The answer is yes
SARK—writer, artist and professional permission-giver—is here to greenlight your creative dream
In the world of SARK, the improbable becomes possible. Despite declaring herself a “proud procrastinator,” SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy) has published 13 books in the last 15 years. In 1989, she moved into a cottage in San Francisco with one dollar and a falsified check she sold her possessions to cover, and made enough money from the creative work she completed there to buy the cottage and the building behind it as her home and office. And she receives inspiration regularly from one of her favorite writers, Henry Miller, whom she met for the first time after his death.
“I was given the name SARK by the author Henry Miller,” she explained over the phone from her home. “He came to me in my dream and said, ‘Your name will be SARK, and your artwork will be famous before your writing.’ I said, ‘That’s a dumb name. I’m not going to be that name.’”
SARK had read everything Miller had published but was unaware he had died when he began visiting her in her sleep. Miller returned to her dreams a few weeks later with an amended suggestion. “Your name will be Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy,” he told her. SARK, whose given name is Susan Kennedy, found the additional middle names beautiful and went to court to make them legal. “I was sitting in the courtroom doodling, waiting for the judge,” she recalled, “and I realized that it spelled SARK.”
The author of books like Succulent Wild Woman and Make Your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day, SARK has brightened the shelves of bookstores worldwide with her uniquely designed tomes. They are printed in her handwriting and filled with humorous doodles, wobbly watercolor squiggles and vibrant colors. She writes openly about each of her life’s challenges, be it surviving incest or her relentless perfectionism. She cheers inspirationally for her readers’ creative potential. She encourages people to write in her books, read things out of order or take a nap mid-chapter. In the pages of a SARK book, everything is allowed.
“I’m a permission-giver and re-energizer,” SARK said, when asked to describe her personal mission. It’s a challenge she’s embraced since age 10, when she befriended an 80-year-old man in her neighborhood named Mr. Boggs. When Mr. Boggs fell ill and went into the hospital, SARK sent him letters and homemade cards every single day for a month. “When he got out, he said, ‘I think you saved my life, because no one else called or wrote,’” she recalled.
“I said right then, in my little playhouse in the backyard, I said, ‘If I can do that for one person, what might I be able to do for the world?’” she continued. “I came in and told my mother I was supposed to be a beacon of hope for the world, and she said, ‘Eat your peanut-butter sandwich.’”
SARK wrote her first book shortly thereafter, at age 10, but it would be another 25 years before she became a published author. “You could say there was self-doubt from 10 until 35, and procrastination and destructive behavior,” she admitted. “I lived all over the world with millionaires. I had adventures. I was wild. I was collecting stories. I was trying to write and never doing it. And I had many jobs. From 14 to 26, I had 250 jobs. I had a grandfather who said, ‘Do everything you can think of doing, so you know what you don’t want to do the rest of your life.’ So I found many things I didn’t want to do the rest of my life.”
She paused for a hearty laugh, a sound that frequently punctuates her conversation, before adding seriously, “I learned a lot about service and humility. I think everyone should be a waitress. Everyone.”
SARK’s transformation from proud procrastinator to proud published procrastinator happened with the debut of A Creative Companion: How to Free Your Creative Spirit, a book she wrote in only two weeks. “I had been talking endlessly about writing,” she recalled, “to the point where people’s eyes would glaze over, and they would look at me kind of pathetically, like ‘So, how’s your book?’ Then they would look desperate to get away. It was awful.”
SARK recently had created the “How to Be an Artist” poster (with suggestions like “invite someone dangerous to tea” and “make little signs that say yes! and post them all over the house”) when an editor from a Berkeley press suggested publishing it. Over tea in SARK’s cottage garden, the editor asked why she hadn’t written a book yet.
“Everyone had asked me that,” SARK said. “I’d asked myself that, but something about the way she said it and the timing in my life, well, I practically pushed her down to get her out of the garden so I could go in my little cottage and start writing my book.”
Two weeks later, SARK had finished A Creative Companion, a love letter to the artistic process written in her handwriting and peppered with illustrations. “It didn’t look like any book I’d ever seen,” SARK admitted. “I thought, ‘Oh no! No one’s going to publish it.’ And this is exactly what I feared, that I would let it out, and I would still be rejected.”
Of course, her editor insisted on publishing the book exactly the way SARK had drawn it, in a style that has continued through her next 12 books and garnered an enthusiastic audience ranging in age from schoolchildren to senior citizens. These days, SARK receives thousands of calls a month on her inspiration phone line—where she leaves recorded messages about her creative musings. The Planet SARK message boards (at http://PlanetSARK.com) are full of posts from her readers about their progress on dreams as varied as traveling to India, selling handmade jewelry, making peace with a deceased uncle, paying off debt and “finding a place where I feel like I belong.” SARK herself has posted more than 1,700 replies and travels the country teaching workshops on how to live one’s dreams more fully.
SARK will lead her first Sacramento workshop on Friday, October 28, at East West Books. Titled Free Your Creative Spirit, the event is part of a tour for the recently released SARK’s New Creative Companion: Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit, an updated version of her first book with 16 new pages, new paintings and color on every page.
“It’s time to bring [the book] back because creative energy and creative thinking and creative spirits in action are exactly what we need in our world right now, for every single challenge we’re facing,” SARK said.
The workshop will include stories, games, guided imagery and group activity. “It’s all tailor-made to include introverts,” she promised, “because I am an introvert. I know what it’s like to be afraid to attend something for fear you’ll be forced into talking and made to participate. That’s not the kind of person I am. I make it a safe and very, very fun environment.”
The fact that the woman behind such revealingly autobiographical and exuberantly colorful books considers herself an introvert might surprise her readers, but SARK is used to debunking assumptions about herself. As she announced in Succulent Wild Woman, “I am not always a positive person. People call my inspiration phone line, or read my books, and decide that I’m this super-positive person with glitter in her hair and a beatific smile. … I am flooded with the same doubts, terrors, insecurities, rages, incessant worries and critical inner voices as everyone else—maybe more!”
“I have written about my faults in embarrassing detail, and people choose not to remember that,” SARK said. “It’s a form of projection, and it’s something that’s challenging to deal with, frankly. It makes me feel like I can’t be a real person, and it goes against everything I’m advising them to do.”
When asked how she responds to people who expect her to radiate inspiration and solve their problems, she said, “First I slap them, and then I say, ‘Have you read the books?’”
She laughed deeply before admitting she actually practices “de-idealization,” which means she’ll admit right away at a workshop that she’s having a bad day or doesn’t necessarily know any more than anyone else. “I believe in speaking into anything that’s not being said,” she explained.
She also believes in asking people about their creative dreams, be it in workshops, on airplanes, on the Web or over cups of tea. “It’s one of my favorite subjects,” she said. “Everybody’s got them. Everybody’s doing them. It’s so exciting when people are actualizing them and also when they’re stuck.”
When asked about her own creative dreams, SARK grabbed the list she published in Make Your Creative Dreams Real. “I’m curious which ones I’ve done or which ones have changed since then,” she said. She read the list aloud. Its wide and varied goals include treehouse living, African safaris, adopting a child and having a radio show. She paused after each one to acknowledge her progress: “Living in Ireland: a dream. Creating a foundation for arts programs in the schools: I’ve done it. It just needs to be funded.” At the end of the list, she laughed and asked herself, “What will the new ones be?”
Perhaps Henry Miller can answer that. He does still visit her dreams, after all. “But now,” SARK said, “he just laughs.”