Western North Carolina Woman

the great cosmic happy-ass:
bumping along on a road less traveled

by melissa stanz (with interference, er, assistance from the great cos herself)

Admit it—you can’t help but break out in a grin when you hear the name. The grin quickly becomes a belly laugh when you read the greeting cards Diane English creates. And that’s exactly Diane’s point, as well as a point the Buddha made—which is, that enlightenment cannot be achieved without a sense of humor. (She and the Buddha share similar body issues)

“Hey, if The Buddha said it, perhaps we should listen!” Diane chuckles.
The Great Cosmic Happy-Ass Card Company (greatcosmichappyass.com) was created as an expression of the way Diane sees the world. Her original greeting cards, magnets, t-shirts, mousepads, mugs and prints are for the “marginally enlightened and spiritually challenged” among us—and who isn’t? Her creations range from tender, nurturing spiritual messages to whimsical, funny, irreverent quips.

Spending time in her Weaverville, NC studio is like basking in the sun after weeks of gray winter. Inspiring words cover everything. Bright colors, wonderful original canvas paintings, and enough toys to make any inner child salivate line her shelves. The environment inspires—demand—creativity.

“It’s really important for me to surround myself with fun, colorful, playful art and that—in and of itself—is an expression of creativity,” she noted.

“Creating this company has been an evolution for me. Something I learned in my 14 years owning a metaphysical bookstore was that people were taking their spirituality way too seriously, …you know like, ‘My prayers are better than your prayers’…or I’m going to heaven and you’re not, or the UFO’s are coming for me and they’re leaving you behind’. Oh puleeeeze, lighten up! Where’s the fun in that?” she mused. "I want my art to help people feel better and laugh at themselves and at life. If I can spread a little humor around, I'm a happy camper."

Diane’s art interests started as a child and she won prizes at art shows, including a contest put on by a national cookie company. But fear & misunderstanding of what “Art” was, kept her from attending art school. “I just didn’t think I had the talent to follow the required discipline of art, so instead of following my heart, I followed my head and went to technical school and became a medical technician. "Go figure!" she recalled. That career was short-lived.

A move to become a hippie in West Virginia required a change of career, and she spent the next decade working as a graphic artist for local newspapers. “They were obviously desperate for bodies, but they hired me because I groveled and begged. I really wanted to get back into an art field.”

At the same time, she gobbled up all the metaphysical books she could get her hands on—no easy feat in West Virginia! Then she created her first barely marketable work, an inspirational poster she sold to Unity churches. “I made enough money to buy a new coat and some winter boots, and I was thrilled,” she laughed. “I only show that print to really, really good friends now. It’s a miracle I was able to sell it at all.”

A vacation to St. Augustine, FL, in 1986 proved to be love at first sight with the Nation’s oldest city and “I just had to live there!” She moved there soon after to open a metaphysical bookstore called Dream Street, inspired by a constant quest for spiritual knowledge. “I knew nothing about opening a bookstore, but I was so excited about the possibilities and I figured any fool could sell a book, [her birthday, by the way, is April Fool’s Day] and ignorance was bliss, so I just jumped in. But that’s the way I go into everything, you know,… 'Leap and the net will appear'”. Diane’s bookstore grew from about $30,000 in revenues the first year to more than $250,000 in yearly revenues in the peak years, but she decided to give it all up and go for the art.

During her tenure as a bookstore owner, she read The Artist’s Way, a book that changed her life. “It opened up a world of possibilities and gave me permission that I hadn’t given myself. It helped me put away all the wrong concepts about art that I’d carried with me my whole life—a door was flung open and the light poured in.”

The Artist’s Way, coupled with a trip to San Francisco to attend a “Life, Paint & Passion” Workshop proved to be the genesis of her current card company. She started cartooning and painting every spare moment. “I got incredible encouragement from all my friends and customers. I reproduced the first painting as a card and magnet, put them on the counter in my store, and promptly sold out. “AhHa! I’m on to something!” Another career was born. Then she moved her computer into the store and began creating onsite. “Computer art was new. I taught myself how to use the graphic software. People just loved to watch me and learn how to create illustrations, especially when they realized they could do it too, and the possibilities were unlimited.”

Her move to Asheville occurred in much the same way as most events in her life. “A customer came into my store and told me she was moving to Asheville, and told me that Asheville was right behind Santa Fe as a great place for artists to live and work. It was like a bolt out of the blue; my guardian angel literally hit me over the head. My partner and I visited two weeks later, and moved to Asheville within 3 months."

Shortly after moving here, she was contacted by a national distributor who now represents her cards, magnets & prints to book and gift stores nationwide. Her web site orders have increased 1000% in the past year, and she recently contracted with an international group that will represent her to kiosk owners in malls in the Northeast & Canada.

“I’d love to have my artwork licensed and spend a lot more time creating rather than the day to day business of marketing. I’ve got a bazillion ideas that I’d love to put into action, and all of them fun."

Diane knows there is creativity yearning to be expressed in everyone. “Creativity is spirit expressed. You know how good you feel after you’ve created a great dinner, or made someone a thoughtful gift, painted a chair or written a poem? Well, that feeling is a holy expression, it’s God in action. So I just love to encourage others to do what brings them joy and express the talents that Spirit has given them.”

Diane believes that no matter what that talent is, if you embrace it, you and the world will be happier. “You can’t wait for everything to be 'perfect' before you start your own business and follow your dream. Perfection is the death of creativity. People are more magnificent than they think they are, more creative, expansive, smart and brilliant than they give themselves credit for. Go for it! You Can Do It!”

“I started this company at age 58 with no formal training. If I can do it, anyone can. There’s really nothing to lose and a life of creativity to gain, so why not? Don’t let lack of knowledge stop you—it didn’t stop me. You just learn as you go along,” she said.

“And if you need a goose to get started, just call me.”

Diane’s art is available in many locations in North Carolina and a complete listing is on her website greatcosmichappyass.com.

[Guess what? The Great Cosmic Happy Ass is going to be appearing regularly in the pages of WNC WOMAN starting next month. Yippee! - Ed.]

Melissa Stanz, MA, is a freelance writer, editor, and marketing communications professional in Asheville, NC. She creates communications plans, and writes copy for newsletters, web sites, ads, press releases, brochures, and feature articles for regional and national clients. When she's not writing, she loves to be outside walking with her husband and chocolate lab, or riding her horse in these magical mountains. Contact her at melissastanz@bellsouth.net.

Western North Carolina Woman
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Celebrating the Spirit of Place in Western North Carolina