Shannon Kelley's photo shoot was staged looking out a window of her home at the last minute when Rosie, the literally mad dog, would not allow the cameraman access inside the house. (May 16, 2014)
Paul Wellman

I first met Shannon Kelley 11 years ago while she “peeped” the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for this newspaper. A cross between Louella Parsons, Dorothy Parker, and Carrie Bradshaw, Shannon was gracefully juggling a camera around her neck, a note pad in one hand, and a glass of red wine in the other.

With a twinkle in her eyes, Shannon always sports a mischievous smile that informs you right away she’s looking for something irreverent to hear, say, or do. She’s that little devil on your shoulder encouraging you to get into trouble and have fun while you’re at it. The most self-deprecating person I know, Shannon makes me laugh out loud consistently more than anybody else. Her email exchanges are to be treasured, for example: “And I hope I don’t sound like a total idiot, although — hey, it’s part of my charm.”

A successful writer with articles in many national publications as well as our own Santa Barbara Independent, where she’s been a staff editor multiple times, Shannon also co-wrote a book with the longest title (Undecided: How To Ditch The Endless Quest For Perfect and Find The Career — and Life — That’s Right for You) that brims with her concise wisdom. Bogart and Hemingway would have been totally smitten by her.

Shannon procrastinated from meeting all her pressing publishing deadlines to answer the Proust questionnaire.

What is it you like most about your job?

Well, I’m a Gemini and the joke is that we’re jacks of all trades and masters of none. (Which is really just a nicer way to say ADD.) But being a writer suits me in that way: I absolutely love that my job lets me dig into all kinds of subjects, talk to all kinds of people, learn a little bit about a million different things. And I (mostly) enjoy the challenge of taking a story that exists — I like to imagine — somewhere in the deep recesses of my head, and trying to extract it via my fingers on a keyboard. I love that I’ve had the opportunity to get paid to write about stuff that I’m passionate about: food, feminism, politics. And how could I not love “peeping” the film festival every year, particularly when I get to meet, oh, just to pick a random example, Leonardo DiCaprio? Cute as you want him to be! And nice too!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Well, there’s this quote I love: We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements in life, when all we need to be truly happy is something to be enthusiastic about. That’s always really resonated with me. Feeling happy to me is synonymous with feeling engaged and inspired.

What is your greatest fear?

Being really sick or injured or losing my mind. But more practically: boredom, having nothing to do, is the worst; it’s the absolute kiss of death for me.

Who do you most admire and why?

I don’t know — depends on whom I last talked to! Seriously, I could name 10 people right now.

But I’ll tell you a story that is fresh in my mind. I just came back from this big huge family-reunion-type party. My parents and a bunch of their friends from college have thrown this big party every year for 40-something years — it’s called Aries — and it gets bigger every year, with all the “kids” (my generation), more friends, bigger families, and it’s just a great big rollicking lovefest. So many of the people have come to feel like family, it’s really an awesome blessing.

One woman recently came through on the other side of a battle with breast cancer — sporting a clean bill of health, and the hugest, most radiant smile you could imagine. When I — or anyone — asked her how she was doing, her response was, “Once you go through something like that, you realize, life is amazing. And once you get that, there are no bad days.”

I just love that. And I think it’s so wise: life is a big fat freaking miracle. Every day is a miracle. Ain’t no time to hate! (Yes, Aries bears a bit of a resemblance to a Grateful Dead show.) Anyway, how could you not admire that attitude? We were joking that we want to bottle a little bit of her juju up so we could sprinkle it onto our oatmeal every morning.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Spending an entire day reading. (I should add: books! I’m the person who still buys books on the regular, and I’m sort of fanatical about it. Books are important! Buy books!) Also, I get pedicures pretty regularly. I run, so my feet get beat up, so I feel like it’s sort of a public service, and I feel obliged to tip very well, too.

What is your current state of mind?

Well, I’m about to get on a plane for New Orleans, my favorite place on earth. So my current state of mind is pumped. With a hint of the standard angst over whether I’ve packed properly.

What is the quality you most like in people?

I love people who are unapologetically themselves. People who are interested in the world and ideas and life. People who don’t take themselves too seriously — if you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re in for one unpleasant ride. I for one am well aware of the fact that I am a complete fool!

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

People who come at everything from an attitude of negativity or anger or woe-is-me. Sure, you can always find a way to frame things that way, but why on earth would you want to? It doesn’t take any additional effort to come at things with a smile on, you know? Arrogance, close-mindedness, and superficiality are total turn-offs, and bad grammar is like a repellant. I can’t help it; it’s a hazard of the job!

What do you most value in friends?

People who are honest — the common thread among my friends is that they’re real; they don’t blow sunshine or pretend that everything is all rainbows and unicorns if it isn’t, and nothing is taboo. They’re the people with whom I’ve had those magical conversations that are so engrossing, hours pass without anyone noticing. But they are also hilarious, irreverent, open-hearted, and perpetually up for a good time.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Well, I’ve been told my laugh is rather recognizable — not sure if that’s a compliment or not, though! I’m generally up for adventures: flying to meet a pal in Portland to drive with her back down to Southern California after a bad breakup, hitchhiking across Egypt, jumping out of planes. And I don’t have much of a filter. I will totally say that thing. I like to think this is charming. But I’m probably wrong.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Solid. Awesome. Obviously. Delightful. Sweet. Magical. I pray I have outgrown Like. At least I’ve stopped quoting Back to the Beach (for the most part). And yes, I realize I just confessed to the director of the Film Festival that I have Back to the Beach memorized. But, um, you know, yay Citizen Kane!

Which talent would you most like to have?

The talent of organization. I try, but it does not come easily. I would also like the talent of being taller than I am.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Where should I start? I would be a couple of inches taller! Also, I could stand to be more patient. And less distractable. And I could also be a little less critical of myself. I should probably not eat chocolate for breakfast so regularly. (But it’s dark chocolate, so it’s healthy!) I would eradicate the tic that forces me to make horrible awful ugly faces whenever a camera is pointed in my direction. Oh wait, do I have to pick one?

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Writing a book with my mom was a pretty big thing — it was a huge project, and we got it done, and turned it in like a whole 10 minutes before our deadline! (And, perhaps most impressive, we’re still speaking! And actually in the early stages of another one.) But hopefully my greatest achievement is yet to come.

Where would you most like to live?

Well, while I was in the Bay Area for Aries, I wanted to move there. My family is there, and whenever I’m there, I want to move there for good. But this happens regularly — if I’m somewhere awesome and having a good time, I’m like, I could totally live here! When I was in Kenya last year, I was like, I don’t want to leave!

But my real answer is New Orleans. I’ve been having a torrid love affair with the place for years. It’s so rich; you can feel its soul in a way — it has all this torment in its past and that darkness flavors everything, but it also is more in touch with joy than anywhere I’ve ever been. The mix of people is awesome, too, and the people there operate with zero pretense. There’s always a place — and a reason — to dance. And don’t even get me started on the food. That would be the one problem with living there: I don’t think my clothes would fit for long. But, with all the dancing, it might work.

What is your most treasured possession?

My passport. My running shoes. Whatever book I’m engrossed in at the moment.

Who makes you laugh the most?

My dog. She’s completely insane — many people in town will attest to this, by the way — but also hilarious. She has designated herself Neighborhood Hall Monitor, and she takes her job quite seriously. And if you howl, she’ll howl with you — allegedly she’s part hound — Oww oww owww! When she gets going, it’s hard to stop laughing.

What is your motto?

Wherever you go, there you are.


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