Hello Friends - I just returned from a wonderful trip to southern California where I met my brand new nephew Declan Patrick Dunn. This month's newsletter is dedicated to him. He is a miracle and I am completely smitten.
I also spent a few awesome days catching up with my friend and fellow artist Taylor Gallegos of Taylored Arts. Check out some of his work below.
Here's to inspiration in its many forms, Sheila
Oh The Places You Will Go
Dearest Declan Patrick -
You were born on the last day of February with ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes and I love you more than I can properly explain.
Your mom was incredibly brave and strong bringing you into this world. Although I haven’t experienced giving birth, I am convinced it is one of the ultimate acts of pure, unconditional love. And so it was with this profound love – and after many, many hours of labor – that you made your grand entrance into this life. When I first held you in my arms you were so newly born that a remnant of your umbilical cord remained attached to your tiny belly, a lingering fragment of the lifeline you shared with your mother in the womb. Beyond its physical significance and necessity, it also seemed a symbol of the energetic lifeline which you will always share. The bond between a mother and child draws no comparison.
Even when it is time for you to set out on your own, to ‘head straight out of town into the wide open air’, you and your mom will always remain inextricably linked. The cord that connects you two is capable of spanning any amount of time and distance. At some future point when you feel flooded with joy or burdened by despair, don’t be surprised when your mom reaches out to you with impeccable timing, signaled by a slight Declan tug in her gut. It is with this same mamabird-sixth-sense that she may know when you are in danger or about to make an exceptionally poor decision.
Not only were you blessed with a wonderful mom, but also with an incredible father who loves you more than anything. I’ve known your dad for close to thirty years now, Declan, and I’ve never seen him adore anything the way he adores you. And it will be with this complete love and adoration with which he will father. Even so, there will be times when he will make you mad - times when he will say no to that party or that once-in-a-lifetime-I-can’t-believe-you’re-not-letting-me-go-you’re-so-mean concert. But with time and maturity you will realize that a) there will be other concerts and b) his decision was rooted in love. There will also be times when he makes full-on mistakes (because he is human and that is what we humans do) but even those will be rooted in love. Every decision, every gesture, every mistake will share the same origin of love and protection for you. And it will be this unwavering love that will sustain you through the shifting tides of this life.
You will undoubtedly hear stories from your grandparents (aka The Declan Adorers Club) about your mom and dad’s athletic accomplishments. Wild tales of how your mom traveled around the world with a crew of Russians during her days as a professional figure skater, most notably as Snow White in Disney on Ice. And I guarantee you will hear stories of your dad’s days as the point guard of his basketball team or how quickly he picked up surfing. Now I’m here to tell you, Declan Patrick, that it’s wonderful if you end up being a skater or a basketball player or a surfer. However, it’s also wonderful if you would rather be a poet, or a computer guy or a trapeze swinger in the circus. (And yes, your parents are allowed to blame me for this).
Here’s my first piece of advice for you, little man: have the courage to live life on your own terms. Follow your own heart’s longing, not some vague notion of what you think others may dream for you. During my senior year of high school, one of my favorite teachers advised me to not pursue art because I had “much more potential”. Not listening to him was one of the best decisions of my entire life. Although I had - and still have - the utmost respect for him, I recognized it was not his decision to make or his life to live.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t always so self-assured growing up. I played sports in high school and really hated it. I would secretly wish my games would be canceled or injury would befall me (slightly pathetic, I know). I would have rather spent my afternoons climbing outside, or playing the guitar or taking a dance class. And here’s the thing - my parents would have been totally happy with me focusing on any of those things (although climbing always made them a bit nervous). They didn’t pressure me to play sports - I did that all by myself. I felt like it was what I should do.
Advice from Aunt Sheila #2): don’t put too much pressure on yourself or invest time in I should pursuits. It is one of surest ways to rob the spirit of happiness and energy. Instead of spending time mulling over what you think you should pursue, instead do what brings you the most joy, that which feels like a natural extension of your spirit. A famous 16th century writer named William Shakespeare (you will learn about him) once wrote the following six words: “To thine own self be true”. Memorize this line, little Dec, and build your life around it. Be true to yourself, always and in all ways.
But here is the tricky part about being true to yourself: knowing your truth isn’t generally the hard part. The answer is in there, a visceral voice that echoes in the deepest layer of your gut, in that same place which once connected you to your mother. In my experience the most difficult part is being brave enough to listen, especially when it feels like the scariest or most inconvenient or heartbreaking thing you can imagine. Advice from Aunt Sheila #3) listen anyways.
Because the truth about the truth is that it will continue to sound in that innermost part of you, whispering “listen to me, listen to me”, regardless of whether you choose to listen now or further down the road. There it will remain like some kind of ill-placed root jutting out along your path despite attempts to ignore it or shush it or change directions. So rather than allowing it to slowly gnaw at you, Little D, have the courage to listen and respond accordingly. Initially you may think, “Damn! That was the scariest thing I’ve ever done! What the hell was I thinking?!” This is the precise moment to force-feed yourself a healthy portion of trust and faith. Then call me and I will assure you that clarity will come with time and you will be infinitely grateful that you followed your truth. Every time you listen to your heart, you choose a vibrant existence over a muted one.
In keeping with that idea, I’d like to share a little story with you from my childhood. In elementary school my best friend Emily and I were walking back to her house after school carrying our handmade clay pots from art class. For the past two weeks, we had spent hours rolling coils of clay between our hands, constructing glazed creations with equal parts concentrated focus and peer distraction. Somewhere between the swing set and basketball court, I remember Emily looking down at her pot and saying rather matter-of-factly, “You know, I really hate this thing”. She smiled and proceeded to hurl it through space. It seemed to soar through the blue sky for quite some time, eventually meeting its demise on the very earth from which it came, smashing into a thousand pieces. I remember feeling a strange combination of shock, awe and envy. I couldn’t believe her boldness! Afterward, she looked truly satisfied - like something inside of her was set free.
I have been thinking about this story a lot lately - and not just because I still have similar urges to hurl paintings through space - but because I think it’s wonderfully symbolic of having the guts to rid ourselves of those things and thoughts that weigh us down. Even if that which we destroy is something we’ve spent hours or years creating, something we have built with our own two hands. There will likely be experiences in your life that may leave you with residual feelings of fear or unworthiness or self-doubt. You may question whether you are good enough, or deserving enough or whatever enough. Instead of holding onto such thoughts and storing them on some empty shelf of your soul to collect dust, what would it feel like to hurl them through space instead? To free yourself of that which is not serving you right then and there. To say, “You know, I really hate the way this makes me feel” and send it flying.
Granted not every letting go experience will be as cathartic or resolute. There are certain things in this life which pass through our grip like a leaf on an autumn day – weightless as a sparrow’s bone, escaping with the slightest of breeze. There is a strong temptation to grasp accompanied by the simultaneous recognition that doing so would only cause the leaf to crumble. And so we learn to acknowledge the inevitability of the seasons with a quiet acceptance. This letting go experience is not easy - much harder, in fact, than smashing something to smithereens. But it is a necessary, unavoidable and ultimately beautiful part of being human.
Finally, I’d like to share one more quote with you from a man who roamed the earth a few centuries before William Shakespeare. Although not as well known as Mr. To-Thine-Own-Self-Be-True, I believe the words of 12th century mystic Meister Eckhart to be equally potent. He wisely noted “If the only prayer you ever say your whole life is 'thank you', that would suffice”. I know your parents will teach you very good manners and you will courteously respond "please" and "thank you" at all the appropriate times. And being polite is very important. However, the "thank you" Mr. Eckhart is referring to here expands beyond the spectrum of social niceties. Instead, I believe he is referring to an all-encompassing, infuse it into your bones and source your life from it kind of "thank you". He is speaking of living from a place of sincere gratitude for all that we've been given.
And Declan, your life is already so blessed. Having a fully supportive, loving family sets you up for success in a way nothing else can. You will also find irreplaceable friends in this life whose loyalty and kindness will continually astound and humble you. You will fall in love and have your heart broken; you will discover gifts that are uniquely, exquisitely yours alone; you will cross weirdish wild spaces and discover magical things; you will learn to be alone and soar to the Highest Heights; you will have Bang-ups and Hang-ups and learn to Un-slump yourself. You will move mountains, sweet nephew of mine. And so my final piece of advice for you: try to experience it all from a place of deep gratitude, to let an undercurrent of "thank you, thank you, thank you" direct your life. You have brains in your head, You have feet in your shoes. You can steer your life Any direction you choose.
Oh the places you will go, Declan Patrick.
I spent a few days catching up with my friend Taylor Gallegos. It is super inspiring to have peers who are still plugging away at making art. Taylor is currently working in Oceanside, CA. If you're in the area, check out his work! You won't be disappointed, he's a true talent.