Sheri Salata: You Are What You Dream

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

Sheri Salata

Watercolor by Sue Shanahan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Have a Fairy Godmother? Borrow One

Elli&Agapi

Elli Stassinopoulos and her daughter, Agapi

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

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

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

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

201202-orig-agapi-stassinopoulos-600x411 copy

The Photo I based my painting on.

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

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

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

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Fresh From Heaven

Fresh From Heaven

What I love about kids is that they come into the world already trailing the breath of the angels. – Oprah Winfrey

I am sure about something. Small children know from whence they came. They are still a part of heaven. That is why one of the easiest ways to feel the presence of the Divine is to connect with a child. When my grandson, Cameron, was around 15 months old his parents began hearing him in his crib having what sounded like a conversation with someone. I believe that angels are everywhere. Maybe Cam was sharing his thoughts with heavenly companions. Why couldn’t he be? To me it makes perfect sense.

Recently, a friend told me a story about a little girl who wanted time alone with her infant brother. Her parents were suspicious of her motives. What if she did something to harm the baby? The big sister was so persistent that her mom and dad finally decided to allow her ten minutes alone with him in his room. After they closed the door, they listened quietly. They felt chills when they heard their daughter say, “Baby tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.”

Do children come into this world bringing memories of a reality they lived before they were born? I think so. Little ones are so fresh from heaven that there hasn’t been time for them to become hypnotized about what is and isn’t possible. Sadly, over time, they become plugged into the world. What they once knew, they soon forget with the help of well meaning adults.

I just put down a book on that subject entitled Memories From Heaven by Dr. Wayne Dyer and Dee Garnes. In it are accounts from all over the world of children’s recollections of their existence before they came to Earth. When I think back, I can recall the connection my children had to the other world. When my firstborn, Rob, was two, he had “imaginary” friends he played with all the time. Today, I wonder if these were relationships that had been forged before he was born. Perhaps he outgrew them in an effort to fit in when he learned they weren’t “real.”

When my daughter, Bridget, was three, my sister Ann lost a baby late in her second trimester. She and her husband were devastated. We all were. One day, when I was overcome with grief, my little girl was having trouble understanding why I was so heartbroken. She asked, “Why are you so sad? Just because Annie’s baby is in heaven doesn’t mean he’s not her baby anymore. He’s still Annie’s baby.” The assuredness with which she said this struck me. Where I saw a loss, she knew there was none.

One of the most beautiful impressions of the afterlife I’ve ever heard came from my great-niece when she was only three. Aine is highly intelligent and so articulate I never questioned the sophistication of her account. Her grandmother, Judy, was so moved by it she wrote it down word for word: “It’s glorious and there are a lot of rainbows up there and beautiful angels.  A tall place over the sky with twinkling lights all over it, a stained glass door. You respect the lifetime you’re having rather than not liking your lifetime on Earth.  Boy, that Earth is beautiful. It’s the best place I bet.”

Heaven

I believe the veil between childhood and heaven is transparent. Of course, there is no way to prove if a young one’s description of eternity is truth or fiction. I’ve come to the conclusion that just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real. After all, no one can actually see electricity, but we do know the benefits of acknowledging its presence. Little ones live with one foot in heaven and the other tethered to earth. I’ve learned so much from listening to them. It’s comforting to know that there are more than the ups and downs we experience on this planet. Behind the scenes, moves a loving Presence that never abandons us. Pay attention. From the mouths of babes often come reminders of that.

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

Intuition…One of Life’s Little Shortcuts

“I’ve trusted the still, small voice of intuition my entire life. And the only time I’ve made mistakes is when I didn’t listen.” -Oprah Winfrey

I’m working on listening to my heart. Trusting my inner guidance has been an ongoing process. One morning last August, I prayed to be shown how to listen and act on what I know to be true. I have trouble paying heed to the small voice attempting to guide me. It’s hard to hear it over the clatter in my brain, trying to figure everything out.

Later that day, I took our dog, Quigley, outside with me to check the mail. As we walked toward the mailbox, he darted to the side of the house. He frantically began searching for something in the bushes. As I rushed over, my instincts screamed to get him out of there. Then the thought hit me. My husband, Bob, would say to leave Quigley alone because he was after the vole that had been eating the roots of our plants. What did I do? Against my higher judgement, I stood by and watched. I could hear the critter rustling and then came a loud hiss. Quigley sprang back. To my horror I saw a yellow glob of goo oozing down the top of head, into his eye. I didn’t know what to make of it until an acrid smell hit my nostrils. Quigley had been sprayed by a skunk!

Quigley is an Australian Blue Heeler that we rescued.

Removing the stench off of him was quite a process. After bathing him daily for a week, he still had to be confined to the basement. It was a whole month before the unmistakable smell was completely gone. If I had only listened to what my intuition told me, I wouldn’t have had to deal with the foul odor that relentlessly clung to my dog.

If earth is a school, the class I must be taking is Trust Your Gut 101. Our inner guidance is an illuminated lantern to help us from stumbling on our path. I’ve heard it said that the universe talks to us first in a whisper and then gets louder and louder until we get the message. The way that whisper was amped up on that morning last summer makes me laugh. It’s nice to know God has a sense of humor. There is nothing like the smell of skunk to drive home a point.

Funny that such a benign looking little creature can cause such havoc.

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

Are You Listening, Oprah?

Oprah Sharing Her Gifts750

“Everyone is different: different shapes, sizes, colors, beliefs, personalities, and you have to celebrate those differences.” – Kelly Clarkson

Over the years, I have learned so much from Oprah Winfrey. I felt a kinship with her from the day she began her show in Chicago in 1986. She was so real. Plus, she was a woman of size (like me). She was someone who was approachable, not above me. I could relate to her love of books, spiritual matters and the desire to be thin. I shared her anguish about not being a size six. I went on every diet she did. It was hard not to notice Oprah’s weight yo-yo during the reign of her talk show. If she wasn’t pointing out her failures, the media was.

After the Oprah Winfrey Show ended in 2011, whether she was fat or thin went under the radar. Without being on T.V. Monday through Friday, it was hard to know what shape Oprah was in, which was fine with me. I had been doing some serious soul searching about my size. I needed a break from constantly monitoring my eating and exercising. It was robbing me of the joy of living in the now. It didn’t do any good long term anyway. I wondered if I was fighting nature? Could I have been born this way?

Last December, I watched a once again curvy Oprah being interviewed by Barbara Walters on her “Ten Most Fascinating People of 2014” special. Oprah may not be at her “best self” weight, but she is as beautiful as ever in my eyes. Barbara asked her to complete this sentence, “Before I leave this earth I will not be satisfied until I…”

Oprah responded with, “Until I make peace with the whole weight thing.”

Barbara sounded shocked when she said, “What? That’s still on your mind? I was expecting something deeply profound.” Oprah assured her that yes, she had to make peace with the “ whole weight thing.”

What petite Ms. Walters didn’t understand was Oprah’s wish is deeply profound.  As a woman who has struggled to be thin her whole life, it would be such a gift to me if she accepted herself. Maybe Oprah and I, along with countless others aren’t meant to be a size six. What if we are fine the way we are? Maybe the bodies our souls inhabit aren’t what the culture has deemed desirable, but does that make them wrong?

Today, at 59, I have still not won the war with fat and am waking up to the notion that maybe this is who I am. There is more and more scientific evidence that says being fat doesn’t necessarily mean one is unhealthy. Maybe the media and the fashion police are wrong. After all there was a time in our country’s history when people were made to feel less than because of the color of their skin. Looking at nature I see that there are all different shapes and sizes in the animal world. Could human beings be made the same way?

“If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world ablaze.” – St. Catherine of Siena

Oprah’s continual references to her issue with her weight has only helped to make her a target by mean spirited people. The distress she feels adds fuel to the shame women carry about their bodies. Think about celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg. I find it interesting that the press never remarks about her size. I have a pretty good idea why. Whoopi knows she has it going on. She knows her light shines from the inside out so it’s a waste of time to try to mold herself into a standard dictated by fools. Because her body isn’t an issue with her it’s not an issue with anyone else. I think it is time for women to embrace their bodies. I don’t want to waste another minute rejecting what I was born into. My body is a temple, and the same goes for you, Oprah Winfrey. What would the world do without you? You have a big purpose and your soul lives in the perfect house to manifest it. If you accept yourself, just as you are, you will give permission to womankind to do the same. That would be a gift passed down from generation to generation. And what do your sisters think about your body inching above your “goal weight”? It’s the better to hug us with, my dear.

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

Learning From Maya

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou 1928-2014

“When you learn, teach, when you get, give.” ― Maya Angelou

Dr. Maya Angelou passed away peacefully on May 28th. She was a poet, memoirist, performer, educator, activist and mother. In 1982, when she took on a professorship at Wake Forest University, she knew she had come home. To her surprise she discovered she hadn’t become a writer who taught but was now a teacher who wrote. And teach she did. Many of us were introduced to her by Oprah Winfrey. Oprah took joy in sharing the life lessons she learned from her mentor. Today, many of those insights roll off my tongue. Whomever I quote them to invariably thinks I’m brilliant. Of course, I have to confess those wise words didn’t originate with me. I can only accept credit for being smart enough for taking Maya as my own.

We are more alike than we are different” – Maya Angelou

I first read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when I was twenty. Maya was an artist who painted with words. It was the first time I had read such an honest, intimate account of sexual abuse and the struggles of being black and a woman. I was not black or sexually abused, but I am a woman and knew how it felt to be treated as “less than.” I had an immediate connection to the author. On the surface we were nothing a alike and yet she somehow knew my heart. I learned that as a young girl Maya sat in the balcony of a movie theater, reserved for blacks, waiting to grow up and become rich, beautiful and white. Thirty years later, I sat in a theater waiting to become that same woman. It never happened for either of us but watching Maya embrace her unsung beauty gave me, a white girl uncomfortable in her own skin, permission to do the same.

“Love builds up the broken wall and straightens the crooked path. Love keeps the stars in the firmament and imposes rhythm on the ocean tides. Each of us is created of it and I suspect each of us was created for it.” – Maya Angelou

As an adult, Maya boldly never edited who she was. I admired that but didn’t think it was possible for me to be that way until I read an interview with her in O Magazine.  In it Oprah asked her where her confidence came from. I was expecting Dr. Angelou to say it came from being raised by her stable and loving grandmother.  But no, she explained that it sprang from love. She didn’t mean love in a sentimental or romantic sense. What she was talking about was much bigger than that. She was referring to a state of being so large that it’s unconceivable. Knowing of all the strikes that had been against her, assured me that that kind of love is available to everyone. If bidden and allowed, it will hold anyone’s head high and move through them to fulfill their life’s purpose.

“If you have a song to sing, who are you not to open your mouth and sing to the world?” – Maya Angelou

I’m grateful Dr. Angelou had the presence of mind to document her life in books and interviews for all of humankind. Even in death, she will continue to teach. I smile when I think of how God brings greatness out of the most unlikely people. Thanks to Maya’s heeding the call, a six-foot-tall, black woman is no longer considered an unlikely candidate for anything. The concept for the above portrait came to me when I realized the word “angel” is in Dr. Angelou’s last name. I dressed her in the garb I imagined her ancestors wore and placed stargazer lilies in her arms. They’re fitting flowers for her to hold because they mean one who is “high-souled” or spiritually evolved. I find hope in knowing that she didn’t start out that way. From a turbulent childhood, she grew into a seeker of truth and then lived what she learned. She followed the yearnings of her soul and became part of a movement that raised our country’s awareness of social injustice. She was an earth-shaker and a mountain-mover. She left none of her gifts unused. And for that, dear Maya, we thank you.

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Stargazer Lily

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

Being Beautiful is Not a Profession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope in the New Year

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

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

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

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

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

Always Had the Power

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

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

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

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

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

The image of Oprah that I based my portrait on.

The image of Oprah that I based my portrait on.

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

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

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

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

www.sueshanahan.com

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. -W. B. Yeats

Back in 2001, I took what felt like a huge risk. I sent a dummy of a children’s picture book that I’d written and illustrated to Maria Shriver. She was aware of my children’s illustrations and especially liked a portrait I had created for her friend Oprah Winfrey. Still, in all honesty, I felt beneath her. She was accomplished in every area of her life, including writing children’s books. At that time, I was struggling to find my voice as a writer and infuse life into my illustrations.

I’m sure Maria has no idea the gift that was wrapped in her response to me. Although she admitted she usually didn’t look at books that were about to be published, she made an exception with mine. She was thoughtful enough to read it with one of her little girls who loved fairy stories. In her letter to me, Maria shared her daughter’s insights about the book. Although I had a publisher interested in it at the time, I decided to switch gears and rewrite the story. Recreating all the art and implementing her daughter’s suggestions into the book was a huge task. Looking back, I am so glad I did it. Her daughter’s ideas were the beginnings of bringing my book to life.

Through the years and a few more revisions I stand on the threshold of Glory in the Morning being published. Maria’s kindness not only changed the direction of the book but it changed the trajectory of my life. She took the time to see me and believe in me and helped me to know that my dreams mattered. Her validation gave me the realization that there’s a place in the world for me and my gifts.

 Glory in the Morning is now  the subject of a Kickstarter campaign that ends Nov. 5th.Preliminary sketch for Glory in the Morning. Soon There Will Be No Me to Believe in from Glory in the Morning.My little fairy in the flesh.Page from Maria Shriver’s letter.

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