Ep 4 - Fortune Cookies

ArtistCEO work addiction.jpg

While attempting to be both a brand professional and an artist, Shannon keeps a blog. This episode, we bring the blog to life, revealing the messages of two fortune cookies, following her travels to Vietnam and covering and the hardest thing that Shannon ever had to face.


Kerri: Last time on ArtistCEO, Shannon was at her swanky job at a brand agency and simultaneously trying to maintain an artistic life. I wanted to find out what was going on in her head at the time, so I did some internet snooping and found her old blog. I found a lot of her creative writing there, but I also found the point where the creativity stopped in favor of work. Here’s a post from this time her life. It’s about...fortune cookies.

Shannon: After dinner one night I unwrapped the plastic cover of my dessert and cracked open my destiny: “Your life will be prosperous if you use your creativity.”

I should be happy about this fortune-received, but I’m not — and it’s not just because I’ve acquired a $150/week to-go Chinese food habit while living the single professional life — which leaves me feeling neither “prosperous” nor “creative,” let me tell you.

The fortune didn’t mean much to me at first. I pinned it up on my “Chinese Fortune Cookie Board” and forgot about it. Yes, I have a “fortune cookie board.”

But over the past few weeks I’ve found a growing knot of tension chewing on my rib bones. Here’s the problem: I’ve been liking working a little too much lately — to the point of… I’m starting to worry I’m turning into one of those “workaholic” rather than “creative” types.

This past weekend when a friend invited me out I responded, “Nah, I don’t really think I’ll join you at the beach. I’ve got a lot of, um, emails to write.”

I’ve let my job become an addiction of sorts — an addiction that has served as a nice distraction from some other more pressing issues. Like, why have I let email replace writing fiction? Why have I traded client meetings for sleep? Why haven’t I applied for that writing program I was going to apply for?

And then suddenly I found that damn fortune staring me in the face last night.

“Your life will be prosperous if you use your creativity.”

“Fuck that!” I said out loud. “I’m going to open up a new, more relevant fortune!”

So I grabbed for a new cookie to prove that my life and fortune had NOTHING to do with being creative and I certainly was not being defensive and was not in the least bit scared.

It read: “Being aware of your fears will improve your life.”

Kerri: And as it turns out, becoming aware of her biggest fear did improve her life, but it took her on a path she didn’t expect. Facing burnout that turned into a full-blown health crisis, she left her job in San Francisco and traveled to Vietnam, where she was determined to re-find her sanity and her creative soul. Here’s how she described her first nights there.

Shannon: Here, I am instantly foreign. I am staying in the nha qùe (“countryside”) where there is no tourism infrastructure, clean water, or for that matter, a mattress.

I sleep on a hard bamboo mat. As my friend and host Bắc was hanging up my mosquito net and handing me a pillow, she looked at the bed and asked if I would like something softer to sleep on. I replied “Yes, that might be nice.” She handed me a sheet.

Kerri: Her journal describes herself as a fish out of water, re-learning how to live and to do almost everything. She describes trying to be a vegetarian within the culture, learning how to cross the street with no traffic lights, getting sick with the local illnesses and falling in love with Vietnam on a bike. She doesn’t go just once, but several times over the course of a few years for several months at a time. Between trips, her brother dies suddenly. When I read this section of Shannon’s blog, my eyes fill up with tears. I don’t want to go where she’s taking me, into the grief. And I don’t want to lead you all there either, but I think I have to. Just a little bit.    

Shannon: This is the time when the shock wears off and the nauseating reality sets in. When in the middle of sending a fax you look down to realize you are about to send your credit card information over to pay for a cremation…you are paying by VISA.

No person, at 26 years old, should have to decide how to ‘process’ her brother’s body as calmly as deciding paper or plastic. And when the newspaper says it’ll be an extra $200 to run the obit on Sunday…how does a family say ‘no’?

For the rest of my life, I have to live with the knowledge that while I was reading a New Yorker and drinking kombucha from a wine glass, my brother was lying dead in his garage.

These are the things no one talks about during the grieving process, and these are precisely the things that bare the meanest bite.

At night, I close my eyes and try not to return to that scene, that dreadful scene, where the police officer turned his head in my direction, enraging in his ease, descended down the front stairs of my brother’s house, and, before he ever reached me, before he ever opened his mouth, I knew what he was going to say.

Kerri: I can’t imagine losing a sibling. I’ve never really dealt with loss so close, but Shannon has faced it more than once and groggily found her way out through writing, writing and more writing. She did a writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg and successfully completed National Novel Writing Month. It seems like during her time away from branding, just living life, Shannon found a deeper part of herself and her writing voice. Here’s one last piece I found on the blog.  

Shannon: There’s something that happens when tragedy slays you like a harpoon. You split. A chasm erupts right down your middle, and you die, momentarily.

When my brother died, I died.

And then, you are not reborn, but you rebirth yourself. You create anew and see life as if you are seeing it for the first time.

This new vision hurts.

But one thing becomes perfectly clear: There is no purpose to life but the purpose you give it.

My brother’s death ruined me. My brother’s death saved me.

Kerri: Shannon went back to Vietnam a final time for three months and decided to live there, teaching english for $20 an hour, meditating, learning Vietnamese…just being an artist (and every now and again trying to get her hands on an Inc. or Wired magazine.) In the midst of doing all of this soul searching, she got a call from Silicon Valley.

Shannon: And so I came home.

Kerri: Next time on ArtistCEO, you’ll hear about the woman who got Shannon back into branding, what happened when Shannon attempted the life of a commercial actor and the humble beginnings of her current company, House of Who. To hear it, make sure you subscribe in iTunes. And if you like what you hear, leave us a review! The music is by CF Watkins at cfwatkins.com. This is an Arthouse of Who production. My name is Kerri Lowe - signing off.

Kerri Lowe