Sheri Salata: You Are What You Dream

Sheri Salata-2

“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 not to me. I know it was a matter of divine timing. The moment I ran into her at a hotel coffee shop, I felt like we were old friends. The day before I had been a part of a conference where she had spoken with authority about re-envisioning your life at any age. Formally co-president of OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) she had recently stepped down to form her own company. Her humor and candor made everyone in the audience feel like she wasn’t a fancy CEO. Sheri was one of us. 

Waiting in line for a soy latte, Sheri was leaving soon for her flight. I took a chance and asked if I could schedule an interview with her. She had her hair up in a knot and no makeup on. I wanted to know if I could take a picture of her to create a portrait to go with my interview. To my delight, she readily agreed.That response confirmed to me that Sheri is the real deal. What she projected on stage was no act.

I felt the same genuineness when I spoke to her over the phone the following week. We talked about all the twists and turns she took to get to where she is today, After college she went from a typing pool, to managing a 7- Eleven, to moving into her parent’s basement to regroup. Her job record back then could have made her look like she lacked direction. Sheri assured me that wasn’t the case. 

“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. No matter what kind of work I was doing I would try to do my best. I wanted to feel like what I contributed was important.”

Today Sheri’s most direct route to finding significance in the workplace is through connecting to her inner light. In her twenties, she had no idea how to make that happen. “When I was younger I was taking the very long way around in terms of living in the light and in terms of trying to anchor myself there. I was trying to contribute and extract meaning from every experience. I was very driven to walk in the light but didn’t really having the spiritual tools to do that.”

In 1995, Sheri got the call to work at the Oprah Winfrey Show. She immediately plugged into her new environment. For the next twenty years, she worked 80 to 90 hours a week. She was happy to do it. During that time, she moved up to executive producer and then to president of Harpo Studios. Then in 2010 the Oprah stopped production. After The Oprah Show Sheri moved to California to become co-president of OWN. 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 unlimited potential. “Watching tapings of the show is where my understanding first began about how life really works. I soaked up all that information on how we are all energy and how we move through the world. That’s when I began to see who I really am and why I’m here.”

I believe we all have an inner compass, a directive that lives quietly behind the scenes and really is the mastermind behind most of our life decisions. – Sheri Salata, The Beautiful No

The year Sheri turned 56 she knew it was time to move in another direction. All that insight she gained from the Oprah Show had brought her to a turning point. “I had woke up to the truth that anything is possible and if not now when?” Sheri made the decision to part ways with OWN. Her heart told her it was time and she listened.

Sheri was ready to stop working at such a frantic pace. She wanted to do what she felt prompted to do. She could see that “doing” ruled the day for her at OWN. She was ready tp transcend to the place of “being.” “That meant that I was gently letting go of that doer, even though at times I still felt like that doer was super successful,” she laughs.

Sheri left OWN and never looked back. “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.”

Sheri and Nancy

Sheri Salata and Nancy Hala

Along with her BFF, Nancy Hala, she cofounded a media company called, The Pillar Life. Because both friends were intent on manifesting the life of their dreams, they created an eight pillar life-guidance system to help keep them on track. Sheri credits them for completely changing her life. “We use the pillars as guideposts to keep us in alignment with our true heart’s desires. We are sharing them because that’s what you do with your tribe. The fact that the pillars completely connect to what we believe spiritually just makes them more powerful.”

PILLARS FOR LIFE_edited-1.jpg

The pillars are a frequent discussion on their popular podcast, The Sheri + Nancy Show. Guests like spiritual teacher, Deepak Chopra, interior designer, Nate Berkus and author, Elizabeth Gilbert, are brought in to discuss how to live a more joy-filled existence. Sheri says that when she joined forces with Nancy they didn’t have a detailed business plan. “We wanted to be intuitively guided to the things that we want to create and to the people we want to partner with. Sometimes I feel like I’m just having a conversation with myself about what I most want to hear in midlife.”

The best advice Sheri can share with women is the same advice she gives to herself daily. “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 knows how she’s answering those questions. At her age, most women are winding their lives down. Not so for Sheri. She is amping hers up. Through her memoir, The Beautiful No, and her podcast, she is shining a little light onto the world. 

Sheri Salata is doing what most of us loved best about the Oprah Winfrey Show. She is sharing her revelations about how life works. The intention has been set to bring her listeners along with her to the next level. To some that may seem like a tall order, but not to Sheri. She is already living it.

41AV4KxZzBL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

IMG_7956

Sheri and I meet again at her book signing.

*Click  to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5 X 7 print!

*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

Amanda Shires: Songbird

IMG_4115-Edit

Amanda and Mercy.

moth_edited-2“I wanna look like a bird, like I was meant to sing,” Amanda Shires, Look Like a Bird 

Even before I spoke to Amanda Shires, I knew I was going to like her when I got this text, “So sorry Sue. I’ll call back in a few minutes. In the middle of saving a bird.” I should have known a bird would be one of the few reasons she wouldn’t pick up the phone for our scheduled chat. Being a bird lover myself, I’d noticed the bird imagery in more than a few of her songs.

Amanda called back a few minutes later. She apologized, “A baby nuthatch was caught in a string hanging by its feet from a glass bird feeder. It was so cute and so sad, but it’s all fixed now.”

IMG_3295

The little nuthatch Amanda saved.

Then our interview officially began. I was surprised to learn Amanda didn’t come from a musical family. As a girl, she never remembers seeing a fiddle until she came across a group of them hanging on a pawn shop wall. She’s not sure what pulled her to them but she knew she had to have one. She picked out a fiddle and talked her dad into buying it. Her mom paid for lessons. Amanda stuck with her training and learned to use her fiddle to express herself. “When my parents divorced, I dealt with it by spending time with my instrument. Playing it gave me joy, and I felt like I was communicating somehow. Since I didn’t have much of a vocabulary, my music spoke for me. It was the one constant in my life.”

By the time she was fifteen, Amanda was a member of the western swing band, the  Texas Playboys. In her early she twenties, she had graduated to side-player for Billy Joe Shaver. To supplement her income, she made a fiddle record that included two songs she wrote and sang. One day Billy Joe told her he’d heard she was a songwriter and asked to hear something of hers. Reluctantly, Amanda complied and was stunned when he told her that she was a great songwriter and should keep writing. “After I let the idea set awhile I thought, Billy Joe Shaver might be right.” She relocated to Nashville to launch a solo career a year and a half later.

She began waitressing to support herself. “I was awful at it, but it helped me begin my career. I saved up all my tips and made my first record, Cross Timbers and then I toured behind that. After I made Carrying Lightening, I didn’t have to wait tables anymore.”

Around that time Amanda began working with a producer who didn’t like the vibrato in her singing voice. “I got a small complex once when he said I sounded like a goat. He told me, “less goat more note.” I was like, oh man, this is going to make it harder.”

Even so that never did make her feel like throwing in the towel. ‘It made me want to get lessons. And I did and it’s not correctable. There have been so many times when I wanted to quit but I just can’t. It’s the only thing I am halfway decent at.” 

Her fans are happy that Amanda has come to terms with what they never saw as a flaw. That quiver in her singing voice is a gift.

Today Amanda is secure in her abilities. “It took practice to get comfortable in being who I am and trusting my decisions. I wanted to play the fiddle, and I did that. Then I started being a side person. I began writing songs before I even knew I wanted to be a songwriter. You get comfortable as you go. I’ve learned I’m really unsuccessful when I’m not being myself.”

In 2011 Amanda began dating fellow musician, Jason Isbell. It didn’t take long for her to realize his addiction to alcohol had spiraled out of control. She was instrumental in getting him into rehab. She didn’t know if their relationship would last, but she couldn’t just watch him self-destruct. “During that time, I didn’t give a crap about any dream of marrying him. I told him, ‘You’re going to quit drinking or it’s not going to work out between us.’”

It did work out. They got married in 2013. They’ve always been transparent about their trials with addiction even though it can leave them open to criticism. Amanda says, “The goal is really to help and connect with people. That’s the only reason we share such personal information. A little hope goes a long way. It’s hard to live in this world.”

“After having a child, wrangling a career, and keeping my husband in line I feel like my voice has gotten a lot stronger. Not in a way that’s bitchy or anything but in being able to express what I need.”- Amanda Shires

To date Amanda hasn’t written a song about her part in Jason’s sobriety, but in her  album My piece of Land she does write about another milestone. In her song “Nursery Rhyme”, she sings about nesting in an effort to distract herself from the approaching birth of their daughter. She admits to being terrified that she would no longer have the freedom to express herself musically. She had no idea if she could be a mom and continue her calling.

After the birth of their daughter, Mercy (named because, “The world could use a little more of it”) Amanda found that she still had the drive and the support she needed to share her gifts.

“I’m blessed to have family and friends to help, so I can still make music and tour. It definitely takes a village. Sometimes it’s tough to juggle everything, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Being a mom has brought so many unexpected gifts to Amanda. “To see something through a child’s eyes is really wild. When you see a little person figuring out what a shadow is for the first time, you look at the world differently.”

“I’ve been reading the classics, scanning the news It all goes in the mouth of the muse.” – Amanda Shires, Nursery Rhyme

Amanda weaves much of her personal life into her songs. She doesn’t give much credence to writer’s block. She has learned how to nip that nuisance in the bud.

“You have to fill up your well by reading or by spending time observing. When the well is full it starts coming out and expressing itself artfully. Most of the time it’s fear that’s stopping you from creating something. So you have to keep on writing and writing through it.”

Relying on her intuition to point the way, Amanda believes, “We all have an inner guidance system that directs our paths but a lot of people aren’t trained to listen to it. You can’t be guided if your antenna isn’t up or it’s busted.I think that can happen from a lack of empathy or too much ego. Sometimes I think you can’t hear your inner voice because you’re just living obliviously.”

Amanda went to church when she was younger, but these days she has no formal practice, “I think for me my church is being outside, being a birdwatcher and a gardener and being with my family. As far as guidance, sometimes I think the voice inside me is either my mom’s or Leonard Cohen’s.” Both are probably worth listening to.

Currently Amanda’s time is split between her career as a solo artist, and making music with the all-female supergroup, The HighWomen, composed of Amanda and her friends, Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Maren Morris. She still finds time to hold down the fiddle strings for her husband Jason and his band, The 400 Unit, and to be a mom to Mercy. 

When they’re not on the road, Amanda and her family live in a home on the outskirts of Nashville. It’s a quiet spot with enough land to grow their own vegetables. “Peace” is the word Amanda uses to describe what she feels when she retreats there after touring. It’s the perfect place for replenishing the well. Life is good. Amanda Shires has come into her own. 

“You feel most fulfilled when you are ‘doing you’, as they say. I think a lot of people worry too much about what they need. They need to have cars. They need to have this or that, but that’s not what we all really need. Happiness comes from doing what you where put on Earth to do. And what I say is, whoever dies happiest wins.”

Now there’s an adage a little bird needs to tell Amanda to write a song about.

51blucJP-BL

Amanda’s album “My Piece of Land.”

*Click  to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5 X 7 print!

*Coming up next: Profile of  Sheri Salata. She stepped down as co-president of Oprah Winfrey Network to cofound female lead  media and branding company, STORY.

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

 

William Joyce: Still Shining

Bill Joyce

Mary Katherine with her father, Bill Joyce

moth_edited-2“It was like all fairytales. One must travel through darkness to find the light.” – Elizabeth B. Joyce, With Love and Fury

William Joyce grew up in a loving family where his artistic abilities were recognized and encouraged. As a boy, his dream was to become Superman. After being introduced to Maurice Sendak’s picture book Where the Wild Things Are in kindergarten, 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.

Today Bill is considered a creative genius by many. He is the author and illustrator of over 50 children’s books. He won an academy award in 2011 (which he visualized accepting when he was a child) for his short film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. He has won three Emmy Awards for the animated series Rolie Polie Olie. He is one of the artists who brought the original Toy Story movie to the big screen. The DreamWorks computer animated-fantasy film, Rise of the Guardians is based on his Guardians of Childhood book series.

Looking back, Bill is amazed by the precociousness he exhibited when he was a kid.

“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.’”

In his mind, there was never any question of what line of work he would go into.

“I knew how much I wanted to do this. I had a hunger for it that was so intense that I was willing to swim against whatever stream there was to try to get there. I was driven, and it surprises me looking back on it. At the time, it just seemed essential, like it wasn’t a choice.” 

Bill rarely compromised his creative vision. He admits to taking on a project or two when he was younger for the money, but he always ended up hating them. He’s learned that the easiest way for him to make a living is by being himself. 

“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.”

The connection between who Bill is and what he puts down on paper are inseparable. Beneath the enchanting illustrations and plots of his books, flow the undercurrents of his world. “I’m often not fully aware of what the story is I’m telling until years later. 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 project he was working on to make the book, Bentley & Egg.  Bill couldn’t figure out 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 to work through his emotions throughout his entire career. It’s what helped give him the strength needed to face some of life’s cruelest tragedies.  

For storytellers our illusions are our armor.” – William Joyce

In 2010, his radiant light of a daughter, Mary Katherine, died of an inoperable brain tumor. It was a crushing blow for Bill. She was only 18. Mary Katherine’s magic now lives on in his Guardians of Childhood  books. 

“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.” 

Shortly after his daughter’s death, Bill’s wife Elizabeth was diagnosed with ALS. Liz was paralyzed and on a respirator for three years before she succumbed to the disease in 2016. Bill adored her. They had always been a team. So sure that together they could handle whatever came their way, her absence left a huge hole.

LizJoyce_edited-1

Bill’s portrait of Liz from their college days

Liz appeared as characters in almost all of his books. In his picture book and film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore she materializes as a lovely lady being pulled across the sky by a cluster of flying books. She understands all Morris needs to give his life meaning is a good story. It seems prophetic that the book she sends him is opened to a page with Humpty Dumpty on it. For so many years Bill looked to his beloved Liz to provide life’s answers. The thought of losing her must have felt like an irreparable “great fall.”

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

Liz in the “Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessore”

“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”

Without his creativity, who knows where Bill would be today. He seems to be tapping into something from above when bringing his inner impulses to light.

“Whether you want to call it a higher source or the human spirit, 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.’ And he was right.” 

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

“But even now, I dare to dream.” – William Joyce

*Click  to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5 X 7 print!

*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

517CT-RGXEL._SY356_BO1,204,203,200_818gDsqqrYL51Y0eyMa1cL._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_

Pam Grout: Cheers to Life!

Pam Grout-Editmoth_edited-2“You are here to create the good, the beautiful and the holy. You’re here to dance, to spread love, to write symphonies, to give birth to the very best that is inside you.” – Pam Grout

Clearly Pam Grout was born to be a writer. At an early age she was a voracious reader and that lead to spinning tales with her pencil. Writing is all she ever wanted to do in her free time. Yet when she graduated high school her mother suggested computer programming. Being an author didn’t equate financial security to her parents. “When I was going to college, computers were the new field to go into. To become a writer seemed risky to my family.” 

Pam got around her mom’s directive by going into journalism. She’d be able to get a “real” job  with the degree she earned. After college she worked at a newspaper for awhile before she took the plunge and became a full-time freelance writer. Pam’s happy to say that since that time she’s been able to support herself with her craft.

Pam has authored 20 books, three plays, a television series and two iPhone apps. She writes for People Magazine, Huffington Post and her travel blog. She is a world traveler and a lover of the Divine Buzz (as she is fond of calling God). Her life and writing embodies the concept of “getting paid for being you.” Being a mom to her daughter, Tazman, has and always will be her greatest accomplishment.

As far back as she can remember, Pam had a strong calling to write. “It’s what I’ve loved to do from the time I was little. I was a reader. When I was in second grade, I got an award for reading 267 books. Often times people who read a lot think, ‘wow maybe I can do this.’ So I started writing at a pretty young age.”

I was first introduced to Pam’s work when I came across her book, E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality. An international  bestseller, her book was a light in the wilderness of limited thinking to me. I was so brainwashed by the cultural paradigm of how life is supposed to work it seemed unrealistic to believe that my dreams could come true. The fun experiments in her book helped open my mind to the possibility that God has my back. I learned the way to be certain you’re aligned with that benevolent being is by how you feel. According to Pam, following your bliss is the quickest way for your gifts to find their place on the planet. 

411eZh7p3NL

“If we all did what brings us joy, rather than what we think will keep us safe we would live in a different world. That feeling of joy is what tells you that you are in sync with God. It’s your GPS system.” What a beautiful concept, a loving God who uses good feelings to signal you are on the right track.

Pam didn’t always have such an enlightened outlook. She grew up being her own worst enemy because of an offhand remark her dad made after she was born, “She is the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen.” The metal forceps that aided Pam’s delivery temporarily flattened her nose. She took her dad’s declaration to heart and spent a good portion of her youth trying to fix her looks. She’d feel like she got one area in that department under control, and then something else would surface that needed an overhaul.

By the time Pam hit college, it occurred to her that her obsession to “fix” her looks, not how she looked, is what needed to be changed. In search of answers, she began pouring over self-help books. Absorbing those books eventually changed her thinking. Instead of looking for what needed fixing, she began appreciating what was right about herself. Pam began feeling so good about her assets that she swears her appearance began improving. Her skin cleared up. Even her eyesight went back to normal so she could lose those coke bottle glasses she used to need.

Pam’s decision to let go of her limiting thought process went full throttle when she discovered A Course in Miracles, a self-study program in spiritual psychology. She credits the book with opening up her mind and allowing her to let go of the stifling worldview she had learned from the culture. Pam laughed when I asked her if she ever veers from her upgraded way of thinking. “Of course I do. When I look at the news media I think, ‘Oh my gosh, things are horrible.’ Then I have to remind myself to ask God to help me to see things differently. Retraining your mind is a little bit like house breaking a puppy. You just have to keep taking it outside and showing it a different reality.”

Pam’s spin on life is certainly a departure from the belief systems she was raised with. In E Squared she writes, “Look through the Bible and nowhere does Jesus say, ‘Worship me.’ His call to us was ‘follow me.’ There’s a big difference. By making Jesus out to be a hero, we miss the whole point. Jesus wasn’t saying, ‘I’m cool. Make statues of me; turn my birthday into a huge commercial holiday.’ He was saying, ‘Here, look what is possible. Look what we humans are capable of.’ Jesus is our brother, our legacy, the guy we’re supposed to emulate.” 

Pam admits that her parents being traditional Christians are sometimes worried for her soul. On the other hand she knows, “They’re really proud of me and my books and that I’ve been able to make a living following my heart.” 

“The universe is limitless, abundant, and strangely accommodating.” – Pam Grout

It looks like all of those self-help books Pam was lead to devour weren’t just happenstance. Not only did they open her mind but all the information she gleaned from them has become the foundation for her writing career. Reading E Squared gave me the same kind of “wa wa” moment Helen Keller must have had when she realized the cool liquid pouring between her fingers was water. It flipped the switch that opened my eyes to an expanded way of thinking. Talking to Pam and reading her books makes her positive spin on life seem so doable. She lives her number one motto: “Have fun. No matter what.” Bringing that mindset to our life and work assures us that we will land where we are supposed to. How will we be certain that we are going in the right direction? We will feel good. 

***********************************************************************************

*Click  to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5 X 7 print!*Click  to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5 X 7 print!

More must reads by Pam Grout:41O5goJA1BL41blDwOiezL51t23k7trdL

Taz and Pam

Taz and Pam exploring Egypt

*Coming up next: Profile of Writer/Illustrator/Filmmaker/Genius , William Joyce

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

 

Mary Engelbreit: So Much More Than Cute

Mary Engelbreit-Final-Edit-Edit-Editmoth_edited-2For my mother, who always told me anything was possible. – Inscription from, Mary Engelbreit: The Art and the Artist

Mary Engelbreit is one of my all time favorite artists. I’ve been a fan of her art since my early twenties. Not only was I attracted to her illustrations, but I connected to the thought provoking quotations she incorporated into them. Those hopeful words were beacons of light to me. Mary felt like a wise friend pointing me in the right direction. Once, I waited in line for six hours to have prints and cards of her’s signed. After I gushed on and on about my love for her art, I showed her a print of my detailed fine art painting that Oprah Winfrey had bought from me. She looked at me quizzically and said, “You like my art?” I assured her I did and told her what a great marketer she is. “That I am,” she answered wryly.

IMG_0350-3-Edit-Edit

This signed print hangs in my studio. Mary’s message to me, “Believe, Sue! “

Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, Mary is best known for her greeting cards, calendars, children’s books, and giftware. At one point she even licensed a series of dolls based on characters from her drawings. Her images are described as nostalgic and cute (“Nothing wrong with cute,” says Mary). 

For over 40 years she has produced images without any guidelines for her art licensing company. Mary feels fortunate that she has always been able to draw from her inner impulses. As a rule, she never follows the market trends. Although her licensing company did begin producing adult coloring books when they came into vogue. To that she said, “We aren’t stupid.”

Mary’s childhood was the perfect launching pad for her to make a living illustrating the world as she sees it. She grew up under the loving gaze of parents who believed in her talent. Her light was allowed to shine from day one. Her mom and dad never questioned her plan to become an artist or what that actually meant. All they knew was that Mary’s dreams were sufficient to earn their respect. She had a passion for drawing and was encouraged to create and develop her artistic ability in whatever way she saw fit. Mary believes that since she was self-taught it was easier to stay true to her vision. Never having anyone trying to shape her talent, left her wide open to explore.

“Because I didn’t go to art school, I didn’t have any influences except the beautifully illustrated fairytale books that belonged to my mother and grandmother. I poured over them and taught myself to draw by copying their pages. The way I draw now was influenced by those books. There was often a quote under the pictures to explain what it illustrated in the story. That’s where I got the idea to incorporate quotations into my drawings. Because I was the only one doing that at the time, it set my work apart. It wasn’t my mission to get noticed or anything. It just worked out that way. My goal was to create images that expressed myself.”

“So I just went on my merry way and produced the kind of art I wanted to see.” –Mary Engelbreit

After Mary graduated from high school, she immediately moved into her career as an artist. She worked at an art supply store, a newspaper and an advertising agency. While trying to get freelance work from another ad agency, the art director told her she had to settle on a single style to attract clients. Mary immediately knew she didn’t want to work in advertising, “I tossed his advice aside and kept on going.”

At 22, she met her future husband, Phil Delano. They were married three years later. Even in the early stages of Mary’s career, Phil recognized her talent. He saw how people reacted to her art and was certain it was going someplace. Mary counts her lucky stars that he came into her life, “He always believed in me and encouraged me to keep at it. Even when we were broke.” In 1986, they formed their own licensing company, Mary Engelbreit Studios.

Mighty Good Husband

The knight in shining armor is based on Mary’s  husband, Phil Delano.

Up until 2000, it looked like Mary Engelbreit was leading a charmed life. On June 21st of that year, everything changed. Their 19-year-old son Evan was killed from a gunshot wound. The details are blurry as to whether it was self-inflicted or murder. After almost 20 years, Mary is still recovering from that loss. She believes it shifted her focus to what’s really important in life. She and Phil adopted Evan’s child after he died. Mikayla was only three months old at the time. Mary credits her granddaughter for helping their family to move forward after Evan’s death, “She basically saved our lives.”

After her son died, Mary found herself shifting artistically. She explains it like this, “I was always open to what came my way as an inspiration for my art. That loss opened a door that nobody wants to open. But there it is, and I had to deal with it. I’m lucky to have this artistic outlet to express my feelings. I don’t know what I would have done without it. I’ve felt that all my life, even for small things and for fun things. It’s really important to get your emotions outside of yourself so you can move on.”  

Prior to Evan’s death, Mary was a quiet activist. She created drawings about subjects that mattered to her but nothing too controversial. In 2014, that all changed when she made a drawing titled, No One Teach protesting gun violence and posted it on Facebook. Her illustration was inspired by her outrage over the police killing of teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. To Mary, the shooting death of Michael felt personal. Her heart broke for his mother and the community.

Speaking her truth, created a backlash Mary wasn’t prepared for. She confided that when she put No One Teach on Facebook, “Some people responded to it by posting ugly, ugly things.” She has come to terms with that though. She may have lost some followers, but in the end, they were replaced by others who support her views. Today Mary continues onward and upward with her activism. She will not stay silent so others can remain comfortable. And without a backward glance, she goes on her “Mary” way. 

In the USA

Click to purchase print.

*Prints of No One Teach can be purchased on Mary’s website. 50% of the proceeds go to the American Civil Liberties Union.

*************************************************************************************

*Coming up next: Profile of #1 New York Times best-selling author, Pam Grout

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

*Click  to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5 X 7 print!

Rodney Crowell: Playing to the A Student

Rodney Crowell-red line-2moth_edited-2“If I could influence someone’s description of me I would say, ‘he was curious and he was humble. And somewhere way back in his emotional mindset he was very self-assured.’” – Rodney Crowell

Rodney Crowell grew up in Texas. His childhood was a hardscrabble one. It didn’t hit him until years later that he had been traumatized by it. His father was a hardcore alcoholic who wasn’t opposed to hitting his mother on occasion. Rodney carried that shame with him long into his adulthood.

His mother was epileptic and belonged to a fanatical, Pentecostal church. Rodney was shaken to his core after witnessing church members shouting at her, while having a seizure, to spit out the Devil. Despite having no use for organized religion of any kind he considers himself a spiritual person. “I’ve always had faith. I’ve never been without it. Ever.”

Rodney began playing drums in bars for his dad’s band when he was 11. His parents neither encouraged nor discouraged their only child’s musical aspirations. At 15, Rodney left home to join a rock and roll band. His dad and mom waved goodbye at the door. He doesn’t even remember if they said, “good luck.”

When he moved out, it didn’t occur to Rodney that playing in a band wasn’t a practical way to make a living. “I never considered anything else and I think for that very reason I’ve had a career that’s lasted. I’ve paid the bills making music since I was fifteen. Music was the catnip. And I was one of those cartoon cats that was just floating through the air following the sound. I’ve been pulled along since day one, really.”

These days Rodney is known primarily for his work as a grammy award winning country music singer/songwriter. His compositions have been recorded by Keith Urban, Bob Seger, The Oak Ridge Boys, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, and Johnny Cash. His acclaimed memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks, is a continuation of the door he opened into his childhood in his semi-autobiographical album, The Houston Kid. He has continued to weave the narrative of his life throughout the albums he’s made since then.

By the time Rodney was 22, he had made his way to Nashville. He had fallen in with group of songwriters who mentored each other through the learning process. At the helm of them was Guy Clark. He gave Rodney a book of poet, Dylan Thomas’s to study. He wanted to make clear what they were doing was creating art. Rodney poured over it. For the first time in his life, he came to the conclusion that songwriting wasn’t something you just do to make money. Being an artist was about sharing your deeper self.

Around 1998, the stardom Rodney longed for began to materialize. At the time, he was married to singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash. They were raising Rodney’s daughter from his first marriage and three of their own girls. That same year his album, Diamonds and Dirt yielded five consecutive No.1 singles. It looked like Rodney had hit the big time. Blinded by churning out music for the masses, he had lost sight of the artist he envisioned himself being in his early twenties. Rodney felt like he had fallen into mediocrity. The celebrity he counted on making him happy had become a detriment to his psyche. “In my youth I craved fame because I was a young man unfulfilled. I was trying to fix the holes in my soul that were there from childhood.”

With the realization that he had lost his way, Rodney shifted gears and self-financed his album Houston Kid. It was risky. He made it with the cash he had on hand, even bouncing a couple of checks in the process.“I had to fund that record on my own because I wanted to make the exact music I wanted to make. When I was doing something on someone else’s dime I was inclined to try to anticipate what they wanted. I knew that wasn’t what an artist was supposed to do. In funding my own music, I found my voice.” Eleven albums later he has never veered from that path.

No longer chasing fame, Rodney’s focus is on a career with longevity. “As T-Bone Burnett said to me a long time ago, ‘Oh Rodney, I get it. You don’t want to be rich. You play to the A student.’ He was being funny and sarcastic, but if you’re going to follow your own heart, you have to be prepared to have a small following because it’s singular sensibility as opposed to board stroke sensibility.”

Rodney has learned much over the 50 odd years he has been in the music business. One thing is for certain, he no longer allows fear to dictate his actions. “I remember forming the mindset that if I was afraid of something, I would do it. As a matter of a fact, I made Houston Kid  because I was afraid to expose a lot of material in that. I was afraid to write about my father being an abuser of women…so I did it. And it transformed the way I go about doing things. Maybe for awhile I was too revealing. But maybe not.”

Looking back Rodney is at peace with his childhood. In fact, he says he wouldn’t change a thing about it. It’s the trajectory that brought him to where he is today. His faith in God has taken a real departure from the perimeters his mother gave him. “For one thing I wouldn’t call it a him. It’s male and female. It’s beyond gender. It’s singular. It’s mainly love and supreme intelligence. It’s an internal thing that’s outwardly expressed. And I think if that particular discussion even comes close to the coffee table it’s missing the point.”

Today Rodney still follows his heart.  It is something that spills over into all areas of his life. He acknowledges his parents did the best they could with what they had. What they weren’t capable of giving him Rodney made sure he gave to his daughters. He owns that he’s done right by them, “I’m a good dad, that’s for sure.”

As far as Rodney can tell they are all following their dreams. “Of course they are. I raised them that way. My girls grew up with the example of following your heart or muse right in front of them, sometimes frustratingly so. Sometimes it was hard for them to get my attention because my head was elsewhere. But they understood although my head may have been elsewhere, my heart never was.”

“I’ll bet that when you’re dying, you’re not going to think about the money you made. You’re going to think about your art.” – Guy Clark

On the cusp of his 70th decade Rodney has an unwavering faith that he’s doing exactly what he was put on Earth to do. He is a man whose talents are fully realized. That is no accident. The resolve to be true to himself has brought him to that place.”I don’t think I can create anything of lasting value unless it comes from the heart. I’ve had this knowing all along. Even when I lost a handle on how to do it..”

Rodney Crowell has come to terms with his days on Earth being numbered. That awareness makes time precious. He no longer puts off being with the people he loves. And when he’s not doing that he’s making art.

**************************************************************************************In 2019 Rodney was awarded the Academy of Country Music’s Poet’s Award

*Rodney’s 21st album, Texas, came out on Aug. 15, 2019 *************************************************************************************

*Coming up next: Profile of artist, Mary Engelbreit

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

*Click  to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5 X 7 print!

 

Susan Branch: Necessity is the Mother of Reinvention

susan-branch-editmoth_edited-2“Believing in myself was probably the hardest thing I ever had to learn to do.”

I was first introduced to Susan Branch’s art through a mutual friend. Margot had told me more than once that we had to meet. We were kindred spirits. After I began reading Susan’s memoirs and blog I was ready for Margot to make that happen. Learning about Susan’s world made me want to be a part of it.

susan-branchs-home

In her posts and memoirs, Susan shares musings, watercolors, and photographs of her life. I had become so familiar with her surroundings that pulling up to her house sparked a feeling of déjà vu in me. No need to introduce me to her partner, Joe. I felt like we had already met. My eyes soaked in every detail of her mid 19th century home. With a flash of recognition I saw her beloved Beatrix Potter figurines on her windowsill. Through that same window I could see the white picket fenced garden Joe had built for her. When I came upon her mustached cat, Jack, I knew for certain that her blog isn’t staged. It’s her living diary.

DSC05193

DSC05229.jpg

DSC05187 (1)

Susan speaks to her followers (or girlfriends as she calls them) like old friends. She loves people but admits to being an introvert. “The worst thing that can happen to me is going to the grocery store and having to make small talk with people.”  Yet she has no problem bearing her soul to the 56,000 (at last count) subscribers who follow her blog.

Her books, calendars, and blog are filled with watercolors and inspiring quotations. They are a step back into a simpler time. Susan tends to look on the sunny side of life. At the same time she doesn’t shy away from speaking her truth. I suspect this quality only makes her readers love her more. Her most recent memoirs The Fairytale Girl and Martha’s Vineyard – Isle of Dreams have become two of my all time favorite reads. They follow Susan’s quest to find her light and shine.

The Fairytale Girl begins with Susan’s childhood and ends with the break up of her marriage in the 1980’s. Like many women of the time, she had hitched her wagon to a husband. Being a stay-at-home wife did have its perks. Susan was able to turn homemaking into an art while honing her skills as a watercolorist. But in the end, it left her empty. All that centering around a man meant Susan had no life of her own. Leaving the marriage meant she had no way to support herself. “I was so confused because I thought I had done everything right. I mean I was married and supposed to live happily ever after. And then suddenly I find myself in the situation were I had absolutely no control over my life. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

With money from her divorce, Susan decided to go for a three-month stay on Martha’s Vineyard. She loved the island and needed time to reflect. What she thought was a hiatus to nurse her wounds ended up becoming a permanent home. She was determined that the days of someone setting the tone for her life were over. 

The decision to start over was the beginning of Susan’s introduction to herself. She now had plenty of time to explore who she was and where she was going. She soon realized that watching the news and soap operas was effecting her outlook. “One day I said, ‘You know I am feeding myself a steady diet of bad news. I’m turning it all off. The only news I’m going to listen to is what comes through my own open windows.’” That resolution left Susan even more time to discover who she was.

”So many times I’ve been asked, ‘what are you going to do with your life? Who are you going to be?’ I had no idea, and these questions tortured me. I read everything trying to find the answers. I wished I could find a nice short book called, The Secrets of Life. I kept asking, ‘Where is it?  Someone must have written it down. Like first you do this, then you do that, and voila!’ I never found that book but my search included lots of biographies about successful people and I started reading quote books like novels. They were filled with distilled genius. I was putting two and two together. It was all there. For one thing, you should never give up. And for another, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, we already have the power within.” 

Susan learned to connect to that power by taking a course on meditation,“For me, that practice is what opened the door to the gift of ‘within.’”

Next Susan began putting her energies into making her little house a home. “Just the tiniest thing, like putting a couple of flowers in a jar is so cheerful to see on your windowsill. It gave me a sense of having control of my life. I may not have been able to do a thing about the outside, but I had complete control on the inside.”

Susan now had the time to hatch a long held dream. She began filling her hours with writing and illustrating a cookbook. Combining her love of cooking and watercoloring was a natural progression. Once completed, she gathered her courage and submitted the manuscript to Little, Brown and Company in Boston. She was floored when they wanted to publish it. She had an exclusive contract with them from 1986 until 2006. During that time, Susan created thirteen books.

After 20 years of working together, Susan and her publisher parted ways. Little, Brown and Company had been successful with her cookbooks and weren’t open to trying anything different. Susan longed to create a book in the style of her handwritten diaries. Leaving Little Brown gave her the opportunity to “Branch out” and self-publish. 

“Making a book is like making a Christmas present. You want it to be wonderful. Now I could write what I liked. I could use the paper I wanted to use. I could give it a ribbon bookmark. Starting my own company, Spring Street Publishing, gave me all of those options.” 

IMG_7968

The Fairy Tale Girl came out in 2015 and Susan went on to publish its sequel the following year. She wrote Martha’s Vineyard Isle of Dreams to help others transcend loss and believe in themselves. “It was about finding your heart, finding your passion, and finding what you are meant to do in life.” Hope lives in its pages. 

Susan Branch never had a concrete vision of where her artistry would take her. Her career was a byproduct of living from her center. When she found her heart, her life’s work found her. Her best marketing has always been through word of mouth. In fact, that’s how her books were brought to the attention of a Hollywood screenwriter. A script for her memoirs is now being shopped under an exclusive deal. If the world-weary are lucky the screenplay will soon be made into a movie or television series. Susan’s sphere is the perfect antidote for the harshness of life.

Go. Be. Love. The world needs you. – Susan Branch

Susan Branch dishes.jpg

*Today Susan spends her time at her art table in her house on Martha’s Vineyard. She is painting and writing a new diary book, called Enchanted.

**My watercolor portrait of her is based on a photograph I took when we first met. After completing the art I discovered her hair was no longer brown like it had been in the photo. Susan Branch had decided to let it go gray. No point in not being who you are. 

51gksoyy-l-_sx356_bo1204203200_

51juah7xipl-_sx356_bo1204203200_

6148i7xRWrL._SX361_BO1,204,203,200_

*************************************************************************************

*Coming up next: Profile of singer/songwriter, Rodney Crowell

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

*Click  to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5 X 7 print!

Anita Moorjani: To Heaven and Back

Anita Moorjani WP.jpgmoth_edited-2Anita Moorjani is the logical person to begin my Porch Light Profile series with. What I learned from her book, Dying to Be Me, changed my life. On the surface we have little in common, but at our core we’re the same. As children, each of us was trained to put other people’s wishes before our own. We were taught to look outside ourselves for answers. Reading Anita’s book opened my eyes to the importance of self-love. As a result, I made a concerted effort to stop the negative self-talk and to trust my intuition. Yet, I wasn’t where I wanted to be. Interviewing her would be a chance to get more clarity for my journey. 

I emailed an interview request along with the premise behind my Porch Light Profiles. Surprisingly, I received a response a couple of hours later. Anita was in.

The next day when we spoke, I felt an immediate connection. For me, reading Anita’s book was akin to being lead through the door to freedom. In Dying to Be Me, she details her spontaneous healing from stage four lymphoma after a near-death experience (NDE). When she crossed over, she was informed from loved ones on the other side that it wasn’t her time. There was still work for her to do on Earth. If she stayed in Heaven she would miss out on many gifts that awaited her in the physical realm. Anita understood that when she returned to her body she would no longer have cancer. She was to go back and to live her life fearlessly. That meant to be fully herself and to love who she was unconditionally. 

“I came back knowing that just about everything that I believed or thought was a myth. It was scary to realize this whole world is built on false beliefs. I comprehended that truth is anything that is liberating and freeing, basically not fear. We were never meant to suppress who we are. Being our true selves is why we are here. Plants and flowers grow toward the sun. We grow toward our passion. We forfeit our power when we allow any religious, medical, or educational system to control us.”

Before Anita’s NDE she didn’t live by her inner light. She was disconnected from that source. She had no idea who she was. Raised in Hong Kong by Indian parents, she learned to deny her true self at an early age. She grew up pleasing people to fit in. By the time she was diagnosed with cancer, she was at an all-time low. She was so used to taking care of others, she thought, “Good. Now I have a reason to take care of myself.”

Anita assured me that if we all listened to our intuition, our lives would unfold better than we could ever imagine. In Anita’s case, writing about her NDE on an internet forum lead to renowned author, Wayne Dyer, discovering her. Through him she was given a publishing contract. After her book, Dying to Be Me, was released it quickly hit the New York Times bestseller list. It has since been translated into over 45 languages and has sold over a million copies worldwide. A full-length feature film of her memoir is now in production. Sharing what she learned in the afterlife has become her life’s work.

Anita believes that we are all born connected to an inner guidance system, but we are taught from an early age not to listen to it. “Our lives are regulated by outside rules. Because we are constantly trying to be what other people want us to be we end up not living our own lives.”

Anita’s experience in the other realm set her free from all of that. When she came back, to remain healthy all she had to do was be true to herself and follow her joy.

“I soon learned that when you live like that it doesn’t mean you no longer have any challenges. The problems you attract from following your heart are like a check and balance system. They put you back on course. Once resolved, they take you to the next level of your deepest self.”

Anita’s message is a radical one for many of us. To some extent we’ve all been indoctrinated by the cultural dos and don’ts. It’s common for women to base their course of action on outside expectations. “Am I being nice?” “Will it make them angry?” “Is it a sin?” All these questions are no longer given any credence in Anita’s world.

“Not listening to our hearts is a kind of spiritual crisis. It can lead to conditions like depression, addiction or in my case cancer. We all come here with a destiny, but many of us lose our way. Our only purpose in life is to shine our light. When we do that our highest potential unfolds before us. Loving ourselves allows life to draw in gifts and solutions that we never dreamed existed.”

At first, coming from within felt risky to me. As time went on it felt risky not to. Trading in my authentic self for other people’s “shoulds” is no longer an option. Day by day, my life confirms the truth of what Anita learned on the other side. Following my instincts instead of my fears has given me a newfound freedom. I’ve gotten to know and accept the person I was born to be. For years my heart longed to be loved for itself. Today I know that love must come from me.

.                              51mjixog1zl-_sx331_bo1204203200_41vj0eoxlkl-_sx335_bo1204203200_

*************************************************************************************

*Coming up next: Profile of author/watercolorist, Susan Branch

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

*Click  to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5 X 7 print!

Rolling in Another’s Skates

in-karlis-skates-2

Learning to love myself means learning to love others. I’ve discovered they are both sides of the same coin. To quiet the self-berating voice in my mind, I had to stop finding fault in people. In the bible it says, “Judge not, that you may not be judged.” Growing up, I was taught that verse meant if I were critical of another than I would be judged by God (and thrown into the fires of hell). Today, I believe Christ meant that if we judged others harshly, we will do the same to ourselves. His teachings weren’t about doom and gloom but meant to help free His followers to live in joy.

It’s hard to hold someone’s behavior against them when you realize we all struggle, many of us carrying the baggage of less-than-perfect childhoods and life experiences. That’s not to say that hurtful actions directed at you won’t sting. They do, and the feelings about them shouldn’t be denied. Understanding that we are all born innocent and only do what we’ve learned, makes it easier to trade our resentments in for compassion. I believe that beneath the most obnoxious personality lies a beautiful soul that I am a part of. Truly, we are all one. That is why it’s impossible to pick apart another without doing the same to yourself.

Family systems and societal beliefs have a way of programming us to be fearful. We all want relief from our pain and many lash out at others to unburden themselves. That’s why on a higher level, any kind of attack can be looked at as a call for love. Having empathy for what it would be like to roll in another’s skates, in no way means that you should put yourself in a position to be hurt by wounded people. A good analogy for this lies in an incident that happened to my friend, Gigi, while she was living in Montana. One day out her back door, she spied two adorable bear cubs climbing a tree. Moments later, their mother appeared to help them down. Although Gigi is a wildlife photographer, she didn’t take her camera outside and to try capture the scene. Understanding the protective nature of a mama bear, she knew she could be mauled if she went near them. That bear family was best enjoyed from the safety of her kitchen. In the same way, we have the choice to keep our distance from less than safe people. Like wild animals, some folks are best appreciated from afar.

gigi-embrechts-90 copy

A photo of the cubs Gigi was able to snap through her kitchen window.

*Click to buy a signed print of, “Rolling in Another’s Skates.”

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

*Click  to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5×7 print!

Going With the Flow

Flow Rider550

Need to absorb an important life lesson? Get it down on paper. I painted this watercolor to remind myself of the ease that comes with surrendering to the flow of life. For as long as I can remember, I have tried to manipulate events to get what I wanted. Career planning seemed a crucial part of directing my path as an artist. This process seemed to be working until the recession hit eight years ago. At that time, I couldn’t get an art director to look at my portfolio to save my life. Even my portrait commissions dried up. It became clear that all the listing, visualizing and pushing toward my goals wasn’t helping them to materialize.

During that frustrating time, the assurance in Matthew 6:33 came to me. “But you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things shall be added to you.” Translation: the Divine takes care of His children. For this to occur, all that’s required is to draw near to Him. After that, all of our other needs will be met. This was radical thinking for a wheel gripper like me, but I felt defeated enough to try it. Relaxing my hold and shifting my focus meant living where God lives – in the now.

Being in the now, means no longer trying to make things happen. I began letting problems work themselves out. I stopped trying to pry open doors that were nailed shut and began walking through the doors that were open. I discovered allowing God to be in control feels much better than trying to force solutions. To my surprise, my artistry was pulled in a direction that I never conceived of. I began writing (something I’d never done before) and illustrating a blog that now runs in the Huffington Post. My next step is to compile my posts into a book. It’s an undertaking that never would have come to me if I were still clinging to my “five year plan.”

Today the original “Going With the Flow” painting hangs in my studio.  It calls to mind the acronym for FROG – Fully Relying On God. I need to be reminded daily of the power of surrender. My little frog rider illustrates that truth perfectly. Like me, she has learned that it’s a waste of time to try and redirect the energy of life. Not only is the present moment missed but you’re too preoccupied to notice the gifts that lie around the bend. Relax and enjoy the ride. The current will take you to places that struggle never could.

Karli

My friend Karli was happy to model for the fairy in my painting.

Frog

The frog is based on this photograph by Gigi Embrechts.

*Click to buy a signed print of, “Going With the Flow.”

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

*Click  to sign up for my newsletter and receive a free 5×7 print!