Desert flowers

DesertI’ve been wandering around in the desert these last few years. I’m not sure I will come back with any tremendous insights or transformation. I’m not even sure I will come back. Maybe I am the desert.

Most of my identity was destroyed when my son died. My once green and fertile life became the desert. But even though I can’t always see it, there is life in the desert. There are seasons too. Changes in the desert are very subtle. You have to look very closely to see what those underground streams are nourishing.

Lately I’ve seen a few green shoots in my desert. Individually they didn’t look like much to me, just efforts to survive, attempts at having fun. But seen globally they begin to tell another story. I have been living a secret life. In fact, I have many secret lives.

Last week a track I recorded was released. [listen to it here].

I’m not a musician or singer/songwriter. I don’t have any desire to be one either. And I don’t listen to tech/house music. But when I was visiting a friend in Madrid a few months ago she and her business partner asked me if they could record my voice, just me speaking about something (listen to the track and you’ll see what I was talking about), something improvised. Sure, why not! It was fun!

Last year I made a documentary (trailer is here and if you want to watch the whole film, just email me and I’ll send you a link). I’ve never made a film before. It got into two festivals. I did it because I wanted to see one of my screenplays made into a film but that seemed overly ambitious as during this period I was anchored to my couch and couldn’t see a future. There was no reason to think anyone would ever want to make one of my screenplays into a film. So I did the only thing I could think of – I made one myself, about me, this journey, about the desert. And an unexpected outcome is that my life imitated art. I started shooting stuff not sure there would be any message, anything useful to say to myself or anyone else. But as I came to the end of the film I saw that the ending became my new beginning. Just making the film got me going in a new direction, in a direction.

And then there is my secret restaurant, again started on impulse and mostly out of necessity. In these dark months not long after my son died I barely left my house. What once was a house filled with people, laughter, cooking and love became and empty space filled with sad memories. No job. No family. No money. One of my son’s friends told me about these crazy secret restaurants in people’s homes and suggested that I do one too. I’ve always cooked for large groups. Why not? And although it is not a business, it is a hobby that brought (and still brings) me face to face with loads of strangers and brought me out of what would otherwise have been total isolation, back into the world – even though the world now is inside my house.

All of these little, random activities have somehow managed to grow out of what I thought was completely empty, my broken heart, my inner desert. These were not the activities of desertflowerthe old me. Yet they are the beginning of the new me. Microscopic traces of who I used to be have somehow been given just enough water and nourishment to grow by the mere, sometimes fleeting, attention I have given them – like flowers in the desert after a sudden storm.

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3 Responses to Desert flowers

  1. Julie says:

    Shelley, I read your comment today to the NYTimes article about anxiety and avoidance, and then followed you here. From what little I’ve read, we are experiencing similar feelings springing from very different occurrences. There is comfort in what you write. It helps.

  2. Tarnia says:

    Shelley, never underestimate all you have achieved. You have an innate will to survive and you are. You must take it one step at a time, and then, remind yourself to glance over your shoulder at all of the little steps, and how they connect to form an amazing accomplishment. Your strength is inspiring and wonderful.

    Be proud of yourself, or at the very least, know that I am proud of you.

  3. Normam Johnson-(Rama) says:

    You are LOVED! This day, anyway, “always,

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