Fireside (2005), $23
Farwell, Mich., my hometown, has 855 residents, eight churches, three bars, and one blinking yellow light suspended above Business U.S. 10 to alert weekending pleasure boaters and small-game hunters speeding north that they are, in fact, somewhere. And though the few of us raised in the 48622 ZIP code will recall that particular somewhere in many different ways, we'd never mistake it for an artists' colony.
That's why, for a series of adolescent birthdays, packages arrived from my mother's sister containing creative pep talks from Bay Area author, artist, and spiritual "paper lantern" SARK (short for Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy). It made sense, since my aunt considered herself a "creative one," that she was sympathetic to the cultural desolation of the sticks; she'd found a remedy, probably while waddling through a Waldenbooks, in SARK's rainbow-colored self-help dispatches from the "Magic Cottage." Those titles, A Creative Companion and Inspiration Sandwich, might just liberate her sissy, right-brained nephew. And I -- that sissy nephew -- took to SARK's cheerful nuggets of New Age fluff like a fey, drowning child to a life raft.
Revisiting SARK with her latest and heftiest volume, Make Your Creative Dreams Real, it's impossible not to feel a flush of embarrassment at my 13-year-old self. The currents of her ideas don't seem to run as deep as they once did.
This, the first SARK tome that isn't hand lettered, starts with an apologetic note to readers explaining that the author simply "couldn't fit everything in using handwriting." Indeed, there's a lot to fit when SARK "assist[s] in awakening [our] inner self" through her, ahem, 12-step program (a favorite of mine being No. 2, the frightful "Land of No," with corresponding junket to "Grudge Island"). Populated by a gaggle of magic fairies, creative spirits, and "Dream Livers," each chapter is illustrated with SARK's caricatures (many of which appear to be drawn with the left hand of her well-cultivated inner child). There are also games, work sheets, and reading lists, many of which graciously list her own volumes. But the titles of SARK's other mawkish solve-alls (Prosperity Pie, Inspiration Soup, etc.) are as indistinguishable as the publications themselves.
Closing the book-length Hallmark card that is Make Your Creative Dreams Real, I noticed an important tidbit under the testimonials from other motivational authors (including Maya Angelou): "There are more than 2 million books by SARK in print!" And every one of them brims with nauseating, syrupy sentimentality and overly naive solutions to the big, scary world around us. Perfect for my nephew back in Farwell.