ANALOGIES And OXYGEN: On Self-Examination, Perseverance And Evolution

"Something in us shifts. It’s time to get profound, our subconscious says. It’s time to get out of your own way, the ego is told. Lean into this. Go slow. Speak clearly. Listen with love. Stay open—stay open."
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We're asking friends of ours to give us a pulse on their preservation methods in the current pandemic climate—how to cope, where to reach for inner wellness, and what to let go of during these unprecedented times. You can read our first two installments here and here

Laura Sullivan Cassidy is the co-founder of Full Bleed, in addition to being a content director, storyteller and cultural vanguard who we have followed for years. Today she is offering her personal, deeply intuitive observations on the themes we are collectively experiencing, and some simple ways we can all move through and process the loss of life as we knew it. 

I. A WORKING METAPHOR

The airline steward’s pre-flight speech about adjusting your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others with theirs. It’s been a personal touchstone over the last year or so as I moved through what I have been calling a mid-life “elbow;” a time during which everything I thought I knew about myself was suddenly wrong—or at least shifted, different, distanced, and more difficult. All of the sudden I see that maybe The Elbow Months™have been good practice because now… now the oxygen mask metaphor is writ large over everything we do. And everything we don’t do.

As one of my smartest friends has helped me see: In helping ourselves, we help others. In healing ourselves, we heal the world. And ultimately, that’s what self-care means to me.

In some ways, that’s what life is about—right? I’m a Pisces with a Gemini rising so I’ve spent my whole life trying to love people and create connections. Whether I look back decades or just a few days, I’ve always been trying to shine the flame of an old camp flashlight against the fence of a childhood home and tell stories while someone else dangles puppets into the spotlight and a band plays in the side yard. Not to entertain, but to move, to stir, to activate, communicate, illuminate, understand. Together. It’s just who I am.

But now it feels like my life depends on it.

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II. ADJUSTING THE FLOW

A few weeks ago, back when “all of this” was first shaking loose and revealing itself to us here in America, my best friend/business partner Jessa Carter and I met up in Berkeley and then drove out to the Northern California town of Jenner on the mouth of the Russian River. Our goal was to step back from our creative co-op, Full Bleed, to assess what we’ve built in the last year, and map out where we want to go in the future. It’s kind of humbling to think back on that first week in March; in the right mood I might give anything to feel that removed from the outbreak again—although of course I know how wrong we were to feel removed even then.

At any rate, in looking at the future, we went back. Way back. Who, and what, did we come from? What did our ancestors know that we’ve forgotten? What skills have we lost along the way, and which of those habits and capabilities will prove essential if and when the world gets wild and raw and analog and truly, actually human and natural and animal all over again? Because after all, we’ve known since before “all of this,” that something was coming for this sickened system of ours. Haven’t you? Haven’t you known for a long time now what Yeats knew: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold,” Haven’t you wondered what you’ll offer in the aftermath?

Back when Jessa and I first met and began combining our efforts both professionally and creatively, our energy immediately flowed toward storytelling. Narrative. Mythology. Framing. Symbolism. The places where truth and everyday poetry meet society, culture, and the earth’s hard and soft sciences. We’ve made it our business to break open (and hold open) the kinds of ideas that people around us need and want to think over and dwell on. And there on the mouth of the Russian River, at the beginning of the end of the world as we’ve known it, as we workshopped our way through a long weekend, we realized that maybe there wasn’t much to workshop. The way forward—the way to claim our ancestor skills and be additive in the new world—was already there, netted into our work thus far and nestled into the strapline we wrote for ourselves in the winter of 2018: “We help people tell their stories.”

My contribution to The Fold’s self-care share-out compilation includes four of the tools, theories, and practices that we, as a small content-focused creative agency and as our sovereign selves, find helpful and generative in this mythical, unknowable, unpredictable now. These are some of the ways that we dig in, find context and color, and coax the narrative for another few pages or another couple of days. This is how we adjust the oxygen flow; one hand washing the other—alone and together.

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III. INTO ACTION

BIBLIOMANCY

Simply put, bibliomancy is a book-based divination technique. Pick a book at random, let it fall open or open it intuitively to any page. Raise a finger and let your finger land wherever it feels right. Take in what’s there, whether a word, the sentence, the paragraph, or the whole page. Let it reveal itself to you.

Many sources refer to the Bible when explaining Bibliomancy but from what I understand, in the Middle Ages Virgil’s Aeneid was the go-to text. And in Iran, folks turned to randomly selected texts from Rumi and Hafiz to answer questions and provide specific insight. As far as I’m concerned, Lydia Davis’s short stories, Clarice Lispector’s novels, and random texts on Pacific Northwest cultural history work wonderfully, too.

If there’s something specific you want more information about, clear your mind and ask for some direction on that specific matter, then proceed. When you’re feeling just generally stuck—creatively or on a work task or house project—clear your mind and try to think only of your breath. Then proceed.

You might decide to start every day with a random passage. You could decide to head off to dreams with one.

Don’t think about “doing it right.” There is no right and no wrong, there is only fate and feeling; intuition and integration. What’s true? Whatever feels most true.

PSYCHOMAGIC

As the story goes, Chilean-Russian-Jewish surrealist filmmaker and artist Alejandro Jodorowsky was living in Mexico a few decades ago when he found himself deeply taken with Shamans and the way they used dreams, symbols, and stories to heal. After a period of observation, interaction, and dialog with healers in the community, he folded what he learned into what he knew of Freud, Carl Jung, and the tarot. He took all of that and multiplied it by his own expressive and cinematic visions and called it Psychomagic. Then he started “prescribing” expressionistic public actions to help people move through trauma, emotional distress, and everyday troubles like shitty landlords and lost earrings.

To wit: To recenter a compulsive thief, the director prescribed written notecards to be left alongside items in shops and markets that his client would have otherwise pocketed. In this way, his client was coming clean and publically copping to his kleptomania tendencies—and asking to be seen and accepted to boot.

In another action, a client was told to tape valuable coins to the bottom of his shoes and walk around like that as a way of experiencing himself as responsible and careful with money.

Now. I am in no way advocating a full-on adoption of Jodorowsky’s co-opted therapeutic practices. Some of the “treatments” documented in books and on film are troubling at best and a few are downright immoral. (Feels like an okay time to mention that his movies are not for the faint of heart either.) But like the examples above, many of them make a strange and super-simple kind of sense. And overall, the idea of taking to the public square to perform one’s own cure—to crowd-source/self-help our way to a better psyche through symbolic actions—feels right.

Psychomagic is about releasing resistance and owning your deepest challenges. Cue the homie Jung: “What we resist persists.” But this way of creatively imagining and enacting one’s own ritual (and sharing it in some way with others) is a powerful and empowering approach for illustrating concepts and themes, too

Talking through a sticky point with a partner or a kid? Trying to storyboard a mobile video assignment for work? Hoping to make a big idea concrete for a marketing project? Actually exercising the life-stuff that tends to get in the way of, well, other life-stuff? Conjur Freud’s couch, the major arcana, and watch a few Jodorowsky movies. I bet you’ll come up with something cool.

RADICAL CURIOSITY, RADICAL CLARITY, RADICAL HONESTY

A technique that called itself Radical Forgiveness developed in California in the 90s; a therapist recommended it to me in the ‘00s, and then somewhere in the last two years or so, the Zeitgeist that lives in all of us decided to slide “radical” in front of anything feelings-based or sensory. And when it happens, boom: An illuminating glow of power surrounds all of it—the action, the intention, the result.

In invoking that particular modifier, something in us shifts. It’s time to get profound, our subconscious says. It’s time to get out of your own way, the ego is told. Lean into this. Go slow. Speak clearly. Listen with love. Stay open—stay open. For me, I think it helps that I was a teenager in the late 80s when “rad” and “radical” were touchstones with cultural currency and visceral weight. But maybe if you didn’t grow up evoking those adjectives, their novelty could spark a different kind of gravitas. Silver and gold, silver and gold. Make new friends and keep the old.

One of my favorite research tracks of late is simply typing a word or subject I’m working with (“moon,” “hypnotherapy,” “twins”) into whatever podcast platform is most handy and then tracking the story inside the results. There are podcasts on Radical Finance, Radical Remembrance, Radical Faith... The overload of radicalized stuff might help you see my point. We’re at this weird place as humans where all the dials have to be hacked; if we can’t yank them way past the 10, we won’t be able to hear anything, see anything, taste anything, or change anything.

Sometimes my mind goes too quickly, and sometimes—usually in tense situations—it moves too slow. To the extent that I can remember any of the tools available to me in any given moment, I find that this one helps me the most in those cloudy and difficult times. I can touch them somehow, those three Rs, and suddenly the slowness is a gift. I hear my voice speaking and it grounds me. I go one word at a time, asking myself to pick the perfect one—the most honest one, the most specific one, the most helpful one—and I stay open to the results. That last step is the Radical Curiosity at play: This person might just be able to hear me, I’ll tell myself; I wonder how this sounds to them?, I’ll think.

And sometimes the person I’m hoping will hear me is me—the honesty, the clarity, and the curiosity can all be directed within.

THE FEMINIST ECONOMY

This last one is pretty straightforward. I might not need to say more than go find a copy of Proposals for the Feminist Economy by Jennifer Armbrust, but knowing me, I probably will.

Organized into ten tenants that direct us toward a system based not in competition and facile, fake linear growth but empathy, embodiment, and open experimentation, this slim book—more a zine than a text—tells us what we already know. Womxn’s work is weaving, crafting, nurturing, and healing, but womxn’s work is also agitating systems. Turning over tables and starting anew. Lighting bonfires and building new homes.

It’s important to note that this isn’t the only feminist handbook that will up your care quotient for self and others. Be sure and fill your body and mind with the best thinking on intersectionality in particular. As a white woman, I am aware that—if I’m not proactive about it—most of what comes my way will center women like me: white, cisgendered, heteronormative, middle class, able-bodied, non-fat. It’s imperative that women like me seek out the experiences of trans and queer womxn, indiginous womxn, and on and on. Imperative.

Regardless, I love these ideas and edicts, and I love that in my work I get to help so many female small business owners. We encourage them to lean into what’s true; to trust who they are, to resist the limitations and lies that we’ve been sold. To claim what feels really powerful and to work in a way that serves a greater purpose and includes a wild expanse of voices and experiences.

Because hey, it looks like we’re about to need blueprints for a brand new economy, and I know it’s my sisters who are best suited to build it. 

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“Because I’m of the old-fashioned conviction that reading is a pleasure to be carefully guarded at all times.” - Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Corner