Q&A with Sanibel resident, humorist Art Stevens
Art Stevens has been writing a humor column for the Islander for nearly a quarter of a century. He is a kind, funny and thoughtful resident and writer. We decided to interview him and let the readers learn a little bit about the man behind the weekly Shell Shocked column.
Where did you spend your childhood?
I spent my childhood in the Bronx in New York City. I went to public schools in the Bronx and enjoyed playing Bronx street games such as stick ball, touch football with wrapped newspapers, off the curb, box ball and triangle.
What brought you to Sanibel?
My wife and I used to seek out warm resorts during our two annual vacations: Thanksgiving week and 10 days in March. We went to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Florida.
We went to resort hotels and always found something to complain about — a lousy beach, too crowded, rooms with no views, too few lounge chairs around the pool, tasteless food and so on.
And then we decided to try Sanibel one year and everything changed. Our first taste of Sanibel was at the Sun Dial. We had heard of Sanibel but had never been there. Immediately, we were struck by the natural beauty of the island and all that it had to offer. Everything clicked. We loved the beach, restaurants, the ambience.
What do you enjoy most about living on Sanibel?
Almost everything. I enjoy the friends I’ve made, the culture, the restaurants, the range of activities as well as the peace and quiet. I love walking on the beach, taking golf lessons at the Dunes, writing my column for the Islander, communing with nature.
I value the range of tastes and backgrounds of the snowbirds, the year round residents and the visitors. I enjoy the efforts of our City Council and the dedication to public service demonstrated by so many who live here. It’s truly uplifting.
As a part-time
resident what do you consider some of the rewards and
challenges of calling Sanibel home?
The rewards are that I always get to look forward to coming back to Sanibel.
The challenges are when I leave. My heart is always in Sanibel and the fact that I am now an official resident of Florida enables me to bear my time away better. I now spend at least six months a year on Sanibel.
What do you do when you are not on Sanibel? Where is your other home?
When I’m not in Sanibel I travel for both business and pleasure. I’m still consulting and need the action because I will never retire. They’ll have to drag me away from my computer and phone.
My other home is in Somerset, New Jersey where my wife and I have lived for a little more than three years.
Before that I lived in Manhattan where all the action is. My business, which was the 20th largest independent public relations firm in the U.S., was there. I sold my business in 2000.
Many islanders enjoy reading your humor column Shell Shocked that appears
weekly in the Sanibel-Captiva Islander. What do you like most about the column?
What I like most about the column is that I get to vent my creative writing urges. Your readers may not be aware of it but I’m the longest running columnist in Sanibel history. I wrote the column originally for the Island Reporter and then the Islander. It’s been running for 23 years.
So I have a long history on Sanibel and have chronicled events and situations from my vantage point as an amused observer of our times. I see humor in everything and feel good about the fact that I’m able to pour it into my writing.
Where do you get inspiration for your columns?
From pretty much everywhere. I follow Sanibel news and am able to find humor in that. I wake up in the middle of the night because an idea came to me. Since so many of the columns I write border on the absurd I find myself laughing when I come up with a screwball, zany idea.
My wife gets annoyed at me when I start laughing in the middle of the night. I imagine situations and ideas spring to life. Whenever I’m stuck for an idea, I just sit in front of my computer and begin to write three or four sentences about anything. From this tip-toeing process an idea always takes shape and I run with it.
When you are not writing about funny island scenarios and stories what do
you like do as a hobby?
I love to sing. I was part of a troupe of performers who entertained senior citizens in New York for about 12 years. There were four of us and an accompanist. Each of us did both solo numbers, duets and ensemble pieces.
I’m an old fashioned baritone crooner who sang all the great standards from Cole Porter to Sammy Cahn. I also played a lot of tennis and have written serious (yes, believe it or not) articles for a variety of periodicals.
I’ll also tell you what I don’t do — cooking, gardening, handiwork around the house or make things with my hands. You might say I’m the creative type, not the handy type.
What is something people would be shocked to know about you?
That I served 10 years at Sing Sing for armed robbery. ONLY KIDDING. I wanted to see if your readers read down this far. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything people would be shocked to know about me.
I’ve had a good life, made my mark professionally, won a number of awards, have earned the respect of my peers in the public relations profession and have done exactly what I wanted to do. I can’t think of a single shocking thing about me other than my 30 tattoos, 10 body rings, my pony tail and my 12 inch beard. AGAIN, ONLY KIDDING.
What is your family life like?
I’ve been married for 37 years to the same beautiful Swedish girl I fell in love with the moment I set eyes on her.
We both enjoy traveling back and forth between Sanibel and Somerset. We go to the theater a lot in Sanibel, Fort Myers as well as in New York. We travel once or twice a year and we both enjoying reading as many books as we can devour. We had cats for many years and hope to get another kitty in the near future.
If you could do one thing different in your life what would it be?
Stop sweating the small things. I’m an intense person and sometimes have to force myself to smell the roses, enjoy the here and now and let the action come to me.
What are your short/long term goals?
I may decide to write a novel or a play. I may also go back to singing, something I enjoy very much. I’ll continue to write my Shell Shocked columns and hope that your readers don’t come after me with a straight jacket.
I’ll continue to do consulting and stay active in my industry. And I fully intend to continue to enjoy all the considerable pleasures of life on Sanibel. However, there is one thing you can count on – I won’t be taking up sky diving or bungee jumping any time soon.
You appear to be sunny, optimistic and overall a very jovial person. You
also seem to enjoy laughing and making people laugh. What do you attribute your glass is half full attitude to? Any words of wisdom for living a good, happy life?
What has always served me well is looking at life with a sense of humor. I can remember some tense moments in my business life when out of nowhere I would come up with a quip to lighten the atmosphere.
I think too many people are far too serious. Humor allows me to break the ice and get through to people. Remember, I’m not a stand up comic or tell jokes. I can’t even remember jokes. But I find the humor in topics that I talk about with people and put a smile on their faces.
Occasionally a good belly laugh or a high pitched giggle will serve a better purpose than anti-depressants, anxiety reducing pills and the like. If you poke fun at the world it becomes a better place to be.
We live in a dangerous world in dangerous times. There’s a lot of hate and anger out there. There’s no place in my life for hate and anger. I’d rather smile and laugh than hate. It’s the way I am.