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

Hold on Tight to Your Dreams

“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all your life spend your days on the end of strings that somebody else pulls.” -Howard Thurman

 The first memory I have of myself painting was when I was in kindergarten. I was working on a profile of a woman with blond hair, wearing a red dress. My teacher was so astonished at the level of my skill she brought the rest of the faculty in to watch me. When I ran home and showed my creation to my mother, she barely gave it a glance before she discarded it. Today, I believe she had a personality disorder and didn’t have the capacity to be supportive. I really struggled searching for the courage to live my dream of being an artist. Part of me believed I was gifted, and the other half thought I was delusional.

Preparing for college, I informed my high school counselor that my sights were set on a career as an artist. She assured me that wasn’t realistic. No, my future had teacher or nurse, stamped across it. I was heartsick. Even though I didn’t argue her prediction, my mind still whispered, “Someone is going to do it. Why not you?” That thought is was what lead me, at 17, to begin reading books by Norman Vincent Peale, the father of positive thinking. His message fueled my longings and gave me the determination not to abandon them. Holding on to my gift is one of the triumphs of my life. I could have so easily accepted what the adults in my world told me. As time unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear – authority figures don’t know everything.

When I became a parent, my joy couldn’t be contained. The love I felt for my children made my mother’s lack of interest in me even more obvious. One thing was certain, I would make sure my kids knew they mattered.

The girl in the illustration is my daughter, Bridget, when she was 21. She sits on a moon composed of her dad’s chagrin. Yes, that is his face embedded in it, and those are her words waltzing across the sky. Bridget was born with a sense of entitlement. At 3 years old, when I told her I was the boss, she exclaimed, “I’m the boss too!” At that moment, I made a pact with myself to protect that fire in her. I wanted her to believe she could do anything. I wanted her to know that her hopes and aspirations where important, and nothing could stand in her way of achieving them. When she was in junior high, I took her and her cousin to the Oprah Winfrey Show. We were in the audience for an episode on girl’s self-esteem. I hoped they’d make the connection that Oprah and her staff weren’t so different from them. Knowing that regular people do amazing things makes what we long to achieve more attainable. This first occurred to me when my children’s friends looked at my illustrations and couldn’t believe I had painted them. I saw the significance of understanding that the extraordinary always comes from the ordinary. Knowing that is what gives credence to the words, “Someone is going to do it. Why not me?” And why not you? What gifts were you born to share with the world?

I do what I want- photo I snapped the above photo of Bridget to base my illustration on. Under my direction she sits on a “picnic table moon,” holding a martini glass.

Today Bridget is is still doing what she wants as a local television news anchor and reporter. Once she got the bug to be on TV, she never even considered it wasn’t possible. She is a born communicator and loved being on air from day one. Diane Sawyer and Bridget ShanahanBridget’s role model is Diane Sawyer. So in 2010, when the Oprah Winfrey Show requested recommendations for a “Harpo Hook-Up” show, I sent an email (okay, 33 emails) to her website telling her staff about Diane’s influence on my daughter and how inspiring it would be for Bridget to meet her. Sure enough, the Oprah Show hooked her up. Bridget got to sit in on ABC’s World News as Diane’s guest. It was one more opportunity for her to see that big things are accomplished by ordinary people. Most of all, what I yearned for Bridget to take away from that experience was that dreams do come true. And they do.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

 www.sueshanahan.com