushed Magic, which he’s used to. Then I let him smell the little tub of white paint. Neither of us liked it much, but we tolerated it in the name of Art.

Once he was decorated on both sides, I took a break. These canvases could bite or kick you! Plus, they move. I needed to keep it simple.

Next was Jetson. I didn’t even have to halter him. He seemed to enjoy being a muse.

Jetson's Heart by Elizabeth Shé, photo by James Dickens
Jetson’s Heart by Elizabeth Shé, photo by James Dickens

Kady was okay, too, despite the fact that she charged me in the pasture the week before. Both she and Cisko got handprints.

Cisko's Rump by Elizabeth Shé, photo by James Dickens
Cisko’s Rump by Elizabeth Shé, photo by James Dickens

I ended up painting four horses: all had spots on one side so they were a cohesive herd; then a heart for Jetson, hands on Kady and Cisko, and Magic’s stars. I painted a heart on my chest so I was part of the tribe. My porch pumpkin sported spots.

Magic Spots by Elizabeth Shé, photo by James Dickens
Magic Spots by Elizabeth Shé, photo by James Dickens

I used non-toxic washable tempera paint, as recommended by another horse painter (!). “I buy the big container at Michael’s and cut it with shampoo so it’s easier to hose off,” wrote Melanie, who runs an equestrian therapy program in Atascadero. Evidently the kids like to paint their ponies.

The Polka Dot Herd were a big hit at the party, even after dark. People went down to the corrals with flashlights to see them.

Maybe next year I’ll use glow-in-the-dark paint.

Halloween 2016 horse painter y Magic, photo by James Dickens
Halloween 2016: horse painter Elizabeth Shé y Magic, photo by James Dickens

All’s hallow

When I lived in Santa Monica circa the 1990’s, I was part of a coven of two. Basically we dressed up, made art, and had fun. Once we even sat in the Batmobile! (Our neighbor made street-legal versions of it for studio publicity.)

Both Pisces of Irish extraction, we always went out dancing on St. Paddy’s Day. Hallowe’en was another big day for us, with lots of planning and decorating and costuming. Make-up was mandatory.

After I moved to Seattle, my coven-mate died suddenly. Her brother left a message on my phone early one morning. I couldn’t believe my ears. She was in her early 40’s.

Here’s a poem I wrote for her:

~for Maureen Marten

Shivering orange light
circle, heart, sliver
Suppose she gets the card
burnt in shards of squash
Hallowe’en postal service:
no charge to communing witches

Coven-mate Maureen Marten, photo by Elizabeth Shé
Coven-mate Maureen Marten, photo by Elizabeth Shé





“My brother’s the artist,” I said to Denise, an old family friend.

“There can only be one?” she asked.

Labels. They’re gonna getcha.

The Smart One. The Pretty One. The Dancer. The Singer. The Mathematician. The Physician. The Engineer. The Performer. The Professor. The Good Girl. The Good Worker (Reliable, Dependable, Trustworthy). The Starving Artist. The Flaky Musician. The Writer. The Liar. The Cheater. The Storyteller. The Rich One. The Poor One. The Owner. The Renter.

Pick one. Then discard. Why can’t we all be all of them? And none of them?

Two days ago, I was reading Through the Dark Forest by Carolyn Conger. In it, she related a story about 50-year-old Gerald, a dying man she was working with, using what she calls Voice Dialogue dreamwork. The basic idea is that we each have many selves, and some of our selves get more attention than others. She spoke with five-year-old Gerald, and he responded as his younger vulnerable self. “What do you want Gerald to know about you,” she asked. “I want him to remember me,” he replied. “I want to be happy, to play more.”

I suddenly flashed on my five-year-old self. My mother was pregnant and bedridden. If she got out of bed, she’d die. So every day in kindergarten, I painted her a picture.

Painting was a major source of happiness for me then. I was swept away, into color and form and texture. I was free to experiment and play. I did not worry about my very sick mother, or miss my dead brother or my absent father. When I played with paint, I was completely absorbed. Completely free. Anxiety didn’t return until I was on my way home, wondering whether my mother would be there or not, alive or not.

Paint, I realized as I put the book down. I need paint. I need art supplies.

The next day, Labor Day here in the USA, I drove to the nearest big box hardware store. I needed options. LOTS of options.

Why a hardware store instead of an art supply store?

    1. I knew where it was and how to get there, only 11.5 miles away.
    2. I didn’t know where there was an art supply store and I didn’t want to spend time looking or asking around.
    3. Price, which leads to …
    4. Low pressure / fool the inner critic. I’m a writer. I buy cheap notebooks to write in (yes, long-hand), so that my writing doesn’t have to be precious or worthy or good. This frees me up to write whatever the hell I want, all the time.

What a happy hour I spent in that big-ass store! Grins galore.

I found small bottles of acrylics in many delicious colors; wood, cut to my specifications (big!); red rosin paper and pale green masking paper; brushes of various sizes and shapes, and round yellow “pouncers” made of sponge; masking tape; and brown “eco”  tarp (big sheets of recycled paper).

Just writing about it slows and deepens my breathing.

Back in the car with my booty, I sat and laughed. Already an excellent return on my 60 bucks, and I hadn’t even used them!

Yesterday, I cleaned off two shelves and rearranged my closet to include an area for art supplies. Happy again!

And today, well, first I turned off the phone. Then I set up an art studio in one corner of my apartment. Laid down the tarp, set up my paints, opened the packages of brushes, filled an old cinnamon jar with water, used an old shea butter lid as a palette.

And played.

Stars Fall by Elizabeth Shé, circa 2009
Stars Fall by Elizabeth Shé, circa 2009