Amanda Stuermer put me in touch with Shanan, recommending her with high praise. And Shanan enthusiastically responded to my invitation to participate here. We met for a coffee to get to know each other and to chat about some other things before meeting for this interview, so it seemed like we were old friends by the time we finally got down to it. It turns out that Shanan is super easy to be around. She's got a great, contagious energy and seems to be filled to the brim with encouragement. She's a real busy lady, but finds time to genuinely and deeply connect and, from what I've seen, she has an incredible knack for bringing people together. I look forward to all future things involving her. Keep an eye on the schedule for her Night Light Show with Shanan Kelley and Magnificent Guests.
Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
I am Shanan Kelley. How would I describe myself? I'm a creative. I'm really sensitive. I'm an introvert, but that usually shocks people; it just means that I power-up on my own. And I have to. If I don't have enough time on my own, I get real punchy. I produce The Night Light Show with Shanan Kelley and Magnificent Guests. I host and emcee a variety of events. I'm a writer and a yoga teacher. I manage a digital strategy agency during the day. I'm an auctioneer. I work a lot because I have a lot of good work. I'm very loyal. I'm a very big-hearted person. And I have a great sense of humor. And, right now, I'm also a little bit tired (laughs).
What matters to you? What do you give a damn about?
Hmm... I give a damn about a lot of things. I give a damn about communication and relationships. I give a damn about community wellness. I give a damn about social injustice and racial injustice. I give a damn about content that matters. I think listening is really important. I'd like to see people's skills improve in listening (laughs). I guess communication is really important to me.
What gives you a heavy heart? What concerns you?
Oh, god. What day of the week are you asking me on (laughs)? I look around and I see a lot of people who are really unhealthy. The baseline is not where I'd like it to be. I see a lot of people who are really, really, really angry. And I don't know that they're connected to it. If I'm on my walk and I'm feeling it, I'm really upset that racism is still a problem for us. It's like the most ridiculous thing that we separate ourselves by. So, there's one. I'm really, really upset that we are abusing in so many ways: we abuse our bodies, we abuse our relationships, we abuse ourselves at work. Like, everything that we have a relationship with is off in some way, it seems. I really have a heavy heart and get overwhelmed when I think about the criminal justice system. I actually almost can't even think about it because it's so fucked. I don't think that there's much hope for it. And it's on such a massive scale and has been for so long. I also... the violence obsession in our culture is not serving us. It's really interesting to be a very peaceful person - I've been really lucky that I can have peace as my thing - and someone who believes in art and believes in love and all of these things and know that I'm looking around at my culture and, on a massive scale, people are making money off being violent and being terrible and being abusive and mass-consumerism... How do you find a place for yourself in a world that is so far away from anything that makes sense or is reasonable? But, obviously, I'm very good at also seeing the beauty in things. So, one day at a time.
What do we mean to each other on a person-to-person level?
We can't do any of this without each other. Good, bad, or ugly. Or great. Or all of it. You know, we can't really have much of anything without being able to have some type of reflection back from another person. I think that we all hold up mirrors for each other. And maybe not everybody sees it that way or is choosing to get the most out of that. But I definitely think that that's what we're doing.
What does being a part of community mean to you?
It's an interesting conversation, for sure. And I think my answer is probably gonna be all over the place. But, because my understanding of community and how necessary it is has really evolved over the years - particularly in the last couple of years - I recognize as I'm on my path to becoming as well as I can be that it's essential that I have people around me. There's different areas where you need specific help and support and community, and so I have these specialized areas where I have a lot of strong community.
And then in the larger sense, I can say several years ago - I had been living in Bend at the time for I guess five years or so - and I was I was having a hell of a time. I was coming out of the recession. I was experiencing a death year - I don't know if you've ever had a death year; it's really intense. And my dog got really sick and almost died and this really crazy miracle happened. Everybody put together a crowdfunding page - this was kind of when crowdfunding was still pretty new - and in like hours this chunk of money was available for me to get this emergency surgery for my dog. A lot of the names were anonymous, but looking through at these amounts of money that came through, I was like, I have something here that I didn't even realize I had. These people have me. Because of whatever I have invested in them along the way. This is how it's being reflected back to me. And I can tell you that if that hadn't have happened, I probably would have left. I think I was so down. I was so at the bottom of where I could be at that time that if that miracle hadn't happened and if my community hadn't stepped up and responded in that way, there wouldn't have been a reason for me to be here because I wouldn't have known it was there. But they showed me. In this really concrete way, they demonstrated that they cared about me enough to pony up cash to set me up to have this crazy experience with my dog, who was at the time absolutely my unit. It was really interesting to look back on that and know Oh, if this had gone a different way, I wouldn't have stayed. I would have have just gone back up to Seattle with my tail between my legs and whatever (laughs).
Yeah, what does it mean to be a part of a community? It's both. I love the feeling of belonging to a community. I do consider myself a community artist. And then, at the same, I think there's a lot of responsibility that goes along with that on my part. So, I owe it to my community to bring the thing that they need, so I need to be able to listen in and know what that is. I then also have to be willing to take a risk and put my own spin on it and put my own word and messaging out there, too, and know however it's received is irrelevant. Or maybe it is relevant. I don't know. And then I also think that there's a couple of other parts of the agreement. And, actually, this is maybe where we need to start just having contracts with how we engage with our community because it probably would serve us well to have it written out really well. I also think it's important for me to leave this community and go see what other communities are doing and bring that back and share that with what I have here.
I also think, for me, I have so many different communities. I have all these different things I have my fingers in. And so a lot of them very much overlap and I like that. But it can definitely be... it's full. It's really full. In a good way.
What can we do to promote equality or combat inequality?
It's probably person by person because how do you want to be while you're doing your work? Do you want to be in resistance? Do you want to be in opposition? Do you want to be fighting? Do you want to be arguing? Or do you want to be standing up for? Or do you want to be speaking out for? Or do you want to be in solidarity with? What are the words that actually resonate with you and make you feel good? And you'll probably have a physical response - a different physical sensation - for those different types of words. And then you know who you are. Like, I know for me, I'm not meant to be in resistance. I'm not gonna spend my life in resistance. I don't want to be bracing myself all day long. I want to be standing up for. I want to be doing my work. I want to be listening. I want to be standing arm-to-arm with people who are doing what needs to be done. I don't think that I'm someone who's meant to work myself into the ground, but I'm definitely someone who's meant to do her work and her work alone. So, yeah, I want to do good work. And I want to feel satisfied by it. And I want to know that I did that right. And I saw that through and I did my work and I did the growth that I needed to do. How do we move these things forward? We go find the right resources. We go find the right people to listen to. For you and me, we probably shut up a lot and listen more and we do the work - we do our work. And a lot of us don't know what that is yet. So part of that work is going out and finding what that is.
If we can engage a bit deeper on that, what do you suppose is behind the millennia of perpetuation of inequality? There's so many people not in support of racism, but here we are. My going about my work and you going about your work doesn't seem to be answering that.
I'm not just talking about you taking photographs and me making people laugh. So, what I'm coming to realize is that it's so easy for me to say, Oh, that guy driving down the road with a confederate flag is the reason why we have racism. But, actually, the reason why we have racism is because I'm benefitting from white privilege and I'm not aware of it. And, therefore, I'm a part of keeping it in place. And so many of us - you and me and all the people that we know - are not aware of it and so we are absolutely the reason why it still exists. And I don't think it's fair or appropriate to point at that guy over there and say it's him because it's all of us. And so when I say, Do the work, that means all of us have to do the work. We have to find out the specific examples and ways in which we are a part of it, perpetuating it, not dismantling it - not dismantling the actual systems that are in place that keep us separate from each other - and then we have to figure out what to do about it. We have to go out and dig up those resources - people who actually know. It's probably not a white lady. It's probably not a white man. I'm not hearing those voices telling me how to dismantle this system, generally speaking. I mean, maybe a little bit here and there. I've had some great voices come through from the work I've done with The World Muse, but for the most part, the people that I'm listening to specifically on the topic of racism are people of color - women of color and some men of color. And, again, if I'm not actively dismantling it, what am I doing? I'm continuing to let it be in place. And, in fact, I'm taking part in it.
And it's interesting being a woman because as a woman I can't even tell you how many times I have been chased or attacked or felt unsafe. It happens all the time. You walk passed someone and you know there's not much I could do in the event that this particular situation went sideways. So it's really easy for someone in my position to be like, Oh, well, I'm doing all I can to fight that. But, I need to be doing more. I need to be doing more. I need to be dismantling white supremacy and the ways in which I, Shanan, benefit from it.
Do you have a sense of purpose?
I do. And, again, I'm a little tired right now (laughs). I do have a sense of purpose. My general intention for my life is I want to make as many people laugh as possible, which is funny because I'm a pretty serious person, yeah? I want to write. And I want to help people find their wellness. I want all three of those things to work really well together to give me a balanced life so that I can show up properly for all of that work. So, I want to use my best skillset to serve my brothers and sisters on this planet.
Do you think a sense of purpose is shared by most?
I am surround by really amazing people for the most part. I've been aware of this for a really long time. I would say that it really started to noticeable shift when I started to really consistently practice yoga and then, for sure, when I transitioned into teaching. The people that I'm surrounded by, on average, are people who have purpose. And I really do think that the people who surround you are maybe the biggest influencer in how your life is gonna turn out - how it's gonna be - in the moment and in the bigger picture. So, I'm really lucky and then I also really work for it. But I literally hang out with some of the most amazing people. It has been that way for years. Like, if I'm having a bad day, I have the kind of people in my life where I just think about them and I'm like, Well, I can't be doing too bad if these are my friends. I have friends with a whole range of different senses of purpose; from food to nourishment to wellness to music to recovering their culture to working in the women's movement to working in social justice, working in racal inequality - I mean, a huge range. And then I also have friends who are still kind of in that, Well, this is what you do. You work this hard so that you can have X, Y, and Z so that you can take care of your family. So I have both. But they're still operating at a really high level.
What do you want more of in your life?
I want more resources to do the work that I am meant to do here.
Do you have anything else that you'd like to put out there?
(Laughs) Maybe it's not about having the answers, maybe it's about having the questions. I think we have really lost a lot of our communication skills and we're confused about that because we appear to be communicating all the time. But is the communication meaningful? Is it actually solving what we need it to solve? Are we actually taking in what we need to be taking in? Are people overwhelmed? Clearly we're off-balance. We're not quite optimally functioning within the realm of how we relate to one another. So, I think right now is a really, really important time to have meaningful conversations and really get good at having meaningful conversations with people that we may not agree with, that we may not know, or people that may be in our families that we haven't gone there with before. Now's the time to buff up those skills and push it. Why would we wait?
Do you have anything that you'd like to ask me?
Yeah, what's your larger vision?
None of us asked to be here. We were born. I feel that it's a passive beginning. And because of that - and I am for sure talking to myself, too - I think we owe each other quite a lot of grace and patience. And I also think we owe each other some sort of explanation. I want to know who I'm with. I don't know where the curiosity came from. I can't pinpoint an event in my life that brought me here, but it's a recurring theme. I know often the difference between a mediocre day and a great day is an interaction I have with someone. That's most often the thing. I love a connection with someone. I like it when it's at the coffee counter; I like it when I get a flat tire on my bike and somebody helps me out; I like offering the person that's checking me out at the grocery store a piece of the chocolate I'm buying. I really enjoy the little chances that we have to engage. And I'm a photographer and I've got an audio recorder and I like to write and I have this combination of skills with a curiosity that I want to share it. I want to share the experiences. And right now I'm sharing them through this - A Community Thread - because not everybody has that same drive; they'e not willing to go record conversations with people. But I think the more we know about each other, the more we find out what we have in common, the greater the opportunity for peace. I go back and forth with the greater vision. Sometimes I want to say that I'm not trying to change the world, but I guess I am. I guess I am trying to change the world. I'm fed up with the way it is. It doesn't resonate with me at all. I think things are a total mess. And so I want to find things that aren't a mess and give them some light. And hope that the more that happens the less of a mess things become.