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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Shantilicious - History Lessons (Shantilicious' Beginnings from her Blog)

History Lesson 101

I will never lie to you, my Shantilicious fans. Never. That is something I don’t do. When I was younger, I was taught that if you have secrets, that means that something is wrong and that you are ashamed of something so the way to live a clear and happy life was to not have any secrets. That’s why I wanted to start this Shantilicious Blog.

I want to share with you a little about my humble beginnings.  I was conceived in New Mexico.  I was born Shanti soon to be Shantilicious in Indianapolis, Indiana to hippy parents.  They were young and poor. Dirt floor and food stamps poor.  We moved after 6 months to Wyoming, or was it Montana, i always forget, and then we moved 6 months later to Santa Barbara and a year and a half later to San Louis O’Bisbo.  This is why I hate that stupid “where are you from” question.  How in the world do I answer it?  I have spent the most years in New York City, so I usually say there or LA cuz that is the second longest spot I have lived.  But really, we moved constantly.

The next question I usually get is “oh, are you an army brat?”.  NO!  actually my parents were involved in religious groups (or a cult) and believed that God was telling them when and where to move.  I had many doubts about God’s influence over our moves seeing as they usually coincided with some kind of violent act my dad had towards me or my mom or cuz neighbors found out about the cult that weren’t so happy about it. So I never lived anywhere longer than 3 years until I moved to NYC. I attended 13 different schools.  I learned to reinvent myself with every move and every school and learned to keep memories of friends in my heart instead of needing to be around them 24/7.

My parents were both Psycho-therapists and got their degrees after I was born.  I would attend classes with them and my dad would perform his psychological “experiments” on me.  This has caused an unusually high aptitude for analyzation and self-awareness since that was how we all interacted and communicated and loved on a daily basis – always digging deeper, always working on healing and breaking psychological patterns.   They taught me how to read body language of myself and others.  Needless to say I am an excellent judge of people because of this. I just need to follow my intuition – ugh! the hardest thing to do!

Oh, and did I mention that my dad ran a cult? Ya, so my parents were psychotherapists and cult leaders – an amazing combo. Add to that that my father had a horrible power and narcissistic/sadistic complex and you have a recipe for abuse of the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical nature.  It was tons of fun.

By cult, I mean a religion that isn’t recognized by the government AND isolation from family and friends AND manipulation of power, etc.  We are talking Bible classes and Services out of our homes, white robes, etc etc.  it was definitely not a typical way of growing up.  And combined with my dad’s absolute disdain for my existence, my home life was the antithesis of safe and loving.

My father tried to kill me by strangling me to the point of blacking out.  Or he would repeatedly throw and kick me down stairs, or attack me with household items.  My mom and I were victims of his grandiose spiritual nature (“I am Jesus”) coupled with frequent outbursts of verbal and physical violence.  It was quite the irony to have people come over for Bible studies and say “you are so lucky to have such an evolved father” as my lip bled from the phone he just hit me with before class started.

We weren’t allowed to tell anyone.

Due to these major inconsistencies in my family, I didn’t want to be around.  My dad would say my true family and home was in Heaven and I wanted to go THERE.  My only outlet was music.  It was the only thing I lived for and without it I would not have made it out alive.

When I was a little Shantilicious at 13, I used to sit at the piano and say “i don’t need anyone, all i need is you.  I want to marry you.  You will never hurt me.  I can always count on you and you will always love me back.”  So, instead of the fantasies that most girls have about their wedding to a man, mine was to music.  And my loyalty to music and all it has to offer runs very very deep, obviously.

History Lesson 102

My first instrument was the piano.  I had a babysitter who was a composition graduate from Juliard and I used to play the note that he would play and sing the note that he would play – at SIX MONTHS!  (My mom says I was walking at 6months as well.) – oh and that babysitter turned out to be my uncle years later, if only he would have been my dad.

I played informally for years and started formal lessons at 7 years.  It was my favorite thing in the world.  It was access to a whole world without pain.  Being a classical pianist, I could express my heartbreak through Chopin or Ravel or Rachmaninoff but they were always comforting me and allowing me to say what I could never say out loud.  I escaped there whenever possible – like during school lunches, you would find me in the music room playing, or before and after school, or sometimes during classes. There were days that I needed to play constantly to medicate myself from whatever was happening at home.  If we visited a family with a piano, I had to sit by it to feel safe.  It was my friend. Still is.

But not just the piano, anything and everything music.  I had a friend in high school and we would sneak out of class and hang in the music room, either under the piano listening to the soundtrack of Amadeus or at the computer doing music games such as ear training games, etc.

Even at home, music played a major role.  When my mom wanted me to help her clean, she would put on Stevie Wonder and hand me a rag so I could dust around the house while singing.  Or we would put Tchaikovsky on and I would slip into my pink tu-tu and make up “ballets”.  I was the girl in the neighborhood who had a large bag of costumes and fabric and would cast all the kids in the area and direct them in a production for all the parents.  Of course I would put myself as the lead and sometimes i would get so frustrated with the “actors” that I would fire them and do all the leads – Shantilicious Diva girl started young.

I started singing around 6 months as well – first from the babysitter, but I was frequently found singing myself to sleep in my crib or making up songs in the bathtub.  My mother was a beautiful singer and would sing all the harmonies during their Sunday services.  I would listen to her and wish and pray that one day I would sing as beautifully as she did. Sometimes she would actually sit at the piano and show me some of her talent, although it was rare that she would play.  She was amazing.

My father sang, played the piano, wrote and he played the guitar as well.  For all the bad that occurred with my dad, my favorite memories of him were when he would play and sing before he went to bed or when we were in the car and my mom and he would sing in harmony together in the front seat.

They always sounded amazing together and these moments were some of the only times I felt like we were a family.

I guess that’s why music is so important to me.  If that’s the only time that things felt ok, it makes sense that I feel so protective of my freedom to express myself.

History Lesson 103 (Parental Discretion Advised)

My first “acting” gig was when i was 5 years old. I was a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz. Actually around the same time, I was also a singing flower in another production of Wizard of Oz. I have done that show 4 times. I was Dorothy in 8th grade. That was the year that woke my parents up to my abilities. But let me back up a little. . .

When we lived in Cali, I had one of my mom’s favorite memories of me. I won’t be able to tell it as well as she does, so here’s the gist: It was 6 AM on a weekday and my mom was trying to get me to get dressed. For some reason I had an impulse to just burst outside into the parking lot of our apartment, butt naked, while singing at the top of my lungs “Rocka my soul in the bossom of Abraham”. My mom came running after me with clothing trying desperately to catch me and to stop me from waking up all the neighbors. She swears she never taught me that song and has no idea where I learned it.

One of my favorite memories about my mom was in Cali. My mom would go on walks with me and we would go across the street into this open field with grass and flowers. We would sing and she would point out different wild herbs. And we would find this natural stream of water and talk about fairies and sing songs. It was always so magical and one of my favorite times with my mom.

My parents would leave me alone a lot. I would wake up in the middle of the night and no one would be there so I would wonder over to the neighbors and knock on their door asking if they knew where my parents were.

My parents had moved from Cali back to Indiana where my dad got his doctorate in ED Psych.(when I would go with him to classes, etc) and my mom ran my parent’s health food restaurant. They were pioneers in the organic, health food movement. They had this very successful restaurant for 7 years. I would constantly complain “why can’t you guys be normal and own a Burger King like everybody else.” I hated health food, which is ironic cuz I am a health food freak now.

I was also a latch-key kid (which meant Shantilicious would come home from school in first and second grade to an empty home). I would cry when my mom wouldn’t be home and I would call her at the restaurant and she would tell me to play with the fairies and I would say “you mean the green and red little balls that follow me around?” and my mom would say “yes”. So i developed a relationship with these “balls of light” and would sing to them and make up stories and games and all kinds of fantasies usually circling around the idea that somewhere my real parents were waiting for me and were amazing and loved me and I had to find a way to get back to them.

It was in Indiana the second time around that I was molested by 3 different people. One being my grandfather, one being a blind guy my parents took in for the Red Cross and one being a doctor that my grandfather suggested for me.

My grandfather was a prominent doctor. He was a strong Bible thumping Catholic with 13 kids. He gave us all our shots. He would keep them in the freezer and when we would stop by he would ask if I had gotten such and such and he would pull it out of the freezer and give it to me right there in the kitchen. Frozen- which means it HURT! When he violated me, he used a drug of some sort to get me to not speak or move along with some kind of hypnosis techniques. I was awake but couldn’t do anything about what he was doing.

Anyway, I am sure none of you want to know details about all of that, but it’s important because when these guys did this to me, they temporarily took away my voice and my own sense of knowing. I had to work really hard to get it back. And to trust my own sense of right and wrong. It is something I have and continue to deal with because when people do these things to someone, they are basically telling that person that what they feel and what they say is right for them is wrong. It splits a person.

I remember being 8 and waking up from a deep sleep, standing in the kitchen with a knife to my stomach and hearing a voice tell me to just do it. I finally snapped out of it and was shocked at myself and thought maybe I was hungry so I cut an orange for myself.

Because of this I have a very sensitive barometer for manipulative, abusive behavior. I can sense it on others and have such a strong protective nature for those who have or are going through anything like this.

It was here that my dad broke my mom’s shoulder. It was election day and I remember my parents fighting about who to vote for and when my mom said she needed to go so she wouldn’t be late for work, my dad grabbed her arm and pulled her from the door. She fell and her shoulder was broken. We went to the hospital and my parents kept talking about saying that my mom fell down the stairs doing the laundry and i was so confused and kept saying “but you weren’t doing laundry today mom”, “you fell down the stairs too”? not understanding that my mom and dad were trying to cover up their story. When we got there my dad told me to shut my mouth and not say anything so I listened to them lie to the doctor. In the car on the way home, my dad and mom started talking about whether the doctor believed them and I asked again “I don’t understand, did you or did you not fall down the stairs?” My dad yelled at me to shut the F up and when I got out of the car, he kicked me from behind, lunging me forward about 4 feet. My mother was walking ahead of me and didn’t see, but I was way too scared to say anything at this point.

Indiana was also where my sister was born.

She was born at home and I was there. It was hugely traumatic – she broke her shoulder, my mom passed out and both of them almost died. I remember my dad standing over my mom aggressively pressing down on her belly yelling “Oh heavenly Father, we ask for your assistance . . .” it was terrifying. I was so scared that I would loose my mom.

When my sister came, I felt this maternal side of me come in. I promised her that I would never let what happened to me happen to her. I wanted to run away with her and take her away from anyone who could harm her. The funny thing was that my father really loved her. Much more than he ever loved me. I would test it. He would come home and I would run to the door and make him see me to see if he would greet me and he would push me out of the way and RUN to her. My heart would drop every time. And I would get more and more in his face to try to get him to want to see me, but every time he would get annoyed and push me away.

I started acting out around then and doing things just to see if my dad would notice.  And of course he wouldn’t.  He was too busy with his cult. There were all these political things happening and he and my mom were about to take over their own cult and had all these conversations with the followers where they had to tell them and ask them to follow my parents instead of whoever they were following before.  That’s when I heard my dad actually say “no, you don’t understand, I AM Jesus Christ”.  Ya, I knew we were in some serious trouble at that point.

Summer of 7th grade I attended girl scout camp.  Me and my best friend at the time, Michelle, both decided we wanted to do the bike-riding camp where you strap on a tent to our bikes and bike 500 miles in 3 days while camping along the way.  It was pretty intense but we loved bike-riding, so it was nothing but fun for us!

Well, the entire camp was a few weeks long (they had to work us up to the 500 miles in 3 days thing) so we had a lot of time to make friends.  There were these camp fires where they would ask for people with talent to share.  Well, I decided this was my moment to break out so I busted out with Annie’s “Tomorrow”.  Where i learned this song is beyond me.  But I was really proud of myself so I stood up and belted this thing as loud as I could. This was in front of the entire camp – a few hundred people – and i got a standing ovation.  I tell you, I was HOOKED. I couldn’t wait for the next time that I could show my stuff cuz that was the coolest thing.

Then when we were biking around and camping, we would have dinner and somehow me and Michelle became the camp entertainment.  We would stand up and do comedy routines on the spot, all improvised where the counselors and kids would be on the ground laughing cuz we were so funny. We worked really well together and you would swear we planned these events, but we didn’t.  It was just natural.  And of course it would end with some kind of made up song on my part.  I had so much confidence in myself at that time and loved entertaining people.

When I went back to school in 8th grade, I had a whole new outlook.  I asked my parents if I could have money for voice lessons and the said no.  So i asked them if I could work around the house for allowance and managed to get my dad to give me 5 dollars a week if I would clean.  I promptly went to school the next day and approached my voice teacher saying that I wanted to make a deal with her that she teach me voice lessons and I would give her 5 dollars cuz that was all I had.  I was lucky she took pitty on me and said yes.  So I would clean the house so that I could get voice lessons.  I did have to lie to my teacher and my parents about it cuz my dad was totally against this and my teacher would never have said yes if she knew that my dad was against it.  I was determined!

Well, turned out to be a good thing cuz that year they did Wizard of Oz and it was our grade’s year to audition.  Now, I was not the popular kid in school, by any means.  I was the kind of kid that didn’t care about clicks or being with the in crowd.  I had kids try to make me choose a group and I would flat out say no because I thought the whole thing was stupid.  I wanted to be friends with whoever I wanted whenever I wanted.  So when i auditioned all i heard was how the popular girl was going to get the part, of course.  I was SHOCKED when they gave it to me.  And so was everyone else. Including my parents.  They still didn’t even get that I could sing.  How they missed that was beyond me.

Eighth grade was a winning year for me.  That year I got the lead in the play, my short story got published in the Milwaukee Journal and I won second place in a high school art competition that came with a full scholarship to an art college – in 8th grade!  It was amazing for me.  However, with it came the bitter end of most of my friendships.  Including Michelle.  Everyone turned on me and started accusing me of getting a big head.  I was definitely excited – I had never won things before!  No one ever saw me that way before that year.  But I learned very early on what the pitfalls to success are and how jealous and mean people can be when you achieve things.  It really made me gun-shy about showing my talents.  My friends were important to me and I wasn’t sure if success was worth loosing them.

When Wizard of Oz went up, my mother and father were shocked and to this day comment about how amazing it was to hear me sing like that.  They had no idea that their daughter would soon be Shantilicious.

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