I’m always pleasantly surprised when I realize that someone I thought I knew turns out to be so much more than I could ever have imagined.
Shellie Meeks is my technical producer and board operator at iHub Radio in Palm Springs. I always feel supported when her face is on the other side of the console. Shellie is pleasant, diligent and determined to work around an often-debilitating case of fibromyalgia.
I thought I knew her—and then one day, I was blown away. My subject was witches, and I was quoting statistics about how many (mostly) women were killed in just a year’s time in Salem, Mass., at the end of the 17th century. Off the top of her head, Shellie asked if I knew that 60,000 so-called witches were killed throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.
Who knows something like that?
Shellie Meeks, 40, has lived in Joshua Tree with her husband, Cary, for about two years. She grew up in a military family, and her early years were spent mostly in the Pacific—in Okinawa, Japan, and Guam. Her mom, Annie, ended up at the Pentagon, and her dad (specifically, her stepdad who adopted her at age 8), a former B-52 pilot, settled the family, including Shellie and her two brothers, in Virginia.
After graduating from high school in 1995, Shellie had to work to be able to go to college.
“It took me 10 years to get my B.A.,” she says. “I attended George Mason University, and worked sometimes three jobs to pay for it. I was originally studying to be a photographer, but I had to take two art-history classes—and I got hooked. I switched my major to art history.
“I remember when I was about 11, in Guam, I had a teacher who showed us a film … that was set in ancient Egypt. I never forgot it. I also loved museums when I was a kid, and living for so long in the Far East, I really got into Japanese art and culture.”
A favorite professor contacted Shellie after she finished her degree, to let her know they were starting a master’s degree program for art history. She jumped back in. “It was hard and grueling, but awesome!”
A professor in the master’s program, whom Shellie describes as “one of my best friends ever,” exposed Shellie to East Indian art. “It was amazing to see such a different style than I’d ever seen before. He opened a world to me I could never have imagined.
“He was one of the first people who actually said how much he believed in me. It changed my life.”
Shellie’s work life has included a stint as a country-music DJ in Virginia while she was attending the Columbia School of Broadcasting, interning as part of her degree path. “I got part of my tuition paid by taking the placement. They told me it wouldn’t pay much, but would be good experience. The station was run by a guy named ‘Cousin Ray’ who had been in that industry since the 1930s and knew all the country stars from that period. It was interesting and educational, and I enjoyed it, but the pay was less than minimum wage. I was working two jobs just to survive.”
When her mom retired, Shellie’s parents started a business involved with government contracts, and Shellie worked with them for a time. While doing so, she met Cary Shaffner, to whom she has been married for 12 years. “We met in early 2006, and married that December.”
In addition to her work on my show, Shellie also appears on iHub Radio daily at 4 p.m. on The Laura Meeks Show, along with her dad—originally named Laurence, but now known as Laura.
“It’s actually kind of a funny story,” she recalls. “The day I found out about my dad was the same day I had just gotten fired. My brain was focused on that when I got home. I got to the top of the stairs and walked into the kitchen, and there was this blonde woman sitting at the table. I thought, ‘That’s my dad.’ I don’t know where it came from, but I said, ‘Blonde isn’t really your color. You should think about getting a different wig.’
“I had never heard of transgender, but it wasn’t like the world was ending. I just thought, ‘This is really interesting.’ It doesn’t really bother me. She’s still my dad. I found out what being transgender means, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that’s a thing.’
“When I realized my parents weren’t getting a divorce—my mom’s been fine with it, and they’ve been married 35 years—I enjoyed that I could show Laura how to wear high heels and do makeup. It was actually fun. Dad was always very male, macho and military, and Laura allowed him to show his kindness and humor. It brought us closer together.”
Shellie finished her grad degree in 2013, and she and Cary moved to the desert area from Pennsylvania five years ago. She still plans to get her doctorate and wants to teach art history.
“They keep cutting humanities programs—art, philosophy, history—and I want to educate people about how important it is to study these disciplines. I value my ability to use my brain. We can’t progress and understand each other without exposure to the humanities.”
Shellie hopes to have the chance to see the art she has been studying for so long. “I want to see Europe and India, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Parthenon in Greece.
“We have ancient influences even in our current culture, from television to comic books, and we need to understand those influences and how they impact us, often without our even knowing it. We need to be able to see everything in a completely non-judgmental way. It’s so important.”
Shellie Meeks reminds me that we not only need to understand how the past has influenced the present, but also to be willing to expose ourselves to things we might not even know exist—and do it with acceptance and without judgment.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.