We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah Wheeler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sarah, Let’s talk about principles and values – what matters to you most?
To me the thing that matters most—what I find most meaningful and compelling— is the thing I am in pursuit of, always, in my work, in my art, in my relationships, and within myself. Truth.
I think the reason truth holds so much weight for me is because, for the better part of my life, I didn’t know what the truth was. Growing up in a very insulated, fundamentalist Christian family, so much of what I was taught in my early life was filtered through a very particular lens. I have since come to recognize that much of what I once accepted as true about the world – and myself— was not wholly accurate. It has taken me many, many years to come to this understanding.
Fortunately, the thing that brought me to Los Angeles was the Stella Adler Art of Acting Studio—a conservatory program designed to help young actors become not only better actors, but better humans. The Studio’s motto is a line once stated by Adler, “Growth as an actor and growth as a human being are synonymous.” I count myself incredibly lucky that this school was the place that I ended up, because the program absolutely took its motto to heart. Every day the exploratory work we did – through movement, voice, speech, improvisation, scene study, technique, etc. — pressed and stretched and pushed me; every day we were expected to continue to peel back the layers of who we were. Dig deeper. Uncover more. And always, always, always tell the truth. And one day one of our teachers point-blank asked us, “What is the lie you are telling in your life?”
And while sometimes the truth is a very apparent thing, oftentimes it is not. Sometimes you can’t recognize the truth until it’s staring you in the face. Or until someone calls it out of you. Asking questions (like the one my teacher asked above) created an opening for me to ask more questions myself. Which allowed me to entertain ideas beyond what I already “knew” or believed or had yet acknowledged. I think once we surrender the notion that we have it all figured out, we become open and available to all possibilities; and we are able to access—maybe for the first time— our most authentic selves. Once we understand who we are and why we are that way, we know our truth and we can stand in that. And from that place we can move with confidence and conviction, and create with intention and build authentic and meaningful connections with others. For me, that’s what it’s all about.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Sure! So as I sort of touched on before, my artistic roots are in acting, but I’m also a writer. My focus for the last few years has primarily been on writing/performing spoken word and creating erasure poetry.
Erasure poetry (also known as found poetry or blackout poetry) is when you create a poem out of an already existing body of text through a process of crossing out words. The words left uncovered remain to form a poem, bringing new meaning to light. You can make erasure poems out of almost any text with any kind of utensil, I just so happen to prefer to collect old newspapers and make mine with gold Sharpees. When I first started making these poems a few years ago they were primarily just for myself. When I realized that they were resonating with other people as well, I started sharing them online. Since then I have been making and sharing poems daily ever since.
Over the past couple of years I’ve faced a number challenges with my health and in my personal life, while also trying to navigate pandemic life along with the rest of the world. I’m so grateful that I had already cultivated this skill and had this daily poem practice in place, because creating in this way has been so instrumental in helping me navigate through a fairly murky time. When you think about it, blackout poetry is really just a way of deconstructing, of processing. The page is like a mirror, and it reflects back to you where you are really at. It also pulls forward whatever subconscious stuff is happening underneath. For me, it’s been deeply informative and healing and centering.
As the poems started to accumulate into piles and piles around my home, I had the idea to try and turn them into a book someday. A book that would be a compilation of both prose and blackout poetry. So that is what I am working on now. Some days the thought of sitting down and writing an entire poem—let alone an entire book—can be a bit overwhelming. When that happens I remind myself that I don’t have to make an entire book today or tomorrow or on any timeline at all. All I have to do is make one poem. Just one. And then comes another.
I’ve honestly lost track of how many poems I’ve made by now, but at this point, I’m guessing the number has to be somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand. Perhaps even two or three. That in and of itself is something I am incredibly proud of. That through it all, I have never stopped creating. And that’s not nothing.
Really, what I hope people take away from my work is simply that there is always another way of looking at things; and the closer you look at something the more beauty and meaning you can find. I’m a believer that there is great healing in attention.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would take them (in no particular order) to: the Farmer’s Market at The Grove on a weekday morning. Griddle Café for a stack of frisbee sized pancakes. The Last Bookstore and then to the Library Bar. Go for a picnic in Griffith Park by the Merry-Go-Round. Night hike to the Hollywood sign. Take a drive through the hills. Have Sunday brunch at Café Gratitude. Go to a concert at The Troubadour in West Hollywood. (I would have taken them to the Bootleg, but sadly they just closed their doors.) Try to catch a play or some late night improv. Definitely late night pizza at Jones on Santa Monica Blvd. Salt and Straw; we’d try every flavor. Take a drive to Malibu and find a secluded beach to hike down to, but first, we’s stop at a road-side fruit stand along the way. Fish tacos at Pink Taco. Drinks at The Tower. Maybe a day trip to Santa Barbara or Joshua Tree or Sequoia, depending on how adventurous we’re feeling. And, of course, I wouldn’t let them leave town without going to Da Poetry Lounge on a Tuesday night to hear some of the literal best poets in the world perform.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would love to Shoutout The Art of Acting Studio, for being my very first home in Los Angeles. My acting coach and mentor Richard Greene, who taught me to ask better questions. Da Poetry Lounge, for being a safe space where all people can come and share their stories. The Community Literature Initiative, for helping poets find their voices. My writing mentor Hiram Sims, for believing my poems were something special. My sisters Anna and Rachael, and my chosen sisters Lucy and Sofia, who are all fiercely loving, compassionate, strong and brave. I am who I am because of all of you.
Image of me creating blackout poems was taken by Jim Newton. Other photos/images belong to me.