A New Year – BE TRUE. BE YOU.

“We don’t realize that we are actually perfect just the way we are. We are born perfect, but spend a lifetime trying to be something we are not, and then feel inadequate for failing. Your only purpose is to BE YOURSELF, otherwise you will deprive the universe of who you came here to be.” ~ Anita Moorjani

The other day my son, Brian, told me that he wants our grandson, Cameron, to grow up and do what makes his heart sing. He doesn’t want “who he should be” imposed on his little guy. I found my son’s conviction so heartening. He already knows what’s taken me a whole lifetime to learn. Be who you are.

I was born into a world that already had perimeters and guidelines set into place to mold me. Being Catholic and female, left little room for my song to be sung. Add my parents fearful life-view into the mix, and I was a shell of the gift I was born to be. Needless to say, I felt stifled and unhappy. The harder I tried to fulfill others expectations the more empty I felt. Disillusioned and certain something was wrong with me, I began looking for ways to fix myself. Somehow what I was searching for in self-help books always alluded me. Today I see that what I really was seeking was permission to be myself.

I’ve set the intention to believe it isn’t selfish to love myself in 2016. I am going to stop criticizing my every move and allow myself to be me. I’ve come to the conclusion that loving who you are can only honor the Creator. Your uniqueness is no accident. Without your gifts and quirks there would be a hole in the tapestry of existence. Einstein was known for being a little peculiar but wrapped in his oddness was the ability to see things differently. What if he had stifled himself? The world have been deprived of his genius just like it will be deprived of yours if you keep the “real you” reigned in.

By being ourselves, we allow the Universe to work through us. Some may say, “But how can I do that when I don’t even know who I am?” The easiest way to discover the true you is when you’re making a decision ask yourself, “What would I do if I loved myself?” And then do that. A life lived this way is certain to take you to places you never dreamed of when you were holding yourself back.

This year when presented with a choice I’m going to ask myself, “Is this something that brings me joy or am I doing it out of obligation?” I’m going to check in moment by moment and really listen to how I feel. Once you start practicing this, you’ll be amazed by how many of your choices are not your own. It feels risky to quiet the mind and listen to the heart but doing so yields much joy.

This year, I am going to open myself up to having more fun. Trying to fulfill the world’s expectations is serious business and leaves little room for lightheartedness. I’ve resolved to ban self-help books from my library. I’ve decided I’m going to be reading for enjoyment. I am looking to be entertained not fixed. I will love my body and eat and exercise in ways that feel right to me. I am through with bowing to the standards imposed on women by advertisers and the diet industry.

Truly, the best New Year’s resolutions don’t come from the outside but from within. Many of us have tried for too long to make ourselves into something we’re not. It takes radical trust to believe that God knew what he was doing when he created you.

In working with the dying, palliative nurse Bronnie Ware, found that her patient’s biggest regret was that they wished they had lived a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them. I’m determined to never let that happen to me. When I reach the end of my days, I don’t want to be hit with the realization that I’ve lived someone else’s life. No, from this day forward the life I am living is my own.

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

Dreams Take Care of Themselves

 

Click to purchase signed prints of  "Beach Dreams"

Click to purchase signed prints of “Beach Dreams

The above painting, captures the innocence of childhood and my love of Martha’s Vineyard. I have traveled to the island every summer for the last 17 years. It’s hard to write about its splendor without sounding cliche. Although there is much that is upscale on MV, there is also raw beauty woven throughout. All I can say is the President and his family vacation there for a reason. Illustrating a child worn out from play, slumbering on the beach, is my way of bottling the island’s magic. Just looking at this picture, brings me right back to the warm sand and soothing sound of the sea.

Beach Dreams was an illustration commission for a poem. I was given free reign on how I depicted it, so I drew from my own experience. Dreaming has always been such a big factor in my life. The little girl sleeping is my way of saying the more you relax into your dreams, the more you allow them to come to you. If given a chance, dreams take care of themselves.

Below Beach Dreams from conception to final art.

My model "sleeping"

My model “sleeping”

Preliminary sketch

Preliminary sketch

Watercolor wash

Watercolor wash

Adding the details

Adding the details

Final art

Final art

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

My Christmas Wish

Christmas in the Blue Room

Christmas in the Blue Room

You gotta have a dream,

If you don’t have a dream,

How you gonna have a dream come true? 

― Rogers and Hammerstein, Happy Talk

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

If I can dream of a better land,

Where all my brothers walk hand in hand,

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

― Walter Earl Brown, If I Can Dream

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

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

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

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

I Once Knew a Girl who Gave Up Thinking…

Metamorphosis

The mind is a complete idiot. – Dr. David R. Hawkins M.D., PhD.

I have a young friend who never ceases to amaze me. When Andrea and I first met, I took her soft-spokeness as mousy. Inside and out, she seemed pretty ordinary. It didn’t take long for me to realize behind her quiet demeanor, was a girl of fire and spunk.

When Lent rolled around a few years back, Andrea’s priest told the congregation it wasn’t always necessary to give something up as a sacrifice. When preparing for Easter, he suggested that instead of depravation, Lent could be observed by taking on a practice that would be a blessing to the observer. Gathering with a group to study scripture or meditating each morning could also be a way to revere this high, holy time. And that’s when it hit Andrea, she would give up thinking for Lent.

When she first told me her idea I laughed. Give up thinking for Lent? How could that be possible? Don’t we need our thoughts to help move us through life? No, what Andrea was talking about was obsessive thinking. You know, the kind of thinking that gives you no rest. The kind of thinking that analyzes and tries to control every aspect of your life.

The last seven years had been rough for her. Pregnant at 17, she married her son’s father only to divorce him two years later because of a mental illness and drug abuse. After that, Andrea felt she had no choice but to move back home to her parents’ with their son Adrian. Living with a critical and condescending mother was less than ideal, but she needed help with her little boy. She saw no other way to keep her full-time job while working on a college degree.

Fear loomed large in Andrea’s life. She felt stuck and wondered if she would ever be able to give Adrian the life he deserved. Her ex-husband’s instability constantly disappointed them. Recently, he had checked himself into rehab, yet again, but she didn’t have much hope for a positive outcome. The gears in her brain turned around the clock with “what ifs.”

It was during this time the brilliant idea to give up thinking for Lent came to Andrea. She quickly learned she had to pay constant attention to her thoughts if she were going to be successful. In particular, her drive to work always signaled the wheels of her obsession to begin rolling. An hour later, when she pulled into the parking lot, she couldn’t even remember the route she took, her mind was so consumed. To unhook she began practicing being present by noticing her surroundings.

Andrea quickly discovered there was so much beauty in her daily drive she had never been aware of. It was spring. The flowers were blooming and everything was fresh and new. And the birds! She had never noticed the riot of their chirping. She began seeing hawks everywhere. She couldn’t believe she’d been so locked inside her mind that their majesty had gone unnoticed.

The more Andrea let go by staying in the now, the more she saw that everything she was fixated on resolved itself on its own. Maybe by relaxing her grip she was actually allowing God to work things out more quickly.

All will be revealed – not all will be figured out.– Mary Karr

I too have been held hostage by my brain. As of late, not knowing where my career as an author/illustrator is going has been weighing heavy on my mind. The publishing industry was turned upside down by the 2008 financial collapse and left me on the outside looking in. With the invention of electronic readers, the industry is now reworking itself in a way that makes sense with today’s technology. That means it’s harder than ever to get an editor to even glance at a submission. What to do? What to do? Should I continue to search for an agent, publisher or self-publish?

Lucky for me Lent is here and reminded me of Andrea and her bright idea. I took a cue from her and consciously gave up my need to analyze and force a solution. The moment I surrendered my thinking, peace washed over me and was immediately followed by the ding of an an email in my inbox. It was a note from a film company that wants to make a short documentary about my art. How cool is that? And with my mind out of the way, who knows what other miracles will be brought forth in my life. That Andrea is a genius.

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

Don’t Waste the Miracle

Love Came DownThere’s a spiritual energy that covers the earth during the holiday season. It’s that undefinable “something” that makes people more selfless, more friendly and kind when December rolls around. As a child I learned it was called the Christmas spirit. Wise people tap into it and carry it with them throughout the new year.

We all hunger for a spiritual connection. It’s occurred to me that’s what all the frantic shopping and gift giving are about. Remember when you were little, the exhilaration you felt when you found what Santa left for you under the tree? And as adults there’s nothing better than watching a loved one open the “perfect” gift you’ve bought for them. The presents we buy, are our way of trying to capture the joy we’ve learned to associate with the season. A feeling, I believe, we can get long term by having a relationship with the Divine. During the holidays, we’re given an opportunity to discover or renew that connection. By consciously immersing ourselves in that love, we are transformed. All things become new. We feel the wonder of a child again.

Irish mystic, Lorna Byrne, says special angels visit the earth during the December festivities. They come to join us for the celebrations that happen across all the different beliefs and religions. She sees thousands of angels flying over houses and buildings. Lorna explains, “The angels are dropping balls of light to help us adults reconnect with the joy and innocence we felt as children. After the angels have fulfilled their task they head heavenward and disappear.” For me, this explains the mechanics behind the surge of good will I feel this time of year. I’ve learned the easiest way to connect to that energy field is to simply ask the Creator for help. Then, in the quietness of the now, awe will settle upon you.

This year our family is taking a hiatus from gift giving. With our youngest’s wedding January 4 and our first grandchild due in the spring, we thought the break would take the pressure off of everyone. Happily, the Christmas spirit is still intact and stronger than ever in my husband and me. All of our children and their spouses will be home for the holidays. Who could ask for more?

Love still comes down at Christmas. Grab hold of it. Plug into it….don’t waste the miracle.

Me unwrapping the joy on Christmas morning 1963

Me unwrapping the joy on Christmas morning 1963

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

Time Well Spent

Time together is time well spent,  And time with our children is heaven sent. – Author unknown, found on a vintage sampler

In the above painting, which is more endearing, the fairy or her habitat? No question in my mind, I pick the fairy. Of course, it would be fun to discover the magic of her home, but she, herself, is what would ultimately charm me. I found life imitating art while visiting my daughter in Vermont.

We had been planning my October trip for months. Five days with my Bridget in a land of eclectic shops and bistros at the base of foothills woven with color. We had every day brimming with activities. I couldn’t wait to get there and begin our adventure. The first two days went according to plan. And then on day 3 it happened, without warning,  my back went out. Moment by moment, the pain worsened as we scrambled to get an appointment with a doctor on a Friday afternoon. We were lucky to find a chiropractor who squeezed me in. I did feel better after her adjustments but was advised to take it easy for the rest of my stay. Both Bridget and I were disappointed we had to cancel most of our plans (although, in retrospect, we really just felt bad for each other.) So that afternoon instead of taking her rescue dog on a hike to the reservoir we went to a movie.

Saturday we managed to browse a few shops before my back insisted we return home and ice it. That evening we had no choice but to stay in and watch a movie and sip some wine. But do you know what? We had a blast. We came to the realization the whole point of my trip was for us to be together. Sure Vermont is a beautiful place to explore but it doesn’t hold a candle to the pleasure of my daughter’s company. That night as I lay in bed my heart echoed the words of Kitty Carlisle Hart, “Each morning I wake up and say, ‘Dear Lord, I don’t want anything better; just send me more of the same.'”

Always my muse, Bridget modeled for the above illustration at age 10.

Always my muse, Bridget modeled for the above illustration at age 10.

Bridget and Nelson - a moment captured on my trip.

Bridget and Nelson – a moment captured on my trip.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

www.sueshanahan.com

Falling Leaves and Letting Go

“When I was willing to let go of what I wanted, I received what was truly mine. I’ve  realized the latter is always the greater gift. – Anita Moorjani

Autumn is here, my favorite time of year. I love how the leaves burn with color and the bite of Canadian air. Listen closely and you can almost hear the laughter of fairies twirling in leaves carried by the wind. In one week, I fly from Chicago to visit my daughter in Vermont. Since girlhood I’ve dreamt of seeing the changing colors of fall in New England. A dream I cling to so tightly, I’m filled with anxiety. What if I miss it like I did three years ago? On that visit the leaves had barely begun to change and rain dumped gloom on every day. For the last two weeks, I’ve been panicking as I watch the foliage in my neighborhood become more colorful each day. What if all the leaves have blown off the trees by the time I get out East? That’s when the thought, “frustration comes from thinking things should be different when they’re already perfect,” hit me. It stopped me in my tracks. The only way to see that perfection is to loosen my grip and be in the now. By worrying about how the trees are going to look next week, I miss how they look right now, in my own back yard.

I’m reminded of the new PC I bought ten years ago, which I thought was a disaster at the time. After having to call customer service over ten times in three weeks, about one malfunction after another, I was certain I had a lemon. I wanted a new computer but was told I only had a two week warranty. What? I couldn’t believe it. To add to my frustration customer service was in a different part of the world. Each time I called I talked to a different operator who had no real authority to help me. With persistence I finally was able to connect with someone in management who agreed to allow me to return my computer. I shipped it back that day. After that the only thing for me to do was buy a Mac, something I had resisted for years. I vaguely knew my way around Windows and the thought of learning a new operating system overwhelmed me. As it turns out the way my brain and a Mac works are simpatico. Purchasing that dysfunctional PC turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me in my career as an artist. All the support and guidance I’ve gotten from the trainers at the Apple Store opened up my world and the floodgates of creativity. What seemed like a tragedy, in reality, was perfection unfolding.

It’s safe to trust the flow of life. Circumstances may not always seem ideal. Be open to perfect looking different than you imagined. Incidentally, my previously wash-out trip to Vermont held tons of beauty. I suspect I would have been aware of so much more if I hadn’t been so attached to my agenda and resistant to the flow of life. And as American mythologist Joseph Campbell pointed out, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” And what lies in wait is always a gift.

The models who helped bring the above illustration to life. We had so much fun that day.

The models I photographed who helped bring the above illustration to life. We had so much fun that day.

A photo from my previous trip to Vermont. I was so sure the fall colors were a bust.

A shot from my previous trip to Vermont. I was so sure the autumn colors were a complete bust but my photograph tells a different story.

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All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

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Divine Calling

It is in by believing in roses that one brings them to bloom. – French proverb

We all have a divine calling, a purpose we were born to fulfill. Afraid to let nature take its course with our dreams, we roll up our sleeves and map out our future. Step by step we’re determined to make it happen. There’s a serious flaw in this type of thinking. Rather than moving us to our heart’s song, it keeps us stuck.

How can that be? Because in believing you have to make your passion happen, you’re limited to only what you’re capable of imagining. A more certain way to reach your goal is by envisioning what your life would be like if your longings were already realized. Indulge yourself. Start acting as if you’re already there by finding a place of trust within, a place where you know your dream is being brought to fruition. Live as if it’s already happening, and the physical world just has to catch up. Opportunities to transport you will unfold without your “help.” They will materialize as if by magic. And all you have to do is let go and dream.

Stay in the now. Work on an aspect of your heart’s desire daily. For me, today, it would be sharing my art by writing this blog. For my nephew’s wife Jamie, it’s about being the best mother she can be to baby Calvin. For Harriet Tubman, it was saying, “yes” to her calling to guide slaves to freedom in the north. She didn’t worry about unforeseen dangers on her journey. She relied on moment-to-moment guidance from her maker. By believing in our dreams, without agonizing over how to bring them to pass, we leave room for the divine to work out the details. That’s my interruption of the idiom, “God is in the details.”

In Linda Ronstadt’s new memoir, Simple Dreams it’s clear all she ever wanted to do was sing. How her gift was shared with the world wasn’t something she was consumed with. By keeping her focus on the joy of singing, her heart’s desire materialized, in a big way. Not many of us clammer for that kind recognition. But what we all do share is the desire to bring the rose we are born with to bloom. By loving that rose and leaving the particulars of its flowering to God, we leave the door open for him to out dream us. And out dream us he always does.

My nieces Collette and Andi were happy to pose  as  Degas ballerinas for me.

My nieces Collette and Andi were happy to pose as Degas ballerinas for me.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

Beauty Within

Divine Things

Maybe the tragedy of the human race was that we had forgotten we were each Divine. Shirley MacLaine

 The inspiration for Divine Things came to me one summer on Martha’s Vineyard. The island is wrapped in a wild, raw beauty. There are images of mermaids everywhere.  Lying on the beach, it’s not hard to imagine a secret world beneath the waves.

 The mermaid in the illustration is a metaphor for the exquisiteness that so often lives below the surface. It takes an open mind and heart to discern it. But then again, sometimes all it takes is just looking……

Bridget MV

I snapped this photo of my daughter Bridget on Martha’s Vineyard, around the time she posed for the above illustration. She is a mermaid of the landlocked variety. To learn more about mermaids check out my friend artist Margot Datz’s book  A Survival Guide for Landlocked Mermaids.

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