Always Had the Power

You’ve Always Had it My Dear. You’ve Always Had the Power. Glinda the Good Witch
Always Had the Power

In 2000, I was lucky enough to sell the original painting from the above image to Oprah Winfrey. A series of small miracles brought the piece to her attention. After she purchased it, an even bigger miracle occurred. I was invited to be on her Favorite Things show. I was thrilled with the prospect of what her spotlight on my illustration could bring. Looking for approval of my artwork from the world had become a pattern with me.

It turned out the message in my painting was not only for Oprah. Although I was unable to grasp it at the time, it was also meant for me. Of course, I understood why Oprah took so much significance from Glinda the Good Witch’s words, “You’ve always had the power.” She had just won a defamation suit filed against her by Texas beef producers.  It took many years and reading Jean Houston’s The Wizard of Us before it dawned on me that I hadn’t been honoring my own power. I recognized myself in the Scarecrow’s search for brains. I was also waiting for the world to tell me what to do. The Tin Man asking the Wizard of Oz for a heart was no different than me not acknowledging and trusting my own. The lion’s quest for courage was his belief that he didn’t have what it took to be king of the forest. Didn’t that parallel my belief that my art couldn’t stand on its own? What I learned from Dorothy was the most meaningful. The power to realize one’s heart’s desire lies within.

Creating art is revealing one’s soul to the world. Unconsciously I believed if my gift wasn’t celebrated, I had no value. Seeking validation from the outside is like trying to fill a cup with a hole in it.

All my striving to make it as an artist has brought me to this realization. Yes, it’s scary to be exposed, but who I am is enough. My art is enough. The light that burns inside of me is enough.

The image of Oprah that I based my portrait on.

The image of Oprah that I based my portrait on.

Not many people know that Dorothy’s shoes were silver. In the movie they were transformed into the ruby slippers because they looked better In Technicolor.

Not many people know that in L. Frank Baum’s book the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s shoes were silver. In the movie they were transformed into ruby slippers because they looked better In Technicolor.

In my painting I tried to remain faithful to L.Frank Baum's description of Glinda the Good Witch.

In my painting I tried to remain faithful to L.Frank Baum’s description of Glinda the Good Witch.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

Being Beautiful is Not a Profession

I learned very young that a woman’s power came from her looks. Specifically, my beauty, or lack there of, was how my worth was measured. The straightness of my nose and thickness of my eyelashes were important but useless if I wasn’t skinny. Tall and sturdy for my age, I took on the onus of “the fat kid” long before the title fit. My mother, with her movie star looks, was ashamed of me. She saw me as extension of herself.

My first attempt at weight loss was in the fourth grade. I had the brilliant idea of slicing my stomach with a razor and squeezing the fat out. Of course, I never could go through with it.  Every night as I lay in bed, the success of my day was measured by how little I ate. The obsession to be thin had already taken hold.

When puberty hit, my weight soared out of control. The pressure to be perfect was overwhelming. I looked at the models in Seventeen magazine and knew I could never measure up. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the models didn’t measure up either. They had been airbrushed to flawlessness in their photos.

When I turned sixteen, my mother typed a rite of passage letter to me and signed it with, “Love, Mom.” What struck me the most in it was her advice to “marry a man who is going places and will take you with him.” I had learned the only bargaining tool to hitch that ride was my looks. And what I saw in the mirror told me I was doomed. I decided I’d better develop my talents.

My story does have a happy ending. At 23, I married a man who loved me just the way I was. Whenever I questioned how he could be attracted to me he said, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I thought that was his way of saying I love you in spite of how you look. Today I know better. My husband was way smarter than the media gave most credit for. He could see past the images that beauty advertisements were trying to force down our throats. After 34 years of marriage, he still loves my soul and my own brand of gorgeous that encapsulates it.

Over the years, with a concentrated effort, I’ve undone much of the damage to my body image. Movies like Miss Representation have helped. Most recently a wonderful blog post by Kasey Edwards affirmed my belief that the way most women see their bodies is an illusion. Our perception has little to do with how the world sees us.

I’ve come to peace with my mother and her inability to accept the body I was born into. I see now that like me, she was a victim of “lookism.” Born in the 1920’s, a bride in the 1950’s, she was a product of our culture. In her own convoluted way, she was just trying to keep me safe. She was passing on the societal expectations she had learned from her own mother.

Yes, at times, I still fall back into feeling horrified by the way I look. Recently, I saw a picture of myself that made me cringe. Instead of taking the feelings to heart, I now compare them to how I feel hearing a recording of my voice. Like most people, I don’t like the way I sound, but don’t take the foreignness of it to mean I’m flawed. In the same way, I no longer take my reaction to a photograph of myself to heart either. It doesn’t mean anything. My initial discomfort doesn’t stem from how I look but comes from the disconnection I feel of looking at a shell. The “real” me is formless.

Our world is evolving and so am I. The best gage of my self-acceptance is my daughter and the women my sons chose to marry. All three are stunning, accomplished women. They exude self-confidence and embrace who they are. No matter how thin or pretty, they would never think to add the superficial to their list of achievements. They where brought up knowing their power isn’t on the outside but lies within, being beautiful is no longer a career path.

After seeing my art on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Annie commissioned me to illustrate the above portrait of her as Glinda the Good Witch and her daughter as Dorothy. She wanted her little girl to know she had the power inside herself to make her dreams come true.

After seeing my art on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Annie commissioned me to illustrate the above portrait of her as Glinda the Good Witch and her daughter as Dorothy. She wanted her little girl to know she had the power inside herself to make her dreams come true.

My mom (second from left) at a luncheon shortly before she married my dad.

My mom (second from left) at a luncheon shortly before she married my dad.

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

Hope in the New Year

The pears in the drawing symbolize hope. The mocking bird is not only from Oprah’s favorite book, "To Kill a Mockingbird" but is the official State Bird of Mississippi.

The pears in the drawing symbolize hope. The mocking bird is not only from Oprah’s favorite book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” but is the official State Bird of Mississippi.

“Hope makes the impossible possible.” – Lorna Byrne
In 2001, I drew the above portrait after a gloomy period of questioning my career as an artist. My slow progress made me wonder if what I had envisioned for myself was nothing more than a fantasy. My discouragement dissipated after turning on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I was reminded that any obstacle I faced was minuscule in comparison to what she had been born into. She is black, female and perhaps the worst sin of all, ample in size. Yet none of this has stood in her way of  becoming one of the most influential women in the world. Yes, Oprah’s life clearly shows anything is possible. There is much to hope for.
Born in rural Mississippi to an unwed mother, Oprah was left to be raised by her grandmother, Hattie Mae. Oprah remembers at age four, standing on the back porch churning butter. Her grandmother, called to her as she hung cloths on the line, “Oprah Gail, you better watch me now, ’cause one day you gon’ have to know how to do this for yourself.” But hope had already made a nest in Oprah’s soul. She refused to accept her grandmother’s vision for her future. She knew deep inside her life would be more than hanging clothes on a line.
Growing up, I think the same thing that perched in Oprah’s soul breathed in mine too. Looking back I remember cultivating hope as a kid by saving my drawings for biographers who would one day write about my life as an artist. Then, as a teenager, I wrote to Norman Rockwell for advice on how to become an illustrator. The encouragement in his response confirmed that my dreams where indeed possible. Hope is the tiny spark of light barely seen that pulls us forward. Without its flicker, I never would have taken the initiative to save my art or contact my hero.
2014 is going to be a good year. It’s the year for reaping what we’ve so patiently sown. It’s the year when our long-held dreams will be brought to fruition. No matter where we stand, we can see the glimmer of a better day. How do I know all this? Because 2014 is the year of hope. It’s time to fan that flame.
The painting for a Mother’s Day card I made when I was eight.

A painting for a Mother’s Day card I saved for my biographer when I was eight.

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

Sheri Salata: You Are What You Dream

Porch Light People: Individuals who are fully themselves. They are not influenced by “shoulds” from the culture or other people. They instead live from their inner light

Sheri Salata

Watercolor by Sue Shanahan

Sheri Salata is best known for her association with The Oprah Winfrey Show. She began working for Oprah in a basement office at Harpo Studios when she was 35. Over the next twenty years she moved up to executive producer and then to president of Harpo. When The Oprah Show stopped production in 2010, Sheri moved to California to become co-president of OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). In 2016, she stepped down from that position to form media company, Story, with her longtime friend, Nancy Hala. 

“A person who inspires is a person who changes the world in a million ways they will never know.” – Sheri Salata

The first time I met Sheri Salata would be considered a chance encounter by many, but I know it was a matter of divine timing. The minute I ran into her at a hotel coffee shop, I already felt like we were friends. Sheri is warm, funny and candid. It just so happened that the day before I was a part of an audience that she spoke to about re-visioning your life at any age. She made everyone there feel like she wasn’t a fancy CEO but one of us. Leaving soon for a flight, Sheri was dressed in traveling clothes, with her hair thrown on top of her head. When I asked if I could schedule an interview with her for my Porch Light Profiles and take a picture of her to base my watercolor on she responded with an enthusiastic, “Sure!” I love her for that. It confirmed to me that the realness she projected on stage was no act.

When I interviewed Sheri over the phone the following week, I felt the same genuineness. We talked about the twists and turns and all the wrong doors she’s walked through to get where she is. “It wasn’t like I knew what I was doing. After college I went from a typing pool, to 7- Eleven, to moving into my parent’s basement to regroup.” If I would have known her then, I would have considered her a party girl but Sheri assured me that wasn’t so.

“I was always a seeker but I don’t think I felt at home in my own spirit until I begin to understand what I was really looking for in a job was meaning. That’s why no matter what I was doing I would try to do my best. I wanted to feel like what I contributed mattered to me in my mission.”

Over time, Sheri uncovered that what was important to her is empowerment, illumination, enlightenment and joy. She wanted to use her energy to have an impact and be of service.  In moving through different jobs, Sheri learned what was bringing fulfillment to her and what wasn’t. Today she defines success as meaning. “As long as I’m in alignment with meaning, everything else falls into place.”

In 1995, when Sheri got the call to work at the Oprah Winfrey Show, she plugged right into her new environment. For the next twenty years, she worked 80 to 90 hours a week. She was happy to do it. Working under the tutelage of the of the “Queen of Dreams” served her well. She learned much about doing what she loves, trusting her gut and that anything is possible. 

The year Sheri turned 56 she knew it was time for her to step down from OWN. It was the ride of a lifetime but Sheri had some dreams of her own to realize (“If not now when?). Along with her BFF, Nancy Hala, she cofounded, Story, a media company that develops content and tells stories across print, TV, film and digital platforms. Its name reflects Sheri’s and Nancy’s belief about how life works. “We christened it Story because people’s stories are one of the things we love most. The fact that it completely connects to what we believe spiritually just makes it more powerful. The stories that we tell ourselves is what makes our dreams come true.”

At this time in her life, Sheri is ready to not work at such a frantic pace. She want to do what she feels prompted to do. No more pushing. She is consciously aware of the difference between “doing” verses “being.” After the magnificent experience that she’s come off in Oprah Land, she can see that “doing” ruled the day for her time there. Now she’s ready to transcend to the  place of “being.” That means I’m gently letting go of that doer, even though at times I still feel like that doer was super successful,” she laughs.

Sheri’s decision to leave OWN never brought up a speck of fear in her.  After so many years of being filled with all the love, support and grace, leaving felt like a natural evolution. It was a beautiful launching and also a time of completion. “You have to let go of one thing to hold out your hand for another.”

The inkling to sing her own song has been with Sheri for as long as she can remember. When she was younger she went from job to job because she didn’t have the courage to launch her own company. It just wasn’t in her zeitgeist. Over her years under the wing of Oprah and seeing everything she created, taught her that there are no limits. She also got much inspiration from the young entrepreneurs they partnered with at OWN. They were building incredible businesses that were a culmination of their own dreams coming true. “I was like, ‘I need to do that before I really don’t want to work anymore.’” 

When Sheri and Nancy founded Story, they didn’t have super complex strategy or a deeply detailed business plan. They just had found themselves at a time in there lives where they wanted to shine their own lights and do what they wanted to do. “We want to be intuitively guided to the things that we want to create and to the people we want to partner with. Story is really for our own delight and joy. Sometimes I  feel like I’m just having a conversation with myself about what I most want to hear in midlife.”

Sheri believes that making a living following your heart is the best way to make a living. And yes, she believes it’s possible for everyone but they have to believe it’s possible. “That belief piece is no small thing. All things require your belief to make them happen. Many people are afraid of not getting what they want so they drop the ceiling on their dreams. I’ve learned to stand in the light of possibility.”

The best advice Sheri can share with women is the same advice she gives to herself three or four times a day. 

“The story you’re telling yourself is the most important story you are going to tell. What you are 

telling yourself about what’s possible, about your worthiness, about your ability to manifest joy, and about the power of love, is really going to determine everything. It will dictate what you look like, how you feel, and what kind of ride you create for yourself over the next 30, 40, or 50 years. Are you just beginning or are you done? Is the world your oyster or did you already have your spot at the fair?” 

Anyone who knows Sheri Salata knows how she is answering those questions. While many women her age are winding their lives down she is amping hers up. Through her podcast, This is Fifty with Sheri and Nancy, and her memoir, A Year at Belle Vie (scheduled to come out May 2018) she will be inspiring her DreamTribe, as she calls it, to go along with her in redefining their lives. To help she’ll be bringing in experts for ideas on how to live a more joy-filled existence. Sheri wants to share her revelations about how life works and shine a little light on the world, too. To some it may seem like a tall order but not to Sheri. She is already living it.

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*Coming up next: American folk singer/songwriter Lori McKenna, winner of Best Country song at the 2017 Grammy Awards for Humble and Kind performed by Tim McGraw.

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

PLP#6 The World of William Joyce

Bill Joyce & MK_

A young Mary Katherine with her father, Bill Joyce.

Porch Light People: Individuals who are fully themselves. They are not influenced by “shoulds” from the culture or other people. They instead live from their inner light

“It was like all fairytales. One must travel through darkness to find the light.” – Elizabeth B. Joyce, With Love and Fury

William Joyce is the subject of my sixth Porch Light Profile. Bill is nothing short of a creative genius. He is an artist, storyteller and filmmaker. He is the author and illustrator of more than 50 children’s books. He won an academy award in 2011 (which he visualized accepting when he was a kid) for his short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, and has won four Emmy Awards. The company he cofounded, Moonbot Studios, will be releasing their first feature film in 2019, The Extincts.

Bill’s talent is wide ranging. He is funny, candid, and refreshingly grounded. He grew up in a loving family where his artistic ability was recognized and encouraged. As a boy, his dream was to become a secret agent or Superman. After being introduced to Maurice Sendak’s picture book Where the Wild Things Are when he was five, Bill decided he wanted to make picture books. He shifted his focus from superhero to becoming a “maker upper” when he grew up. By creating worlds that people believe in and characters that they love, Bill had figured out the way to have superpowers without a cape.

For the most, part Bill has never veered from following his muse. He has admitted to taking on a project or two when he was younger just for the money and hating it. Over the years, he’s learned that he is most successful when he works off his inner impulses. 

“The thing about artists is a lot of times they end up being successful because they aren’t trying to make money. They are just trying to be true to their vision and that touches people. I’ve never written or illustrated anything that I thought about like ‘Oh, this is going to make a million bucks.) It just needed to come out, and if it’s good and pure people respond, and you can honestly make some money.”

Bill’s artistic gifts are a part of the fabric of his being. He learned at an early age to use his storytelling skills as a tool to work through the struggles in his life. As far back as he can remember, he has used his artistic ability as a kind of therapy.

“At age five, I was already using drawing and storytelling, although, I didn’t realize it, as a way of dealing with life. My sisters teased me mercilessly. The only real revenge I could get on them was to draw them getting eaten by dinosaurs. They were the reason I learned how to write at a young age. I had to be able to sign their drawings with, ‘Love, Bill.’”

As a storyteller, Bill always trusted his creative vision. Beneath the enchanting illustrations and plots of his books run the undercurrents of his world. “I’m often not fully aware of what the story is I’m telling. There are many times I’m surprised by the themes that come out in my writing.”

On an Instagram post, Bill relates the story of his wife being hugely pregnant with their first child when he suddenly stopped the book he was working on to make the book, Bentley & Egg. Bill was confused as to why he was so compelled to do a book about a frog who is in love with  a duck about to lay an egg. But his wife had no problem cracking the code, “Look stupid, you’re the frog, I’m the duck and this….she pointed to her stomach…..is THE EGG!” 

Bill suspects he has unwittingly used the same process of working through his emotions throughout his entire career. “The tragedies that I’ve been through and the losses that I’ve experienced have all shown up in the Guardians novels, and even in my picture books, in subtle ways. In my stories there is a sense that there will always be losses in life, but you power through them. If you lose something that you love, the memory of that love will sustain you and never die.” 

Bill knows first hand about love and loss. In 2010, his radiant light of a daughter, Mary Katherine, died of an inoperable brain tumor. She was only 18. Her presence can be found in his Guardians of Childhood books. She is also included in his picture book and film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. In them, Mary Katherine appears as a young lady who understands all Morris needs is a good story and sends him her favorite book. Although Morris was originally based on his friend and publishing mentor, Bill Morris, there has to be an aspect of William Joyce in that character. 

the-fantastic-flying-books-of-mr-morris-lessmore-9781442457027.in02_edited-1

Mary Katherine in “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”

Shortly after his daughter’s death, Bill’s wife Elizabeth was diagnosed with ALS. After a long illness, Liz succumbed to the disease in 2016. She and Bill had always been a team. So sure that together they could handle whatever life gave them, it was heartbreaking when she was no longer at his side. Liz was a beautiful and brilliant woman. Before her illness she appeared as characters  in many of his books.

LizJoyce_edited-1

Bill’s portrait of Liz from their college days.

In answer to my observation of his remarkable resilience in light of these losses Bill responded:

“It was tough. There were many, many days when I didn’t know if I was going to make it through. There were a couple of things that saved me. One was that I had to take care of our son, Jack. That makes you strong. I also had my artistic outlet. I got more work done during those seven years of illness and tragedy than anytime in my life. The stories were pouring out of me. I guess they were my refuge but also my salvation. I was making sense out of all of the stuff that was going wrong by writing about it without knowing I was writing about it. In my book, Ollie’s Odyssey I’m not writing a book about illness, I’m writing about a little boy who loses his favorite toy and realizes that even in finding it things may never be the same, but that’s okay.”

Many people believe that the creative energy an artist channels is from a higher source. That’s exactly how Bill Joyce sees the gifts that move through him. They are coming from something greater than himself.

“Whether you want to call it a higher source or the human spirit, whatever it is, I am lucky it’s a part of me. During that dark time I talked to other friends who are creative people. Maurice Sendak was the most helpful usually. He said ‘Art tortures us, but it’s also our salvation. And these are the times when it really can save us.’ He was right. My art is what saved me.” 

As with all creatives, William Joyce’s gifts are twofold. The light that pours through him is not only for his legions of fans. The light is a part of his healing, too.

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*Coming up next: Profile of music maker Amanda Shires. She is a singer, songwriter, violinist, mother to Mercy and wife of musician Jason Isbell. 

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

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Don’t Have a Fairy Godmother? Borrow One

Elli&Agapi

Elli Stassinopoulos and her daughter, Agapi

“Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.” -Anna Freud

I’ve made a practice of gleaning wisdom and support from women I admire. Because my mom was not the “in your corner” type, I learned to do this at a young age. Growing up under her tutelage forced me to figure out ways to get my need for nurturing met. My search led me to reading books with omniscient mother figures and happy endings. It’s no accident that as a child Cinderella was a favorite story of mine. That evil stepmom may have been in control for a time, but she was no match for the powers of a fairy godmother. By fifth grade, I had graduated to being utterly taken with Marmee, the mother of the March sisters, in Little Women. Her steadfast devotion to her girls was the launching pad for them to live their dreams. Somehow reading about the security of unconditional love was healing to me.

In my twenties, I discovered how author Maya Angelo mothered Oprah Winfrey. Her love and wise council helped Oprah to become her “best self.” I began studying other strong women who pointed their daughters in the right direction. I embraced the relationships of Eunice Shriver and her daughter, Maria, Dorothy Howell Rodham and her daughter, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and finally Elli Stassinopoulos and her daughters, Agapi Stassinopoulos and Arianna Huffington. All of these mothers inspired me and gave me a lead to follow. Since I considered them as more than mentors, I christened them fairy godmothers. Remember the sparkle Cinderella’s fairy godmother brought to her life? She gave the added magic needed to help Cinderella leave behind the cinders she made her bed in. That’s what these mothers I admire did for me.

One of my favorite of the godmothers is Elli Stassinopoulos.  In my painting above, she’s pictured with her daughter Agapi on Agapi’s 16th birthday. I first read about Elli in Agapi’s book, Unbinding the Heart. Elli was a remarkable woman. She was not accomplished by the world’s standards and yet gave much to the world. Her daughters are living proof of that. Elli knew what was important in life. It was people not things that mattered. There was no hierarchy in her world. She treated a government official and a plumber with the same warmth and generosity. She never allowed her daughters to feel “less than.” She knew that both of them were born with the gifts needed to fulfill their life’s purpose and she stood in support of that. Reading about Elli made me think of how much easier my life would have been if I were raised by a mom like her. My soul would have known its worth, instead of having to fight for it every step of the way. Getting to know Elli helped soothe what I lacked.

201202-orig-agapi-stassinopoulos-600x411 copy

The Photo I based my painting on.

I reached out to Agapi for permission to work from the photograph I based my watercolor on. Elli reminded me of the fairy godmother in Disney’s Cinderella in the picture. Agapi was kind enough to grant her consent and even gave her thoughts on the art in progress. All along she was pleased that I was capturing her mom’s spirit. What she was having trouble with, was my portrayal of herself. We both knew something was off. Was it her eyes? Or her smile? She could not pinpoint it and in my revisions neither could I. Finally, in frustration, I thought to ask Elli for help. I reasoned that since she had passed away in 2000 she would have the clarity of a higher vantage point. As soon as I sent out my request, I got the distinct feeling to have a glass of red wine and stop trying so hard. I should just relax and enjoy the process. I did just that and had fun tweaking the piece. In a flash, I was done and satisfied with the results. When I sent a file of it to Agapi, she responded,“It’s great!” I smiled as I wondered why I hadn’t called on Elli sooner. Of course she would want me to do justice to her girl.

In my life, I’ve found that within every hardship there are always blessings. I believe I was given the perfect mother to help me become who I was born to be. Without the difficulty of being raised by her, I don’t think I’d have the insight and compassion I do today.  Plus, I may have never discovered the wisdom of these beautiful women I call fairy godmothers. I’ve studied and absorbed how they moved through life. Their philosophies have become my philosophies. Today, I’m happy to say I share their wise council with others who’ve been gifted with moms similar to mine. In this way, even though my fairy godmothers no longer grace the planet, their magic goes on and continues to break the spells that others live under.

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

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Blessings From Heaven

 

Blessings from Heaven

Last September my friend Nancy, got in touch to tell me of the death of her beloved daughter. I was saddened to hear the details of Meghan’s passing. Nancy explained that she wanted to commission me to create the cover art for a book she was writing about Megs. She then went on to tell me of a lucid dream her brother, Charles, experienced after her daughter had passed. In it he envisioned his niece moments after her death. No longer was Megs a 35-year-old woman consumed with cancer, but a healthy nine-year-old. She bounded through the door of Chirup, their summer cottage, and raised her arms in delight as she overlooked the lake. When she realized she had crossed the threshold to the afterlife her joy couldn’t be contained. That’s the image Meghan’s mom wanted illustrated for the cover of her book, Blessings from Heaven. Nancy planned to include all the details of her brother’s heavenly encounter with his niece.

Some may dismiss Charles’s vision as a broken heart trying to heal itself, but I knew better. From what I’ve witnessed, along with sorrow, death always brings miracles. Through her uncle’s dream Meghan’s soul made sure her family knew her suffering was over and that she is free.

I accepted the commission and began gathering details for my illustration. Meghan’s mom had to find photos of her daughter as a child and of Chirup for me to work from. Getting the details of the cottage right were almost as important as getting Megs right. She had such a connection to the vacation dwelling that it was her heart’s desire to spend her final days there.

Megs circa age 9_edited-1

Megs around age nine.

I felt a little apprehensive about making the book cover. I knew what I was doing was important work and wanted it to be perfect. Nancy turned out to be a fabulous art director. When she saw my preliminary sketch, she knew I had to thin and elongate Meghan’s body. She was able to supply me with the minutest of details to make Chirup authentic. She even gave me images of wildflowers that grow in the area to incorporate into the painting. She told me that I had artistic license to place them around the cottage in abundance even though they weren’t there in actuality. The illustration was of heaven after all.

Chirup_edited-1

Chirup

The final art took months to complete. Every day that I sat down to paint, I put on the cancer bracelet that Meghan’s family wore to support her. Having it on my wrist somehow solidified the connection I felt with her. I could feel her vibrant energy. I knew she was doing what she could to help me make the cover of her mom’s book a masterpiece.

When I finally put the finishing touches on the art, I appraised all the detail in the plants around the cottage. I’d spent hours and hours painting those flowers. I found my antique flower dictionary to look up the definitions of the blooms Nancy wanted in the illustration. When I complete a portrait commission if flowers are included, I like to read the meanings behind them. The definitions always somehow tie into my subject’s personalities, struggles and gifts.

I was in awe when I read what the wildflowers Meghan’s mom chose meant:

*The orange day-lilies represent beauty. They describe Nancy’s daughter far beyond the physical.

*Daisies mean simplicity. Megs never was one for too much fuss in her attire or surroundings. She drew much comfort from nature.

*Black-Eyed-Susan’s mean justice. To Meghan’s family and friends her passing seemed so unfair, but in the tapestry of life she left in perfect timing. So many gifts will materialize that wouldn’t have if she had stayed. Megs now has the power to help her loved ones from behind the scenes in ways she never could have while on Earth.

1843 Flower Dictionary_edited-1

My 1843 flower dictionary.

*The final flowers Nancy requested are purple phlox. I got chills when I read that their definition is, ”our souls are united.” It was a clear cut message for Meghan’s family, especially for her son, Tyler. Death could never be strong enough to separate them from her love.

Discovering what the flowers I had painstaking painted symbolized gave me a new understanding of the aphorism “God is in the details.” As I closed my Victorian flower dictionary, I was reminded, once again, how Divine love is woven through everything.

When Nancy learned I’d scheduled my essay to run today, she was thrilled. You see today is her birthday. I had no idea. No one can convince either of us that this isn’t a gift to her, through me, from Meghan. Happy birthday, Nancy.

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

 

5 Lessons From Harriet Tubman to Help You Follow Your Inner Wisdom in Honor of Black History Month

keep-going

“Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”                        -Harriet Tubman

No one knows if Harriet Tubman really uttered these words, but there isn’t any question that she lived them. Harriet was born into slavery and raised in a world with no hope. Still, she dreamed her dreams and did what she had to do. She broke the law of the land by following the North Star to freedom. Where did a woman who was whipped as a child get that kind of courage?

Harriet had a deep and abiding faith that she was being guided. She was steadfast in her conviction that all she had to do was keep going and God would take care of the details. She shepherded over 300 slaves to freedom. If any of her fugitive charges became faint-hearted and wanted to turn around, she threatened to shoot them. Turning back could mean death to them all. She gave them no choice but to keep going. I, too, have been known to buckle and want to backtrack. Somehow the pain of the mundane seems safer than pioneering into new territory. The only way I’m able to move past that kind of paralyzation is to borrow some of Miss Harriet’s grit. She always remembered to ask for direction and then listen for the answer. The way was always made clear.

Studying Harriet Tubman’s life has made me a believer in praying for help. When I first began to follow her example, I had a difficult time discerning the guidance coming my way. I soon realized that Harriet’s unshakable faith was born of desperation. For her, there was no other choice than to pay attention to the “still, small voice within.” She knew those whisperings were from God and had to abandon herself to them or face certain death. Today, most of us don’t live with the kind of urgency she did. We lead busy lives and often times are too distracted to be aware of any inner knowing. Yet it’s still possible for us to learn how to hear and carry out the internal guidance we receive. I make a practice of this and live a life far easier than when I was going it alone. Below are the tools I learned from Harriet on how to accomplish this:

1) While growing up, Harriet began listening to the voice of her Maker to keep herself safe. When working in the fields, there was plenty of time to pray and listen for direction. Today television and electronic devices can keep us so preoccupied that we never give ourselves a chance to communicate with a Higher Power. Making a habit of having periods of quiet throughout the day is a good way to begin developing a working relationship with Him.

2) Gut feelings should never be analyzed by the brain. We can reason any type of inner guidance away with intellect, but logic often is a hinderance.

3) Pay attention to how you feel about opportunities that are presented to you. Doing something out of guilt or fear is a red flag that you’re going in the wrong direction. Something you should move forward with is always accompanied by feelings of peace or joy.

4) Be mindful of your dreams. Harriet was often foretold how to sidestep dangers in hers. Keep a journal beside your bed to write them down.

5) Be aware of physical sensations. It’s no accident that the term “gut feeling” is used to describe intuition. Harriet’s heart would begin beating wildly to warn her when she or someone else were in danger. She could feel trouble deep in her bones. Never discount the gift of these signals.

Take baby steps when you begin following your inner wisdom to test the process out. I did and discovered rather quickly that the God that was there for Harriet watches over us all.

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This picture of Harriet Tubman was taken between 1860-1875. I love her hat placed on the chair.

 

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

Knowing When to Unfriend a Friend

Troll. ogre, fairy, giant

“When you don’t know when you have been spit on, it does not matter too much what else you think you know.” -Ruth Shays

It’s taken me far too long to comprehend when a friend isn’t truly a friend. I’ve accepted camouflaged, insulting behavior for many years. Being raised by an emotionally abusive mother was a setup to tolerate abuse, however subtle. Her outright cruelty made it hard to recognize covert mistreatment. Growing up that way made me a ready target for people who didn’t honor me. For example, in the past I had a friend who I thought of as a sister. Most times when we were together I felt so understood and supported. Yet there were times when she turned on me, pointing out my flaws “for my own good.” I felt the distinct “ouch” of being stung even though she spoke to me in a benign voice. It was so confusing. At least in dealing with my mom, her delivery left no mistaking that she meant me harm. Digging deep, I saw that even though my friend’s actions were hurtful I was getting something out of them. Part of the gain was the safety of familiarity, but an even bigger part was that it was comfortable for me to play small. Living that way is so undemanding. I got the security of not having to stretch by accepting the role I was assigned to as a child.

Friends who don’t honor you are a reflection of what you believe about yourself. Having the courage to no longer accept another’s unkindness says you’re ready to claim your power. But what if by doing so your bond disintegrates? In the past, I clung to harmful relationships out of the fear of abandonment. Today I know that when I no longer allow myself to be treated poorly, the connection shifts. I may lose a friend. Indeed, that’s exactly what came to pass in my example above. It’s true that when you assert yourself there may be a hole in your life, but not for long. Love abhors a vacuum. By no longer putting up with being treated as “less than,” we make room for real friends to enter. And enter they always do.

One thing is for certain, it’s not my job to figure out why the perpetrator feels the need to put me down. I’ve spent way too much energy analyzing why people do what they do. That somehow made their bad behavior OK and kept me stuck in an unhealthy situation. The watercolor above illustrates this in a fun way. Like with a troll, it’s futile for the fairy to figure out why she angered him. Could it be she was flying too low and disturbed his sleep? Or did he, once upon a time, have his heart broken by a fairy? Perhaps he was raised to believe her kind are just nasty pests. Most likely he was just doing what miserable ogres do when someone gets too close to them. In the end it’s not important what provoked him. All that matters is getting away from him. It’s up to you to keep yourself safe from brutes no matter how nice they appear to be on the surface. Be mindful of your surroundings. Sleepwalkers disturb bees or worse yet, get in the way of trolls. 

Recognizing that I’m the fairy in the painting makes me smile. Even though she has wings, she cowers clearly immobilized. How in the world did she forget that she can fly?

Flying Fairy

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

Jeff Bezos and Amazon: Making Authors Dreams Come True

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My grandson’s mom reading my self-pulished book to him.

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.
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