“We all want to be something better than we are.” – Sarah Silverman
Over the last few weeks, we’ve grown accustomed to meeting Shelton Bumgarner online at KaF, Blab, and Periscope. Shelton is generally mild-mannered, if not actually stumbling over his words, as he expresses a thought – if not completely reserved and quiet on cam. He is, though, a prolific writer, specializing in what he calls micropoetry, along with songs, and more full-length poems. He has also written a screenplay and an extended account of his adventures overseas while teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in South Korea, and living among other ESL teachers in country.
Shelton has a degree majoring in Mass Communications with a concentration in Journalism. While in Korea, he and his partner Annie Shapiro, started the magazine ROKon for the expat (expatriate: a person who lives outside their native country) community in Korea where he was co-founder and publisher. Rather than wallow in self-pity, Shelton joins the ranks of other KaF members Isme, Claire, DNN Staff members, and a few others, who have creatively put (digital) pen to paper for more than just a page or two.
“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” – Thomas Jefferson
Initially, many at KaF found that Shelton, as he was presented to us on screen, was ambiguous with the person who seemed to be under the “packaging” that he was attempting to project. Upon his first on-cam appearance at KaF, Shelton quickly described himself as an “ENTP” in Myers-Briggs (a personality type assessment survey) classification type that would indicate a clearly extroverted personality. However, many in chat who were familiar with the term and MBTI classifications quickly countered that assessment. Suggesting that Shelton was actually more INFP or INFJ in personality – which is an introverted, feeling, quiet, type personality. It was a fleeting discussion at the time, but pointed to an underlying uncertainty that was difficult to resolve the more we learned about Shelton on subsequent appearances, appearances that spawned the impetus of this interview with Shelton.
Unfortunately, last week, Shelton learned that his long-time friend, Anne Shapiro, who was also a fleeting former girlfriend, roommate, object of Shelton’s lasting obsessions, and co-publisher of the magazine he helped start in Korea, was found dead on a beach in northern California under mysterious circumstances. Her death occurred during the morning hours of Wednesday, January 7th, 2016.
[CLEAR CIDER]: First, condolences on your loss of a long-ago friend, Anne Shapiro.
In your recent “eulogy” written to her, you hint at being somewhat obsessed with Annie, and from your writing and our research, I take away that her position was not so much equally dedicated to just you. Is that a fair statement? How would she describe your relationship with her?
[SHELTON BUMGARNER] From about April 2007 to maybe 2013 I was absolutely obsessed with Annie, but it was never creepy or abusive. I never actively stalked her or wanted to harm her. In other words, I just thought about her all the time constantly. It is difficult to explain how this “obsession” manifested itself. I did a lot of writing about her, our magazine (ROKon), and I produced a lot videos on YouTube about the magazine, her and us together – I have since now deleted them as some small attempt at closure.
But, it all came from the fact that I didn’t get any closure with the magazine at the time. I felt that my obsession was, really, more about the magazine than Annie, anyway. At the height of my mania, alcoholism, and out of control ego, my own staff dismissed me from the magazine I created, and so, at that time, my version and vision of the magazine ended. I was totally overwhelmed by what had happened with the magazine. It took my mind years to process this experience. It didn’t help my mental state that the magazine kept going on for a year without me.
Admittedly, it really wasn’t until I discovered Blab, Periscope, and other social video media outlets back here in the States during July of 2015 of this last year, that I actually began to forget about the magazine, Korea, and Annie completely. To this day, I still “think” a lot about Annie, but I don’t really “feel” about her that much, if that makes any sense to you and your audience.
[CLEAR] You say the relationship was “emotionally abusive” and she gave you little respect. Can you be more specific on what actually happened?
[SHELTON] Annie Shapiro was my own personal Vietnam War. During 2007, the two of us waged a pitched battle in the expat community in Seoul to see who could hurt each other the most emotionally. We did it quite publicly; to such a great extent that many in the expat community knew about it.
For example, on her birthday in 2007, she threatened to throw my glasses off the side of her rooftop of our apartment patio, and then she kicked me out of her birthday party altogether – only to ask me to come back later. I won’t go into specific details but she attempted to kill herself a short while later. I must note that when she abruptly left Korea late 2007, after she tried to kill herself, I tried to be by her side and help her. I never wanted any physical harm to come to her.
[CC] When did you last have actual contact with Annie or her family? What did you discuss at the time? Were you aware of Annie’s recent episodes of depression and mental health issues?
[SB] My last contact with her was maybe August 2015 actually. I tried to get her come on Blab. She just called me “whacky.” I had no idea that she had any mental problems or was going through any recent issues. I had some vague notion she was living in northern California, but I didn’t know the specifics during my last contact with her.
[CC Obtained Sheriff’s Report. Excerpt:] The decedent in this case has been identified as 33 year old Anne Nicole Shapiro of Little River CA. The decedent was last seen on 1-7-16 around 5:00 AM at Redwoods Manor, a residential psychiatric facility in Willits, CA. Shapiro was reported missing at 8:00 am by the facility. The decedent’s body was later discovered at 11:58 AM on the beach at MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg, CA – some 45 miles away.
Shapiro did not own or possess a vehicle. This person had been experiencing mental health issues and had been staying in the Willits area temporarily. The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office is requesting the public’s assistance in determining how the decedent traveled from Willits to Fort Bragg. Anyone with any information is encouraged to contact the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. –end
“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” – Mother Teresa
[CC] Currently, the Mendocino County sheriff has no solid leads on how Annie died, but they are suspecting foul play, either by someone she knew or by hitchhiking. Her last known location was at a facility for mental health care. Were you aware of any problems that Annie was going through? How do you think Annie wound up in this personal distress? Did she ever exhibit behavioral or personal problems when you were in her presence?
[SB] Annie was weird. She was probably one of the most unique individuals that I’ve ever met. She once randomly shaved her head for no reason, for instance. There is absolutely nothing anyone might say or imagine about how she could have gotten into such a situation that would surprise me. There are specific things I might suggest later, but I don’t want to speak ill of Annie at this time.
[CC] DNN News Staff investigated and found that you were actively Tweeting, Blabbing, and Periscoping throughout the morning of January 7th from your home. So we thought you’d be glad that we could pass that on to our reader audience, for those that seemed to have some doubts, during last week’s KaF show where Annie’s death had been discussed.
In any event, how would you characterize your past experience in Korea overall? Specifically as an English teacher to elementary aged children, working at the Korea Herald, ROKon, Marmot, etc.?
[SB] For me, one of the crazy aspects of my story is how everything kept breaking our way during the course of it during the beginning. In the first few months of the ROKon magazine’s existence, we were extremely lucky. Things just seemed to fall together. I met Annie. Annie used her people skills to get others involved and away we went.
While I had a blast in Seoul, I also felt completely alone much of the time. It didn’t help that I lost my mind twice. The whole losing my mind thing, the psychotic episodes which I know we are getting to here later, were probably the worst part of it all. I really can’t say much more than that.
[CC] Would you now like to go into more detail on what caused your actual departure from Korea? Expats have told us that you had your own depressive episodes and mental breakdowns, not showing up for work for weeks, “a lost soul”, and generally dismissive of all those who tried to help you. Would you care to elaborate on your side of those stories?
[SB] Yes. I was, and maybe still am, “a lost soul”, as you say, Clear. That is a very good and almost perfect reference. To explain what happened in detail would take a long time. It would probably take a few thousand words to tell the full story here.
“The only way to be a novelist, to think that you can create something others will give themselves up to for a dozen hours or more, is to have psychotic self-belief.” – Nicola Griffith
[Shelton provided me with an exuberant number of video and written text sources that went into teeming detail about and surrounding the events leading up to his mental breakdowns, his psychotic episodes, diagnosis, and ensuing mental illness. With Shelton’s permission, I’ve compiled and written a much smaller general synopsis of the events, which follows below. My apologies in advance for any misconstrued fact that may have not fallen in exact chronological order as I documented it below. – CC].
Shelton is a 42-year old male, single, currently unemployed. He has had many menial jobs since returning from South Korea, though admittedly he concedes that he’s not had what he would call “a real job” in over 4 years following the last events that happened in Korea. Shelton admits to suffering from mental illness and to being an extreme introvert in daily life. While discussing his episodes and current mental illness, Shelton interjects, “I don’t usually want to talk about my mental illness, because it is a conversation killer with almost anyone I’m talking to.”
Shelton admits to having bipolar disorder, knows he purposely keeps most of it an internal secret from others, and verbalizes the feelings of having an intimate shame for his condition. He has expressed having issues with sadness and depression starting around 28 years old. While admitting that he has it in control now, he also professes to having been an alcoholic for over 15 years straight, self-medicating his depression, as it were. During his ESL (English as a Second Language teacher) assignment in Korea, he admits his ego became out of control, and he “turned into a raging asshole” during his ROKon magazine period.
“I know that one day I will drop dead and fall into the blackness.” – Shelton Bumgarner
However all of these detrimental personality traits finally paid their price, as he was fired and ousted from his own magazine by the then existing staff, leaving his once partner Annie in charge. In limbo after the firing, with the complete loss of the magazine that he had created, Shelton went to work for a children’s newspaper in Korea; however, he maintained a slow boil and simmering anger under a passive facade for over a year afterwards. He was extremely angry and felt that his friend, and ROKon magazine co-founder, Annie Shapiro and her friends, had conducted a personal campaign against him. “It was very cathartic to wallow in self-pity and dwell on what happened with the magazine.”
Shelton had two major psychotic events, resulting in severe mental breakdowns requiring hospitalization, during two separate work visa employments while in South Korea. “My story is pretty Shakespearean, in what happened to me because of the combination of booze, obsession, and women.”
Shelton’s first mental breakdown occurred due to extreme mental stress, depression, and overwhelming sadness due to the loss of his friendship with Annie and the loss of his founding magazine role. He just wanted to go home back to Virginia, and get away from everything going on in Korea. So, instead, he listened to the voices that were talking directly to him in his head, and went to Japan to get somewhat away from Korea. Shelton wandered the Tokyo airport alone for days listening to these “voices in my head, not knowing what to do, not knowing where to go.”
Friends on Facebook notified Shelton’s sister back in the US upon learning that Shelton was wondering aimlessly about the Tokyo airport terminals. She intervened after being notified, but Shelton doesn’t remember entirely what happened looking back on it all. Shelton recalls that he was later diagnosed as a having had a major schizophrenic event. His sister took him back home to the US from Japan.
“It is often safer to be in chains than to be free.” – Franz Kafka
His sister was not completely aware of how serious the situation was at the time unfortunately. She came home from work one day afterwards, and found that Shelton was wandering the streets and dangerously walking in the middle of highway traffic, while again listening to the maddening voices in his head who had reintroduced themselves.
She sought help for Shelton by attempting to have him committed to a psychiatric hospital. She successfully received judicial orders for a “5150” (involuntary psychiatric hold; danger to self) and “5250” (an extension hold) for Shelton based on her testimony and his now diagnosed psychotic episodes. Shelton doesn’t recall – or doesn’t want to discuss – the episode and the events incurred during his first psychiatric hospital confinement. Shelton mentions that his psychiatric health benefits from his insurance coverage expired after four weeks, and he was “soon released after 3-4 weeks with various antipsychotic drug prescriptions.”
“Who knows what true loneliness is – not the conventional word but the naked terror? To the lonely themselves it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion.” – Joseph Conrad
Somehow, as Shelton explains, he was able to convince his family to allow, and for a different Korean ESL employer to issue him a new work visa back to Korea a short while later. Shelton’s second break in reality occurred on his 35th birthday while again in Korea on his second stint as an ESL teacher there. He had attempted to put Annie, the magazine, his kindling continual rage, and the prior situations in Seoul from the first episode, behind him. He thought he had a new life with new woman named Venus, who he met beforehand during his previous work on the magazine. Shelton moved in with Venus shortly after reestablishing a friendship with her.
The very next morning after moving in with Venus, the new, black, refrigerator in their fresh apartment set off the second explosive psychotic episode. Shelton heard voices from the refrigerator, talking directly to his soul, during another major schizophrenic episode. Shelton doesn’t recall much of what happened, other than running frantically around the apartment and climbing the walls for hours as the menacing voices inside his head talked to him.
Venus, friends, and the US Embassy intervene this time, and they end up taking Shelton to a local psychiatric ward in a Korean mental health institution. Shelton recalls the absolute hell of being there based on the fact that “there were no English speaking staff at all on duty during this lockdown”. He was hospitalized for nearly two months; Shelton speaking no Korean, and no Korean caregiver in the hospital speaking any English. Hospitalized, but finally stabilized with new meds, he is finally released. He was then immediately deported back home to the US since he was in direct violation of his work visa, having no job now.
“The way I look at it, a man’s worst demons are the ones he creates for himself.” – Michael Harryn
Back to the present, recent, days … Shelton admits that he’s been in limbo for years now after these debilitating events, until this very day. He currently lives with 52 year old sister in her spare bedroom. We’ve all seen the room, the room with the mysterious boxes piled up behind him as he Blabs, Periscopes, or Spreecasts.
Shelton ponders about his current inactivity and lack of fulfilling employment. He debates with himself internally if this situation is due to his medications – or that he simply just doesn’t care to work. His last actual job, earlier in 2015, as fry cook at fast food restaurant ended as the staff there continued to yell at him, chastise his work ethic, and his lack of speed of getting things done correctly. Shelton eventually decided he had had enough of it, and says that he quit. He now spends most of his time since then writing poetry, blogging, Tweeting, Periscoping, and Blabbing on the Internet.
Today, when reflecting on his healthcare situation, Shelton laments that he has no health insurance to depend on; he has to rely on charity organizations for his current anti-psychotic medications, along with county social services psychiatrist visits, and support from his older sister. However, further exasperating the situation, Shelton says that his sister is “very upset that I spend all day on the Internet”, and she complains that he is overall very non-productive, though she still helps and supports him.
“I won’t say that writing is therapy, but for me, the act of writing is therapy. The ability to be productive is good for my mental health. It’s always better for me to be writing than vegetating on some couch sleeping.” – Raymond E Feist
[CC] Continuing on here now, how close were you to an individual named Vadim Scott Benderman during your time in Korea? Can you explain your relationship with him? Do you know his current recent history?
I was not close to Vadim Scott, but I knew him in Seoul while I was there. People keep asking me questions about him, and I’ve given several interviews concerning him. He’s now in prison in Vietnam, sentenced for over four years I think, because of pedophilia charges with underage teenage males. He has had a string of sexual convictions in many countries over the years.
When I knew him, Vadim always had groupies and stuff; he had women specifically who would make a beeline to him because they knew him. He was always nice to me, but the more I knew about him, the less I wanted to hang out with him. His foreign escapades and criminal offenses are all over the Internet these days.
[CC] Our sources indicate that the expat community in Korea had many issues with you personally and your writings about them. Can you explain their background and reasons for these feelings, as you see them?
[SB] Yes. I am probably one of the most hated people in the Seoul expat community because of many of the things that I said and wrote about them. I take responsibility for that, but it was cathartic in a sense. I knew I was never going back to Seoul when I wrote many of those things, and the memory of ROKon Magazine was still eating away at my soul at the time. I may not have been as fully aware of the goings on around me, the political climate, the entrenched values of the old-timers, and those I offended with my writings.
Other crazy things affecting me were the amount of sex, drugs, and partying going on all around us as during those times. So, in trying to explain that entire situation, I sat down and wrote about the whole story (except for details of losing my mind which I’ve now revealed to you here) to the fullest extent possible that I’ve given a copy of to you, Clear. Now, I am well aware that anyone could say that about any number of stories floating around out there on the Internet, but what happened to me in Seoul is one that I keep thinking about nearly 10 years after the fact.
[CC] Okay then, let’s wrap this up, so what is inside one of the mysterious boxes behind you? Can we take a peek into just one of them?
[SB] You’ve asked some very well-researched and great questions, Clear. This may be one of the best interviews I’ve ever participated in. Give me a moment. Okay, here are the contents of one of the boxes, picked entirely at random. I hope everyone reading this is not too disappointed, but as I’ve said many times to all of those that have asked, it’s just stuff my sister stores for all our nieces and nephews.
But, you get the exclusive, this is what is inside one of the boxes, and to be honest, all the others are pretty much the same kind of stuff.
[CC] Thanks for participating in this interview, Shelton, and for being extremely upfront and as honest as you could be. Do you have any closing comments or thoughts that you would like to add?
[SB] Annie was a special person, and I truly regret that we never had an opportunity to actually reconcile after all these years. I still can’t believe her death is real. I will never forget her, no matter what – but it’s finally time to move on, regardless of if I want to or not.
And I ask that the online community not be too cruel to me.
Links to the book and screenplay written by Shelton Bumgarner by permission
A Memoir of Love, Publishing, Obsession & Betrayal in Seoul 2006-2008
The Battle of the Old Free State. (Screenplay based on above)
UPDATE JAN 27, 2016:
OBITUARY FOR ANNE SHAPIRO
Anne Nicole Shapiro (Annie) was born on June 14, 1982 in Boulder, Colorado. She passed from this world on January 7, 2016 in Mendocino County, California. She is survived by her sister, Laura Kathryn Shapiro, her parents, Lois and Barry Shapiro, her grandparents, Natalie & Marshall Randall, grandmother Ruth Shapiro, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Annie, and her sister, Laura, grew up at the family home on Sugarloaf Mountain.
Annie attended Boulder Valley Public Schools and graduated from Boulder High School in June of 2000. She received her B.A. from Bard College in 2004. During this time, Annie traveled across China and studied calligraphy, Chinese culture, and Mandarin. After college, Annie lived in Seoul, South Korea for three years, where she served as an editor and reporter for the Korea Times, and taught English at Don Guk University.
In 2013, Annie moved to the Northern California Coast. Annie was a deeply creative artist, calligrapher, writer and poet. In Mendocino County, she worked as a reading coach in the public schools, volunteered in several capacities, and sang and performed with the Mendocino Woman’s Choir. She studied and practiced Buddhist meditation under the guidance of her teacher in the Bay area. What brought her the most meaning and joy were studying Dharma and attending meditation retreats.
Everyone who knew Annie was touched by her beautiful outlook of the world and the light, compassion and joy she brought to all she met. Annie suffered from bipolar disorder for many years. She tried to maintain her health against a challenging illness with the loving support of her family and local therapists and doctors. If you would like to make a donation on Annie’s behalf, you are invited to donate to: Mental Health America of Colorado, 1385 S. Colorado Blvd., Ste. 610, Denver, CO 80222.