Its said that we are living in a narcissistic culture, a socioeconomic system that not only rewards narcissistic behavior, but amplifies it through a cultural form of Darwin’s natural selection (Vader et al 2018, Twenge & Campbell 2010, Paris 2014).

What’s lacking in most discussions on this topic is the insidious sense of personal facelessness.

What do I mean by facelessness? Its something that feels hard to describe at a societal scale, but easy at the familial scale. In households with a narcissist, noone but the narcissist is allowed to have emotions or opinions unless those align with the narcissists particular mood. Everyone else is there to serve the narcissist’s psychological state. This usually involves being their punching bag, or being their reason to be proud, typically both — and we can find ourselves on a jolting rollercoaster ride where we’re locked in for a lifetime, slowly clicking up a rickety slope to gain a fabulous view before being plunged downwards and our beingness twisted around until we’re gasping for air and then only finding respite as we do it. All. Over. Again.

But there comes a time when we take the bolt cutters to the lock, and try to jump off, and hope that we hit land safely.

As for me, I’m still in mid air and falling. I took a sabbatical from lichenology because I realized I was projecting my unhealthy family-of-origin dynamics onto my work, onto my colleagues, onto the field of lichenology itself. And I knew that 99% of it was coming from my past, not from the present, but I couldn’t shake it.

So what’s come of the sabbatical, almost 2 years later? Well, I’m finding my face — not my mask, but my face.


Sitting at the feet of the Stone People (N. Noell, pencil on paper, 2018)

I’m still working on papers as the time calls, and enjoying feeling the bubbling of inspiration coming from within as I feel the urge to engage in the world again, but from a different pivot point. For as we hit bottom, we get to work on the foundations of our being. We get to ask the questions of how we want to approach what we do. We get to peer below the ego’s glass surface, and dive into the heart swimming in the deep ocean of mystery below it.

For anyone who has visited my site before, you’ve probably noticed a big change. I’ve revamped it to reflect a bit of what I’ve been learning and exploring these past years: that lichenology is not just a practice of taxonomy and observation of the outer world, but also an exploration of the inner world, a practice in creating symbioses with our mind, and body and emotions and more than human world, practices which can radically shift how we engage with the outer world.

As biologist Scott Gilbert says, and philosopher Donna Haraway affirms, We are All Lichens.

I hope you enjoy exploring the art (see the autotroph section), and if you are more science minded, the lichen studies (see heterotroph). But most of all, I hope this new site gives you an invitation to explore the connections between your inner worlds and your outer worlds. I am convinced that we each individually and collectively are living in a poem: let’s write something life affirming, equitable and so truthful that its mysterious, and beautiful.

A gratitude to you for witnessing my journey,

P.S. The term and idea of facelessness as the felt experience of a person who has been raised in a narcissistic family and/or culture comes from my dear friend and body exploration mentor Helma Mueller, a somatic healing practitioner based in Reno, NV. You can find out more about her work here.

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