SPONSORED by Remixed Marketing and Design Agency: Inhabit is a series by local photographer David Lawrence (Website), that shares stories about the people who call Orlando home. It’s an exploration of where people live and spend their days, whether that be at home, in an office, the streets of downtown, or anywhere in between. Lawrence explores who people are and how they ended there.
Every other week we will be sharing Lawrence’s interviews, featuring a different Orlandoan and telling the story of the places they inhabit. Lawrence is available for private photography projects and can be reached through his website, above.
*This interview was transcribed and edited from an audio interview.
Who are you?
My name is Patty Sheehan, Commissioner Patty Sheehan. Although, I don’t insist on people using my title because I think there’s a lot more respect in a tone of voice than a title. I’m 56 years old. I live in Colonialtown with my little rescue dog, Sienna andI have four urban chickens and a cat named Nina Simone.
Where are we currently and what is the importance of this space?
Right now we are in my living room. This is my sanctuary. I collect a lot of local art. I’ve got lots of local artists from Tony Garren to Crawford to crazy boom art guy to Lee Vandergrift. To me , it’s kind of like I remember where I was and how I met the artist. Usually it’s at a show and there’s a really cool experience that’s attached to it.
Patty is also an artist. She has an ongoing project called Bad Kitty which she created as a form of therapy after a bad breakup.
I lost three quarters of my pets and a lot of my stuff. And the only thing that was left in the house when I got home was a few pieces of furniture and some canvases. And I missed my cat. So I started painting the cat as therapy, which is ridiculous. It was kind of my way to kind of reconnect with him, and the crazy thing is that my friend Mendi Cowles saw the paintings. I was crying into my beer one night and I said “Look at my cat.” She said, “These are delightful. We’re gonna do a show.”
I always thought I was gonna be an artist. But politics [and public service] is what I do for a living. But I still have this intense connection to artists and a lot of them are my friends. I just love that. I think that gives me a balance. I think that’s why I can handle what I do, because politics can be very mean. Especially now in the political climate we are in. And when Pulse happened, that’s the only way that I healed. I was taking a class at the time [you typically can’t talk in pottery classes] and my instructor said “You take yourself over in the corner and you do what you have to do, I understand.”
I had so much I had to do, but I still went to class because it was a way of connecting to who I was before it happened. They say part of post traumatic stress is it takes you out of who you were, into a bad place, and you have to continue to go back and reconnect with who you were. And that’s the really hard thing for all these Pulse families.
They realize they are never going to be the way they were before. And neither will I. Neither is anyone who was affected in any way.
This is the second time healing through art has been mentioned in one of the interviews in this column. One of the first people that we interviewed, Doug Delia, is a poet who owned two schools where he taught people to be massage therapists. Before that he was in the military. One thing Delia kept bringing up, that you also mentioned, was the aspect of healing through art and how the theme of healing kept coming up for him throughout his life’s different paths. So that’s cool to hear you say that.
I think people think “Well you know, I’m gonna pick this course for me and this is gonna be my career and this is what I’m going to do.” But I think it’s really important to be able to adapt. I never was able to support myself through art. So I went into marketing and then I did that for a long time and I moved downtown and I got kind of ticked at my city commissioner for not being responsive and I decided to run.
People say, “What are you going to do next?” You know what, bloom where you’re planted. I live in the same house I’ve lived in for 22 years. I love what I do and if I get an opportunity to do something else, fine. I don’t have this five-year plan where I’ve got to be here [or there]. I think that we don’t do enough to try and perfect everything that we do. I see a lot of folks, especially younger people, and they’re like, “Well, you know, I want to get on this career path and I want to do this and that.”’ I’m like, “If you do every job that you’ve ever had with absolute perfection then you’re gonna be able to [get to where you want]. Don’t look at any job as being beneath you. I was a Dunkin Donut hostess. I worked at a plant nursery on hot tar paper all day long laying plants outside, but I was taught at a very young age to do every job to the best of your ability. You could be working at McDonald’s, just make that best hamburger you can.
Patty and I went on to talk about the idea of success and what it means to our current society.
I could be much wealthier in terms of what most people would count as success. I could make a great deal more money doing anything. People have threatened me, “We’re gonna take your job away!” Well, you know, I could pretty much manage a store and make more money. That’s kind of a failed threat to me to be quite honest. I live simply. I think that most people think of material success as wealth. I’m reading Yvon Chouinard’s book.
I don’t know who that is.
He’s amazing. He’s the founder of Patagonia and his book is called Let My People Go Surfing and he talks about how he’s managed to make this multi-million dollar company out of living simply and he’s tried with everything he’s doing to interweave that through his life and practice. I don’t think you have to have a huge house to be successful. I see my colleagues sometimes; they’re so worried about losing their jobs that they won’t do the right thing. And you know what, I can do the right thing because I can do anything else and make a lot more money. I’m living within my means and that gives me a sense of autonomy and I’m proud of it.
Patty has spent years getting to know a group of people in a nearby public housing complex. She told me of visiting this neighborhood one year after Thanksgiving and delivering meals to people around the complex.
There was this one family that insisted we come in and they didn’t have much in their house. They had a small dining room table and minimal furniture. This lady had been living in public housing a long time and I knew her story and she had gotten off drugs and she was raising her kids and her kids were now teenagers and they were lovely young ladies. And she said, “I want you to see the wall.”
They had put this piece of paper on the wall and she had her children write everything they were thankful for. Here’s people who are living in public housing and they barely have a stick of furniture to their name and they are the most happy people I know and they have this huge thing on their wall [declaring their thankfulness] and my name was on it.
People are missing out so much on what life’s really about. And I think the happiest people are the most grateful people. And I can’t tell that story without crying. The people that were helping me pass out dinners probably thought I was completely insane, but you know, that wasn’t staged, she didn’t even know I was going to be delivering her dinner that day. We just knocked on her door and delivered it and it means a lot to me that her children would think to say that. We’re not grateful enough as people. We always think about what other things we want. It’s all about the next thing. “I’ll be happy if … I’ll be happy when I get this. I’ll be happy when this happens to me.” And I think it’s a false narrative. It’s how we make ourselves miserable and create hell on earth for ourselves.
Its interesting because I have OCD-like tendencies, not things having to be organized, but things will just continue on repeat in my head over and over.
Omg, this house must drive you crazy.
See, that’s the thing, that doesn’t bother me. It’s literally, “I did this thing bad” or I’m stressed out with money and it keeps repeating over and over to the point where I can’t focus on anything around me. So I’ve started going to counseling and to go along with with what you were saying, I was asking the counselor, how do I break these modes of obsession and he said, “You should start writing all of the things you are thankful for when you’re starting to obsess and you should start doing random acts of kindness to get you out of your mind. Like if you’re in line at Starbucks, say something to the person behind you, pay for their coffee.” I think we really get caught up with ourselves and it’s amazing how much restoration can come to our selves and to those around us when we are constantly just approaching everything with thankfulness and humility.
Yeah, well, part of my addiction was my inner critic and the amount of negative thinking I was doing. So I started doing some reading about that and one of the exercises I found was to make a note of every negative thing you say about yourself or other people.
By addiction do you mean with alcohol?
Alcohol, yeah. I quit drinking four and a half years ago.
So, when I started losing count [of all the negatives], I’m like “Wow, this is awful. I don’t want to live like that.” So instead, I got to, “Okay, I’m saying something negative, how can I turn that around? What am I grateful for and what can I do to make myself feel better instead of worse?”
I think it was a vital part of my recovery–gratitude and not giving into all that self-critical thinking and negativity towards others. It’s a toxic suit. And that was a lesson I didn’t learn until I was in my 50’s and some people never learn. I kind of get down on myself. I’m like gosh, I wished had learned this stuff earlier, but bottom line is, you learn it when you’re ready. Life is a journey. We’re all at our places of learning and I’m glad I got there.
I found a video from 2007 when I was researching for this interview and you looked completely different. I actually messaged my Editor, and was like, what happened to Patty, she looks hot now!!
He was like, “She stopped drinking,” and I was like, “Oh, alright. Makes sense!”
A lot of people think that and it’s not just drinking. Drinking is a symptom. Everybody has different addictions. It’s because you haven’t dealt with whatever that hole is that you’re trying to fill that with addiction. And I had to deal with my own holes. I had to deal with whatever I was trying to fill. And sometimes peering in that old darkness in your own soul is not a happy time, but it’s necessary to get to the light. You have to know dark to know light. You have to know sorrow to know joy.
People were like, “You had work done!” I have not had plastic surgery! Are you kidding me?! You think I look better because I had work done? I changed my diet. I exercise every day now, which I didn’t do. I don’t have a hangover every morning and I’ve made conscious choices to change my diet and to change a lot of things in my life. It’s all connected. And it’s spiritual. Some people believe in God. Some people don’t.
I do. I needed to reconnect that. As a gay person, I thought that God had left me because religious people had left me. But I need to reconnect with that spiritual. I don’t believe God is this man on a cloud with thunderbolts, but I do believe God is in everything. I’m more in tune with the Unitarian kind of spirit, that God is in everything and that God is in everyone. I believe in that source of connection with good. I don’t believe in hell as a place. I don’t believe in heaven as a place. I believe we create it here and I believe in God as a spirit of good in all of us.
You mentioned a lot about paddle boarding, and having the chickens, what are the activities that you enjoy the most outside of art and your job?
We’re going to go in the garden in a little bit. That’s my thing. I worked for the Department of Agriculture for 12 years. I worked for Cardinal Homes and we basically sold prefab housing by landscaping it beautifully before anybody else was doing landscaping at apartment complexes. So I’ve always had this connection to art and plants.
My chickens make compost and I make a pot of Bromeliads out of it. To me it’s just this cool connection of all the things that I’m interested in. When I go to another city I go to the farmers market. That’s how I found out about urban chickens. I was in Phoenix and they had this ‘Tour de Coops’ and I thought, “That’s the coolest thing I ever heard of.” I started doing research on urban chickens and that was my ordinance. The thing that I think I bring to city council is I will find something I’m fascinated by, work with the planning department, and get an ordinance written. I don’t know of any other commissioners that have really worked on ordinances to get them passed. And that’s what I do, I love what I do.
Patty will soon be exhibiting a fall edition of her ongoing series, “Bad Kitty”. Be sure to check it out at The District on September 29th.
About the photographer:
David Lawrence is an Orlando-based photographer with a passion for people and storytelling. Lawrence lives in Colonialtown with his wife, Dawn, and when he’s not taking photos he occasionally attends church, drinks a lot of coffee, and overall just tries to be a kind human.