Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Alphie and Malachy McCourt

I am back from a memoir festival at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. Omega is a spiritual retreat that provides workshops meant to enrich and deepen your sense of purpose and unleash your souls true potential. 

I walked in without expectations and was blown away by what I heard, what I learned, who I met, and what I wrote. I think we all felt this way - even the teachers.

I worried sharing might be involved, so I packed a safe piece that I tweaked and re-tweaked for more than three years. It's terrible how we writers (notice I just called myself a writer) second guess our words, our story, our gift.

When I walked into the classroom I spotted a familiar face - a talented writer I met at my last Omega workshop over two years ago. I was happy to see her but instantly knew I would not be able to recite my safe piece because I played that card, in her presence, at my last Omega Workshop. Damn, I am so stuck when it comes to my writing.

Not only had I forgotten to pack my "writing beads" - blessed, hand strung, rudraksha seeds, given to me by my dear friend, Aloha Steve - I now had no work to show-cast my brilliance.

Shoeless, the bottoms of my feet form sweat against the brittle, low pile carpet, and I curl my toes to air them out.

Somewhere between invigorating instruction and the witnessing of raw, human tragedy balanced with tearful triumph, I lost my inhibitions. You have no idea how good this feels. I am free to write. It doesn't matter that I rarely read books, or that I have little formal education after high school, or that no one I loved and admired ever acknowledged my gift. I have a story to tell. It is unique to me, and it is delicious.

Excerpts from my writing during and immediately following the Omega Memoir Festival. 
The scene begins shortly after my arrival.

I am drinking straight from the bottle when she walks in. And I am topless.

I hear the porch door open - hear the creek of flaccid floorboards. I stare at the knob and wait. I tell you it did not turn. The door flies open. And there I am - sucking straight from a bottle of gin.

I say gin because I recently heard a man say that gin is what country songs are steeped in. Gin will make you leave your wife, quit your job and kick your dog – and you should never kick your dog.

Okay, it wasn’t gin. It was wine. And not the good stuff. I was sucking on a $9.00 bottle of slightly chilled, California chardonnay.  Even so…

Her eyes popped. She was stuck on my mounds. My ridiculous, uneven, mounds –  500 cc silicone implants swaddled in torn muscle and taut skin.

I have no nipples. No areola. In its place are red, raw, seven inch scars. I’m proud of my scars. They comfort me. They prove to me that I am cancer free.

I wish I remembered to pack a glass. I wish I drank gin.

I put down my bottle, and put on a commanding stance. My Zen is gone.

This is not drunken vision. Yes, its true there are two beds here but I tell you, I paid for one. I reluctantly agreed to share a bathroom but NOT a bedroom. That is where I draw the line. It’s not that I am spoiled. True I brought my own pillow, my overstuffed down pillow, and my 700 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, and my cashmere blanket - just incase the nights are cool. But I assure you, I am NOT spoiled.

I have proof of my single occupancy room. I have an email confirmation, which I cannot access due to the lack of internet service. I would call if only there was a phone in the room, or if I had cellular service. Instead, I parade down the beaten path in my very best, commanding stance.

I’d let her stay if only she wasn’t so pretty. And thin. And smartly dressed. Her breasts look real. Her hair, despite the humidity, is sleek and straight. Those are freshly pedicured toes. I can tell. And what size rock is that on her finger? It’s gaudy and tasteless and she really must go.

I am beat red by the time I reach guest services. I consider playing the pink card – the breast cancer card, but I’m not quite sure how that warrants a single occupancy room. I remember a friend telling me how, because of a recent staff infection, she is guaranteed a private room during hospital stays. I think about inheriting my friends staff infection, then decide its not worth the karma.

I stop short of stomping my feat. I don’t need to play the pink card, or the bitch card, or the contagious card. This situation, misconstrued as catastrophic in my vivid, vast, wild, imagination, is easily resolved. It is a mistake. A simple, human mistake.

I climbed the beaten path with an elongated stride. I am victorious. The room is mine.

She is waiting for me, sitting perfectly still on the edge of MY bed.

"They want to see you immediately," I tell her.

"Please inform the persons responsible for my luggage that I may or may-not be staying here," she asks, in a dismissive tone.

"Certainly," I assure her.

She turns to exit and misses the distinct, wink of my eye and the flip of my middle finger. I will tell no one, that's for certain. "Good riddance," I whisper.

Directly across from my room, is another room. Curiosity gets the best of me and I gingerly guide the tips of my fingers to the cusp of the nob and turn it. It is unlocked. Ever so slowly, I open the door and peak in.

This unoccupied room also has two single beds, two dressers, two lamps, one fan, and one sink. We are even.

A stack of exactly 10 waxed, Dixie cups form a silo in the center of a two drawer, cedar dresser that evenly divides the room. I wonder who decides how many cups to deal out. Is this a single occupancy stack of waxed Dixie cups or a double? Regardless, I will not drink my cheap wine from a waxed, Dixie cup. That, I cannot, will not, do.

Down the hallway from the adjacent bedrooms are two additional, closet sized rooms - one on the left and the other on the right. The left room has a toilet. And a window. And it is open.  The right room has a shower. And a window. And it closed. It's a good thing that its closed because the screen behind it is busted. The closed window show-casses a multitude of curled dead insects - burly black spiders, daddy longlegs, bee's, and ants.

Just outside the window, beyond the badly weathered back side of the cabin, are lush woodlands bustling with the sounds of rustling leaves, queer chirps, and lyrical whistles.

I'll bathe in my bedroom sink, I think.

Organic, vegan meals are served, buffet style, in the main dining hall from 6:00 to 7:15 pm. I am hungry but that gurgling sound is eclipsed by my worry of her return. And so, I suck straight from my bottle of slightly chilled chardonnay, and I wait.

After a comfortable amount of time passes, and the warmth of a wine buzz is achieved, I exit my room.

Dinner for me, is always the same - a heaping salad topped with feta cheese, hard boiled eggs and a dollop of hummus.

Class begins at 8:00 pm sharp.

"Please don't be in my class. Please, please, please don't be in my class," I chant as I climb the hillside from the dining hall to my classroom. What are the odds that this bitch of an almost roommate will be in my class?

I am sweaty and winded by the time I pull on the double french doors and I blame the added weight of my backpack stuffed with my 15 inch laptop, collapsable umbrella, flash light, bug spray, makeup bag, wallet, and water bottle.

I pick a comfortable spot in the back of the room and immediately recognize a familiar face - a women I met over two years ago while attending another writing workshop at Omega. I sprint towards here, stop short of hugging her, fearful she'll detect my lack of confidence.

The class begins.

I am captivated by the level of talent in this room. Acclaimed writers, actors, painters, storytellers, with their eyes wide and their minds pointed at me.

At first I am convinced I don't belong here but all that wilts away when my fellow writers - students sitting in the same chairs as me - share their work.

They write about what haunts them, what propels them, what they gnaw on in the lonely hours of a sleepless night. They cry. I cry. They laugh, we all laugh.

What surprises me the most is that I do not compare. I am not jealous. This is not a competion. This is so freeing. "We each have a unique story to tell," says Malachy McCourt. And I believe him.

By Saturday night I am half-way through my second bottle of luke warm chardonnay. I write late into the night without feeling lonely.

I've passed my almost roommate once or twice along the hillside that leads towards the cabins but we've both managed to look the other way.

I've never seen her in the dining hall. I'm convinced she doesn't eat. That would explain her sleek physique.

When Sunday morning comes, I wrestle the courage to read my short, 3 minute memoir to my classmates and teachers.

"Do it, just do it. Do what scares you Mom," my son, Kerry guides me from his all knowing place. I hear his words as clearly as if he were standing right beside me.

I stuff my backpack with the usual essentials, then decide my nerves demand one more bathroom break.

I enter the closet sized bathroom with a book from my new, favorite author - Andre Dubus. I flip the pages without reading a word and fantasize about his rugged good looks.

photo courtesy of On Writing

His head-shot does not do him justice. Not since the late 80's has a man wearing Levi's and cowboy boots, caught my fancy. I wonder about his hair - his full head of wavy, wet-look, chestnut brown, hair. Does he color it? I don't think so. Does he work out? Absofuckinglutely. His upper torso is broad and firm. I'm guessing there are 6 pack abs hiding under that baby blue, prima cotton, button down shirt. I can't believe he's my age. I bet his wife is blonde. He's electric - his words, his bravado, the way he commands a room. Even so, I miss half of what he's saying. I am focused on the hook of his thumbs in the front band of his well fitted, Levi's. Over and over again, I count his 8 dangling fingers - dangling right in front of where his male appendage hides. I strain to find an outline. Is he a left handed writer or a right handed writer?

I am startled by the unbolting sound of a now, wide open, bathroom door.

It is her. It is HER!!!

My almost roommate, dressed in a too-tight tank top and I-know-my-ass-looks-great-in-these-yoga pants, is glaring down at me in utter disgust.

"Close the door!" I shout. 
"Lock the door!" she retorts.

I manage to leave my embarrassment behind when I take the podium and read my 3 minute memoir. A story about the delicate circumstances surrounding my almost roommate.


"I think I did outrageous things so that I'd have something to write about," said Malachy McCourt at the closing of the Memoir Festival.

I think peculiar things happen to me so that I will have something to write about.

Either way, there is a delicious story brewing inside of me. And I am eager to begin.


Thank you Kathy and Andre, for looking me straight in the eye and saying, "You really should read it." 

Thanks to my fellow classmate who ended her 3 minute memoir with the word, "Delicious."

And special thanks to the team of talent that lead us through three, glorious, shame and fear fueled days: 

 Marta Szabo
Fred Poole 
Linda St. John 
Peter Birkenhead
Melissa Coleman 
Andre Dubus III 
Alphie McCourt 
Malachy McCourt 

Peter Birkenhead, Melissa Coleman, Andre Dubus, Fred Poole

More about the memoirists:

Malachy McCourt, an actor, singer, and raconteur, is as moving and entertaining in real life as he is in his many books, including the best-sellling, highly acclaimed memoir, A Monk Swimming. 

Alphie McCourt is author of A Long Stone's Throw. One of the famed McCourt brothers, he has written for the Washington Post, The Villager, the Limerick Leader, and Icons magazine.

Melissa Coleman is author of the New York Times best-selling memoir This Life is in Your Hands. She is a columnist for Maine and Maine Home and Design magazines. melissacoleman.com 

Andre Dubus III, author of the memoir Townie, is perhaps best known for his novel, House of Sand and Fog, a #1 New York Times best seller and an Oprah Book Club Selection. andredubus.com 

Peter Birkenhead, a stage and television actor, and author of the memoir, Gonville, is a contributor to Salon.com, Marie Claire, GQ, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune. peterbirkenhead.com

Linda St. John is an acclaimed artist and author of the memoir, Even Dogs Go Home to Die. She is the proprietor of D.L. Cerney, a gallery and shop in the East Village of Manhattan. dicerne.com

Information about the memoirists was taken from Omega Institute 2012 catalog. 

Yet another disclaimer: 
That last scene, the bathroom scene, is fiction. Except for the part about me fantasizing about Andre Dubus. I'm still fantasizing about him if you really must know. I also don't own a cashmere blanket and I forgot to pack my cotton sheets. There was not an ant in the window but I just wrote about ants so I wanted to add ants. So... technically speaking this is NOT a memoir. This is Creative Non-Fiction. Of course, if I let enough time pass, I will convince myself that things unfolded just the way I wrote them. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. I'm starting to get spam! this must mean I'm almost famous~

  2. @@Warning!! Warning!!!@@

    This is NOT spam... :oD

    Wow... all in all, it sounds like you had a great experience!!

    What did John Lennon once write? "Life is what happens while we are busy making other plans..."

    Or something to that effect. If he didn't write it, he should have.

    I hope all is well in MonkeyLand...


    1. Hey Shoes! How was your festival? I hope you had a blast.

  3. I'm going to go out on a limb here and ask if your almost roommate is your alter ego? Are you and she both aspects of yourself?

    1. I'm more transparent than I thought!!! That was hysterical Debra and so spot on! :))))))

  4. What is that monkey trying to do to that poor pig?

    1. there is a video and song that goes along with it only I'm supposed to be riding backwards :)

    2. ;-) glad you were up and about Shannon A big ass smile and hug from me


  5. Green Monkey--

    U r cracking me up. I can't get that picture of u out of my head. Swigging the wine bottle and topless. I would have just plopped myself down on the other bed and asked for a swig too.

    Oh me--

    I am happy that u had a good weekend.

    I had a rough weekend. My Patches passed on Monday morning at 5:00 a.m. I always wondered how it would come to be.

    My heart is heavy.

    I am at work today. I asked everyone at work to not talk to me about it. Least I start crying. Apparently, I should have sent a email out. I have had visitors from the whole building come to my desk telling me how sorry they are and hugging me.

    Everyone knew Buttons and Patches. They even had their birthday memorized.

    I am keeping Buttons very busy. Many walks. He acted up a wee bit after Patches passed. But he seems to have been better last night and this morning.

    My heart is heavy with sorrow.

    Thank you for the laugh though. I expect when I met u some day that u "SURPRISE" me too. Hahaha

    I'm sorry but that is so funny. I can just picture it in my head.

    Doesn't the funniest stuff happen to us. Or do we just laugh at everything that happens to us.

    StormyDawn and Buttons

    1. oh no :( I'm so sorry about Patches. The loss of a pet is difficult. I still cry when I think of my pug, Bogie - I held him when he was put down.

      love your question.... "...or do we just laugh at everything that happens to us"

      most of the stories come because I can laugh at myself. that and my wild imagination.

      ok, I confess... I made the bathroom part up. But, while showering in my bedroom sink, (most of my ideas come in the shower) I could clearly imagine that bathroom scene.

  6. Hurray for you!! I am glad you had a rewarding weekend. Lukewarm Chardonnay? There are times when it's just fine.

  7. Kerry. I couldn't get past that line, those words for a while. He's right. And you do.

    I love you.


    1. so glad you get it monkeygurl. love you too xoxo :)

  8. Keep on the path-

    Aloha from Honolulu
    Comfort Spiral
    > < } } ( ° >

    1. will do Cloudia ~ I am anxiously awaiting your book :)

  9. Shannon you are one talented and fiesty writer! Keep on a writin', girlfriend. There is a best-seller in you just waiting to pop out.
    Loved every word.
    And I'm sorry about Patches.

    1. I really appreciate the encouragement Renn :)))) thank you!

  10. What a weekend. So much growth! I am so glad you wrote that story and shared it with the group and with us. It really captures the Shannon I know and love.

    1. ahhhhhhh Bev! I thought about you so often that it felt as though you were sooooo almost there! I love you too!!!!!

  11. I love your imagination about the almost room mate and what happened during this trip. I don't blame you for thudding for Andre!! Cute!!


    1. I'm guessing I wasn't the only one in the room counting his fingers ;)

  12. I wish I'd get spam at my blog, I'm starving! Hey, after reading this, you can call yourself a writer with a capital W. A Writer = Green Monkey! Great post!

  13. Great stuff. Leaves me feeling like I am heading for the top of a coaster turn and want to plunge into the next dive - or writing project.

  14. Wow, this is wonderful!! Hope we get to read more :) Thanks for stopping by my blog! I'm so glad I found yours!


Thank you for encouraging my JOY of writing. By reading and commenting you are feeding my soul, stroking my heart, and in the end...making me a better writer.

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Shannon E. Kennedy


Photo by Joan Harrison