The Right to Love and Be Loved

I attended two weddings a week apart last September. Both were beautiful celebrations of each couple’s love. What struck me was the contrast between the two events. Betty and Chris are lesbians and had a Chicago Blackhawks-themed affair. Nick and Jacquie are straight and had a traditional fairytale style wedding (think Cinderella). Both were joyful and life-affirming. It’s wonderful how inclusive we are becoming about what constitutes a marriage in the United States. I couldn’t imagine comparing two occasions like this even five years ago.

Nick and Jacquie

Nick and Jacquie

“Marriage – gay and straight – is a gift to the world because the world needs more not less love, fidelity, commitment, devotion and sacrifice.” ~Rob and Kristen Bell, The Zimzum of Love

There was a time when same-sex marriage was not even a thought in my stratosphere. In my youth, homosexuality was kept so hush, hush I didn’t even know it existed until I was a 19-year-old art student. Getting over the shock that two members of the same sex could be lovers took a while for me. I was raised Catholic and soon learned that being gay was a sin in the eyes of the Church. Many branches of Christianity use scripture to condemn homosexuality. They strictly adhere to the Bible being God’s infallible word. When I realized the Bible accepted slavery, it left an opening for me to question the validity of words written two thousand years ago. I came to the conclusion to trust what my heart knew all along: we have a right to be who we are and to love who we love.

“Make no mistake, I am a Christian and I believe in God and I don’t believe he makes mistakes, so I believe that being gay is not a sin and in fact it’s how you’re made.” ~Kristin Chenowith

I’m a woman who was raised to believe she was flawed. Growing up, I was always larger than the other girls. My mother was disgusted with my pudginess and used it to make me feel “less than.” A body-obsessed society backed up her feelings toward me. Although soul crushing, growing up in that environment is what gave me compassion for gays. I knew homosexuality wasn’t a choice any more than my size was. It didn’t make sense that someone would choose a way of being in the world that would hold them up to ridicule. The bodies we are born into are no accident. Who we are is a gift.

“If God wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.” ~Johann van Goethe

Today is a new day. America is evolving and opening its arms in an ever broader embrace. I see it in the weddings I attend. Betty and Chris’s love was celebrated and as special as Nick and Jacquie’s. As Hillary Rodham Clinton observed, “Gay rights are human rights.” The legalizing of same sex marriage is our reclaiming of the truths written in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Once again, we the people have spoken.

Betty and Chris

Betty and Chris

This story also appeared on MariaShriver.com — THE most inspiring place on the web.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

 

Trust Your Inner Compass

Come on Buddy (2)

Always a seeker, my journey has now taken me in the direction of unraveling my self talk. By that I mean the voice in my head that is hell bent on me being a “good girl.” It’s the voice that shames, cajoles and judges everything I do. It’s been with me for as long as I can remember.

I’ve heard it said that when we are born our consciousness is like an unsullied computer. As life goes on program after program is downloaded onto our hard drives. Where do the programs come from? Our parents, the Church and the media, to name a few. All of these externals indoctrinate us with who to be and what to do. Without healthy, supportive parents (which I was not privy to) it’s nearly impossible to trust your inner voice. I have lived much of my life going into my head to reason away what I know to be true deep inside.

“And always let your conscience be your guide.” -Jiminy Cricket

When I was in grade school, I loved the Walt Disney movie, Pinocchio. In a song from it, “Give a Little Whistle,” Jiminy Cricket sang to Pinocchio to always let his conscience be his guide. The tune was catchy and gave grown ups the perfect opportunity to drum into us the importance of listening to our inner selves. The problem with that was our “conscience” had little to do with who we really were. It was located outside of ourselves in the rules and expectations of the adults who were trying to mold us.

Today, I am am learning to live by the dictionary’s definition of conscience, “an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior.” Contrary to what I was taught my conscience isn’t located in church dogma, family rules or societal standards. My conscience resides in my heart.

When people of my generation were born, we were dangled upside down and slapped on our bottoms to force us to breathe. Today we know that’s unnecessary. Taking our first breath is built into us. We do it automatically. I think the rest of our lives work that way, too. As adults, we don’t need outside forces directing our path. By allowing ourselves to trust our intuition, step by step, we will be shown the way. For children, living like this is second nature. Of course, as they are raised they still need to be guided and protected while paying heed to their individuality.

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” -Alan Alda

When I heard that Siena, the little girl in the above art, took her brother, Rhett, by the hand and said, “Come on buddy. Let’s go see the rest of the world” I thought, I want to be like her. Spontaneous. Free. I immediately set plans to illustrate the scene. As I worked on my watercolor, it dawned on me (as so often happens) that my need to paint the image was my way of working out more of my life lessons. As I put the finishing touches on the piece, I realized that I had successfully replaced some of the corrupted applications downloaded in my youth. And what would be the names of the new programs? Trust Yourself, Approach Life with Wonder, and It’s Safe to Explore. And so it is.

The real Siena with her mom Erika and her brother, Rhett (holding his favorite rock.)

The real Siena with her mom Erika and her brother, Rhett (holding his favorite rock.)

*Click here to buy a signed print of the art in this post.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Four Reasons to Self-Publish Your Children’s Book

Sharing my the books in my heart with children has been a dream of mine since childhood.

Sharing the books in my heart with children has been a dream of mine since my youth.

I wished more than anything in the world to be a writer. – J.K. Rowling

I’m a children’s book author and illustrator. I’m not alone in that. It seems like everyone I talk to has a picture book inside them just waiting to be written. We children’s writers are passionate people. We love words and have tales to share with the world. I have two picture books I wrote and illustrated that where transformed into iPad apps a few years back. Parents and their kids loved Glory in the Morning and Love You to the Moon and Back, so I decided to try to have them published traditionally. There is nothing like snuggling a child in your arms while reading them a storybook, right? Thus began a three year process of submitting my books to publishers and agents. Over and over again, they were turned down. Most of the rejections were sweetened with compliments about my art, but no one thought my stories were marketable. I had all but given up on my dream when I heard an interview with author Hugh Howie. He self-published his mega successful science fiction novel, Wool and sold it on Amazon. What really peaked my interest is when he explained how cost effective self-publishing can be today.

Here are some surprising things I’ve learned that may give you the push to walk through the indie publishing door:

1) These days it’s nearly impossible to break into the traditional publishing world. The main reason for this is that book companies need a certain number of sales guaranteed. They are in business to make money and with the high cost of advances and printing they’re much less willing to take risks. That means submissions from unknown authors, who lack a robust social platform, hardly gets a glance. Nowadays, most publishing houses only read manuscripts submitted by agents. Finding a literary agent is as difficult as finding a publisher, unless you are a celebrity, of course.

2)  Publishing houses expect authors to market their books. Book companies don’t do the marketing for their titles like they did ten years ago. No longer are authors assigned a publicist to arrange interviews and book tours. Authors are expected to do that themselves. They’re also expected to have a social media following to initiate sales. In light of that, I know of quite a few successful, traditionally published authors who have decided to self-publish and pour their social media energies into promoting their indie book.

3)  Amazon makes self-publishing easy and economical. Amazon has partnered with print-on-demand publisher CreateSpace. With no set up fees, all you need to do is upload your book to CreateSpace’s website to have it printed on demand (in America!) and sold on Amazon. This seemingly daunting task is made easy with all the help they provide. They give you access to all the tools needed to design a book cover and upload your manuscript in the proper file format. Any questions will be cheerfully answered by their around-the-clock, knowledgeable phone staff. Because I had the ability to create my own illustrations, the only money I had to put out was to have my book edited. It’s a great feeling to have a royalty placed in my account whenever one of my books is sold on Amazon.

4)  The power has been given back to the writer. If you have a story to tell, it’s a wonderful time to be alive. Self-publishing gives authors creative control. My gratitude runs deep for CEO Jeff Bezos of Amazon. From what I see, he is bending over backwards to support indie authors. He has given us the tools to take the stories that live in our hearts and put them into the hands of readers. He’s made it possible for me to publish my books when the cost of printing thousands of copies through offset printing was not an option for me. Now every time someone orders one of my books on Amazon, CreateSpace digitally prints and ships it to the purchaser at no cost to me. The only downside is there is no option to have hard cover editions made. I got past that disappointment when I remembered Beatrix Potter, author and illustrator of “Peter Rabbit” fame. After she couldn’t find a publisher, she decided to dip into her savings and self-publish her little gem of a book. The high price of printing made her settle for publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit with a color frontispiece and black and white interior woodblock engravings. After her book begin flying off toy store shelves, it was picked up by publisher Frederick R. Warne and made into the beautiful full color edition that is still in print today.

If you are a frustrated children’s author, ready to take a leap and see your story in print, I wish you much success on your journey. Who knows, maybe you will be the next big success story with publishing house representatives lined up at your door waiting to sign you on.

Reading an expensive hard cover copy of  "Glory in the Morning" before I discovered CreateSpace.

My niece and nephews reading an expensive, (I could only afford to have a few printed) hardcover copy  of “Glory in the Morning.” Today, thanks to CreateSpace and Amazon, an affordable version is in the hands of children across the country and across the ocean.

This story also appeared on MariaShriver.com — THE most inspiring place on the web.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Live From the Inside Out

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. -Steve Jobs

Live From the Inside Out

Live from the inside out. That’s my motto for the year. I have put the kibosh on following social convention and fulfilling other’s expectations. Living in a box of someone else’s making leaves little room for sharing your gifts with the world.

Over the years, I’ve learned to actually feel when my heart is speaking to me. It takes quieting the mind to discern the embedded whisper. Granted, many times I’ve ignored that guidance and gone into my brain. There is nothing like trying to reason your way to safety for a sense of false security. Being safe and being an artist do not go hand in hand.

I’m a firm believer that we are born to share our gifts with the world. The older I get the clearer it becomes that I’m just passing through this realm. That knowledge is what has brought me to the decision to take directions from within. Living from the inside feels risky until I consider the ticking clock. American author Erma Bombeck said,  “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me’.”

Allegra was the perfect model for my illustration. Living from the inside out is something she was born doing.

Allegra was the perfect model for my illustration. Living from the inside out is something she was born doing.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

 

Jeff Bezos and Amazon: Making Authors Dreams Come True

Reading By Lake

 It’s become popular these days to badmouth Amazon, but I happen to love Amazon and their CEO, Jeff Bezos, in particular. They are what made it possible for me, a 59-year-old author/illustrator, to share her books with the world. After my children’s picture book apps found an audience, I longed to see them in print. I submitted them to countless publishers and agents and most times never even received a rejection letter. Self-publishing was the only avenue left to get my stories into kids’ hands. Upon discovering the astronomical costs of that, my dream seemed doomed.
Choose yourself!  James Altucher
I thought having my apps made into books was hopeless until I heard an interview with author Hugh Howey. I learned that after being unable to find a publisher, he self-published his best seller, Wool, through Amazon. He explained that Amazon has partnered with print-on-demand company, CreateSpace. They make it possible for authors to upload their book files and have them printed on demand (in America no less). That means when one of my books is sold on Amazon, CreateSpace prints and ships it to the buyer, and I receive a royalty. The most amazing part of it is there are no upfront costs. The only downside for me was that the books are only available in softcover. It was easy to let go of my longing to have hardcover versions when I reminded myself of Victorian author/illustrator Beatrix Potter. She, too, decided to self-publish her childhood classic, The Tale Peter Rabbit, after having no luck finding a publisher.  Printing was so costly, Beatrix had to settle for a color frontispiece with interior black and white woodblock engravings. She was at peace with that because she knew the most important thing was to get her book into the hands of readers. I shared those same feelings about my stories. So as of November 2014, Glory in the Morning and Love You to the Moon and Back are for sale on Amazon. I’m happy to report that people are actually buying them for their children and leaving great reviews.
Love You to the Moon and Back, Sue Shanahan

Our grandson’s mother reading  “Love You to the Moon and Back” to him.

What’s dangerous is not to evolve.  Jeff Bezos
There is a lot of talk about the rise of Amazon being the downfall of the printed word. Yes, it’s true their online sales are shaking up book companies. With the digital age upon us, at some point that was bound to happen anyway. I believe the dismay in the publishing industry comes from Amazon giving the power back to the authors. Suddenly, the gatekeepers of the book world fear their relevancy and creatives have a voice. Many blame Amazon’s owner, Jeff Bezos, for the loss of jobs in publishing and the folding of bookstores. To me that makes about as much sense as being upset when Gutenberg’s printing press came on the scene because the monks who illuminated bibles would be phased out. Progress is a scary thing to the inflexible, but it always ends up expanding our lives.
As an author who was beginning to wonder if she was washed up, I’ve found a new day has dawned. No longer am I at the mercy of the powers that be in publishing. I am extremely grateful to Amazon for making it possible for me to share my stories with the world. Thank you Jeff Bezos for empowering artists. You’ve made it possible for us to choose ourselves and make our dreams come true.
My "Glory in the Morning" is Kendall's favorite book.

My “Glory in the Morning” is Kendall’s favorite book!

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

Calling Out My Angel

Maggie

Maggie

Every visible thing in this world is in the charge of an angel. – Saint Augustine 

I have to begin this post with a disclaimer: I know what comes next may sound crazy. Even so, it is my truth. Some months ago, my guardian angel was introduced to me in a dream. The image I saw was so vivid, it’s stayed with me ever since. I began toying with the idea of having her likeness made into a figure by a fine art doll-maker I came across on Etsy. Vilma is from Lithuania and her one-of-a-kind creations speak to me. I contacted her with my request and a description of the angel. In her reply she asked me to send her a sketch. For me, that’s not as easy as it sounds.

As an artist, my illustrations always stem from life, meaning I use photographic references. I may add magical elements to the piece, but they are always based on photos. I need to do that to get the realism that my muse demands. I was a little leery about drawing an image that lived only in my mind, but I decided to give it a shot.

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. – Michelangelo

Maggie Sketch

When my pencil rendering was finished, I posted it on my FaceBook fan page. I was surprised by how much interest it received. Quite a few of my followers said they were excited about seeing the finished art. Today is “ta-da” day, the day I’m sharing my angel with the world. I know the anatomy isn’t perfect but I’m satisfied that I’ve captured her essence.

Many people are curious about what I learned from my angelic encounter. First off. my guardian’s name is Margaret but I call her Maggie (which is fine with her). She has green eyes and auburn hair (that may explain my mini obsession with drawing and painting redheads).  As you can see, her robes are pink and coral, colors I would have never chosen on my own. Did you notice the star on the top of her head? She told me she wears it for special occasions such as Christmas, my birthday and the birthdays of those I love. I learned from Maggie that I share her with others in my life at times. By that, she meant if I’m concerned about someone she will do what she can to help. She also said that if I loved myself more it would make her job so much easier. That surprised me and has made me really work on how I treat myself. The most important thing she imparted to me is the more I invoke her help the freer she is to be a part of my life.

Getting Maggie’s likeness down on paper has made her real to me. It’s a comfort to feel her presence. I try and remember to ask her for guidance because she sees the big picture. I’m sure some who read this will believe I was given a gift while others will think I’m delusional. Sure, it’s occurred to me that my dream sprung from an overactive imagination. Then again, I just may have taken a peek into eternity. Whatever the cause for my guardian angel’s materialization, I’m going to go with it. Believing we are all watched over and guided makes life so much easier.

There exists another world, an invisible world, real as our own, it is all around us: it is peopled with angels: they travel with you and play a part in your lives. – Pope Pius XII

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

The New Year: Ready to Move On

The Heart of Christmas

“No one loves a Christmas tree on January first.” ― Erma Bombeck

Today the holiday season is officially over for me. It’s time to take the decorations down and store them in the attic until next year. Although I love Christmas, I’m always happy to move on. I long for the predictably of a routine in my life again. As an artist, I literally crave getting back to the drawing board. I’m ready to wipe the slate clean and start fresh..

I know many women feel the way I do. After all, we are the magic makers.  We own the task of making memories and are seldom acknowledged for our efforts. We begin December anticipating the cookie baking, decorating and gift buying, but by the time the 25th rolls around, most of us have had our fill.

Although I’m weary of the hype and work surrounding the season, I’m not tired of the celebration’s reason for being. The birth of Christ changed the world. This is the time of year his presence is hard to deny. There is something in the air that makes the world softer and people kinder. Some call it the Christmas Spirit, but I think of it as an energy field of love.

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Each January first, as I take our tree down, I’m reminded to let go of the past to make room for the new. When I pack up a box of vintage ornaments, there is one thing I’m always conscious about not putting on the shelf.  That is the joy that Christmas brings, the heart of the season. Is it possible to carry it with me throughout the new year? Without a doubt. Gratitude is what keeps it alive.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

The Gift Within the Gift

O Holy Night

“O Holy Night” © Sue Shanahan 2014

“To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth….is potentially to have everything.” ― Joan Didion

”O Holy Night” is my very favorite Christmas song, although, I never gave it much thought until I heard Mariah Carey sing it. Her version was so beautiful a chill traveled up my spine to the top of my head. Her voice made me really listen to the lyrics for the first time. They were stunning, and they made me wonder.

“O holy night the stars are brightly shining.

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Until He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Before the birth of Christ, the world muddled along in darkness. Humanity didn’t have the awareness or power to live any other way. Yet their hearts longed for more. The line, “Until He appeared and the soul felt its worth” connects the Nativity to the realization of who we are. We were valuable enough to have the son of God incarnate on our behalf. Mankind had been given a twofold gift. With the birth of Jesus came a power and energy like the planet had never seen. On top of that, we were given the grace to know we were worthy to receive it. The cage door had been flung open, and we had the self-worth to reach and take the hand offered to us. We needed a Savior and the world has never been the same since the day He appeared.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

My Christmas Wish

Christmas in the Blue Room

Christmas in the Blue Room

You gotta have a dream,

If you don’t have a dream,

How you gonna have a dream come true? 

― Rogers and Hammerstein, Happy Talk

I have a goal I visualize every year in December. I want to illustrate the White House Christmas card. My dream took root when I received a Christmas card from the Clinton’s in 1994. They began sending them to me after I created a portrait of their daughter, Chelsea. The card painted by Thomas McKnight, grabbed hold of me and I thought, “I want to do that.” Since that time, during each presidency, I’ve submitted card concepts to the Office of the First Lady for consideration. All the rejections I’ve received have been gracious and none have deterred me.

If I can dream of a better land,

Where all my brothers walk hand in hand,

Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true? 

― Walter Earl Brown, If I Can Dream

The full color rendering above is my favorite holiday card concept. It’s entitled, “Christmas in the Blue Room.” That’s were the official White House Christmas tree is displayed each year. I drew it when President Bush was in office.I couldn’t resist incorporating the Bushes’ dogs Spotty, Barney, and their cat, India, in my illustration.  I love the idea behind this piece. America’s children gathered around the official tree speaks of the melting pot of souls that makes our land great. That they are hand in hand signifies unity. We are all one in this country. Children are born knowing that but it often fades when they begin to model themselves after the adults in their lives. My art shows the beauty in the contrast of our citizens. It speaks of the innate love for each other that we’re born with. As adults, how do we cross the boundaries of fear and intolerance to join together in peace and friendship? The quickest way to get there is through the eyes of a child.

 A sketch I did during the Clinton Administration. Family pets Buddy and Socks snooze under the official tree.

A sketch I did during the Clinton Administration. Family pets Buddy and Socks snooze under the official tree.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

The Comfort of Angels

Gloria

“Everyone has only one guardian angel and this angel is with them from before their birth until after they die. This angel never ever leaves them, not even for one moment.” —Lorna Byrne, Irish Mystic

I learned about guardian angels as a girl. Having my own heavenly helper is a notion that has comforted me many times over the years. I have never believed in the angelic more strongly then when my grandson Logan arrived. I could feel a presence in the hospital room when I met him for the first time. Nothing that can be proven scientifically, of course. It’s just a knowing that lives in the heart of a grandmother and others who pay attention to such things.

On November 17, 2014, Logan James Shanahan was born into a world full of love. He has fabulous parents and is surrounded by aunties, uncles and grandparents who adore him. He will move through life with the certainty of one who is cherished. Being seen and accepted for who you are is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. And it’s a gift that was bestowed on Logan before he was even born (his in utero kicking was a force to be reckoned with).

Less than 24 hours old, baby Logan with his parent’s Emily and Rob.

“God’s in His heaven—All’s right with the world!” —Robert Browning

I’ve heard other grandparents click their tongues and say, “The way the world is today I  wouldn’t want the task of raising a child. What will it be like twenty years from now? I worry about my grandkids.” That’s one way to look at it. I choose to focus on the good. There is so much of it, you know. Any fear I have over Logan’s future dissipates when I consider all who are watching over him, seen and unseen. Knowing that my grandchildren are cared for is one of the best things about being a grandparent. That keen sense of responsibility I felt at the birth of my own kids is gone. All that’s left for me to do is to love them. Yes, God’s in his heaven and all is right with the world.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com