A Conversation with Bestselling Author SARK: Loving Wildly, Learning Deeply, & Living Fully

Creativity, Friendship, Shadows, and Perfectionism

With Molly Anderson-Childers and SARK on Fabulous Friendship Festival

Posted 7/14/08 | Updated 11/13/20

Following is an edited transcript of the conversation between Molly Anderson-Childers and SARK for Creativity Portal's Creative Careers Interview series.


Molly: I've been so excited about this, I'm practically hyperventilating. ... It's somewhat like interviewing Superwoman. I really feel like you've pulled me out of some dark places and saved me a few times with the words and your artwork, and I really appreciate the chance to talk to you like a live person, not just someone in a book.

SARK: Yes. First, I want to honor and acknowledge you for what you said because it was brave and good, and you're speaking for all of us, and everyone who's ever felt that way. You know, we all have our version of that, and we all somehow think we're the only one, but we're not.

M: So you get nervous, too? Even after all this time?

SARK: Oh my God yes! Oh, yes!

M: Even after all the fabulous fans, and the events all over the place, you still get stage-fright?

SARK: I get so shy I'm struck speechless with shyness, sometimes. I get into places like that. I just spoke to one of my heroes today, and while I was talking, I thought, "I can't believe she's even taking my call!"

M: Yes, that's how I feel. (We're both laughing now) So you can relate.

SARK: The thing we forget in those exchanges is that everything is always transpersonal. Already, during this call, you have nourished my spirit.

M: That's amazing.

SARK: If you didn't request this time to talk together, you would have denied me your energy. Isn't that a good thing to remember?

M: It is.

Projections and Perfectionism

SARK: We always do these projections. Obviously, Superwoman is a projection, but we all do them. And we really think they're real. It's so funny, and it's so good to talk about it.

M: It brings it out in the open. Makes it less scary, I think. Which is actually something I learned from you — all the dark explorations with a flashlight.

SARK: Yes, yes. I love how many times people talk to me about that, and how well it works. It's true. We all know we need to go into the dark places, and it's so much more cheerful and doable if we have a little bit of light in there.

M: Definitely. I think that mostly, we're not taught that. Put it away, shut the door on it, lock it up in a little box, and it'll go away.

SARK: I grew up in a family where, if you had a feeling — first of all, nobody could have more than one feeling, and if you had one, you'd better go to your room and be there with it. You couldn't display it.

M: Go cry by yourself.

SARK: Right, go cry by yourself and come out when you're ready to be civilized, or something.

M: As if it's uncivilized to feel.

SARK: I still have it. We're all such marvelous, darling, splendid imperfections filled with everything.

M: Yes. I've been trying to embrace that. It's so hard if you have tendencies towards perfectionism, which you've talked a lot about. The painting or the poem or whatever — it's not quite good enough — maybe if I could tweak it a little. "It's not good enough, because I'm not good enough," and it comes from the same feeling or experience, I think.

SARK: Yes. I've written about this, of course, and the words the perfectionist in us uses is, "not yet."

M: Right. It's never ready.

SARK: It's never ready.

M: I can't read this to anyone; I can't let this out. Maybe if I just change the color, this one word, then it will be perfect. Like you just spoke to, that feeling of denying people our energy — that's what we deny them there; the work, and our creativity in that imperfect stage. To just show it with the blisters and the band-aids on, and the bad hair day.

SARK: Right — and that's what everyone wants to see anyway. They want to see whole picture. We persist in thinking that people want to see our best, most shiny selves — we're forgetting that we're most lovable for being the most wrinkled, dented, tiny, fragile, crawling parts of yourselves, and that's what people love about us, literally. We go around thinking, my hair looks really good today, that's good…

M: (Laughing) What is it with hair?

SARK: Or my pants are finally the right length, oh I just feel so good. And that's not what people are noticing at all. That's why we're drawn to the children, because we know they're just seeing our essence.

M: Yes, I work with kids — that's the best part of my job. They'll actually take the time to see when someone is sad and give them a hug. And a lot of adults don't have the time, or don't make the time, they don't know how, or think that it wouldn't be appropriate — something stops us. Kids just run up and hug you.

SARK: Yes. I think they don't know how. They're not taught how to do this, and they don't know how. I just had an incident the other night. We were at a restaurant watching the Chinese New Year Parade and the server dumped a tray on my friend. She tripped and the pizza just turned upside down on my friend's lap. Luckily, she didn't get burned, but she had pizza all over her. It kind of deflected and bounced off, but the waitress was mortified, and apologized profusely, "I'm so sorry, we'll make you another pizza right away. Please let us buy a carafe of wine for the table to make up for it." My friend told her, "It's really okay."

I had a chance to talk with the waitress later. When she apologized again, I said, "Are you aware that we have all let go of it?"

"Yeah, but I haven't," she said.

I asked, "Are you going to later think about this, and feel badly?"

And she said, "Yeah."

I said, "Can I dare you to do something? I dare you to let this go." She drew her breath in real quickly and said, "I don't know, maybe I could do that." And I said, "Yes. You can. You make amends, you sincerely apologized, you cleaned up the mess. All of us have let go of it, so for you to carry it further had nothing to do with the incident itself." And I could feel her shift into a new place.

M: That's great!

SARK: Yes. And may we all do that, may we all shift with our stories into new places. Instead of, "Oh my God, I tripped, I spilled a pizza — you wouldn't believe it — I've had a terrible night!"

M: Otherwise the whole night becomes about the pizza.

SARK: Right. And my friend asked me later, "How could you tell all of that about her?" I said, "I just had to look at her face, it was all right there."

"But she didn't look like she was even disturbed."

"If you look beneath her face you could see it right there, if you took a minute to feel the energy you could see how ashamed she was." We can all learn to do that, and practice doing that, and helping each other.

Fabulous Friendship Festival

SARK's Fabulous Friendship FestivalM: That's a skill I wish I would have had as a waitress, actually. (Laughing together) I wanted to talk to you a little about your book. I've heard a lot of great things about Fabulous Friendship Festival. Tell us what inspired you to create this work?

SARK: My friends are my family of choice. They are the biggest emotional and spiritual support network I have. I also wanted to write about friendship with myself. I'm learning to be my own dearest friend. Because I'm learning a lot about that and practicing that now, and I know a lot of other people are practicing that too. And I also found that so many friendship books are about either the joys of friendship, or the difficulties of friendship. I wanted to write a book that included both the joys and the difficulties, and ways to integrate the two. To practice integration. It's a huge book, you may have noticed. The book is totally in full color, full of photographs, totally handwritten, full of ideas — it's literally bursting with ideas. I loved the idea of friendships expanding and growing, and people expanding and growing their friendships with this book.

It's about learning about what hurts and what works well, and how do we navigate all these places in friendship, and how do we navigate the friendship with ourselves?

M: That seems to be the most difficult piece for a lot of people.

SARK: Which?

M: Being your own best friend.

SARK: Absolutely. Again, we're not taught to do it.

M: That's why I was so excited to check out this book. It seems so different from what's out there. Usually when you see books about friendship, it's a coffee-table book full of photos of happy girlfriends, or… you know what I'm talking about? Either a puff piece or a self help book, and I don't really go for that, so I was very excited to see this new take on it.

SARK: Thank you.

M: I think especially for creative people — it can be especially tough to be your own best friend. It's a little more difficult if you're working on a novel or a painting. Do you have any insight into that?

SARK: Can you say more about why it might be difficult for you?

M: A lot of myself is caught up in my work. In certain aspects of that, I'm afraid to truly speak, to be honest for fear that honesty or that work will be rejected. When you create something, it's so personal. It's not like I'm doing your taxes, it's personal. I file it, you pay me, we're done. But, with a painting or a collage, that's a piece of your soul that's going out, to be hung up on the wall, or to be judged.

SARK: So, link that back for me. How does that relate to self-friendship?

M: When you're afraid or blocked creatively, you're also dealing with that issue of not being a good friend to yourself, and you're definitely not being a good friend to or honoring the part of yourself that's creative. If you're having a block with one, then you're having a block with the other.

SARK: The benefit of being a creative person is that you can use your creativity to look at it differently. That's why it's good we're having this talk. I think we all have a challenge in being our own dearest friend, because it's something that isn't taught, and it's also something that isn't supported. We're literally taught to look outside of ourselves for what we think we need. If we're at home and we think we're lonely, we're taught to go get another person to satisfy that.

M: Or a possession, or…

SARK: Right. None of my friends are home, what do I do now? The practice of self-friendship becomes so exquisitely important when we can turn to ourselves in any circumstance and know that we're standing so wonderfully, sturdily there, that we really can turn towards ourselves. I mean, it's easy to be your own best friend when things are going well.

M: Much easier. Because you're feeling good about that person you're friends with.

SARK: Exactly! And the challenge comes because we don't always like ourselves; we don't always like other people either, but it becomes more piercing when we don't like ourselves. How can we hold all of it? Because that's really what being a friend is. When we can turn towards ourselves and see our perfectionism or our control issues or our intolerance, or whatever it may be that's painful, how can we hold that with friendship?

That doesn't mean we have to like it. What would we do if we heard a friend being judgmental, or rude, or careless? We usually try and — we might just try and get away from them, or call them on it. "I've never seen you act this way, what's going on?" They say, "I've had the worst day, you won't believe it." And then we listen to our friend tell about this terrible day. And we forget to apply it to ourselves, that process. So when we're at home alone and floundering, we so often have a tendency to self-abandon. And as we know, we all know the ways to fill up and distract, but… we wouldn't do that to a friend. We wouldn't run away,

M: Right. It makes a lot of sense, and as you say, it's not taught. One of the main messages I received as a child was, "Don't be selfish!", "You're so selfish!" Selfish was the worst thing you could be.

SARK: I know, and actually it's really one of the best things you can be, if it's done consciously.

M: And in measure.

SARK: In some measure. But I think that it also is all about consciousness. Consciousness selfishness is very different from selfishness. Take the subject of self-love. People think of self-love as narcissism. But what they're forgetting is that if we can't really love ourselves, we can't love another. But it goes further. If we're not able to be our own dearest friend; we're not able to be anyone's friend.

M: I think that's why so many relationships run into trouble. You get into a difficult situation, and you don't know how to care for yourself, or how to handle it, and it just explodes. We don't have the tools. And that's one thing I love about your work, you're all about giving us more tools for the toolbox.

SARK: I love the tools and resources. I get so inspired by people doing that great work, we're practicing and asking the questions, we're exploring. Self-help. I think those two words are so over-used. They need to be put down now.

M: Euthanized? Mercy killing for tired phrases?

SARK: Personal growth, personal development, self-exploration. I put these into my book because people pick up and run with them, and then come back with these wonderful stories and adventures of all the great things they're doing. It's my great joy and blessing. I feel so honored to be the connector. That's what I live for. That's my favorite thing to do. I'm a natural connector; it's like breathing to me. As I heal through writing, I help others to heal, and they in turn heal me, and it's just a fabulous circle.

M: You talk a lot about being your own fabulous best friend. what's the secret to creating healthy boundaries so that you can work on a current project without alienating those you love? Many creative people find this is a real challenge. Can you help? What works for you?

SARK: If everyone is their own best friend, it solves everything that you just asked. If you're in a relationship with a person who is his own dearest friend; it won't be an issue. If we think time is a scarce commodity, and one person is practicing self friendship and one isn't, the one who isn't is going to seek friendship from their partner. It turns into a detriment; "you're not available to me." In a past relationship, we were able to navigate through that because of our mutual creativity. Relationships can do well if these things are being discussed and communicated, and conscious… there can always be misunderstandings. But if people are practicing self-friendship they won't be looking outside themselves for sustenance, but will look inward to sustain themselves. Of course, it doesn't always work that way.

Creativity, Healing, and Inspiration

M: Your books have been an incredible source of healing and inspiration for millions of readers worldwide. Much research is currently being done in new healing modalities that involve creative writing, music, and visual art as powerful tools for healing physical, spiritual, and emotional pain, trauma, disease, and imbalance. Discuss the spiritually enlightening and healing aspects of creativity. How has your work worked as a healing force in your own life?

SARK: I honestly feel that I have no choice. I can't imagine what the point would be if I weren't telling my truth. That's how I live, so therefore that's how I write. And if I can't, I can tell you I'm looking for why.

Creativity has absolutely saved my life. I started with stories about mice, families of mice in little shoe box houses. Building castles for toads at camp. I've always talked to creatures of all kinds; they were my family of friends as a child. The family I was born into happened to include an older brother who was my best friend until I was six years old. He was being molested by a next door neighbor, and then he in turn started molesting me. It was physical and sexual abuse, and it went on for 7 years. I didn't experience him as a friend and retreated into my imagination to get away from where I was living. I lived inside my books and my imagination… they saved me during those years. It was terrible for me, for my family, for my brother. Many years later, I can say I have completely forgiven him and I'm in the process of forgiving the man who molested him. And I'm so grateful to say that my creative self, even though it did get diverted, it was not crushed.

M: It seems to me that many people have this experience, that's one of the most fabulous things about it. [Creativity] is a very effective road to escape current situations, especially for children, if there's no other way to deal with it aside from just shutting down. This is a common experience. I have been doing these interviews for over a year, and have seen many cases of different types of dysfunction or disease in a family situation, that later turned into something so beautiful, something that was so much more than where it began. Books and paintings, all these different things that come out of our need to escape, to find a safe place to hide, or some way to get away from what's going on.

SARK: I always remind people that I don't recommend this route, but the abuse in my life absolutely made me the artist and writer that I am… I don't regret it. I used to think, "Why did this happen to me?" I feel that it was absolutely perfect. I'm so grateful for this experience. It's controversial to talk about. You're supposed to say it was terrible; everyone involved was terrible, I'm just lucky I survived. And for years, that's how I identified — as a survivor. But I think it goes beyond that, I now honestly feel I went far beyond just surviving. I realize not everybody feels this way or has this experience, it just happens to be my experience.

M: With that topic, it's not something people want to talk about, face, or deal with; we're not taught how to deal with it. Society at large wants to hush up these issues, and to make everyone involved feel like a victim or survivor. I think this is why people are drawn to your work. It's so freeing to say, this made me who I am, and it happened because it was supposed to happen, and it couldn't have happened any other way, and that's it.

SARK: Yes. And yes.

M: I really love the way you're able to be so honest in your work. It's inspired me to look more deeply into the dark places. I've interviewed people who say the shadow side doesn't exist for them, that every day is a good, happy day. That seems very strange to me.

SARK: It's seems strange because it's not real! (Laughing)

The Dark Side / Shadows

M: Everyone has this dark side, right?

SARK: Right. I have a dear friend who said to me, about his relationship, "We're not like you; we don't go far beneath the surface. We stay in the shallows, that's where it's safe." But of course people get plunged into the depths; life pulls us into the depths whether we want to go there or not. Through illness or death or fears or what wakes up at three in the morning. It's going to happen — so, I'd rather deal with it head-on. Not everyone feels that way. Some people want to wait until they're dragged down. My younger brother ate sugar voraciously for years. He never gained weight or had any issues. I told him, "Enjoy it as long as you can, because it will probably change." He had some health issues, and started gaining weight. He said, "It was chilling to me when you said, 'enjoy it as long as you can.'" And I would say the same thing to anyone who tells me they don't have a dark side. Enjoy it as long as you can… I'm a very positive, optimistic person. But overly positive people annoy me.

M: That's something we have in common.

SARK: Mindlessly positive. If you're just slapping positive all over everything. It's about being conscious.

M: That's the issue — I think you can hide a lot from yourself, just putting on the rose-colored glasses — to some extent, they become blinders.

SARK: It's all about practicing in the middle. I used to think the middle was really boring. I used to be an extreme person, ups and downs. Now I'm thrilled to say I spend most of my time in the middle, and I'm loving it. There are so many riches in the middle. I turned fifty three years ago, and the fifties ushered me into the middle. I thought, "Wow, that's why they call it middle age!"

It's about integrating the positive and the negative. It's this marvelous weaving process. I feel like I'm just floating through… here's the annoying thing, and I'm floating by, it's a process of flowing with whatever is happening, rather than resisting. At the end of her life, my mother said, "I hope you hear me when I say this. I wish I hadn't resisted everything so much. It caused me so much pain." So much of our suffering lies caused by resistance.

I used to resist everything. "They're remodeling the building next door while I'm trying to finish my new book! WHAT? NO!" "They don't have my favorite table at the restaurant, and the restaurant is closing down…WHAT? NO!" And now I find myself saying instead, "How interesting, they're remodeling next door. I wonder what will happen now?"

It reminds me of a line from my favorite poem by Basho, "Oh, look. The barn burned down. Now we can see the moon." Something better is coming but I can't imagine what it could be, so it may not be something better. This leads me to my friend Isabelle. My friend Isabelle said, "Every single change I ever experienced in my life was always, always, always for the better. But we are not given that information right away. There's a time gap." We hear the news and don't know what's coming next, so we fill that place with all the negative things. Now I catch myself filling the space with all kinds of wonderful things. It's the practice of the middle.

M: I'm still stuck in the extreme phase: either everything is really great, or else it really sucks. I'm on the roller coaster.

SARK: That practice is equally important. I'm a passionate person and my extremes were passionate. They served me very well, and they still serve me very well. I'm not done being an extreme person. I invite you to practice in the middle while still enjoying the extremes. Or not.

M: Enjoying… well, it's interesting anyway. I'm in the middle of an insane winter, and I've been snowed in. We've had a few snow days. And as soon as I can relax into the snow day, make some hot chocolate and find a good book — just enjoy it — I realize it's not that bad.

SARK: If we can relax into it. I wrote about healing from trying to get well in my book, "Transformation Soup." If we can relax into the cold or the two feet of snow or whatever it is.

M: Then joy is possible, it opens it up. How do you balance succulent studio time with a fabulous social life?

SARK: Now I am able to balance that. If you interviewed my friends earlier in my life I think you would have heard stories of my boundaries being more like walls; I thought they were walls; that I'd build myself a castle with. I have finally achieved a kind of marvelous balance that I never expected to have. I was such a servant to the Muse that I denied my other needs. I was convinced I could live in my head, I was just a big head and my body just came along. It's another gift of age that the body says I'm in charge. Three years ago I put my body in charge and changed diet, sleeping habits, changed into another person!

It's as simple as, the body is the ruler. I don't type anymore if I'm thirsty, hungry. I don not ignore the mandate of the body. There's breakfast, lunch and dinner, exercise and sleep. And don't forget snacks! If I'm not maintaining my physical body, I have no business writing, drawing, or painting.

4 More Questions

M: What is your favorite fairy tale or children's story, and why?

SARK: I'm a huge lover of children's literature. I read it all the time and the "Gone Away Lake" by Elizabeth Anne Rice, is about two children who go to a house by a lake and the things that happen to them there. "Mr. Bass and the Mushroom Planet" — two boys advertise a rocket ship and build it, leave and meet Mr. Bass on the Mushroom planet — it is one of those books that filled me with the knowledge that we can really do anything. We have all these reasons and evidence why we can't but really we can. I love the expansiveness of that.

M: What wakes you up in a cold sweat at three in the morning?

SARK: The Existential Pit of Hell. Most of us have visited that one, some of us spend more time there than others. The Anxiety Spiral — it's where you're thinking and you can't stop thinking, it gets uglier and uglier. I definitely experience those sometimes. I'm glad and grateful for homeopathic remedies, good books, I'm grateful for hot baths, meditation, and I'm grateful that I have lots of times when I'm not experiencing those states.

I've learned some good practices. If I'm feeling a lot of anxiety, I'll write, "I'm really angry and scared and upset about…" and then list it, using the most violent language, filling pages with all the things I'm upset about. I'll do that until there's literally nothing more I can think of. I'll fold it and address it: To the Universe, From Susan, and then tuck it away. Often just that is enough to release the anxiety; it gets it out of my head for just enough time so it feels like there's some space. I can go back to sleep. Then, if I'm not too tired I'll call upon the part of myself, The Wise Self, and ask that aspect of myself to answer each of the passages I wrote about being upset and re-frame them and literally speak to them. I write on another page, "Wise Self Gladly Speaks" — I receive information that gives me a new perspective, supportive, comforting. Then I burn, or tear up the "I'm so angry" list. And it works amazingly well. It literally has become such a part of me that I can now do it without writing anything down. It's a really important part of being your own dearest friend; it's what you would do for a friend. You would listen and help them remember that they are okay.

M: What is the best thing you did for yourself last week? For someone else?

SARK: For myself — I've done so many great things for myself — I take such exceptional care of myself it's hard to choose one.

M: What do you wish for when you see a falling star?

SARK: It's different every time. It's usually something around love, self love or love with another. Or surrender. Yes, surrender.

M: Have you ever been lost in the woods — literally or symbolically? Tell me about it.

SARK: I was formerly a very directionally challenged person, I was in the car crying because I couldn't find the exit, or I couldn't go to a party because I couldn't find the address. I would get off the freeway for gas and then I couldn't get back on. Then they invented GPS, and I rented a car with a GPS. I really liked it and finally bought my own. My entire life has changed; it's changed my whole way of thinking. Even when it's not on, I feel brave in ways I was never brave before. During a two week road trip, my friend lived in LA and I was too afraid to visit him before, but with the GPS, I drove swiftly and smoothly along and arrived ready to go out to dinner. I was so calm… it's been a life changing experience. My favorite button on the GPA is a feature called "Go Home" and it will literally get you back to your point of origin from where you're at right now. If I'm lost in the woods, it doesn't matter because I know where I am — don't panic and you always know you know where you are.

M: So it's not about being lost in the woods, it's about having the tools to find your way back home.