Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lucky U.

I take a lot of good-natured ribbing from all of you for being "the luckiest person on earth" and as of right now, I have to agree, things are lookin' good. But lest you start to hate me just a little, I'd like to shed some light on where I came from, what I've learned, and how it all came together to build the life I have today.

My folks had "problems." I had "problems." Our "problems" had a profound effect on all three of our lives, and I'm gonna leave it at that. In the interest of not cutting fresh lines on top of old hurt, I choose to dredge this aspect of the past and channel it into my visual art, but consciously leave it out of my writing.

That being said:

We moved a lot.
A lot.
A lot.
Ask me where I'm from and I'll tell you: "I'm not."

In total, I have moved 13 times (not counting back-and-forth for college or brief stays in Navy Lodging), the lucky 13th move being the house I currently own. Among the places I've called home off-and-on are southern California, North and South Carolina, and various parts of Washington State. We moved cross country a few times, bouncing from the east to west coasts as required by the Navy.

Being from SoCali makes me a fun contraction of hardened bad-ass and hippie tree-hugger, with a potty mouth and an idiot grin, a fake suntan and a healthy respect for neighborhood boundaries. Seeing the poverty in Tijuana offset by 40 foot tall grandiose statues in the center of impossible traffic circles led me to question social classes, and who's job it is to say that one individual is better than the others. It forced me to break a mental window to outside of the white middle class. My school in California was predominantly Hispanic, and classes were taught mostly in Spanish; in the classroom, I learned nothing.

Being from the Carolinas makes me stop and appreciate glorious sunsets, makes me heat tolerant, makes me love sweet tea, warm oceans, blue mountains, chasing lightning bugs, creek stomping, tacky-lighting*, and my wonderful family.

But it also makes me understand that there is still hate, discrimination and close-mindedness in our modern world.

Being from Tacoma and Parkland makes me drug savvy and world-weary. It means when I see a cop car, regardless of my aversion to illegal activity, I reflexively turn away and text everyone that there are po-pos in the area. It also makes me hope for better things, and understand the value of supporting your home town. We volunteered at the Pt. Defiance Zoo, patronized the museums and local businesses, rode the buses, and attended the schools. That's a first hand view of where my tax dollars go, and a reminder of why they should go there.

Being from the the 509 makes me better at athletics because I'm more inclined to be outdoors and less afraid that I might get shot. But...just like the deep south, it also makes me understand that there is still hate, discrimination and close-mindedness in our modern world. I live in what many people classify as a "bad" or "poor" neighborhood, but the only difference between my neighborhood and anywhere on the North Side is that my neighborhood is not entirely white. In fact, my area is as nice or nicer than most of town (excluding the tippy-top of South Hill). Yet it maintains it's scary-dangerous reputation. Some of you might remember that Tom was badly beaten in broad daylight while working at the Goodwill drop-off station on the South Hill. I maintain that there are no classifiable dangerous areas in our city, just dangerous people who roam freely.

For most of my time in California, we lived in "Select Suites," a dusky pink apartment complex just off the main road. My friend Tia and I ran the place. We worked for the front office, delivering pizza coupons and helping file papers. Our apartments had a mysterious dirt alley between them with only one entrance; a tiny wooden door. It became the secret meeting place for all the kids in our complex. I used to hang around with a girl who's mother was "trapped" in Mexico. Her father was illegal, but she was born in the states. I know because she told me one day in the secret hideout. Kids rarely realize the magnitude of the secrets they are asked to keep. She would climb up to the roof of her building and stare at the lights of the border for hours, silently willing her mother to walk across and come to her.

From the roof of the farthest building from mine, you could scoot on your butt to the edge of the safety railing, hanging your legs out over the two story drop, and take in a view of the Coronado bridge. We briefly lived in the Navy Lodge on Coronado Island and got to walk directly out of our apartment and onto the beach. To contrast my friends' life from mine: I would stare at that bridge for hours, silently willing my Dad to take us back there to live. I see now that I had no idea what it was really like to want.

My southern California days are a heavy influence on my art. I remember being completely taken in by the graffiti around Chula Vista and the calaca dioramas at the market. The vibrancy, passion, and reverence for the dead and the afterlife struck a chord with me. I love the strong contrast of brilliant oranges and yellows with the heavy black, woodcut lines that at the same time enhance and obscure the colors. I was lucky to have a mother who took me to all the museums and gardens in Balboa park, so I could suck up the fine art culture along with the street art culture.

When I left Parkland for the Inland Northwest, I lived in the dorms for a year at EWU. After a very stressful and confusing start, I found myself friendless and in mountainous debt. Here is where I began my long descent into deep depression.

During my sophomore year of college, I worked as a live-in nanny and housekeeper because I couldn't afford a place of my own. It wasn't a bad gig, I got my own room and the family was fun. Because of the remote location of their home, and the discovery of a headless torso in the field next to the house, I quickly became paranoid and began having the night terrors I suffered as a child. My paranoia was so intense that I often went days without sleeping, locking myself in the bathroom at night and crouching under the towel rack, trying not to make noise.

Once I scrapped together enough to move out on my own, I took a studio apartment on Cedar on Spokane's west side. The building was a converted house (as are many Spoko-partments). My unit was a 10x10 foot room with a tiny bathroom, and a closet with a mini fridge and hotplate inside. I lived there with an angry cockatoo named Sid Vicious and spent most of my time staying very still so he wouldn't know I was there and start screeching at me. My neighbor who shared a wall with my unit complained about the screeching bird constantly, but I never once complained that he brought home screeching women at 4am and slammed them against our shared wall until it was time for me to go to school at 7.

I worked long hours and studied long hours, sometimes going as much as a week without talking to anyone. All of my tension and anxiety hit a wall and came crashing back over me when I went back to Tacoma for New Years; culminating in me waking in a hospital bed covered in my own vomit. Not the way I wanted to go. As I lay shaking and squinting up into the florescent lights, I vowed that I would never allow myself to become that person again.

I asked my boyfriend, Tom, to move across the state and come live with me. We got a bigger apartment on Lincoln, behind the Rosauer's. He got a job at the Goodwill and I began working at Great Floors while finishing my degree at EWU. We had a free couch that smelled like dead dogs and a creepy black mold growing in our closet that ate half my clothes before we discovered it.

We rose up through the ranks together. Starting out getting our food from Second Harvest food bank, surviving on potatoes and generic boxes of mac n' cheese made with water instead of milk and butter. We were denied for government aid because I was a full time student. I was told that if I wanted food stamps, I'd have to quit school. So instead, I walked down the food bank every week and filled my backpack in the basement food storage room. The food you could take home was limited by weight, so you got more if you took light things like chips instead of heavy things like rice or vegetables. So yeah, I got fat and stayed poor. Looking back now I can see the correlation between my heaviest days and my bouts with depression and anxiety. The thing about being depressed is that you don't think you are. You think it's just reality and things are just getting suckier, and maybe you're just bad at life; bad at finding the good.

I know the streets of this town inside out because I couldn't afford to be inside. On those smoldering summer nights, while most people were in the air conditioned movie theaters or bars, I was riding my bike all over the south hill, stealing peaches from the tree at the Buddhist Temple, making them my dinner while watching the city lights off Cliff Drive.

We worked and saved and built our lives around each other, planning to get married and do better than our parents. We grew as people, but ultimately, we grew apart. Our relationship tripped and fell in early 2005, then bounced and skidded across the asphalt for a few months, bleeding all the way.

I had known Greg since we moved into the building and began to spend my free time with him just to get out of my own apartment. We started out as friends but became more. At the time, he was working graveyard shifts delivering lost luggage from the airport to people's homes. The only time we had to spend together was when one of us put off sleeping. I frequently rode with him in the work van, doing my assigned reading while he picked up and dropped off suitcases, so we could talk and be together while he drove from place to place.

This brought me closer to him and closer to the Inland Northwest. I love the way lake Couer d'Alene looks at 3 o'clock in the morning, flat as black glass with a stratosphere of orange speckles from the lake house lights. I love the free cookies at the Doubletree Hotel. I love winding roads along picturesque hidden lakes and convenience store workers who know your name. What I don't miss is hitting my head on my desk while falling asleep in class.

I don't see how anyone could live here and not fall in love with the place, the perfect solitude of the palouse lying just out of reach of the vibrant yet accessible city. A community that has no trouble getting volunteers for local events. A place where the whole town turns out to watch the fireworks in the park. The more I saw, the more I became certain I would stay.

After graduation, I got my job at Rings & Things and was able to pay back what I owed and start saving for real. I bought my house in 2007 and moved for the 13th time into a place that is truly my own. I joined a gym and got in shape, put all my financial ducks in a row and taught them to salute, took advantage of my health insurance, and proceeded to throw massive parties.

And that's when you met me...probably...if you think I'm the luckiest person in the world.

If you've been with me from the start, then you helped make me the luckiest person in the world, and I thank you for that. For my new friends, you help me stay lucky, and I thank you for that too.


*Tacky-lighting (verb): cramming your car full of people, hot chocolate and cookies, and driving all over town looking for the best light displays containing broken plastic reindeer, burnt out light strands, multiple Santas, blaring holiday tunes, and/or animatronic characters that are twitching like they have touretts.

My newest painting ~ en Todos del Siete Mares


Ian & Devon said...

I had no freaking clue.

I mean, I've heard bits and pieces from you, but to see your life laid out so chronologically (and articulately) is something totally different. You manage to tell these extremely personal things with a clinical clarity but maintain so much heart and personality.

I salute you, Selina Shehan, and I am lucky to call you my friend.

Anonymous said...

Best blog post yet. Though it was a tough story- it was nice to know what happened all those years we didn't talk. You have come so far and you are truly a lucky person :)

Tafurious said...

Thanks for sharing this story. It's very moving. We moved a lot too- at one time I was convinced my parents were running from the law. Turned out to be mostly Dad's manic and bipolar disorder- that and extreme poverty. By the time I was 18 we had moved 56 times and I had attended 11 schools, 12 times (one I revisited). I have to remind myself not to think this way- but there are many times were I STILL felt disconnected with people no matter how well I know them or how long I'd been a part of their lives. Something about setting up a life knowing any moment you'll leave causes disconnection later on. I'm working on it. What I find most inspiring about you Selina, is that you just keep "doing". You get up and you move. Every time you introduce a new project I think, WHERE does she find the time? With you the answer is easy. You make time. I'm sure you craft it some how. Probably out of resin. ;) When I think of Selina I think one word- MOXY. Some people have it, some people don't. You got it kid.