Life Lessons from Mary Shannon: Season Three

I love the insightful thoughts from Mary Shannon at the beginning and end of each episode of IN PLAIN SIGHT. I was always looking for them but couldn’t find them all in one place. So I decided to create a “database” by typing them up as I watch and putting them all in this post. I hope others benefit from it too!


Episode 301 “Father Goes West”

I have this weird tendency to remember almost everything. Big, small, five minutes ago, thirty years ago; it doesn’t matter. If I saw it and if it happened on a day that mattered, I knew it forever. I always thought of it as kind of a curse. I mean, do I really need to remember what I had for breakfast May 11, 2007 just because I met a guy in a diner that I’m now gonna marry; denver omlette, extra cheese, or what shirt my dad was wearing two days before my seventh birthday when he walked out the door and never came back? White button down, navy pinstripe. No. But I do. I remember almost everything, except the one thing I have to.

We forget sometimes how much the world can hurt. It can hurt people we love, people we don’t, people caught in the middle, even people who would give anything if they could just never ever get to hurt again, but sometimes the hurt can’t be avoided. It’s just coming at us and can’t be stopped. It’s in us and can’t be seen, or it’s lying next to us in the dark, waiting but sometimes it doesn’t come at all. Sometimes we get this other thing that flutters down out of nowhere and stays just long enough to give us hope. Sometimes rarely, barely, but just when we need it the most and expect it the least, we get a break.

Episode 302 “When Mary Met Marshall”

There’s a researcher who claims he can tell if a couple is going to break up based on how they talk to each other. An ability I’ve had since I was five, without NIH funding. I just looked up at my parents and thought “nope.” It took a six figure gambling debt, an alcoholic spiral and an FBI manhunt before they finally came to the same conclusion. It can take many forms but the worst are the ones who should have known better. The ones who rushed in, got hitched and now they don’t know how to get out of it. They look like marmots, trapped in a cage.

Episode 303 “Coma Chameleon”

My dad once said time kills everything; hope, health, dreams, even love. He told me this on my birthday. I’d just turned six. Then he gave me my present, a pet rock, which I later used in an incident I’d regret. I’m not sure I got it at the time, but I get it now: everything we love is eventually murdered by the hands of time.

Some say love is the only thing we have that is real. Some say life would be a whole lot better without it. For me, the jury’s still out. I loved that pet rock my dad gave me because it was from him. Then I threw it at Robert Kwame. Hit him right in the temple. He went down like a Christmas tree in January. I loved Robert, I just wanted to make sure he knew it. I think he did. He ended up being my first kiss.

Episode 304 “Whistle Stop”

Help: the absolute worst of the four letter words and the one I know best. A six year old on tip-toes peering into Brandi’s crib, my mother on the bedroom floor, scrounging for the booze, that word coming out of their mouths as a gasp. Like destiny. Help. I’ve learned over time help doesn’t mean grab the other paint roller or hold the ladder still. It means, hey, I screwed up, now what are we gonna do? Help, more than anything, is the not so subtle herald of the appearance of we. Don’t even get me started on happy to help.

Help, every now and then, is something more than a four letter word. Sometimes it’s just a baby crying for her sister from the confines of a crib. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, help comes without asking, because somewhere nearby is someone who’d rather keep you from falling than help you up after you do.

Episode 305 “Fish or Cut Betta”

I like the sound of three word phrases. Fools rush in. Greed is good. Character is destiny. That one comes up a lot when a witness stares down the barrel of a whole new life. Documents, jewelry, snapshots; we take it all, and as much as I preach to them about a chance to start over fresh, I keep a stash of letters from a father who left and never came back. Witnesses can’t hang onto a stash of anything. They’re lucky we let them keep their secrets.

Character is destiny. For the chronic do-gooder, the happy-go-lucky sociopath, the dysfunctional family, under the gun everyone reverts to who they are. We may hunger to map out a new course, but for most of us the lines have been drawn since we were five.

Episode 306 “No Clemency for Old Men”

We moved on Christmas Eve the year that I turned six. Jinx got us some used 45s, a yard sale Big Wheel, and a patch of grass out back. She told me if I pedaled good and slow I could go anywhere I want. Anywhere extended only as far as our back yard, but still, it was freedom. A six year old’s version of the open road. That was probably the last vehicle I got really attached to. Until now.

We love what we love. For some people it’s a first grade crush. For others it’s a Big Wheel, the wrong guy, or the New York Mets. For some of us, it’s something unreachable, something we’ve maybe never had before, and we know that even if we reach it, even if we pull it close and make it ours, it won’t last. It can’t. But we keep on, because it doesn’t matter if it’s a Big Wheel, wrong guy, or the New York Mets, it doesn’t matter what we reach for, what matters is the reaching.

Episode 307 “Love’s Faber Lost”

When I was seventeen it was a not so very good year. I married a guy named Mark who was twenty-two. The whole thing lasted thirty-six hours. Seventeen, twenty-two, thirty-six. It didn’t add up. It’s hard to believe there was a version of me capable of diving head first into the shallow end like that. These days a guy buying me a drink kicks off an internal debate long enough to put my thirty-six hour marriage, however redundantly, to shame. After which, he’s moved on to someone else. Someone who is both presumably sane and thirsty.

I think about my short, impulsive teenage marriage more than I care to admit. When I was with Raph it would run on a loop, mocking me in bed every now and then. At the moment right when the lights go out. A continual reminder that when it comes to what Pat Benatar aptly called a battlefield, I should probably be locked in a cage during off hours, for my own good and that of unsuspecting suitors bearing gifts.

Episode 308 “Son of Mann”

“Father Figure” is a phrase as potent as “Mother Nature”. Say that out loud and the image flow from having a catch on the side of the yard, the screen doors slamming behind the deadbeat dad. For every “father knows best”, in Atticus Finch, there’s a Great Santini bouncing a ball at the head of his teenage son. One thing for sure the father figure, in your face or out the door, would make his presence felt. Like it or not.

For most kids, the scariest thing you can hear is, “Wait till your father gets home.” For some, there’s no fear of that or hope for it. I’m still waiting. Not like a puppy, head tilting at footballs on the porch or a key in the lock, I go about my days, every so often, aware of his absence. And telling myself that the heart, old adage aside, does not grow fonder. Except it does. It really, really does.

Episode 309 “Death Becomes Her”

Friendship, it’s been said, is God’s way of apologizing for your family. I don’t really subscribe to the God part, but if I did apologizing for family seems like the least he could do.

I can count the witnesses I’ve admired on a hand and a half. The ones I liked, fewer still. When it comes to those I was truly friends with I can’t put a number on it. I don’t need to. It’s just Mia. Someone who wouldn’t be around very long. I know somewhere a therapist’s couch beckons. Mia lived forty-two years. All she wanted in the end was to have made a difference in one life. She did. She absolutely did. I know what she’d say if she heard all this: “Oh, shut up.” Her version of rest in peace.

Episode 310 “Her Days Are Numbered”

Trusting anything, your family, your instincts, the dim-witted anchor on the ten o’clock news, its all a gamble, with plenty of promises and no guarantees, but I’m finding the longer I live, no matter how often I fall on my face, that folding is for losers. That winners take hits. Call it going all in, call it rolling the dice. Screw hedging your bets, bluff, raise, call, stand, again and again and again…

Episode 311 “The Born Identity”

I once dated a guy who loved the independence of living on his own; chugging from the carton in the middle of the night. He said the isolation was a trade-off he could live with. I thought I’d hit the mother lode. Then he told me he was going to clown camp.

Episode 312 “WITSEC Stepmother”

Split apart, reunited or adjusted for new conditions on the ground, family is a double edged sowrd. They are the best of times, the worst of times, your keys to the kingdom and the skeletons in your closet. If only we didn’t have to eat dinner with them.

Winston Churchill famously said that democracy is the worst form of government… except for all the others. The same goes for family. Or as we’d say on our side of the pond, nobody picks on my brother but me.

People say “you can’t chose your family.” What you can do is look deeper than the dinner table, beyond the DNA and redefine the word. No one knows that better than I do.

Episode 313 “A Priest Walks Into A Bar”

I am what many would call, often as accusation, a non believer. It’s a charge I consider unfair, because all of us, no matter the connection we feel or don’t, when sitting under the stars, or feeling the world closing in, doing what comes naturally or rearranging the furniture, all of us believe in something. I believe in many things. I believe in first impressions, and second chances. For strippers, priests, and hopeless, hapless sisters. I believe in telling the truth to the people you love at every possible turn. And lying, just a little, at what seems the appropriate time. I believe in finding people you’d run through a brick wall for, and making sure they know it, if not in so many words. But mostly, I believe in justice… sweet, street and otherwise. Justice. That’s my church.

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Heather is a recent West Coast transplant and can't remember what humidity feels like. She spends most of her time (& money) watching movies, marathoning TV shows on DVD, attending concerts, reading, eating vegetables, attending conventions (San Diego Comic-Con, New York Comic Con, Dragon*Con so far!), blogging about her quarter-life crisis, downing coffee and traveling the world. She likes comic books, photography, reading on the Metro bus and wearing cold weather clothes despite the actual temperature in Southern California.

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