Saturday, January 14, 2012

Brats with Baggage

There's a Danger Zone of Tired and it's not at the end where your eyelids are closing by themselves and you're doing your best impression of a bobble-head. No, that level of tired is too far-gone to pose a threat. Those people have accepted their fate. I think the Danger Zone of Tired is when you are still up, trying to function with people and trying to do things that awake people do, in denial that your brain is actually shutting off the lights, room by room around you and blasting "Closing Time" on the speakers.

People in the Danger Zone of Tired should not fly by themselves.

The morning of my evening flight back to Seattle, 2:50 in the morning, to be exact, my very first nephew was born.

He was born after 32 hours of labor, 3 hours of pushing, and what seemed like 2 lifetimes of pain and tears. Even as a member of my sister's support team, just a helpful bystander, the experience had been a draining ordeal. So still feeling a little shell-shocked and a lot fatigued, I said goodbye to the baby and left the hospital for the last time, headed straight for the airport. Tears were streaming down my face for no reason I could articulate.

At the curb of the airport, Mom heaved my suitcase out of the trunk of the car and said, "Oh, Shannon, I don't think this is too heavy. You're close, but I don't think you're over the weight limit." But I remained skeptical. My suitcase had felt heavy on my way to Maryland, and that was without the large flashlight, heavy duty measuring tape, and power drill Dad gave me for Christmas. All useful items for my adult life on the West Coast, all items I was now resenting for being so heavy. "A gift certificate to Sears would have been lighter," I muttered to myself as my mom pulled away.

The first sign that I was in the Danger Zone was that I tried very hard to check into my United flight at the Delta counter. After fumbling around with a confirmation number which was never going to work, I figured out my mistake, mumbled an excuse about being tired, and as I walked away, the Delta associate called out some good advice, "Wake up!"

At the United counter, the kind that could actually check me into a United flight, I wrestled my suitcase onto the scale and waited for the verdict. "This bag needs to be at least three pounds lighter," the humorless uniformed woman told me.

"I knew it. Great." I grumbled. "Three pounds. Let's see-" And then I knew just what to remove: the flashlight and the measuring tape. I clenched my teeth together, bent my sore body over my suitcase, and set about digging for the offending items. There's....the flashlight, and....yup. Measuring tape. More grumbling as I placed them on the scale. I looked to the United employee for sympathy, "Heavy Christmas gifts for someone flying, huh?" She just responded, "You ready?" I looked at the number on the scale, and as luck would have it, those items together came to exactly three pounds.

After my suitcase departed to the mysterious land of baggage trucks and carousels, I was left finding room in my carry-on for my extra three pounds of Christmas presents. And let me tell you, I was not happy with the prospect of getting through security with the heavy duty flashlight. Not happy at all. I know a flashlight is not a weapon and should technically be kosher, but this flashlight is not your run-of-the-mill stick flashlight. The Stanley 1M Series Spotlight has a large lamp body and a rubber-gripped handle on the bottom, closer in appearance to a flare gun.

And to make matters worse, there was no more room in my yellow satchel. I could balance it on top of everything else, but that bag was not clasping shut, no way. Hiding the weapon-like lamp was not an option.

SIGH. On we go.

Standing in line at security, I toyed with the idea of sending a text message to Dad, something mean and to the point. "How about we avoid power tools for those of us flying in the future?" Hmm, maybe too direct. If I just texted Mom "The bag was overweight after-all. Carrying heavy flashlight all day." That would work. Then she might mention it to Dad in conversation and he would feel sorry.

As my heavy yellow satchel dug deeper into my shoulder, the idea of a "revenge text" was sounding better and better. I was knee-deep in self-pity, emotional reserves gone, desperate to vent what I was feeling on another human being. The flashlight was no longer a Christmas present, it was a strategic design on my dad's part to make my right shoulder ache.

Shoes, coat, scarf off. Laptop out. Four plastic bins worth of Shannon. A walk through a metal detector. I noticed with relief that my belongings were proceeding through the xray unmolested by TSA hands. I was halfway through putting on my shoes when the man sitting at the monitor stood up, walked over to my bins and pointed at my yellow satchel. "Whose bag is this?"

Aw, shit.

"Mine..." I answered.

He put his hand on the spotlight gun spilling out of my bag. "Where'd you get this?"

I launched into a nervous, rambling monologue, "I know it's weird, and I didn't want to carry it on, but my suitcase was too heavy and I had to take something out. But really, it's just a flashlight." I looked at him, defeated. "Is it not allowed?"

"No, it's fine. Where'd you get it, though? I want one."

I blinked. "Um, well it was a present from my dad for Christmas. I don't actually know where he got it." and then as I finished assembling myself and was walking away I tried out my old line, "Heavy Christmas present for someone flying, huh? He got me a power drill, too."

He just yelled out cheerfully, "Those are GREAT Christmas presents! Really useful."

I could not help but laugh as I imagined how validated my dad would feel had he heard that. It was then that I noticed that passengers around me in security were smiling and laughing too. Dads and gift-giving. The awkwardness of luggage post-Christmas. Something about that had resonated.

And I felt instantly less miserable. My presents were just that--presents. Heavy, yes, but my crankiness was not my dad's fault and definitely not his goal. I had spent three wonderful weeks with my family, and most amazingly, after I had given up hope of meeting my nephew on this trip, he was born just in time and I had been there for all of it. It's bad enough to forget your blessings just a few minutes away from them, but actively trying to complain about a present given in love means only one thing: you're a brat.

So with a dose of perspective from an unlikely, unintentional source, I headed off to find my gate, the load on my shoulders at least three pounds lighter.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Goodbye to Grandma

A piece I wrote and read at my Grandma's memorial service in October, 2011.

Death is really strange.

It means you have to use the past tense when you talk about someone, even though they stillpresent tenseare really important to you.

Death makes you use words like “was” even though you are actively—present tensely—loving them very much.

I speak on behalf of my siblings when I say that the Erickson kids love their Grandma. They think she is incredible. (And you’ll excuse my mixing of tenses here. Past doesn’t feel right yet.)

Everyone here has a story, a piece of Olive, that if we all shared, would assemble a more complete picture of this amazing woman. My contribution is a perspective I share with five others in the room. We are the ones who were fortunate enough to get to call Olive “Grandma,” to call 8925 Buttonwood Lane “Grandma’s House.”

As Olive’s only grandchildren, we could tell by the way she looked at us that she thought we were pretty special kids. Better than your run-of-the-mill grandchildren, if you will. And the feeling was quite mutual. It’s easy to brag about a grandma who walks half a mile each way to check the mail, who’s backpacked to virtually all of the fire lookouts in the Northwest, who worked her way from Montana poverty to a master’s degree, defying the gender expectations of her time. We knew all along we had no ordinary grandma, not one of the sugary, fragile grandmothers you see on the Hallmark Channel. No, our grandma was intelligent, proud, and level-headed.

She wouldn’t fall over us with smootchie-poo emotions, that is not the Hull way, but Grandma loved us, always wanted to see more of us, and we all knew it, even when we lived on opposite coasts. To Grandma’s delight, some of us moved out to the Northwest for school, meaning we finally had a grandma nearby. And she rose to the challenge spectacularly.

In our school years on the West Coast, she went above and beyond what should ever be expected of a grandparent. She helped teach me how to drive, moved in me and out dorms, got me into the woods for hikes and infected me with a love for the smell of pine needles. She gave and gave with no mention of personal inconvenience.

Margaret remembers Grandma and Josie driving out to Seattle to see her on Thanksgiving weekend, bringing with them the Thanksgiving dinner she had missed due to work—15 Tupperware in all, to makes sure she didn’t miss out on a single side dish. She gave us family and a home away from campus anytime we asked for it, and in Margaret’s case, even when we didn’t!

Some people can’t relax at their grandma’s homestoo stuffy and formal. Some people also didn’t have Olive as their grandma. 8925 Buttonwood Lane is a place us Erickson kids will no doubt try to describe to our own children one day. We’ll talk about Grandma’s House, using that awful past tense, and it will probably sound like an Erickson family legend, something you’d have had to have lived to understandthe beach, the bridge over the gully, Kitty, the tap water that smelled like pickles, morning glories and blackberries lining a path down to the water, the smell of coffee and the sound of seals, Grandma’s rock-hard little cookies, the oh-so-blue living room carpet, the best tree swing in the history of tree swings. It felt authentically like home to us, which for a bunch of suburban slickers from Maryland, is saying something. Maybe a testament to the Pacific Northwest and some sort of biological conviction that we are actually from a place, despite our military transience, but I think more-so, our attachment to 8925 was a testament to the woman who lived inside it. The way she lit up with smiles and hugs when we came to visit. Her untiring hospitality and patience with us crazy kids deserves recognition, more than I could ever give here.

When we wreaked havoc in her home with our clumsy adolescent limbs, she didn’t see a pile of broken china. What she saw in front of her was a grandchild melting in fear and shame, a grandchild who needed reassurance.

In college I accidentally broke one of her antique butter dishes. Smashed its pretty lid to pieces on the floor. Grandma responded to my frantic blubberings with a clear, level voice, “Shannon.” I looked up at her. “Did anyone die?” she asked me. “…N..noo” “Alright then. It’s just a thing. I have lots of things.” What an incredible perspective my grandma had in these moments that would frustrate most others!

Nancy remembers coming upstairs from starting her laundry and asking Grandma innocently, “Is there a difference between detergent and bleach?” Realizing what Nancy had done, Grandma flew down the stairs and saved most of the clothes. But what stands out to Nancy about the incident wasn’t the close call with the bleach; it was Grandma’s complete lack of reproach. It was just a mistake. And Grandma gave us permission to make them.

There isn’t much that could faze our Montana wasteland-born grandma, least of all an accident or slight change of plans. Ralph’s favorite memory of time spent with her was when the power went completely out and they flushed the toilets with creek water and cooked their food over the fireplace for a day. What would have been an emergency for a delicate grandma ended up being an adventure with hot chocolate and pinochle by candlelight.

And, oh, you’ve never met a grandma with a sense of humor like Olive. Her humor was strategic and sharp, surprisingly dark even!

After sleeping in too late one morning, Nancy recalls waking up to Grandma at the door saying, “Just making sure you didn’t die.”

After she was diagnosed with cancer I remember sitting beside Grandma, while Josie and Delnora discussed the current round of medications at the other side of the kitchen table. After reading the label on one bottle of pills, Delnora lowered her voice and said to Josie, “This one is normally given for schizophrenia.” That’s not why Grandma was taking it of course, but Delnora had whispered the information to avoid embarrassing her, I think. I glanced at Grandma to see if she had heard, andI’ll never forget thiswith not even a hint of a smile, Grandma slowly winked at me. I snorted into my coffee.

She also gave us a dynamic example of a grandma who was both invested in the young lives and activities of her grandchildren (she came to every performance & recital she possibly could), but who also lived her own exciting life unapologetically, complete with global adventures and many good friends. There is no doubt; we have a grandma to live up to.

She raised our mother and is responsible for some of the qualities we love best in her, and in our family too. Indeed, it’s not a stretch to trace back my family’s love of reading and hiking, as two examples, straight to Grandma Olive.

From cooking tips in the kitchen, to our love of bird feeders in the backyard, she’s tied intrinsically into the fabric of this family. She is Grandma. So to even be standing here right now feels weirdtoo much past about someone who is so present.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Guilty Pleasures Plunge of Shame

If you had asked me last year to describe my most embarrassing moment onstage, I would have told you about the time I dressed like a giant tomato to sing and dance in front of 200 kids at my church’s Vacation Bible School.

I got up to the mic to perform my duet, promptly forgot all of my words, and had to hum the entire thing, as red-faced as my costume. (Side note: The cucumber at my side is getting married this year!)

But "Humming Tomato" has been dethroned from its position of No. 1 Embarrassing Stage Story. As of March, there’s a new gut-wrenching story in town, and its name is "The Guilty Pleasures Plunge of Shame." Duh duh dumm!

Guilty Pleasures: the big annual fundraiser that Book-It Repertory Theatre (my employer) throws at Teatro ZinZanni. It's a wacky night of auction, cocktails, and skits, and even though it was my very first GP, I got to be involved in lots of ways. I designed the marketing materials:

I got to wear a ridiculous outfit:

...and then unicycle around out front to greet the guests, consisting of some of Seattle's top socialites and art patrons! (With my friend Mickey who juggled torches like it was no big thing.)

But I was most looking forward to acting in one of Book-It's skits for the performance portion of the night! I was asked to play a mousy secretary character for an adaption of It’s a Book.

A goofy little part, sure, but I was so thrilled to be sharing the stage that night with professional Seattle actors, actors I had been seeing in shows for years.

You see, once I got the marketing job at Book-It, I paused my acting track a bit. Accepting this job in graphic design was a no-brainer and I think I’m exactly where I should be, but I’m not going to say the decision was made without a fair bit of sadness as I mourned my hiatus from the stage. Ask any actor: being off the stage for too long, being without a project or a script can get under your skin. Makes you itch.

But all that aside, HERE I WAS! Cute mousy nose in place, pencil skirt looking awesome, lines totally memorized – ready to act again!

The stage was a raised circular platform, surrounded on all sides by the audience's dinner tables. I'm not in the following photo, but it shows the stage and the ramp leading up to it more clearly.

My part had me running back and forth on that ramp, each time with different props, a slightly adjusted costume. I'd run on, squeak out a line, and run off. On my second entrance I ran in to give my monkey boss his coffee, and suggesting a possible workplace romance, we flirted over the cup of coffee for a moment. When I turned to leave, my boss made a playful grab at my little gray tail, eliciting a happy, "Oh! Hehehe!" from mousy secretary as I ran back down the ramp.

My tail got pulled, the laugh from the audience was loud, my skirt didn't allow my legs much mobility, and in thrill of the moment I chose to maintain eye contact with monkey boss, looking backwards over my shoulder as I scuttled down the ramp.

And then I ran right off it.

I fell hard. My knees hit the edge on my way down and I landed headfirst into someone eating their dinner. The audience (top Seattle socialites, remember?) who had been mid-laugh, now drew a sharp, vocalized breath in unison, "HuuuOH!" There was dead silence for a moment and then the woman I had fallen into asked, "Are you ok?" I stood up, knees shaking, and forced myself to look out at all of those horrified faces.

Oh right! Still acting acting acting what should I do do do do oh worst moment of my life life life life just beam me up Scotty oh God God why have you forsaaaaaken me my knees hurt bad bad bad bad and everybody's still staring at me-"SQUEAK!"

Yup, that was my great cover. Mousy secretary fell off the stage, stood up and squeaked. Everybody laughed, probably relieved that I hadn't died, and I took my real exit, more gingerly this time.

Adrenaline kept me going and I didn't even feel my knees begin to throb until afterwards.

There's nothing like a good 'ol stage accident to bring you back down to earth. Miss Hotshot Gets to Act with Big Seattle Actors AND Ride a 5ft Unicycle took a break for the night. I looked around for her later on, but I think she went home. On an unrelated note, the humble pie served for dessert was delicious.

All Guilty Pleasures photos by Alan Alabastro Photography.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Cure for Cynicism

Waiting at the bus stop yesterday I found myself spying on a couple standing next to me. They were young, about my age. He was tall and blonde, that all-American clean cut look, and she had long wavy brown hair, a sharp nose and friendly eyes. They weren't saying much, just chatting about bus directions, but in their silences they'd lock eyes and smile, clearly happy to be around the other.

Blame it on my recent string of romantic failures, but Shannon's inner cynic was wide awake and louder than ever, watching that cuddly bus couple and mentally tearing them a new one. "So cute now, sure. But give it a few more months, and then see how excited he is to be with you, honey. He'll get bored. Or he'll move. Or change his mind. Or just forget to call you." My rambly, bitter internal monologue was cut short however, when I noticed they were both wearing wedding rings.

Waitjustasecond. That wasn't at all the story I had made up for them in my head.

Once on the bus, the young wife read outloud bus transfers and street intersections to her baby-faced husband; they were clearly not local. I spoke up, "Where are you guys from?"

"Spokane," she said.

"Oh, ok. So, a little from out of town. Can I help you find your stop?"

Turns out they were getting off at the same stop I was, so they relaxed a bit and we chatted. I was too curious not to ask, "How long have you been married?"

Her face lit up. She put her arms around him and answered, "6 years."

"6 YEARS? Wait - woah, you guys are... you must be..."

She rescued me from my shocked sputtering, "I was 17 when we got married. He was 19."

That sent my brain on a tailspin. Married at 17! Any rational adult would have discouraged her from even thinking about such a decision, but here they were, 6 years later, still liking each other, a young, defiant exception to modern day marriage conventions.

She saw my jaw on the floor and laughed, "You should see people's faces when we tell them that we have two kids!"

I don't think I could even say anything for a few moments. I just stared at them in wonder. Finally I marveled, " Two kids. And it's worked for you guys? You like being married?"

She grabbed her husband (who was now smiling sheepishly at all of the attention) even tighter and sighed, "It's wonderful! I always heard that it gets more difficult, but nothing was as hard as that first year. Every year since then has just gotten better and better. He's perfect."

Maybe it was the getting married young thing, or the Spokane thing, or the glow in her face when she talked about marriage, but I felt pretty confident asking, "Are you guys Christian?" Turns out they were and we gave each other a little "Yeah we love Jesus" fist bump.

At this point we had gotten off of the bus at our stop and discovered that we had the same transfer bus to wait for as well! Which meant I got to talk to them even more. Her story is amazing:

Before she was a Christian she had been dating an abusive young man. Isolated from people, her life was pretty grim when a girl from school threw her a birthday party. She described that party, as strange as it sounds, as an act of love that turned her life around. She became good friends with the girl who had reached out to her and found in her a Christian mentor. She broke up with the abusive boyfriend, but found out soon afterwards that she was pregnant. So here she was, pregnant, single, 17 and then in walks Mr. Future Husband. As they began dating, she warned him she needed someone who was serious. So he proposed, they were married just 3 months after their first date, and he adopted her baby soon after that! 6 years later, here they were in Seattle, taking their first vacation ever away from the kids.

"You know that story Jesus tells about the man who owes 50 denarii and the one who owes 500?" she finished her story by asking. "The moneylender forgives them both and Jesus asks 'Which man loves the moneylender more?' "

I answered for her, "Right, the one who owed 500."

"Yeah!" She put her hand to her chest, "That's me. I have been forgiven more."

"You just made my night." I told her.

"Really?" she asked. She seemed surprised.

I honestly cannot imagine the kinds of struggles that come with being a 17-year old wife and mother, and she probably had her fair share of unhappiness and regret and fear, but the person I met at the bus stop was not grieving her missed opportunities. She didn't seem to be spending much time thinking about the life she could have led, the big "what ifs" that can make us so discontent. She was happy to have her young, quiet husband and her two kids. Grateful to be safely on the other side of what looked like a hopeless beginning.

Last week I told a friend that I've had the impulse lately to stand on a hilltop, arms wide out and scream to the heavens, "Alright, World! I'm bitter. Are you happy? The most cheerful person on the planet is now a cynic! Congratulations, you won!"

But that was last week. And if that bus stop story isn't a cure for cynicism, I don't know what is.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Miss Kelly

I had the distinct pleasure of taking my friend Kelly's professional headshots this afternoon.

I've said it once, I'll say it 100 times: I really don't know how to take portraits. But I do love trying! I like the challenge of trying to capture someone's essence in a split second. And there's nothing so rewarding as taking a truthful photo of a friend.

Kelly is perhaps my most ambitious, professional, clear-headed friend. (I haven't figured out yet why she's kept a loud-mouthed clutz like me around.) She is competent, focused, and adorable, but I don't need to tell you that. I think it's apparent from her photos.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Haiti - I'll Go Backwards

I just got back from 10 days in Haiti, a mission trip through my church, UPC. (Read more about the project here) I'm still knee deep in processing the whole thing, but I'm thinking it was probably the most incredible adventure of my life to date, and an adequate description of the experience would never fit here. So I'll work backwards, starting with a sappy letter I wrote to myself as my time in Haiti drew to a close.

Dear Shannon who is
back in Seattle
living on Facebook
worrying about her hair
once again taking long, hot showers.

To the Shannon who has
lost her tan
cleaned the last bit of dust out of her ears
and whose life has resumed its usual pattern.

Don't forget Haiti.

Life in Seattle will probably sweep you up again with its deadlines and commitments, priorities and stresses, so you can't hold on tightly to this experience forever. Over time you will have to loosen your grip and the smell of the dust, or "pousye," from the dirt road will fade.

You will remember that the Foison kids sang you songs on your way to the river, but you will not remember the tunes.

You'll tell people about riding in the back of Bruce's truck, but your arms will have forgotten what it really felt like, keeping you steady over the ditches and under the branches of a tree or "pyebwa" whipping by.

And that's ok. You only have two hands, Shannon. You can't hold on to everything.

But do remember what's important. When your job, your schedule, and your materialism come calling, asking for your attention once more, hold on to a bit of Haiti.

Hold on to
the miracle of rain
the thrill of a new language
the freedom to greet strangers like potential friends.

Try to
live with a greater awareness of your need for God, despite the incredible comfort of being American
turn concerns quickly into prayers and then fully expect answers to them
pause to give thanks every time thanks is due.

the Haitians you met with not much more than their family and a hard day's work to their name, but whose existence is raw, full, and focused
that your corner of Seattle is a speck on the global map and the way you live your life is just one way out of millions
how sweet a shower can feel when you know you earned every inch of dirt.

I can only imagine how much you're going to miss this place, Seattle Shannon, as I haven't even left yet and can already feel an ache somewhere deep in my chest. But... enjoy your rich, blessed life all the more because of your experiences here, and hold on to next year when you get to come back.

A happy, dusty, Haiti Shannon

Monday, March 28, 2011

Shannon and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

On January 27th, 2011 there was a lot of bad.

Most significantly, I learned that my beloved Grandma had been diagnosed with a very bad cancer.

I received some pretty hurtful news concerning an ex boyfriend.

Work was stressful, life was sad, by the time I got home I was on the verge of a breakdown, and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed with my computer and watch The Biggest Loser.

I was mere feet from my bed, moments from sanctuary...

and I dropped my MacBook Pro onto my foot.

Now you're probably thinking, "Are you sure that was caused by a laptop, Shannon? It wasn't a rusty battle axe or an ACME anvil?"

Yes, I'm sure, and those are strange things to suggest I would have in my bedroom. Reader, please stop saying weird things in the middle of my story.

ANYWAYS, the laptop bounced off of my foot, and landed with a crash. I fell to the ground and landed with a wail, "UuuhhAAAAHOOOWWLAURIE!"

Laurie ran to my rescue, looked at my foot and said, "Ok, it looks like you broke a vein."
"OhHHhh, is that all?" I thought as I felt the blood drain out of my face.

Laurie was my hero that night. She's not the most comfortable around blood, but for my sake, she was a regular Florence Nightingale as she washed and dressed my gash. While I sat on the toilet and was tended to, I went into minor shock and my teeth chattered uncontrollably for a few minutes. I figured this was as good a time as any to cry.

So I straight up bawled.
I cried for my wonderful Grandma, who I should not have to say goodbye to yet.
I cried because (although I like to think otherwise) the thoughtlessness of my ex could still really cut me up. I was still in the middle of missing him, which hurt enough.
I cried because it had been an awful month full of losing trust in people, in adults I looked up to, and I could already feel myself becoming a bitter version of Shannon.

And you know what? My foot really hurt.

But life goes on and the day after your worst day can't be as bad. The month after your worst month has to be better. Insert meaningful 'time heals all wounds' expression here.

Speaking of wounds healing, for mitts and wiggles, I thought I would track the progress of my foot.

One day out.

Two days out. Note the accumulation of sock fiber.

A few months later you can still see the scar, but I don't mind. Yes, I've lost my career as a flip flop model, but I love a good story and a gnarly scar or bruise is like walking around with a sticker: "Ask Me About My Wound." Well, I don't mind if I do!

And, uh, I guess I just did.

(P.S. I totally forgot to mention the most gory detail! I looked at my computer later and found A CHUNK OF SKIN that had been sliced off and was stuck inside an edge. 'Battle axe' may actually be a fair description...)