Wise Women Wednesday: Sonya Shannon

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It's Wise Women Wednesday, each week I interview a woman that I believe is inspiring, living abundantly and following her passions.  These are all women who live a life of abundance and bring creativity into the world.

Q. Who are you? What is your background?  
A. I am a Canadian-American artist and author who creates “visual medicine” to help people on their journey through life.

After studying classical animation (old-fashioned Disney-style, with pencil and paper!), I worked as a pioneer computer animator for film (effects on Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) and TV (Broadway Video, home of Saturday Night Live), then taught computer animation in New York City (Pratt Institute and School of Visual Arts), and in Asia (Hong Kong Arts Center, LG Media in Seoul, Central Academy of Art and Design in Beijing).

In the early days, computer animation grew out of 3-D flight simulation—basically, war technology. Ugh. As one of very few women artists in that geeky male-dominated hierarchy, my dream was to use the technology spiritually – to reveal metaphysical mysteries that help uplift people. This was long before spiritually-themed effects movies like The Arrival, Avatar, and What Dreams May Come could even be imagined.  

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Like most pioneers, I learned computer animation the hard way...on my own! Though I struggled in many ways, working in the industry was a great advantage. Having experience at the start of a new field meant I could teach at college level. It suited my nature to educate others, plus I could open doors for talented new artists. Sometimes it’s hard to believe how lucky I am to have taught today’s leaders, including Academy Award® nominated Carlos Saldanha, director of Ice Age, Rio, and Ferdinand; Patricia Hannaway, an animator of the donkey and princess on Skrek and Gollum on Lord of the Rings 2; and Virginia “Gini” Cruz Santos, now a senior animator at Pixar who’s been there since A Bug’s Life. I’m overjoyed to see computer animation evolve into a spiritual art form. The challenges were absolutely worth it!

Q. What is your work?
A. I am dedicated to serving those who seek a connection with the Divine. I work as a fine artist, educator, and author.

One tool I created for these turbulent times is the Transformation Oracle. This channeled deck of 44 cards and guidebook helps folks navigate global and individual challenges at the dawn of the Aquarian Age. Spirit guided me to make a helpful tool that fits in your briefcase or purse. We all need quick, effective, accurate help now! The Transformation Oracle is simple to learn because it's based on the ancient wisdom of the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. These elements correlate with Body, Mind, Spirit, and Heart, which everyone knows intimately. So the Transformation Oracle is a tool anyone can pick up and use, with immediate results. You can pull a card for a quick decision on a job or relationship, or get deep insights on changing old behaviors and beliefs. 

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If you want to claim the power, love, abundance and divinity that is your birthright, I encourage you to get hold of this deck at https://artware.com/products/transformation-oracle. I’m running a special with FREE SHIPPING on the new Ruby Edition, for pre-orders placed by midnight January 31, 2018. The checkout code is RUBY150. The Ruby Edition vibrates at a frequency that elevates you to experience your true status as spiritual royalty—which, if you’re reading this blog, you undoubtedly are! This special limited edition (there are only 150 decks!) matches the power of women speaking out now against eons of abuse. The cards are super activated by what’s going on now.

Q. What is one project you are excited to be working on right now?
A. Since long before the #MeToo moment I got the vision to help survivors of childhood sexual abuse—a problem at the roots of power abuses finally coming to light.  I am very excited to be completing Coyote Girl, a graphic novel* I started in 2011. For many survivors, it’s really tough to move forward in life and overcome the deep scars and psychological patterns. I don’t promise my book will cure anyone, but I am passionate about doing my part raise awareness. In reality, it takes a village to sexually abuse a child. Everyone plays a part. Through this story, I hope to help bring more understanding to the problem of child abuse, and help survivors find a way to fully enjoy life, sexuality, and the freedom to be their fullest and highest selves.

Coyote Girl is based on a fairy tale that never made it to North America, maybe because it is considered “too disturbing.” But if you are the one in every five women who was abused as a child, you know the grim reality. In the story, a father falls in love with his daughter after his wife dies. Through the help of her fairy godmother, the daughter tries to stop her father’s sexual advances by demanding he do impossible tasks, each of which he miraculously (!) accomplishes. The girl has no choice but to run away, disguised under a smelly animal skin so no one will know her true shame and grief — that of incest. She toils and struggles, eventually overcoming her plight only to fall in love with the prince who sees her true worth.

This old story has many keys to help childhood sex abuse survivors unlock the trauma and recover. Fairy tales are sometimes put down for being corny or saccharine, especially the “happy ending.” But it’s a mistake not to understand how and why they work. Long before psychotherapy, folk tales were passed down aloud because they express both the psychological problem and its solution. Fairy tales are not meant to be taken literally. Instead, they use a language more like dreams. In Coyote Girl I use pictures to convey these dream-symbols, and I believe the picture can be powerfully healing—along with therapy and other techniques.

* A graphic novel is basically a deep, meaningful story told in comic book form or “graphics.” Two famous examples are Maus by Art Spiegelman, about his parents surviving the Holocaust, and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, about a girl coming of age during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. 

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Q. What is one thing you've done recently that's scared you and took courage, but you're glad you did?
A. Speaking out for the #MeToo movement was scary, as I did it on the very first day. I’m glad I opened my throat chakra and finally used my voice. I know for sure my speaking out encouraged others to do so too. Having been silent for decades, it took courage just to put the words #MeToo on my FaceBook page, without going into any details. The most amazing part of the #MeToo movement is all the love from other women who suffered abuse at work, as well as support from men friends who express outrage at how other men behave towards working women.

Despite the incessant abuse at work, what hurt the most was being paid 1/5 the salary of my male counterparts. Like encrypted software, in the early ‘80s salaries were top secret. But one day I found out precisely how much I was underpaid. My initial outrage quickly degenerated into feeling worthless — an old pattern I had of turning injuries into self-hatred. To compensate, I worked twice as hard as my peers, but still couldn’t get far. Being paid unequally was devastating. For a while, I wondered how God could let this happen? There was nowhere to turn. After the #MeToo movement hit Hollywood, some people condemned women for not speaking out sooner. They forget that, at the time, speaking out would end of our careers. Even now there’s a backlash against vocal women. I don’t want to list all my grievances from not being in the “boy’s club,” but I’ll share just a couple to let other women know they are not alone:

• The great projects never came my way. 
• My name was wiped off film credits.
• A particularly hate-filled boss demoted me from professional animator to something resembling a secretary. 

I’m learning to speak out without sounding or feeling like a victim. I didn’t complain or pursue legal action at the time because of all kinds of reasons…and mainly I did not know how. That’s all changing now, and it started back then when I got some sweet revenge:

One day, the company held a contest for the best storyboard / script for a short animation. The prize — besides directing the film — was $1,000 cash. Entries were submitted anonymously to a “blind” jury. The judges were based at our three offices in Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles. Though I felt I didn’t stand a chance, I’d worked in the first two so I submitted my best idea. Why not give it a shot? I had nothing to lose. The day they announced the unanimous winner everyone was baffled. Not a single person in the company recognized the artist. The three judges, two of whom had been my direct bosses, had to look up who had won. Ha HA! The winner was me! It took the “blind” jury of men to “see” my talent for the very first time. Winning was profoundly re-affirming and a huge lesson on how prejudice distorts perceptions and creates almost insurmountable oppression for the recipient. Speaking out now, I feel vindicated and relieved.

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Q. What is the work you most want to be doing and are you doing it?  If not why not what's stopping you?  
A. I am doing it! Creating art, writing, and teaching.
I was afraid I’d be a "starving artist" if I created art full time. I lacked self-confidence. No wonder, if you read my answer to question 4 above. I thought I needed advanced degrees, a big paycheck, awards
and accolades to prove my worth—plus thousands of fans to cheer me on. Over time, I healed by having compassion for my damaged self.

Fortunately, life’s hardships help me more deeply understand my soul’s purpose. Instead of chasing dollars and glory, I desperately need to listen to that quiet, inner guidance. Through meditation, prayer and intuition, I put my spiritual wisdom ahead of worldly, materialistic goals. I give up trying to make it in the male-dominated VFX field, and surrender instead to my calling as a metaphysical artist. The talents and experiences I’ve been blessed with demand a strong connection to the Divine. I draw strength from that Higher Power. Over time I’ve developed a daily meditation practice that directs my course and helps me serve Spirit and my fellow human beings. Today, I feel lucky to have the unconditional support of my husband, family and friends.

To be honest, every so often old fears and low self-esteem resurface like bugs in software. Transformation is a life-long process. As I near sixty, I’m learning how to earn what I believe I am worth. Alignment with the Divine gives me faith that the money is coming. Discipline, a reasonable goal, and perseverance are essential to my course. And I have to remind myself I’ve only been working as a full time artist since mid-2014. I’ve heard it takes the average business five years to get off the ground…so I’m doing okay thank you!

Q. What would you tell your high school or college self?
A. “Listen to the deepest part of you! You are made of Light and very guided. Trust the Universe and TRUST YOURSELF!!! You are a talented artist for a reason. Don’t listen to everyone outside yourself. You know what to do! Just get on with it.”

In those days, at least where I grew up in Canada, if you were smart you couldn’t look beautiful, and if you were beautiful there’s no way you could actually be smart. At thirteen I was already six feet tall and I literally had to look down on most adults, including men! Though I wasn’t athletic, some people assumed I was a basketball player. Or a fashion model. I loved clothes, so I tried modeling for a while. Um…not for me! I was two years ahead in HS science and math, and didn’t want to be “beautiful.” It was confusing and distracting. Wait. I’m supposed to build a three-dimensional geometric CG model, but—now I’m supposed to be a fashion model?! Wha—??? 

I’m glad I was able to sort it all out and forgive myself and forgive the men—and women—who hurt me. I love men and am happily married to one. I would have encouraged my young self never to accept unacceptable behavior from anyone: not bosses, not doctors, not boyfriends, not teachers. It would have saved a lot of time! Though I would never want to re-live high school and college, it’s all good! I trust the timing and the way my life has worked out. 

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Q. What's one piece of advice or motto you love and use in your daily life that you would like to share with my sweet readers?
A. “Progress not perfection.” – 12 Step Recovery Slogan

Procrastination is perfection’s dream come true. Every project is “perfect”—until you start it! From teaching and creating animation I have learned to start big projects very small and simply. For example, I began the graphic novel Coyote Girl by making a mini book from printer paper. With this blank, toy-sized book, I could no longer pretend I hadn’t started! I made progress with one a small action. I still have this mini book by my desk as a reminder.

Perfection thrives on workaholism. But it’s hard to keep a balance, because production is not for the lazy! I have to keep a certain amount of pressure on myself to reach daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Fortunately, being a computer animator taught me about work quotas and how to meet hard deadlines—hey! We would be sued if our animated show opening or ad wasn’t on TV on time. In working for myself, I still had to discover how to set a realistic deadline. I’m a human being who is bound to get sick, need a vacation, or encounter a computer crisis, etc. I now use intuition, experience, and kindness to organize production around what’s actually possible to accomplish. If I need to move the deadline and there won’t be harsh consequences, I do. I make progress and let go of inhuman stress.

Finally, “progress not perfection" is psychological. Self-hatred is the mother of perfectionism. To accept my work as being good enough means I have to let go of outside opinions. So what if others judge and criticize? Their comments say more about them that me and my work. I’ve been called everything from “Angel Barbie” to “Queen Bitch of the Universe.” Not to be rude, but I read somewhere that opinions are useless information. Who knew?! And thank goodness! I can just burn away unhelpful input. These days I view every completed project as an experiment with an outcome. I am bound to learn from whatever happens—far more than if I never finish! 

Q. What keeps you creating when you don't feel like it?
A. Sometimes I just need a break, and I have learned to allow myself one whether or not I can fly somewhere exotic in real life. Instead, I get on Google Earth and “fly” around the planet. I figured out how to drop down to street view, then slowly lift up and scroll forward in Google Earth, to drone over the terrain. I’ve traveled everywhere! When my parents went on a trip to Portugal, I followed their route virtually. When my husband and I read about some place in the world we’ve never heard of, we “go” there. Taking a mini vacation is incredibly stimulating and a great creativity reset button for me.

If I need specific inspiration, I go to a cultural source – a museum, theatre, dance, cinema, or a library. So much is available online! I can watch YouTube videos on how pointe shoes are made, or image surf European castle décor until I click back on track. I get so inspired by what others have done! Pondering Da Vinci drawings, rooting for student dancers who try out for the Joffrey Elite, or delving into a Neil deGrasse Tyson astrophysics book reconnects my creative circuits.

If I’m stalled on a project, I focus on the end recipient – the person who may not be an artist but understands the world through pictures—and needs the message coming through me right now! What if mine is the only message that could reach that person? The responsibility to help those who suffer is a strong motivator for me. I also call friends who encourage and remind me what they get from my work. And I offer to help other creative people. I like to mentor artists and writers, review portfolios, read first drafts, and encourage burgeoning creativity. Give away the thing you want more of and it will come back to you fourfold— that’s what I believe.

Q. Anything else you'd like to share?
A. Um…yes?! Women, young and old, have been “invisible” long enough. We’ve all drowned in a sea of sexy, young, skinny female (mostly blonde and white) images that repress our true selves in exchange for…what, exactly? Why should we lie about or hide our age? I refuse to dye my hair or cut it short just because I’m fifty-eight. I love long, natural hair. And I’ve earned my grey! People stop me every day to comment how much they like my hair. I am proud of who I am and what I have accomplished in a frequently hostile work environment. I’m no one’s sex object and never wanted to be. So please do whatever you want with your own looks!

My 82-year-old Mum’s hair is purple and white. Some of my closest friends—and some are very young!—have cosmetic surgery. Fine! I just hope you express yourself and not what society dictates. When more women honor our wisdom and truth, and stop being ashamed or afraid to reveal our true ages, life experiences, interests, and intelligence levels, we will all benefit and the changes will come. Let’s leave a better, more equal world to our daughters, granddaughters, nieces and all little ones.

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Q. What's your favorite yoga pose? 
A. Easy pose.  I have scoliosis, so of all the yogas I find Kundalini the most helpful for chronic back, neck and hip issues. I also love that Kundalini yoga includes meditation and chants. I spend pretty close to an hour most days in easy pose. Right now I’m doing 120 days of Laya Yoga. I’m grateful my knees let me sit cross-legged. I can imagine doing easy pose when I’m 104—and I hope to live that long!

Q. How do you live a life of abundance?
A. Abundance to me means surplus: having excess beyond bare essentials so I can give something away.

Financially, I’ve known ups and downs, like severe under-earning, then finally breaking the $100K barrier, and then one day much later finding myself at the food bank (!) when there just wasn’t enough money for bread and milk. That day came after the mortgage crisis, when my husband was ill and I was out of work. But to me, money doesn’t define abundance!

To live in abundance — especially when cash is tight — means being grateful for everything I have. It’s really a mindset. I can live in a mindset of scarcity and fear about paying bills—which is like pouring Miracle Gro™ on my insecurities and negative thinking. Or I can have a mindset of wealth, where I live in serenity, optimism and faith, knowing I am doing my best and trusting the Universe to provide. Abundance is a state of mind, a way of believing and being where there's always more than I need. But abundance needs to be practiced, especially when times feel scarce. Like after 9/11 and the Dot Com bubble burst, when my husband and I were both suddenly unemployed.

For many years we sponsored four displaced Tibetan monks and nuns. We sent money each month—not much—but still, enough to worry about after world events obliterated both of our jobs. After praying, my husband and I listened to our hearts and to Spirit, and decided to keep sending money to the monks and nuns. Regardless what we had lost, they had so much less to begin with. It’s easy to behave like selfish, spoiled Americans and forget that our “hard times” are unimaginably entitled compared to most people’s whole lives on Planet Earth! When I was in mainland China in the early ‘90s, one of my hosts asked in disbelief if it was really true that Americans ate three meals a day. There, he considered himself lucky to get one. And he was happy! So what IS abundance if not attitude?!

Still, on days when I’m struggling with my "abundance attitude" I make a gratitude list: I write down everything for which I’m grateful in life. I read over the list and feel each item resonate in my heart. Meditation amplifies gratitude and changes my fears to faith. I try not to take even the most basic things for granted. If you think about it, until pretty recently in world history, most human beings lived their entire lives without hot running water, light bulbs, computers, carpets, or cars. I remind myself that I live in a luxurious, materially excessive culture and time. It’s easy to want more, more, more — or conversely, to compare myself with others and drown in fear of not having “enough.” Like my heroine Sheryl Crow said, “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.” I am blessed with good health, a loving husband, dear family and friends, and a wonderful home complete with all my high tech art equipment. The list goes on and on. If you are reading this post, you have access to high technology and you have been educated, more than millions of girls and women can say. We are all so incredibly lucky!

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