PLP #2 Susan Branch

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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.

My second Porch Light Profile is about New York Times best selling author and illustrator, Susan Branch. Her cookbooks, calendars and memoirs have made her feel like a dear friend to thousands. Handwritten and gorgeously illustrated, they are a vacation for the mind. Filled with conversational style and inspiring quotations, they are an antidote for the harshness of life. Her 2015 memoir, The Fairytale Girl begins in her childhood and ends with the break-up of her marriage in the 1980’s. Like many women of that time, she had hitched her wagon to a husband. Although being a stay-at-home wife had it’s perks (she was able to turn homemaking into an art and honed her skills as a watercolorist) in the end it left Susan empty. All that centering around her husband, meant that she had no life of her own and no way to support herself. 

“Believing in myself was probably the hardest thing I ever had to learn to do.”

– Susan Branch

So where did Susan go from there? She went for a three month stay on Martha’s Vineyard and ended up never leaving. What she thought was a hiatus to nurse her wounds turned out to be an introduction to herself. She decided that the days of someone setting the tone for her life were over. On the island, she soon realized that her steady diet of news and soap operas were weighing her down. She turned off the television and decided the only news she needed to hear could come through her open window. To sooth her unrest, she began seeking the keys to life in biographies of her heroes and quote books. She learned the theme that ran through most of them was that the answers to your questions cannot be found outside of yourself. Heaven lies within. Now that she knew that, Susan’s search was over. It was time for her to take responsibility and get to know herself. 

In 2016, her sequel to The Fairy Tale Girl was released. She wrote Martha’s Vineyard – Isle of Dreams to help others transcend loss, follow their hearts and believe in their dreams. Hope lives in its pages. In it, Susan writes in detail of how she learned to live from her own center, “I learned that, for me, the key to making my dreams come true – the one that opened the door to the gift of “within” – was meditation.” Becoming an author and illustrator was a byproduct of self-discovery and living from her inner light. She didn’t have to map out a plan on how to make a living with her talents. When Susan found her heart, her life’s work found her. It soon came to her that realizing her dream of getting a cookbook published wasn’t about the dream world at all. Realizing her dream was about hard work. Happily, the toil is made much easier when you are doing what you love.

In her books and blog, she talks to her readers as if they are old friends. Because of that, over 56,000 kindred spirits subscribe to her newsletter and feel like they know her personally. Never one to market herself much, most of her followers have been drawn to her by word of mouth. In fact, that’s how a Hollywood screenwriter found her. A script for Susan’s books is now being shopped under an exclusive deal. If her fans are lucky (my fingers are crossed), the screenplay will soon  be made into a movie or a television series.

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

Two summers ago our mutual friend, Margot Datz, brought me over to Susan’s house for tea. At that time, I vaguely knew Susan’s work, but I liked her right off the bat. She was warm and welcoming. Her house oozed charm right down to her mustached cat, Jack. I have since became a huge fan of Susan’s memoirs and cookbooks and can’t believe she wasn’t on my radar sooner. Her newest books, The Fairy Tale Girl and Martha’s Vineyard – Isle of Dreams, have become two of my all time favorite reads. How she writes about herself, and who she is, are one in the same. Don’t let the nostalgic cheeriness of her work lead you to believe she has no opinion of the world past her doorstep. She is a woman of heart and mind and doesn’t shy away from speaking her truth. I suspect this quality only makes her followers, or girlfriends as she likes to call them, love her more.

I based the above watercolor portrait of Susan on a photograph I took. The only snafu in the process was that after I had completed the art I discovered her hair was no longer brown like it been in the photo. Susan Branch had decided to let it go gray. No point in not being who you are.

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

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

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We Burn Brighter Together

Angels with one wing

Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know they are always there. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

I just returned from our annual week’s stay on Martha’s Vineyard. Since 1997, my family has vacationed together there. Early on, my sister discovered painter Margot Datz lived on the island. She’s illustrated most of Carly Simon’s children’s picture books. I was crazy about her work. I made up my mind to track her down and introduce myself, although it took me a couple of years to work up the courage to call her. My resistance came from having placed  her on a “one who has arrived” pedestal. After finally meeting Margot, her warmth and candor assured me she was not above me. We stood eye to eye. I now call her a friend and a more generous one you’ll never find.

Margot Datz on one of my Vineyard visits

This year when I reconnected with Margot she was frantically finishing paintings for her show in August. True to her nature, she dropped her paintbrushes to bring me to tea at her friend, author/illustrator, Susan Branch‘s home. After reading Susan’s memoir, A Fine Romance, I was dying to meet the woman behind that gorgeous book. Margot was delighted to make that happen.

When we pulled up to Susan’s house, a weird déjà vu came over me. In Susan’s blogs and books, she shares musings and observations of her daily life. They are illustrated to perfection with her watercolors and photographs. As she introduced me to her husband, Joe, I had to restrain myself from saying, “We’ve already met,” because we had, in her writings. From reading her posts, I recognized every charming inch of her house, even her cats. Susan’s life, like her heart, is an open book.

Susan's cat Jack

Susan’s cat Jack

The three of us sat around her kitchen table and sipped Susan’s own private blend of delectable tea. We talked about our lives as artists and other things. All three of us agreed to liking intimate gatherings over parties. No chitchat for us. We are of the soul-connection variety. When I confessed that I had no idea I could write before I began blogging, they tittered in unison, “No one does!” Really? So that means that I’m not alone but share a sort of universal creative process. Hmmm. Knowing that comforted me. I am not an oddball. I am an artist.

Susan Branch in her studio

Susan Branch in her studio

He who lights his candle from mine, receives light without darkening me. ~ Thomas Jefferson

In my youth, I felt quite competitive toward professional creatives who, as I saw it, were living my dream. I was beneath them always grasping for what was out of my reach. I viewed the world as having only so many openings to be filled by people in the arts. If others arrived, that meant there was less of a chance that I could. The only way to find success was to somehow maneuver around them and snatch their light.

Thank goodness for the beneficent women who’ve shown up and taught me different. They’ve encouraged me and believed in me. Unthreatened, they’ve made it their business to help figure out a way for me to market my gifts to the world. Forging a friendship with Margot left me with the awareness that no one makes it alone. Bringing your heart’s desire to fruition is never a solitary act. It hadn’t occurred to me someone would actually allow me to light my candle from there’s. Wouldn’t I be stealing their flame? No, the truth of the matter is together we burn brighter.

Margot’s book, “A Survival Guide for Landlocked Mermaids” with it’s sage observations is the perfect gift for any of your sister-friends.

 

Susan's "A Fine Romance" is a work of art, part love story, part travel guide. Not to be missed by anyone who yearns to tour England.

Susan’s “A Fine Romance” is a work of art, part love story, part travel guide. Not to be missed by anyone who yearns to tour England.

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