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I Grew Up in Alateen and Al-Anon

My latest article for The Fix:

Four people describe their experiences as children in the rooms of Alateen and Al-Anon and whether it helped them cope with their family member’s addiction.

My mother has attended Al-Anon religiously for as along as I can remember. She left my dad when I was three after a particularly bad physical fight, in which he slapped her around while intoxicated. We spent that night at my grandmother’s house, and the next day my mom decided we were done for good.

Read the rest here.

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A Night with Jason George from Grey’s Anatomy

Ten years ago, I was suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnea, and I “slept” about 16 hours a day in my aunt and uncle’s basement in Carnation, Washington–a little town just outside of Seattle. Each night before bed, I’d watch a bit of Grey’s Anatomy, which, while filmed in California, is set in a fictional Seattle hospital.

Fast forward a decade, and I just spent an evening with Jason George, aka Dr. Ben Warren, at a private event put on by Multiracial Americans of Southern California. Jason approached MASC about raising money for the organization by hosting a fundraiser with himself as the prize.

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Jason is married to Indian poet Vandana Khanna, and together they have three children. His family represents the growing multiracial demographic of the United States, which is accurately reflected in the makeup of Southern California. Jason’s mission is to embrace and celebrate this cultural shift and views it as a way to bring people together. He certainly did that tonight, by checking any “celebrity-ness” at the door and mingling warmly with us everyday folk.

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L to R: Elessia, past president Farzana Nayani, and Caitlin

Caitlin S. of Tennessee was the lucky winner of the fundraiser, though she says it took her a while to believe it wasn’t a scam. She hesitantly called to confirm her prize, and then sat speechless at work. She brought along her good friend Elessia whom she’s known since college at Southern Adventist University. Caitlin and Elessia say their friendship was almost instantaneous, and they text each other multiple times a day.

Even on the plane ride over, Caitlin and Elessia weren’t sure they hadn’t fallen prey to some elaborate scheme, but their luck wasn’t too good to be true. MASC put them up in a hotel for an extended weekend, and they spent a busy day chatting up Grey’s Anatomy cast members on set, sitting in on ON with Mario Lopez, and then chilling at a private screening of the Grey’s season premiere with Jason and some of the MASC crew.

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Live tweeting the Grey’s premiere

As we watched the episode, Jason treated us to tidbits of behind-the-scenes information. Having stopped watching Grey’s at the end of season five when it seemed like one catastrophe too many, I was pretty out of the loop; though now that I’ve met a cast member, I may find myself picking up where I left off. Regardless, it was a quintessential Hollywood experience to watch an intimate taping, and I felt like my life had come full circle from those dire, sleep deprived days.

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With MASC public relations director Delia Douglas

Conversation was lively and continued even after the scheduled event. Jason, Caitlin, Elessia and many MASC members reconvened in the main part of the cafe, and I and two friends of mine, one Colombian and Indian and the other Black and White, stood talking in the warm Santa Ana winds about our experiences with race, the current political system, and our beliefs about how to improve the world we live in. Tonight we got a taste of what that world could look like, as races came together in unity and understanding.

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From left: President Thomas Lopez, past president Farzana Nayani, Elessia, Caitlin, Jason George, administrative director Athena Mari Asklipiadis, public relations director Delia Douglas

 

 

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On Reconciliation With an Alcoholic Parent

Dear Readers,

I’ve gotten behind in posting my latest articles to my blog! Without further ado, here is a researched piece from last month. I interviewed four women about their experiences with an alcoholic parent, if the parent was able to get sober, and if they were able to reconcile with their parent. This article was inspired by feedback I got from a father in recovery who wanted to know how he could reconcile with his daughter the way my father and I weren’t able to.

On Reconciliation With an Alcoholic Parent

For many parents who struggle with addiction, getting sober is only half the battle. Children often become “young soldiers” in an effort to protect themselves and those they love, including the parent. As the child gets older, forgiveness and reconciliation can become more difficult, even long after the parent has stopped using. My father never stopped using. My mother read an article recently in which I discussed the “demons” my dad saw as he was dying of lung cancer. “He was probably going through withdrawals,” she said. In the fifteen years since his death, I had never made that connection.

Read the rest here.

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Here’s #MyLovingDay Story. What’s Yours?

LA Times writer Michelle Maltais has created a public celebration of Loving Day stories on the LA Times Medium page. Several of the stories may be chosen for publication in the paper or on LATimes.com. Click below for mine, and contribute your own! If you do, let me know and I’ll be sure to check it out!

My Loving Day Story.

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Mom, Dad and me in 1977.

 

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OH, AND I ALSO HAPPEN TO BE PHYSICALLY HANDICAPPED: A MOTHER’S DAY TRIBUTE

First published in Guerrilla Feminism.

Haley Arcuri is in many ways just an average 31 year old. She’s married, has held a steady job for almost five years, and she loves her family. But Haley has had to overcome obstacles throughout life that most of us will never face. Born with brittle bone disease, or osteogenesis imperfecta, Haley refers to herself as a “little person.” Brittle bone disease is often characterized by short stature, permanent deformities, weak bones and frequent fractures, and respiratory issues. About one in 20,000 people have this congenital disorder, and some die from it, but Haley’s mother Deborah wouldn’t let it stop her daughter from leading a full life.

I first met Haley in 2004 when we were both attending Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. My mom, who was born with a cleft lip and palate, always taught me not to stare at people with disabilities, and like many, I took that advice a little too far. I was so afraid of not staring that I would often go out of my way not to make any eye contact with people who were different, unless I was speaking with them directly.

Haley broke me of that habit by saying hello whenever we passed each other on campus, even though it would be a few more months before we’d officially meet. “My friendliness on campus came from my personality and maybe subconsciously a desire to break away from a stereotype about people in wheelchairs and even disabled people as a whole,” Haley says. “It also could be that I’ve only really been surrounded by people of average height and no apparent physical disability. I tend to forget a lot of times that I’m ‘different.’ This body, this life is all I know.”

Haley’s mother Deborah has been in her corner since day one. A yoga instructor who lives back in Haley’s hometown of Tahoe City, California, Deborah has been active in supporting her daughter as much as she can. “I don’t know what I would do without her,” Haley says. “It’s kind of scary to think about, because there are so many things that I rely on her for. But she also has taught me to learn how to take care of things on my own, and teaches me about asserting myself and saying my needs.”

During her senior year of college, Haley sustained fractures to both her legs and had to be intubated due to developing respiratory acidosis from medication. Despite this major health setback, Haley finished her degree on time, with a major in communications and a media studies focus. Her initial goal was to become an event planner, and she organized bringing motivational speaker Sean Stephenson, who also has brittle bone disease, to campus for a series of talks in fulfillment of her senior capstone. However, after this successful but stressful experience, she decided event planning wasn’t something she wanted to pursue as a career. After graduation she got a job as a telephone services representative, renewing memberships for nonprofits such as public TV, public radio, zoos and museums. Haley worked that position for five years, took some time off, and then was promoted to quality assurance monitor.

For Haley, going to college and working was all part of the plan. She says of her mom and dad, “They’re my backbone. Without them I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t maybe have the courage to try to live on my own. They really pushed that for me. When I was in high school, they kept saying, ‘You need to get ready for graduating and thinking about where you want to go after this. You don’t want to live at home with your mom and dad for the rest of your life, do you?’ And I didn’t want that, but I was afraid too, to take that step and do something I’ve never done. I’m glad that I did it, but it is challenging.”

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In addition to the injury she sustained her senior year, the next year Haley fell off her toilet seat while visiting her girlfriend, now wife, Angie Arcuri. After sustaining a concussion and breaking both her legs and one of her arms, Haley began to get a bit jaded about traveling. “I think it changed me a little bit. I’m more cautious now, and I don’t want to say that I’m more closed off, but it changed me, not in a good way. I’m happy to be alive and I’m happy, but I have more fear now.”

Haley hardly lets that fear stop her from pursuing her goals, however. She and Angie, who is currently a communications and film major at Southern Oregon University, plan to create a docu-series to share their lives with others. Haley, inspired by her friend Briana Rene’e on Little Women: L.A., sees a docu-series as a way to have an impact on others while still being able to honor her body. “It’s kind of like being a motivational speaker, but in a different way. Because I don’t want to travel to different places. That’s not for me. I like to travel, I do, but it’s risky for me. I’d rather just try to stay put.” Haley’s life with brittle bone disease and a 24-hour caretaker, Angie’s life with high functioning autism, and their life together as a lesbian couple are things that both would like to share with the world in order to increase understanding.

Haley knows that being in the public eye won’t be all positive. Recently, she and Angie were trolled on Facebook by a stranger, Haley thinks through her connection to Little Women: L.A.: “I know why you two are together. It’s because you couldn’t find anyone else, because of the way you both look.” Haley says indignantly about the comments, “Not only cutting me down but also my wife. My wife is a really beautiful person.”

Haley and Angie met in 2009 on Match.com. Though each was recovering from a breakup, they formed a quick bond that has remained strong. “We’ve definitely had our ups and downs, that’s for sure,” Haley says. “But mostly ups. We’re pretty tight. I’m very blessed to have her in my life.” Deborah was supportive of Haley’s relationship with Angie from the very beginning, and the couple had an intimate wedding in 2011 with friends and family in attendance.

Growing up, Deborah was proactive about supporting her daughter and helping her connect with others. She had Haley’s friends over for tea parties and home cooked meals, and frequently took them out to dinner and the movies. Deborah likes to treat Haley to facials, and most recently came to Ashland to be with Haley while Angie was in New Orleans with her family. Due to her difficulties with traveling, Haley had decided to sit that trip out, but she is able to take things as they come, largely due to her mother.

Haley recounts the frequency that her mother would have to miss out on things because of needing to take care of her growing up. “I think that’s something she had to overcome, just living in the moment. That’s why she’s taught me not to plan so much, because she’s had to learn that things change, they come up.” Haley is ever aware of the sacrifice Deborah made for her, though it’s doubtful that Deborah would have had it any other way. Both women possess a warm spirit that is infectious to those around them. Deborah and Haley have forged a life both together and apart that is built on kindness and thankfulness for each day. Haley says, “You don’t have tomorrow. You only have today.”

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BEYONCÉ’S LEMONADE: AN ODE TO BLACK FORMATION IN ANY SHADE

First published in Guerrilla Feminism.

When I first watched Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, I felt like I could breathe again, after the almost daily deluges of police brutality. In one fell swoop, Beyoncé had turned the narrative to a place of power, as she reminded America that a slow and steady slay leads to a voice that cannot be silenced.

My euphoria lasted only about a day.

Soon after the video went live, women began to bicker about Beyoncé’s rights to personal agency. Some argued that a light-skinned woman with a self-proclaimed admixture of “Negro and creole” couldn’t accurately speak for black women. Others felt her lyrics flaunted a mixed race identity while denigrating blackness. I expected the backlash she received from some of the white community, which largely focused on her “militant” leanings, but I didn’t expect backlash from inside our own ranks.

As I watched Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade, which dropped just two days ago, I felt myself questioning everything. I replayed comments in my head about whether Beyoncé was trying to appropriate whiteness with her blonde extensions. I feared black viewers would see her Victorian dress as proof of the same. When I noticed her similarities to Sarah Jessica Parker à la Carrie Bradshaw, I felt ashamed by my white frame of reference. I worried her use of black men in the visual album would lead people to believe that she considered the men’s blackness to be the problem.

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At the 42-minute mark, actress Amandla Stenberg’s face filled the screen, and my internal dialogue stopped. In 2014, I met Amandla at the Mixed Remixed Festival in Los Angeles. Born of a white father and black mother, Amandla speaks unapologetically about black issues without stifling her mixed race identity. Beyoncé chose other black women for cameo roles who have also been criticized for their identity, including America’s Next Top Model actress Winnie Harlow, who has vitiligo, and tennis pro Serena Williams whose body was considered by many as too muscular to be beautiful. Through those she chose for the cameo appearances, Beyoncé clearly doesn’t care how others think she should identify. Instead, she celebrates a connection between black women that goes beyond skin tone.

Of course, Lemonade isn’t just about race or about black girl magic. It’s also a tragic and heart wrenching love story between Beyoncé and long time husband Jay Z. Beyoncé sings of comparisons between Jay Z’s infidelity and her father’s, trying to reconcile her conflicting emotions for both male figures. That black women have experienced high rates of abuse from partners of any race is fairly common knowledge, due to the history of slavery and the beliefs about the black female body. For this reason, intertwined within Beyoncé’s love story is an ode to black women that transcends heartbreak, or perhaps is made stronger because of it.

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During the album’s climax, appropriately named “Freedom,” Beyoncé and her cameo clan form the epitome of girl power. Beyoncé sings, “I break chains all by myself /

Won’t let my freedom rot in hell / Hey! I’ma keep running / Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.” The climax mirrors the rising conflict at the beginning of the album, with mesmerizing stills of the young women as they inhabit what appears to be an old plantation. Back to the climax, the women again play homage to the South, this time through conversation, communion, song and dance, and a sense of resolution. It’s no coincidence that the women around the table are of varying hues. Beyoncé knows who she is, and she appears to understand the petty divisiveness that can infiltrate black power when we fail to look at the bigger picture of generational oppression.

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Black women experience different levels of discrimination, largely based on skin color and physical features. But when we limit our discussions to how a dark-skinned or light-skinned person should identify, we’re missing the monumental connections that should bring us together, as well as failing to acknowledge the discrimination that all black women face. Beyoncé’s album is at once a lamentation and an ode to female solidarity. “Formation” is largely about solidarity against police brutality, while Lemonade as a whole explores gender conflicts and limitations unique to women, including the real women who have lost their sons at the hands of the police. In both cases, we are made strongest when we lean on one another, and Beyoncé’s hour-long visual masterpiece brings us that much closer to social and political empowerment.

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The Day I Became a Writer With a Capital “W.”

Even though I’ve been making steady progress with my writing for a number of years, it wasn’t until April 19th that I felt like I writer with a capital “W.” That’s the day I landed my first article on Essence.com.

Gabrielle Gorman was easy to write about… with the only difficulty being how to summarize this amazing young woman in just 300 words. Her film Dear America has won awards over the past few months, and I had the privilege of sitting down with her for an interview. What makes Gabrielle so special is her desire to be vulnerable, and to use that vulnerability to bring people together. I hope you like the article as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Feature image courtesy of Jill Valle, iamawomanwho.com.

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Aged 24, I Flew to Sacramento to Care for My Dying Alcoholic Father. This Is What I Learned.

My latest article, published on The Influence, April 19,2016

When I was a little girl, I looked up to my dad the way most little girls look up to their fathers. I liked watching the way he’d cross his legs while he smoked his pipe in contemplation. I liked lifting my dumbbell while he lifted his barbell. I liked telling people that my ex-prison father could beat them up at a moment’s notice.

My parents split up when I was three, but I still saw my dad fairly regularly—until he moved three hours away when I was seven. It was when my dad moved back to our area at the start of middle school that he started to fall from his pedestal.

Read the rest here.

 

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My Chapbook Is for Sale!

Last Friday I did a reading for Camp Real Pants at Astroetic Studios in Downtown L.A. The event was an offshoot of the AWP (Association for Writers & Writing Programs), and as I could afford to attend the conference itself, it was nice to be somewhat near the action, and right in the thick of a related event.

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In honor of the reading, my friend Mike put together lovely chapbooks, which are currently for sale. “(not) Mixed (up) Messages: On Dads, Death and Mixed Race Daughterhood” is a combination of excerpts from my memoir and a couple of my published articles. All blend together to poignantly wrestle with the three Ds mentioned above. I’m still at work on the memoir but am excited to share some of the finished pages with anyone who’s been following my journey, and with those who haven’t!

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“Shannon is a fearlessly vulnerable, beautiful, and brave voice. Her stories and experiences inspire me to accept myself for who I am—to be myself and not who others tell me to be.”

~Kayla Briët

To purchase your copy, click the Paypal button below.


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