Growing Up Meta

Shannon Kernaghan Growing-up-Meta-featured-image Growing Up Meta Humor

I’d just turned twelve and refused to stay home alone. Either I went out with friends, or someone had to stay home with me. I was spooked, and I have my mom to blame.

Until that moment, growing up in a household filled with stories and laughter made me feel safe. My mother, Donna, was a strong and supportive role model. Besides becoming an RN before she met my dad, she took care of all homemaking and child-rearing duties. She gardened, pickled, and she knit-one-purl-two. She liked to dance, sing and entertain.

But there were more layers to her. Isn’t everyone’s mother invited as a guest on radio and TV talk shows to discuss astral travel and life after death? Or speak at a men’s prison about how to lead a more meaningful life?

And doesn’t every mother go on group excursions in search of UFOs? Or take along her ten-year-old daughter on cross-country road trips? On road trips with Mom, she didn’t sightsee but gave scheduled lectures on subjects like ESP and auras.

Squeezed into the back seat of a car heading west, our caravan of middle-aged women talked of clairvoyant encounters and prophetic dreams. They raised their consciousness levels through meditation and healed their aches with mind over matter. In my childhood reasoning, all of this seemed normal.

Shannon Kernaghan Meta-cropped-300x300 Growing Up Meta Humor

Had Mom’s pioneering been today, she’d make less of a ripple. But her odyssey towards enlightenment felt adventurous in the 60s and early 70s. As a natural yet unassuming leader, Mom began a branch of the Metaphysical Society where she acted as president. The society was both non-profit and non-denominational, and its open doors attracted an eclectic collection of members. I was six when she started and was pulled along by her undertow of energy.

There was always something going on in our home. One afternoon, I walked in the front door and saw my dad napping on our couch. Weird, I thought, he’s never home early from work. Is he sick? I walked towards him and when he turned over, it wasn’t my dad.

“Say hello to Dr. Banerjee, dear,” said my mom who appeared from the kitchen. Dr. Banerjee was a visiting Metaphysical member from Calcutta who would spend the night with us. He enjoyed half a dozen fried wieners for supper, a “delicacy” he’d never tasted.

Another time I came home from school to find our driveway filled with cars.

Through our front window, I watched several people slowly walking around our living room and holding a metal rod in each hand. Picture water dowsing sticks. Mom and her Meta posse were experimenting with Vivaxis rods. Mom explained that vivaxis comes from the words “life” and “center” and refers to a unique energy flow that connects us to our planet. Did they find any connections? Who knows, but the desserts people brought were delicious.

Mom was searching for awareness. If the door to her tiny office was closed, I knew not to bother her. She was either doing her “automatic writing” or she was meditating.

“Wanna come to a spiritualist meeting to see a medium?” she asked. Yes, I did!

When we walked into the crowded hall, everyone looked old, with heavily rouged cheeks and hair piled high. Picture the characters from the 1968 movie Rosemary’s Baby, that’s how I’d describe them today, but without the evil component.

The summer I turned eleven, I helped Mom at a summer fair along with several society volunteers. My job was to test peoples’ ESP – that’s Extra Sensory Perception – by using Zener cards.            

“Now look at the card but don’t show me,” I’d tell people willing to give this a try. Each card had a star, circle, square, squiggly lines or an X. I’d close my eyes and try to “see” their card in my mind. Then we’d switch roles and the participant tried to “read” my mind.

Friends ask how my mom got involved with this study of the paranormal. My brother Gregory, her first child, was the reason. When he turned five, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and underwent surgery. After the operation, two surgeons explained that they couldn’t remove all the deep-buried tendrils of cancer.

Shannon Kernaghan First-Xmas-after-surgery-web-300x218 Growing Up Meta Humor

“Take him home and love him,” one of them told my parents. And that’s what they did for almost ten years before the cancer returned, fast and hard.

For several months my mom nursed him at home to keep him with his brothers and sisters, to keep everything feeling “normal.”

But she couldn’t save him, despite performing a makeshift tracheotomy in his bed when he stopped breathing. He survived only long enough to spend a few weeks in hospital.

After he died, Mom would have benefitted from bereavement counseling or at least a partner who’d sit and mourn with her. My dad’s coping mechanism was to disappear into his TV repair business six days and five evenings a week, or to mow the lawn until the grass was shorn to nubs.

Shannon Kernaghan Leon-in-shop-web-insert-300x221 Growing Up Meta Humor

Years later, Mom told me she felt so alone but with four children to care for, she couldn’t let herself break down.

Then came the turning point: Mom’s sister mailed a newspaper clipping about a woman who started a metaphysical society in another city. My mother reached out to this woman, who kickstarted Mom’s spiritual trailblazing. In no time Mom met others seeking more meaning about life and about what might be on the “other side.”

Although endlessly busy, she kept our household running smoothly and my dad supported her quest. Best of all, she was happy.

So, back to the beginning. Why was I creeped out at age twelve?

To raise money, the society decided to hold a garage sale. Since we had a large basement, Mom told others to bring donations to our place where she’d store everything until the sale.

One night, Mom was at a Meta meeting and I was alone doing homework at the kitchen table. That’s when I heard it, the distinct sound of something scraping across the basement floor. Moments later, that same noise again! As soon as my mom walked through the door, I ran to her.

“I bet that was a spirit connected to their old furniture.”

“No, you mean ghosts? Now we have ghosts?”

“Don’t worry, dear, we’ll have everything out in a week, and they’ll likely leave.”

“Whatya mean they’ll ‘likely’ leave?” I was shitting myself and here she was excited!

Years later when I told my husband the story, he suggested that something leaning probably just slid a few inches on our linoleum floor. He started calling Mom a “broom-beater,” which she thought was hilarious.

Decades later as Mom and I sipped our glasses of wine, she said she stepped down as president after my “ghost” scare.

“You quit for me? I never knew that.”

“Of course for you, I didn’t like seeing you so nervous.”

“But you ran it for half a dozen years, and you loved all your Meta friends.”

“I wanted to be home with you, dear, you were more important. And correction: I loved most of my friends. There were a few whack jobs in the mix.”

That made me laugh and I clinked her wine glass, ever impressed with this New Age mom of mine. I started to pour her more wine until she cut me off with her hand. “No more, dear,” she said. “What if the police pull me over.”

“The police? It’s almost midnight, where are you going?”

“You never know,” and she winked at me. “I just might blow the dust off my broom and go for a spin.”

Shannon Kernaghan Mom-Shannon-292x300 Growing Up Meta Humor

We’re in the “Era of Exposing”

Shannon Kernaghan Buffy-400 We're in the "Era of Exposing" Humor

We all have our stories. In Taylor Swift’s ERAS TOUR, this uber-popular entertainer sings about the eras we’re in.

In your “Debut” era, for instance, you’re learning about yourself, or perhaps it’s your “Red” era, a time of self-evaluation and expression. If you’re in your “Fearless” era, you might be less brave than you hoped, but that’s okay. Taylor believes in you.

After following the news highlights, I’m convinced we’re collectively in our “Exposing” era, especially when it comes to those posing as Indigenous. Buffy Sainte-Marie is the most recent bombshell. Is she an American-born child of white parents or is she from the province of Saskatchewan with a medley of ancestries: Cree, Piapot First Nation, Mi’kmaq and Algonquin?

It’s easy to be duped. When my husband Paul and I lived on the west coast, we befriended the new property manager in our building. Often, he’d knock on our door at supper time, and we’d welcome him to eat with us. Who doesn’t want to get along with their landlord.

Steve told strange tales that left us doubtful, but he was always friendly and interesting. One day he invited Paul for a ride in his car; Paul noticed that all of Steve’s music was Japanese (this was before the popularity of J-pop and K-pop). Weird, based on what he told us about himself, but who were we to judge his playlist.

Then one day he was gone. Turns out Steve – a false name – was an imposter with a warrant for his arrest. That car? It belonged to a Japanese family who were out of the country for a few months. Steve would let himself into their apartment and “borrow” their keys.

What made us trust him came down to something so simple, almost insignificant: he mentioned the name of a person that Paul and I knew from our hometown. Such a small bit of info was all it took to give him credibility, despite our uncertainty about him.

Steve’s time was up. Is the same reality true for Buffy? Once the ball of falsity started to roll, there was no stopping her.

Wait. What if, with all this exposing, I discover too much about other Canadian icons I’ve loved through the eras? What if The Friendly Giant wasn’t all that friendly? With the cameras off, perhaps Friendly underpaid Jerome the Giraffe, or bullied Rusty the Rooster.

Shannon Kernaghan Little-Shan-the-Pretendian-190x300 We're in the "Era of Exposing" Humor

                             Shannon age 8, costumed for Halloween

And what if Mr. Dressup didn’t like dressing up? Maybe what he stored in the Tickle Trunk of Treasures was his single malt scotch. What a shock to my fragile psyche.

Buffy’s less fragile. At 82, nobody puts Buffy in the corner. She’s sticking to her story, or her “truth” as she calls it, while others are calling her a “Pretendian,” neither Indigenous nor Native American. She’s accused of being a “race-shifter.”

People and organizations want to be connected with a talented celebrity like Buffy. Musical talent aside, if her story is more fiction than fact, there will be disappointment and disgust by fans, friends and the many organizations that opened doors wide for her.

As for Taylor Swift’s tour, what era am in? Learning that Buffy’s ancestry might be nothing more than folklore leaves me cynical, so that drops me into “Jaded,” an era I’ve created for myself.

With such determined storytelling, Buffy Sainte-Marie has spent her life in a “Fearless” era. I’m not sure even Taylor Swift would believe in her today.

And that’s my story, jaded but true.

Don’t Get Lost on the Way to My Heart

Shannon Kernaghan Dont-get-lost-on-the-way-400 Don't Get Lost on the Way to My Heart Humor

I love LOVE. On February 14, retailers and greeting card manufacturers especially love LOVE.  

To shop or not to shop for each other. That isn’t the question. The question is how the average person can ever find love when everyone’s tastes are so different. 

Example #1: shoes. Look at my bedroom closet shoe rack and behold shoes in various heights of heel, open and closed toes, and shades that span the spectrum. I’ve a pair only worn once that spoons a pair worn to frayed stumps but too adored to toss.   

Next open the front hall closet to find a battalion of boots designed for every season and event. From ‘duck’ shoes to bulky Sorels, fashion boots to cowboy boots. I know, it’s time to toss the tap shoes from an unrequited childhood dancing dream. My step-ball-change just didn’t cut the cliched rug. 

Now look at my partner Paul’s half of the closet. Make that quarter.  

Two pairs of loafers, one pair of sneakers and flip flops. That’s it. Return to our front hall closet to find his work boots, winter boots and diving fins. He’d rather store his fins in the bedroom closet, but with my legion of footwear outranking his, he knows I’ve won the battle.  

Example #2: directions. Paul is lost. If he’s inside a mall, he won’t ask anyone for help. Instead, he’ll wander until he finds a big panel with the YOU ARE HERE red dot that shows every store’s location. 

Before owning a car with a navigation system, Paul would drive until he was short on fuel and long on bad temper because he refused to stop and ask for directions. 

Perhaps if blood was spurting from a femoral artery and if the hospital was nowhere in sight, but until that moment, never. The logical act of seeking help is akin to threatening his manhood with rusty scissors. In his determined mind, he’ll find the right route and solve the traffic maze, no matter how long it takes.  

Who cares that he’s 30 minutes late for the meeting, party or bris? He arrives on his own steam. And curse words (from both of us). 

Not me.  I’ll insist he pull the car over after five minutes of searching. I’m confident that someone can point the way. Also, those strangers won’t think less of me and if they do, I’ll never see them again. We’ll arrive at the party in time to yell “Surprise!” 

For Valentine’s Day this year, I plan to buy Paul an update for our car’s navigation system. What should he give me? A pair of those scissors that make him so nervous – I need to trim my credit card use. See above closets brimming with footwear. 

Just kidding, shoes are what I want for Valentine’s Day and there must be a shoe sale somewhere. Paul offered to drive me and I figure if we leave now, we’ll find our way. Eventually.   

Viva la difference, viva l’amour! 

Is Your Tail Danger-Proofed?

Shannon Kernaghan Danger-Proof-Your-Tail-web-1 Is Your Tail Danger-Proofed? Humor

There was a time in life when the greatest hazards to my safety were the decisions I made. 

Those decisions frequently involved climbing and tumbling from fences or trees. Luckily, my nose broke the fall on asphalt, wood or any variety of hard surface. 

Other times my decisions included hanging out with my brother Tim.  Although I didn’t plan to sail through the air after he and his friend swung me by my arms and legs – and let go – I did choose to play ‘helicopter’ with them. This time my collar bone broke the fall onto pavement. My next memory is an ER doctor taping my snapped collar bone, to keep all the pieces aligned. 

The industrial tape that started on my chest and ran down my back was incredibly sticky. After the healing was complete, one big yank was out of the question. My resourceful mother paid me a stipend to rip up and trim off a small square of that tape every night.

Perhaps Mom didn’t impart wise lessons, teaching me that I can earn money from pain. (Do a browser search – you’ll find a sizable industry based on leather and whips!) 

 Mom was kind to offer a reward system for my bravery. Too bad she couldn’t predict the price tag from cavities created by all the candy I could afford. Yes, there are hazards to kindness and sugar.  

Now I’m an adult and make conscious decisions to refrain from  dangerous activities. Sadly, my sense of physical safety is a facade. Just when I  started looking into buying a drone to capture travel shots, my friend phoned with a dire warning: “What if you crash it into someone’s house or it hits a car? And what if you fly it too close to an airport? You can get fined!” 

But I love uber-gizmos. Gotta get me some new friends, ones who’d rather go bungee jumping than mall strolling. 

Lawsuits and fines aside, I recently discovered the danger of simply going for a walk on a rainy afternoon.  

I was half a block from home when a sports car at a red light noisily smoked its tires, both brake and gas pedal stomped. When the light turned green, the car raced around the corner. But the  driver didn’t make a clean turn, too busy fishtailing and losing control  while heading directly for me.  

I froze.

How could I escape? A high shrub surrounded me and the car was about to use me for target practice. Did the memory of loved ones flash through my mind in those final seconds? No. Instead, I thought, “How pathetic – I’m gonna die standing on a sidewalk, not jumping out of a plane or white water rafting!” 

The swerving car righted itself only feet before hitting me. At least the driver was having fun, based on the flash of him wide-eyed and grinning.

After that near miss, I’m even more nervous.Testimony is this year’s Halloween costume. I’m dressing as a sexy cat, complete with pointy ears and a long tail. But thanks to the many reminders of life’s  inherent dangers, I’ll protect myself with knee, elbow and shoulder pads, along with non-slip sensible shoes. I’ll wear my nighttime mouthguard – the costume judging could get rowdy.

And since people have grown litigious, I’ll add padding to my tail and ears so I don’t injure anyone in my vicinity. 

Note to self: no more bobbing for apples. I might lose an eye or choke on a Golden Delicious.  

Boo . . . I’m whispering, in case I scare anyone and bring on heart palpitations. You can’t be too careful. Happy Halloween!

Ugly Bridesmaid Dress? Remember, It’s HER Day!

Shannon Kernaghan Bridesmaid-e1689447783987 Ugly Bridesmaid Dress? Remember, It's HER Day! Humor

I’m invited to a friend’s wedding and am looking forward to her party. Is it because I’ve attended more funerals than weddings in the last decade? Could be. More likely it’s because enough years have passed since my last bridesmaid experience.   

I tried, I really tried to be a good B-maid for my friend, Cindy. Dutifully, I paid for an unflattering dress and showed up for several dress fittings. Also, I helped arrange a wedding shower and a party for the betrothed couple, and I attended the wedding rehearsal. There were the requisite gifts and various expenses along the way. I smiled non-stop and gave positive feedback at every event.

In truth, I felt flattered to join her B-Maid line-up, considering our friendship hadn’t been all that tight before her wedding. Flattery didn’t last long; I began to clench my jaw and chant “suck it up” and “it’ll be over soon.”

Then I practiced my facial expressions for when confronted by the jubilant bride-to-be: “Of course I have time for another fitting,” (arch eyebrows in mock enthusiasm) and “Yes, I know, it’s YOUR day,” (lock smile in place) and “ANOTHER shower? Sure, I can help,” (pick up more vodka – for me, not Cindy).

Accepting the role of B-Maid is no laughing matter . . . did you expect to have fun?   Wake up and smell the heart-shaped confetti. And while you’re at it, start unfolding and fluffing those 5,000 plastic bows for the bridal car. Screw the environment, people –it’s wedding season!

When Cindy’s wedding day arrived, I awoke with flu-like symptoms. But the show must go on: I showed up pale, shaky and on time.

First came the pre-wedding photos. And before we made it to the War and Peace-long church service, I realized two facts: 1) the man assigned as my bridal party partner was already drunk and obnoxious – “Whadayou know about anything? You’re just a chick,” he slurred – and 2) those flu symptoms were ramping up. My temperature rose and my nose ran while I tottered in pinching high heels, clutching my posies in a death grip throughout the service. Never heard a word of Cindy’s vows, too busy trying not to sneeze or faint.

Maybe I wasn’t such a good B-Maid after all because I didn’t stay to greet 250 people in the post-dinner receiving line. Although Cindy seemed annoyed with me – emphasis on HER day – I did everyone a favor. Who needs to shake hands and hug a sweating, snuffling Typhoid Mary.

All those wedding photos? Never saw or received a single copy. I’d love to know what I looked like in my dress. Not long after the wedding, I donated it and the uncomfortable shoes to my local Thrift Store.

With my duties concluded, I didn’t hear from Cindy again. But a few years later I ran into a mutual friend who asked, “Didn’t you fill in as one of her bridesmaids?”

“Huh? Fill in?”

“You didn’t know that? Yeah, her sister-in-law was supposed to be in the wedding party, but her due date was a few weeks after the wedding. Cindy worried she’d look like a beached whale in the photos!”

See what flattery gets ya? I was a pitch hitter, not even a first choice.

A postscript to my bridesmaid story: I discovered that Cindy’s marriage only lasted a few years. Maybe now she won’t mind parting with a photo or two from her album. Better late than never.

As for the upcoming wedding I’ll be attending, this woman knows how to throw a fun event and I can hardly wait. I’m grateful she never asked me to be in her bridal party considering today’s typical B-Maid is expected to cover costs for bachelorette weekends and travel to destination weddings. Fun? Sure, but who needs that kind of expensive flattery.

When I see her smiling face, I’ll be delighted to simply celebrate her special day from the audience (arch eyebrows in genuine enthusiasm).


In Your Face

Shannon Kernaghan In-Your-Face-400 In Your Face Humor

I watch videos from blogger Norma Geli who leads viewers through Las Vegas restaurants and bars. She’s fun to watch and her enthusiasm makes you wish you were there, nibbling on innovative food fusions and sipping cocktails that blossom with dry ice. 

Her most recent blog featured the best steak in Sin City. Her pick is Carversteak, located in Resorts World on the Strip. Here’s a line from Carversteak’s website: ‘A reimagining of the classic steakhouse experience offering dry-aged American steaks from artisan producers.’ 

Norma began with a martini order. Her glass arrived . . . and so did a cart and bartender who created the cocktail in front of her. 

Next, she chose a ‘C’s Tomohawk’ steak, a hefty 42 ounces of beef. She also ordered a side of Bearnaise sauce and a special ‘Pommes Puree,’ made with 50% Yukon Gold taters and 50% butter.  

I can’t speak for you, but if a server brings me a steak knife, I’m pleased. Period. At Carversteak, a new person shows up with an impressive wooden box, something out of a medieval dual.  

He opens the box and presents an array of knives while explaining the benefit and weight of each. Eventually Norma asks for his advice. So would I. The only knives I can identify are the bread knives and generic steak knives we’ve owned for decades. 

My eyebrow arched when the meat showed up – it was already sliced on the plate!  

First the bar cart, then the knife box, and had Norma ordered a bottle of wine, a sommelier would have appeared tableside.  

What was last, the dishwasher with a soap trolley to wash Norma’s dirty plates? This wasn’t a meal but a performance. 

I didn’t stick around for dessert. I had indigestion just thinking about that 50% butter potato puree. 

Norma never showed us the bill but mentioned that her martini cost $35 and her steak – without sides or sauces – was $260. Add tax and gratuities. Wow.  

I have my own ‘reimagining’ that features a world where I share a delicious meal with my partner Paul, without half a dozen people circling our table, and without a bill that could cover a car payment. 

Wait . . . I don’t have to reimagine, I only have to remember.  

When Paul and I rolled our little RV into rustic campsites near the Rockies, we’d bring our own steaks and libations. He’d build a fire, add foil-wrapped potatoes, and let the flames burn to hot embers. That’s when he’d cook our steaks to a perfect medium rare. I’d open a bottle of wine and pour into our plastic wine glasses.  

On every occasion those steaks were the most tender and delicious I’ve ever eaten. Do I recall the type of knife used? No.  

Better yet, did I force my wine-addled head to figure out the tip, and then find a ride back to our hotel? (Hey, if the rooms at Resorts World are as spendy as the steaks, we aren’t staying there).   

All we did was watch the sun set and after Paul extinguished our fire, we’d stumble into our trailer. The only one in my face during our meal was Paul. And sometimes squirrels or whiskey jacks who waited for treats. 

Paul might have asked for a ‘tip’ for his fire-building and cooking efforts, but with all that wine, who can remember?  


Paint Me Naked

Shannon Kernaghan Paint-Me-Naked-400 Paint Me Naked Humor

Not every day does an artist ask to paint me naked. Even fewer of those lining up are well-known New York artists.

After exhibiting a few of my own pieces in NYC’s Van der Plas Gallery, I met the artist Alejandro Caiazza, best known for ‘a humorous subject matter . . . engaging the viewer in the silliness of the present with a warning of what is to come.’

That sounds cool, and there’s more: ‘Initially appearing whimsical and delightful with a child-like innocence, the work of Caiazza on closer inspection reveals much deeper and darker aspects of our human condition.’

Most recently, Alejandro painted a series of clowns; his wild pieces drew me in (no pun intended) and his ‘primitive art’ quality attracted me.

My own art on social media attracted him, enough that he slid into my DM. Our initial contact began with I would really like to paint you.

My reply: If I had a quarter for every time I heard that . . . wait, I’d still only have a couple of quarters.

I sent him three photos, one of me in a bikini from a few years ago, and two early shots from when I modeled for a lingerie store. I figured these would suffice, especially the one of me in a teddy with my foot on a chair.Shannon Kernaghan Shannon-on-chair Paint Me Naked Humor

Nope, not enough inspiration for Alejandro and the DM dance continued.

I would like to make you a nude, something like this and he posted one of my topless Self Portraits.

Shannon Kernaghan Blissed_Kernaghan-300x300 Paint Me Naked Humor

I hope I haven’t offended you, he added.

Not offended, but looking forward to seeing what you can do with my ‘lovely bones.’

I wasn’t about to send him anything explicit for the “spank bank.” And then nothing more was said about painting me, simply messages on art and writing, and an invitation to his current art exhibit.

I didn’t instigate conversations and merely replied to his prompts about the type of pictures he wanted: There will be no undressing, I wrote, only drawing. NOW GET BUSY!

By now – months later – I was certain there would be no SHANNON-AS-ART from Alejandro.

And then came his request:

You’re hot like your art . . . I wish to draw you naked

Feel free, I replied, strip down when you draw me, I don’t want you to over-heat 😉

This would be my final correspondence and I was about to go ‘radio silent.’

Then his message appeared: Deal and days later a few pictures followed.

I like the yellow piece that reminds me of Jackie Kennedy, who people said I resembled when I was young. As for Alejandro’s depiction of my breasts, that’s his interpretation; I do appreciate the perky quality.

Shannon Kernaghan Paint-Me-Naked-400-300x300 Paint Me Naked Humor

                                  Shannon by Alejandro Caiazza

Shannon Kernaghan Leg-on-chair_AC-232x300 Paint Me Naked Humor

                                   Shannon by Alejandro Caiazza

The next time someone invites you to ‘come up and see my etchings,’ I could be the woman in those masterpieces. Gotta love art.

                    Check out Alejandro Caiazza’s art on Instagram

Shannon Kernaghan Alejandro-by-Shannon-Kernaghan-300x300 Paint Me Naked Humor

I Got Crosby’d in LA!

Shannon Kernaghan Crosbyd-web-400 I Got Crosby'd in LA! Humor

 For a week, I teetered between life and death. 

I wasn’t ill or injured but living my best life in Los Angeles where I’d been invited to read a short story. Our six-person lineup for the VAMP Storytelling Showcase was led by three performance coaches and event producers.  

Not only was I in Cali for a reading, but I was about to meet my second cousin Carl. It felt like I already knew him, both through his New York sister who I’m close with, and through the movies he’s worked on (as Jaws co-writer and screenplay, for one).  

Earlier when I told him how near he lived to my West Hollywood venue, his message was hospitable: How terrific! I am in town and free that evening, and we’ll be hanging out while you’re in L.A., right?  

As soon as I arrived in L.A. I found out Carl’s a night owl; he also had scheduling issues that week. Our only chance was late Thursday afternoon. No worries, from his place I could head straight to my event, held at a cool vodka bar.  

Meet my cousin? Read my story with new friends and drink voddy martinis? What could be better? 

One major thing.  


Ahead of my reading, I had several days to explore the City of Angels. A day-long tour took me past clubs and hotels. One drive-by was the Viper Room; our tour guide pointed out the sidewalk where actor River Phoenix died of an overdose.  

Next, our shuttle stopped in front of the Chateau Marmont where John Belushi died of an overdose and photographer Helmut Newton also died after crashing his car into the hotel wall.  

The next day I carried my “death story” forward by spending half a day in Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Founded in 1899, it’s one of the oldest cemeteries in L.A. and the final resting place for hundreds of Hollywood legends.  

I’d wanted to visit after writing a story on how the cemetery hosts regular events for the community – live music and summer movie screenings. What a positive way to spin death into public celebrations. This cemetery has become a welcoming “living place” as well as a final “resting place.” 

I also realized that Hollywood Forever was the closest I’ll get to a raft of notables, from those my parents adored to those who’ve entertained me. 

I’ve never spent as much time or had such memorable moments in a cemetery, especially one with such a tranquil park-like setting. Usually, I’m at a gravesite because of a funeral; the season is generally winter, the weather is cold and dreary, and the day is sad because I’ve lost someone important.  

Not this day! The sun shone, the temperature was mild and peacocks strolled when I started my walking adventure. 

I read and recorded the stones and plaques of many celebrities interred in Hollywood Forever: Judy Garland and a memorial marker of Toto; Burt Reynolds, Valerie Harper, Chris Cornell, Rudolph Valentino, Mickey Rooney, Hattie McDaniel and so many more. 

My husband, who stayed in Alberta, had one simple request: “Find Bugsy Siegal and send me a pic!” Bugsy co-owned both the El Cortez and the Flamingo, and was murdered in his girlfriend’s home in Beverly Hills. Our interest in Sin City’s mob history developed after spending a lot of time in Las Vegas. 

Using the site map I’d purchased from the office, I entered a large columbarium with long rooms. Each room had hundreds of niches on either side; worse, every bronze plaque looked almost identical. I started with the furthest room and let my eyes trail across name after name . . . and suddenly there he was, Benjamin Siegal, with nothing more to draw attention than a few plastic flowers. Then I saw a row of pink lipstick kisses on the stone under his plaque! (I read later that kiss marks are for good luck in Vegas!) 

I took several photos for Paul, pleased that others still found Bugsy a captivating character.  

Another discovery was the life-size bronze statue of Anton Yelchin, an actor who died at age 27 when his own SUV crushed him in 2016. His statue faces a lovely bird-filled pond.  

As I stood feet away and explored other headstones, a woman walked from a car and climbed onto the base of Anton’s statue. With closed eyes, she hugged his back and kissed it. Weird, I thought, she seems too old to be such an emotional fan. Minutes later she returned to her car and drove off.  

Hollywood Forever was different from other cemeteries. I’ve never seen so many personalized plots, complete with rows of spinning whirligigs and personal items, from teddy bears to sports equipment. And many people ate at gravesites, arriving with lawn chairs and bags of food.  

I carefully tiptoed around graves when a man on the nearby road waved and asked how I was doing. 

“I’ve been to many cemeteries,” I said, “but they had more space, some even had dedicated paths. Here, I feel disrespectful. Should I be standing on their graves?” 

He paused and with a smile said, “Don’t worry, I think they’d be happy you’re here.”  

What a sweet comment; I felt my hand reach for my heart. When I said I came from Canada, he seemed impressed that I chose to spend my time in the cemetery instead of doing the usual tourist stuff. He lives in the area and comes often to walk, he said. 

He pointed to Anton’s statue. “Did you notice that woman who hugged his statue? That was his mom. I’ve seen her before and she’s always crying. 

Of course! She looked like Anton with the same dark curly hair! Again, my hand touched my heart. 

“And this one here? This is the photographer Halyna Hutchins, the woman Alec Baldwin shot while making his movie?” 

Moments before I’d read her name and looked at a picture someone had left. 

“Come this way,” and he pointed to a mausoleum wall. “It’s not marked yet, but it’s for Anne Heche.” For the next half hour, he pointed out celebrity locations and told stories about them. My only offering was the direction to Bugsy’s niche, one he’d never been able to find. 


It was Thursday morning, the day of my reading. Since this was my last full day, I’d planned to visit Westwood Memorial Park, another well-known cemetery.  

While Westwood is smaller than Hollywood Forever, I would find many celebrities, from Marilyn Monroe, Rodney Dangerfield and Roy Orbison to my husband’s favorite Natalie Wood. But I had my afternoon get-together with cousin Carl and a 7 pm run-through at the bar.  

Was I cutting my schedule too tight? I decided to pass on the Westwood excursion and relax at my hotel.  

Minutes away from heading to Carl’s, a text from my husband pinged: Bad news – Crosby just died! 

This news wouldn’t shock many. Musician David Crosby was over 80 and had battled drugs and health issues: a liver transplant, diabetes, hepatitis C and heart surgery. 

But my cousin would be affected by his death. I phoned him to offer my condolences and let him know I was ready to come over. He cancelled, too overcome with emotions, processing his feelings and fielding calls and messages from others.  

Dammit! But he’d come to my show, he assured me.  

The evening was a lot of fun, filled with great stories, but Carl didn’t show. His text arrived at 11 pm as I sipped a martini and celebrated with new friends: Terribly sorry about missing our connection, Shannon, but David’s death struck me particularly hard, we were close friends for 50 years. Predating the Byrds even. I co-authored two books with him. Call me after your gig.  

I’d been Carl-blocked and Crosby’d! Not to sound cold, but if only he’d waited a couple of hours.  

And that “one major thing” I mentioned earlier? No more death stories, please. I’d had my share. 

At least we had a deep and satisfying conversation when I returned to my hotel and phoned him. Carl told me he signs off messages and phone calls with “may all grief be far.” A fitting expression, considering how a celebrity death ruined the only chance for us to meet (Carl is over 80 and I live 1,700 miles away. Unless Hollywood calls me again, and soon, I might not make it back in time.)   

Years ago, Carl sent me an autographed copy of their book Long Time Gone. While I didn’t meet my cousin in person, I have his writing with Crosby; in a small way that connects me to both of them. 

Home again and watching a YouTube video taken at our event, a final irony made me grin. For the first time I noticed the tagline of my VAMP showcase: SAVING STORIES FROM THE GRAVE.  

Talk about apropos. 

When it comes to losing people I care about, I hope to keep everyone alive through my stories.