Dear St. Louis

Posted on 14 Jul 17


Dear St. Louis,

 

To be embarrassingly honest, I couldn’t have pointed to St. Louis on a map before I moved here. I grew up in California and Pennsylvania and our education system isn’t great at instilling a love for geography, especially the flyovers.

 

I didn’t plan on staying long. As a military brat and former military myself, moving frequently had become part of my DNA (plus, I missed living on a coast).

 

Suddenly, 15 years had passed and I was still bleeding blue.

 

St. Louis, I want to thank you for everything I experienced, everything I learned, every person that came into my life. The good, the bad, the heartbreaking, the extraordinary. Ultimately, I learned more about myself in the Lou than anywhere else I’ve been in the world.

 

Now, I’ve moved on to the east coast. Settling in Charlottesville, Virginia.

 

As I begin my next adventure, I want to remind myself and thank you for the most important things I’ve learned in the last decade and a half.

 

Art over Ego

For me, art (in my case theatre, burlesque, improv, comedy, writing, poetry, music, etc.) should focus on the message, the inspiration, the story…the art…rather than the artist(s).

 

As a working St Louis artist, I know I (like many other creative types) have a natural tendency to be dramatic, selfish, narcissistic, and/or egotistical. I’d like to think I’ve mellowed in my older age (I’m sure there are those that would disagree).

 

While becoming part of several communities, I was able to collaborate and/or sit back and watch their dynamics and the motivation. Often, I was as inspired as I was disheartened. But it has been an excellent lesson in getting to know my own personal values when it comes to art.

 

I hope to continue to put the integrity of the story before the personal accolades. Always improving, always connecting people through art.

 

Empathy

I feel all the feelings. Good, bad, mine, yours… I feel them intensely. It can be exhilarating, exhausting, and really fucking frustrating.

 

Thanks to Washington University Medical School and Logan University, I dug even deeper into empathy…in rapport building, communication, body language… and being aware of how your words, tone, and actions make others feel. Being a Standardized Patient gave me so much more than a paycheck, it gave me an incomparable tool for personal growth.

 

Sometimes it’s almost impossible to find the empathy deep down inside you when you are experiencing a toxic person or situation. Sometimes I’m successful in that, sometimes I’m not.

 

But I’m better at it now that when I first stepped foot on midwestern soil.

 

Integrity

As I taught my kids from a young age, a great personal and professional value is to always do the right thing even when no one is watching. During my time in St. Lou, I’ve had my fair share of hard-earned integrity lessons.

 

Doing the right thing can be hard… like… really hard. I found out that standing up for what is right is, more often than not, met with disapproval or downright vindictive behavior.

 

Still, I continued to learn and make my choices in St. Lou. I chose not to lie to that customer about illegal company behavior even though it ended in my termination. I chose not to take an “extra paycheck” from a company in order to maintain my silence. I chose to point out a director’s unprofessional behavior and hypocrisy even though it meant I’d never be hired again. I chose to speak up against a board member’s sexually predatory behavior even though it caused me to be blackballed by the organization and their connections.

 

Despite these less-than-savory experiences, I was fortunate enough to find people who aren’t afraid to stick their neck out for what’s right and fair. Here is where I shout out to my team at Solid Lines Productions… where art, integrity, and empathy meet.

 

Hugs

I’m a hugger. But one day, a talented, funny, warm woman named Nicole, gave me a hug that changed my entire outlook on hugs. I still think about her hug often.

 

Why? Because you could tell she meant it. Every fiber of her being was 100% into that hug. It was pure.

 

A genuine hug. No strings, no ulterior motives, no trepidation, no passive aggressiveness… just a pure hug, to show someone that you care about them being in the world. Receiving one can change a mood instantly. And when your mood changes, the world is better.

 

Love

I’ve loved a lot here in STL.

 

I’ve loved partners, friends, my kids, jobs, plays, experiences.

 

But my most important love lesson was learning how to love myself.

 

Like most life lessons, this isn’t a box to tick. This is a lesson to continue learning and failing, many times over.

 

I still struggle with my default personality salad: a bed of insecurity topped with self-deprecating humor, sprinkled with self-doubt and anxiety, with an option of freshly ground memories of my dad’s best emotionally abusive one-liners.

 

I’ve come to realize that I can’t continue having the same salad every day for the rest of my life.

 

After a particularly painful year and a half, I began seeing a new therapist. Between her amazing therapy and my willingness to unearth massive amounts of pain, I crawled out of a hole that I allowed myself to be buried in.

 

I’m learning. Learning how to love myself.

 

It’s cheesy, yes. But then again. I’ve always loved cheese (still not sold on Provel, though), so it couldn’t be all bad.

 

St. Louis, you did me a solid by having her at the perfect time I needed her. I’m forever grateful.

 

Self

Most of my life I highlighted a part of myself to “fit in” to “stand out” to make others “comfortable” or “happy.”

 

I now try to remind myself the same lesson that I taught my kids from a young age:

 

“If you aren’t harming yourself or anyone else, just be you and be happy.”

 

Change

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, has been quoted as saying “change is the only constant in life.”

 

True. So fucking true.

 

Generally, I embrace change. Especially when it comes to efficiency, organization, and fairness…but not all change falls neatly into those buckets. My life changed a lot in the 15 years I spent in Cardinal Nation. I cried about some of it, charged full-steam ahead into some of it, and even didn’t realize some of it until after it occurred.

 

I haven’t learned to always take it all in stride or how to not sob in public when change catches me off guard. But I have learned to repeat to myself, “This too shall pass.”

 

It’s like the STL weather; just wait 5 minutes and it’ll change again.

 

So yeah… thanks. It was a wild adventure full of life. Keep doing great things, St. Louis.

 

I’ll visit soon,

Shannon

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