2013 Milley Awards
Phil Sheridan – Contributions to the Arts Community
Phil’s acceptance speech at the Milley Awards
I feel a little bit like Wilbur the pig, from the book “Charlotte’s Web”. You’ll remember, Wilbur is a very happy little pig until he learns he is going to be cut up into bacon. His spirit plummets when he learns this, but recovers when a barnyard spider—Charlotte is her name—weaves the words “Some Pig!” into her web. (She wants 2 make Wilbur feel better). She does make him feel better, but she does more! Her web becomes a national wonder! People are astonished. Who put those words into that spiderweb? “Some Pig!” And who is this Pig?
People from all over the country come to the farm where Wilbur lives just to look at him and the woven spiderweb above him.
This is all too much for Wilbur. He is overwhelmed and faints.
I feel a little bit like Wilbur tonight. I too am overwhelmed.
But I’ll not faint. No. Instead, I’ll share with you the sentiments that overwhelmed my predecessor—sentiments he shared with Charlotte in a quieter moment. I have many Charlottes to thank and no other time to do it, so I’ll do it now:
I thank my wife Lynda and my teacher Tom Pinkson for helping me become what I am;
I thank Anji Brenner and Yolanda Fletcher of the Mill Valley Library for letting me tell stories at the library when I first began doing this 10 years ago;
I thank Annie Lamott for writing books that show how liberating it is to be honest! Annie, I read you at just the right time in my life! Thank You.
And thanks to the folks who nominated me for this honor and wrote wonderful words of recommendation to the Milley judges. I read them now and again whenever I feel poorly.
And finally, a BIG Thank You to the Mill Valley Art Commission and the Milley Awards Committee for making all of this possible.
Let me conclude by telling you why I tell stories 2 children:
It makes me feel younger. So much love occurs between the children and myself—love born of innocence: their innocence, of course, & the innocence I feel whenever I’m in their presence—that I have grown younger.
I’ve become honest. Children don’t like it if I pretend I’m something I’m not without being personally convinced that I really am. So I always pick stories in which I can truly empathize with every character I portray. Even the villains. (I do find that being a villain is easier than I hoped it would be!)
I am becoming what I teach. I choose stories in which courage, kindness and compassion are paramount, and I have told these stories so often that I am learning my own lesson.
And finally: I see things as children see them. You probably remember some of the things you imagined when you were young: fairies, ogres, talking animals. Well, I’ve come to believe in these things again—not as escape or delusion, but because they make intangible entities easier to grasp. Faith, hope, goodness: These have become little creatures now and I talk to them! Ogres—well, ogres are so plentiful nowadays that one need not imagine very hard to know one!
And talking animals? The children are right: Animals do talk and feel and see. Science knows this. As do the children. But they always have. They listen.
We adults don’t usually listen. We’re too busy talking. If planet Earth is in crisis and our forests and animals are vanishing from its surface, it’s because we don’t listen anymore. We have forgotten how. We’ve somehow lost our innocence.
Thanks to the children, I have regained some of that innocence. Once again, I hear the trees and the animals and the forest, and once again, I talk to the fairies. And the bears and the birds. And the ogres.
I hope that in years to come, the children I read to will have retained enough courage, enough kindness, enough compassion that some part of our world will become a better place to live.
A commercial Lynda and I made together