Tag Archives: essay

7 minute dance party

It’s been a helluva year. This Prime Project is nearing the end. I started it on my 53rd birthday last year as a way to remind myself that it ain’t over yet. I’ve still got a lot of juiciness in me.

My father recently wrote, “You only have a few more weeks as a particular prime number, but you certainly won’t be leaving the domain of prime numbers and the many interesting things that arise from consideration of them. (See class notes, Number Theory 445, Fall, 1964, Arizona State University, taught by Charles Wexler, PhD, one of the coolest instructors I’ve ever had in a lifetime of going to school.)

“54, of course, can be factored into 2 times 3 cubed, thereby making great use of the first two primes. Along a similar line of thinking, I hit 2 to the fourth power times 5 this year. Interesting things, them primes.”

So, evidently, we’re both still prime numbers.

On this year’s birthday, March 7 (fabulous prime), I’ve engineered a 7 Minute Dance Party. Wherever you happen to be on Tuesday, anytime between 12:42 a.m. and 11:59 p.m, get up and groove! Shake a tail feather! Move your booty, cutie!

(Yes, I was born at 12:42a.m on March 7, according to my birth certificate. At Luke’s Air Force Base outside Phoenix, Arizona, in the United States of America. John F. Kennedy was President.)

Here’s a list of some of my favorite dance songs, in no particular order:

  • Oh Happy Day by The Edwin Hawkins Singers
  • Happy by Pharrell
  • Trois Gymnopedies by Eric Satie
  • Chez Seychelles by Beausoleil
  • Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye
  • Respect Yourself by the Staples Singers
  • Everyday People by Sly & the Family Stone
  • R.E.S.P.E.C.T. by Aretha Franklin
  • Joy to the World by 3 Dog Night
  • Rock Lobster by the B-52s
  • Hallelujah Chorus by Handel
  • All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor
  • Master & Commander soundtrack
  • Bach Cello Suites by Yo-Yo Ma
  • …and anything with bagpipes

welcome

Welcome!

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

dots ‘n’ lines

I hiked a new route today. Decided to find the mythical Horse Camp at Montaña de Oro. Yellow poppies are beginning to bloom here, early signs of spring, or maybe just rain-appreciative plants. Also saw small pink morning glory-type flowers, low in the sand, like a succulent.

Map in my pocket, I follow Cisko’s horse tracks south through the chaparral. The air was ocean clean and fresh. Occasionally coyote tracks ran parallel to my path, then ran off into the brush. Mourning doves coo’d and a neighbor dog barked to note my passage.

Being on foot and coming from the dunes, I did not recognize the road to Horse Camp, so ended up hiking along the paved road for too long. Sunday morning surfers, mountain bikers, and hikers zipped by in their colorful, fast SUVs. No one else was walking.

Down through lines of equidistant eucalyptus trees, the forest of a get-rich-quick-schemer that didn’t profit him financially, but is now a haven for birds and squirrels and other wildlife. My nose is happy with the scent.

Up ahead I see a truck, and could it be? A horse trailer. Seven horses of various shades of brown and grey greet me. I hear a raucous laugh from behind them. There’s a tent with several humans sitting around a picnic table, breakfasting. I stop at a kiosk to read about ticks and lyme disease, then continue along the narrow path that skirts their camp.

“Good morning,” I whisper to the horses as I pass.

None of the other camp sites have campers, but a large covey of quail run through one of the corrals. Curious, I poke around. Wheelbarrows, muck rakes, pens fenced with metal pipe, water troughs. I’m smiling.

Yesterday, on the way back from my morning ocean ramble, Susan and Cisko were waiting for me at a fork in the trail near the ranch. When I stepped off the path to let them by, Susan said, “No, I was waiting to talk to you.” Cisko looked at me, then continued grazing, his mouth foaming green around his bit.

A few weeks ago, I’d emailed the folks at Return to Freedom, a wild horse sanctuary in SLO County. I’d asked Susan if she’d like to go with me sometime to check it out, and she wondered whether I’d heard from them.

“Nope,” I said.
“That’s weird,” she said.
“Maybe they don’t need volunteers in winter,” I hazarded.
“Maybe.”

We talked about Red Wings, another horse sanctuary up the highway 80 miles or so.

“Some of them are up for adoption,” I said.
“Are they ridable?” asked Susan.
“I don’t know; supposed to be. I have to check it out.”

Susan knows I want a horse. And once again, she offered to go with me to check out likely candidates.

“Thanks!” I said.

We made our goodbyes, then she and Cisko wheeled around to take the southern route, the one I chose this morning. I’d been walking in his big hoofprints.

I’m smiling because my horse dreams aren’t dead. I don’t know why the mind thinks up all kinds of reasons why I shouldn’t have what I want, but I am tired of listening to it. For 20 years I lived inland, despite my ocean longings. It took the threat of death for me to listen to my heart, my body.

Now I want the ocean, AND a horse, AND land, AND a home of my own. I am tempted to scale back my desires — are they unreasonable? Is happiness unreasonable?

Sure feels good, though, happiness.
Please god, may my next fifty years be happier than the last. And may yours be, too.

“dots ‘n’ lines” by Elizabeth Shé

a mighty fine day

A good day is one with an ocean in it.
A mighty good day is one with an ocean and a horse in it.
A mighty fine day is one with an ocean, a horse, and a whale in it.

Today was a mighty fine day.

Living on a horse ranch on the edge of the continent produces some mighty fine days. Today I greeted the sunrise and got a front row seat to the Dawn Chorus. Hummingbirds, jays, thrashers, quail, crows, and who knows who else sang the sun up. Hallelujah.

On my way out to hike down to the ocean, I stop to talk to Susan, who’s washing her horse Cisko. Shadow looks at me from his box stall.

“Time for brushing,” says Susan.

Shadow agrees, so I put my towel down and change into my stable boots (they’re rubber, so muck washes off easily).

Why is it so satisfying to brush a dirty horse? Well, Shadow in particular blisses out to the extent that his eyes close, and his head hangs low. Occasionally he smacks his lips.

Today I decided to see if he’d let me pick up his hooves and clean them. He did. Why did this make me happy? Schadenfreude, probably. His “owner” doesn’t do it, afraid he’ll be kicked. One point for me, or four, if you count all the hooves.

Found a tick in Shadow’s fur, drowned it. Found another one later on my Levi’s, flicked it off. Still a mighty fine day. Especially for the tick that lived.

Down on the dunes, I see spouts on the other side of the breakers. And then — breach, baby! A blue whale, I think. Many spouts are farther out, just these two close to shore.

After weeks of storms and rain, it’s delicious to lie in the warm sand. It’s mid-winter, but the temperature (for a few hours) feels like summer. A couple of boys play football, a family tosses a frisbee around, there’s a fisherman or two. A few brave souls venture into the water, only to come straight out again.

I hike to one of my swim spots and change into my bathing suit. After diving under a wave, I jog out again. The tide is receding. Yesterday I caught a sweet wave that carried me to shore.

Back at the ranch, I cook pasta with spinach and pulled chicken. I sit by the western window and watch the sun set as I eat.

My neighbor is downstairs. I overhear her talking about gigs. Eventually I hear music — a violin, guitar, voices. She’s rehearsing. I have not been invited. A few months ago, she started a band. “You’re part of it,” she said. Evidently not.

Exclusion sure feels shitty. This mighty fine day just took a nosedive. How do I deal with this? In the past — and rejection is a theme in the life of a writer-performer — I ignored it. Never let on that anyone had hurt my feelings.

“I didn’t even think of you,” this neighbor said a while back. Hmmm. Do I really need friends who don’t remember I exist?

No.

Probably it’s best if I’m not in this particular band. I suppose if I want I can start one myself. I’ve written enough songs for my own 30 minute gig. But is this really where I want to put my energy? Hmmm, let’s think about it.

It’s the exclusion that smarts. But what is actually best for me? As far as I know, this is only the second rehearsal in three months. When I was in Mozart’s Children we rehearsed weekly, at the very least. For dance performances, I rehearse daily. So, we’ve definitely got different work ethics, my neighbor and I. It’s not enough to say you’re in a band, you have to actually set aside the time and show up.

Besides, our musical tastes differ too. I’m tired of cynical sad songs. I don’t want to add to the collective misery of the planet, especially with Voldemort in the White House. Now is the time for rousing, radical renditions of We Shall Overcome, and as many love songs as possible. Joy, baby, righteous joy. That’s what I’m after.

So, I accept her exclusion. It still stings, but maybe I’ve been spared a bunch of nonsense and wasted time. And just like that, with the slivered moon setting after the sun into the Big Blue, my mighty fine day is back.

Hallelujah.

Montaña de Oro sunset
Montaña de Oro sunset

SLO March

It’s Saturday morning, January 21, and I’m nervous.

I’m on my way to the Women’s March in San Luis Obispo (SLO), in support of the Women’s March on Washington D.C. I don’t know what to expect. I’m a pacifist, but are the other marchers? What about the on-lookers? or the ones who voted for Voldemort? Will there be violence? Will I be arrested? Harmed?

I don jewelry from both grandmothers, a necklace for a dead friend, my red wool coat, my purple marching boots, and finally my cowgirl hat. I’m ready. ID, debit card, cash, and phone in various pockets, so I can march without a purse.

It’s easy to find Mitchell Park, the starting point. I can hear the rally from blocks away, and I follow the streams of people carrying signs and banners downtown.

“¿Allá?” asks a woman holding a Freedom! sign. She gestures down the street.

“Sí,” I say, and our paths converge.

“I’m Courtney,” says another woman in answer to my introduction. “This is my husband Kai.” We both admit to being excited.

Hispanic, Caucasian, Black, Indian, Native, Asian; babies, elders, teens, adults; hippies, veterans, bellydancers, students, poets, doctors — we are all smiling at each other, thrilled that so many thousands have shown up on this wintry day in central California.

The signs are fabulous:
Now you’ve pissed off Grandma!
We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn
Bridges not Barriers
We are PRO American
We the People are WATCHING

I drift away from the gazebo and the rallying crowds. I spy orange and pink feathers on several heads in the street. Could it be? Yes! A samba band! I make my way over there, and that’s where I am when the march starts. The band starts playing, and I start dancing. I danced the entire route.

This is my kind of revolution.

Women's March San Luis Obispo

emergency rooms

“Mom, I think I hurt myself,” I say, walking up the path toward her and the house. She’s talking to Dana, but she looks up immediately.

I am holding my hand over my right eye. Blood is dripping down. My brother had been chasing me around Dana’s truck, both of us laughing ourselves silly. When I leaped off the curb, I bashed into the open back window. You know those cantilevered metal-framed windows in the back of covered pickup trucks that open up and out? Super sharp corners? Bam! Into that corner, my eyebrow.

“Into the truck,” she says, “both of you. Dana, you’re driving.” She runs into the house, coming back with her purse and gauze and antiseptic.

It doesn’t hurt. Yet. Later, my mother tells me that she thought I’d poked my eye out. But she is seemingly calm right now, my physical therapist mother.

She directs Dana to Marina Mercy. “Left here,” she says, and he turns off Lincoln Boulevard into the hospital’s Emergency driveway.

Their Emergency Room is clean and quiet and pretty, with indirect lighting and upholstered chairs. No one is screaming or bleeding. Well, I’m still bleeding, but it’s slowing down.

Our health insurance is Kaiser, so they can’t help us, but the nurses change the gauze pad anyway, and tell my mother that I will be okay. She exhales.

Medical professionals respect my mother. She’s one of theirs, speaks the lingo. She is competent, capable, and calm. So I am, too.

“Hold on, Susie,” she says as we get back in Dana’s truck. My brother Jim is uncharacteristically silent throughout this adventure, his blue eyes huge and anxious. He’s six or so, I’m twelve and much taller. That seemed important in those days. Big sister Susie.

Kaiser’s only a few miles south, but a world apart in terms of compassionate care. In their Emergency Room we wait for hours to be seen. Every so often someone wails in pain. It’s crowded and stinks of fear sweat. The nurses are curt, overworked.

Fortunately the bleeding has stopped. I lean against my mom in the adjoining plastic chair bolted to the floor. The fluorescent light hurts my eyes so I close them. My head throbs.

Dana takes Jimbo outside, or to the cafeteria, I don’t know. I am receding, letting the world and noise and light get further and further away …

The nurse calls my name and we follow her to a small room. “Lie down,” she says and gestures to a small operating table covered with white paper. I grip my mother’s hand, and she nods at me to comply.

The doctor comes in. A man in a white coat, dark hair, glasses. I think he tried to get my mother to leave, but I would not let go of her. She stayed.

The worst pain was when they poured anesthetic into the wound. It burned, and I cried out. Looked at my mom. Her face was whiter than usual, but it was her face. The one I love. The one that loves me. Big mouth. Long black hair. Big brown-sometimes-green eyes. She does not let go of my hand, just looks at me. I don’t remember any words. Many times she and I didn’t need to speak: we just knew.

The doctor went away for a few minutes, “while you get numb.” He smiles at my mother on the way out.

Eighteen stitches. That’s how many it took to sew up the gash in my forehead. And I heard every single one of them. From inside my head. It didn’t hurt, but it was bizarre to hear something through my skull instead of my ears.

By the time we got out of there, it was night. “Kentucky Fried?” asks my mom. A special treat. Expensive.

“Yeah!” says Jim.

“Susie?” asks Mom.

“Yeah,” I say, and hold her hand all the way home.

Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and PT student at Walter Reed General Hospital, my mother applies ultra-sound and deep heat therapy to a patient a year and a half before I'm born.
Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and PT student at Walter Reed General Hospital, my mother applies ultra-sound and deep heat therapy to a patient a year and a half before I’m born.

dance it out

Sometimes I have so much to say that I can’t say anything. I don’t know where to begin. So I dance. I can express anger, sorrow, bewilderment, power, joy, longing, satisfaction, and fear with my body. I don’t even need that much space, but it’s nice if I have it. Outdoors is fun, weather permitting.

For some reason, though I majored in choreography at Cornish College, I do not dance as often as I like or need. It seems to be, must be, similar to my need for the ocean. Looking at it’s fine and dandy for a while, but it ain’t the real thing, the jump-in-the-friggin-cold-ass-water deep-seated need. Like a vitamin. I think dance is that way for me, too: a vitamin, a mineral, a necessary component for a healthy body.

When I was 26 I thought my dancing days were over, and even wrote a poem to that effect. So going to Cornish to study dance at age 30 was a revelation. I wasn’t even the oldest dancer there. (I was second oldest, if you don’t count the teachers, and why wouldn’t you?)

Turns out, my definition of dance is too narrow. Can you move your body through space? with or without music? You can dance.

“We can dance if we want to,” sing Men Without Hats.

I want to.

Elizabeth Shé performs her work, Love Translated Too, in downtown Olympia WA USA
Elizabeth Shé performs her work, Love Translated Too, in downtown Olympia WA USA

Emmett

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.

However.

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

turning toward love

I turned away from love three times, four, five. Five hundred.

Each time I aborted a baby, I turned away from love.
Each time I was deeply attracted to someone, but did nothing, I turned away from love.
Each time I ignored that quiet inner voice, I turned away from love.

These are my regrets. That I was not brave enough or knowing enough to defy my thinking.

I recently watched Eddie the Eagle, a film about the British ski jumper whose lifelong dream was to participate in the Olympic Games. His father told him he wasn’t an athlete. Coaches laughed at him and dismissed him. He failed over and over and over again. But he persevered. He kept listening to that quiet inner voice despite the terrific cacophony of naysayers.

That’s the challenge.

I stopped feeding Sunny the Palomino every morning. The male human of the property drove me away with rudeness and ugly notes. The rodeo cowboy who ‘owns’ Sunny doesn’t seem to care much what happens to him. “He’s a charmer,” said my landlady about the cowboy, and she’s right. Perhaps Sunny will be fine, now that I’ve fed him for three solid weeks, and now that the neighbors know that I care and am watching.

So how else do I turn toward love?
By honoring that irrational passion for home and family.

When I terminated those pregnancies years ago I thought I was doing the right thing — for them, for the babies. I was afraid that if I went through with it I would hurt them, either accidentally or on purpose. But by trying not to harm a potential child, I harmed myself.

So I am building a tiny house on wheels. That way I can have a home of my own while I look for rural seaside acreage. On which I will build a home for a family.

There’s plenty of coastline on this planet. And plenty of unloved children. I just have to find my place, and find my tribe. And keep turning toward love.

card by Greenbrier International
card by Greenbrier International