A new book presents life lessons in a striking package
For SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy), nothing is more annoying than being forced to feel glad when you don’t. Sure, challenging things happen all the time and you don’t want to spend your life wallowing, but hiding your emotions or pretending you’re feeling something that you’re not is just as bad.
From the title alone, the well known author’s latest book, “Glad No Matter What: Transforming Loss and Change into Gift and Opportunity,” sounds like a cynic’s nightmare: the self-help book. But it’s not.
In fact, the mere phrase “self-help book” is one that SARK would like to stamp out of our vocabulary. Self-help books imply authoritative authors with about as much life experience as your little sister, demanding that you live your life a certain way.
SARK is the first to admit that she’s no better or more knowledgeable than anyone. “I’m a succulent wild woman who’s riddled with failures and splendid imperfection,” she says.
That brutal honesty and genuine modesty—plus the fact that she handwrites her books in marker and decorates them with her own photos and watercolor paintings—make SARK’s books irresistible page-turners and this one’s no exception.
Inspired by her mother’s passing, the painful end of a love relationship and the death of her cat, “Glad No Matter What” offers applicable, practical tools to show, lead and guide readers through life’s punches.
Beginning with a Feelings Menu that indicates what page to flip to when you’re in various emotional states (i.e. scared, happy, anxious, etc.), SARK shows the reader how to turn negative experiences into positive and rewarding ones with what she calls “transformation practices.”
These practices include everything from shortening the amount of time we spend resisting change, to recognizing that although most of us were taught to accept and live with ‘bad news’—it’s just news, and acknowledging that healing doesn’t happen in steps like a ladder, but rather in spirals and layers through which we are constantly cycling and sometimes get stuck.
Easier said than done, right?
The truth is, SARK isn’t offering a Band-Aid for an open wound; rather, she is referring to a life-long process that can alter the way we respond instead of react to challenging situations. To empower us, she uses a number of fresh success and failure stories from her own life.
“I’m a human experiment,” she says. “It’s not just ‘the book is over and now I’m done transforming,’ it’s something you have to work on every day.”
Just a few days prior to our interview, she was forced to literally walk her talk.
After returning from a recent trip, SARK arrived at the San Francisco Airport and hailed a cab to take her home. Moments after she was situated in the taxi, the driver asked for her destination. When she gave her address, the driver began shouting, slammed on his breaks, threw her luggage on the sidewalk and forced her out of the car claiming that the distance was too short and she was wasting his time. While most people would have thrown a fit after receiving such treatment, SARK simply got out of the cab, grabbed her luggage, told him “you’re a very angry person, I wish you well” and started walking—in the rain.
“The whole thing was very movie-like,” laughs SARK. “But I’m so happy that I didn’t get upset—in fact, I laughed; my ability to get over it just shows how much transformative exercises help us to respond in different ways.”
Moving on after her breakup was not so easy.
It’s been a year since SARK’s love relationship ended and much of the book is dedicated to processing the heartache, self-doubt and stress that came along with it.
But just as she predicts in the book—“by the time you read this I’ll be transformed”—the silver lining is looking a lot shinier these days.
“It was really challenging to write about the end of the relationship because it was so fresh at the time and I was caught in a web of grief,” says SARK. “But it seemed only natural for me to share it. Broken hearts are universal; the details are different, but the hearts are the same.”
So where does all this supreme insight stem from? After all, besides having what she calls an “almost-degree in psychology”—she realized in her fourth year of college that formal education was “a racket”—you probably couldn’t pick her out of a crowd in Union Square.
Aside from writing 16 books, SARK has been teaching workshops for people ages 9 to 70 and speaking at conferences around the world for 20 years. A firm believer that anyone of any age can benefit from the life lessons and opportunities for growth that she has experienced, SARK has developed a cross-generational following drawn to her quirky personality and vibrantly decorated books.
“Color delights me and I believe that you should always delight yourself first and in turn, others will be delighted,” says SARK, who considers herself to be as much of an artist as an author. “I feel like color was taken from adults. I’m giving it back.”
If you had asked SARK back in 1990 if her crooked and colorful freshman effort “A Creative Companion: How to Free Your Creative Spirit” would ever get published, she probably would have laughed in your face. Not surprising, since there is a disclaimer right above the polka dotted spiral on Page 8 of “Glad No Matter What” that admits that any copy editing mistakes found in the handwritten book are all hers.
Today, the same out-of-the-box style and downright refusal to conform that once made publishers’ heads spin, has become her trademark. A self-proclaimed “ambovert,” or ambidextrous introvert, who expresses her inner extrovert on the page, SARK believes that her books practically write themselves.
“SARK is a non-physical entity that speaks through me,” she says. “I access that energy and it combines my own healing, experience and therapy.”
Sharing what inspired her to get through her own dark days—insightful quotes, literary and Internet resources and strategies for turning that frown upside down—gives “Glad No Matter What” the power to surprise even the toughest of skeptics without entering cheesy territory.
“It’s not about doing all of these transformation practices all the time, but any of them at any of the time,” says SARK. “We all sign up for this class called life and we get lots of teachers along the way. We can decide what kind of life we want. The more we can admit our imperfections and move on, the better.”
SARK will talk about “Glad No Matter What” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2, at Capitola Book Café, 1475 41st Ave., Capitola. Free. For more information about SARK, visit planetsark.com.