Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored


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by Pat Holt

Tuesday, July 9, 2002


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The other day I met a brave woman who wouldn't be here today if it weren't for the pen-and-ink drawings she has preserved for nearly 40 years.

Her admirers have ranged from authors Joseph Campbell and Richard Tarnas to art historians, physicians, anthropologists and psychologists. Her work has been taught in seminars at Asilomar and Esalen Institutes, reprinted in the now-famous Ramparts during its wilder days of the 1960s and by MD Magazine, McCleans in Canada and Verdensbilleder Magazine in Denmark.

Although professionals see evidence of Jungian elements and Hindu deities she didn't know existed at the time she drew them, Sherana Harriette Frances at first felt "too embarrassed and ashamed at all this hideous stuff coming out of me" to allow her name to be used when the drawings were published.

But today, after 39 years of revisiting and extending the experience that inspired her drawings, Frances has come to grips with the "demon" that nearly killed her during several suicide attempts (before she ever heard of LSD), and is able now to reveal the full meaning of her journey in an oversized (8.5" x 11") illustrated book, "Drawing It Out: Befriending the Unconscious" (MAPS - http://www.maps.org - 128 pages; $19.95).

One can understand her reluctance, even as Frances plunges us into the heart of her story from the first page on: A legal secretary and mother of two in 1963, she became one of the first volunteers, "with my husband's reluctant approval," to take LSD under medically controlled conditions at the International Foundation for Advanced Study in Menlo Park, California.

To say the idea of taking the "dream drug" of the century was her last resort is perhaps the understatement of her life. With her marriage nearly on the rocks, her children mutely concerned that something was wrong, her husband furious that her obsessions as a painter had taken her away from the family and her own state of depression "bordering on the catatonic," Frances had seen psychiatrists and therapists for years without relief.

She's good enough as a writer to show us how the "destructive scenarios" of her marriage were roiling inside her mind when she first arrived at the Foundation in 1962.

But given the outcome of LSD - how it would be smuggled out of laboratories to flood the streets of urban America, where millions of young users popped it indiscriminately with a single intention, to blow their minds - Frances' memory of the precautions taken at the Foundation offers an oddly charming record of medical innocence and restraint.

For example, she says that for a good six weeks before they would graduate to the LSD experience, participants were given "carbogen," a mixture of 70% carbon dioxide and 30% oxygen, as an inhalant. This provided provide "simulation training" to help them "surrender to an altered state."

Then came a battery of tests - the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the Thematic Apperception Test, the Rorschach Test - as well as numerous interviews with doctors.

Finally, on the day of her LSD ingestion in March of 1963, Frances was led into "a quiet, beautifully furnished room with a serene golden Buddha at one end [and] a small portrait of Christ" at the other. (No taking chances, you can hear the doctors thinking, on a person's choice of religion at a time like that.)

Two guides (an M.D. and research analyst) were there to provide medical and emotional support, if needed, and Frances brought photos of her family, as well as two of her paintings to place nearby, all for personal comfort, just in case. She also had the "Grand Canyon Suite" and other music of her choice to play on headphones.

Frances took LSD only that one time; it took all day, during which she says the "dream drug" would become "a terrifying nightmare" in which she intentionally "went out of my mind." Yet when the Foundation asked her to describe in writing what happened to her while "high" on LSD, she states with great frustration that the report she submitted "missed the mark by a mile."

For one thing, she was an artist, not a writer. For another, in the early 1960s, "there was no vocabulary for that kind of hallucinatory journey" where "all my senses were insanely transposed" and where, through a strange geometry of patterns, she watched the "disintegration of my own body" and its seeming renewal, all the while obsessed by "hieroglyphics danc[ing] on the tip of a body where its head should have been."

But one night a few weeks later, Frances awoke with her heart pounding and tiptoed to her desk so as not to awaken her husband. There she turned on a small tensor lamp, and the "demon" that had almost destroyed her mind and marriage came to Frances' aid at last: She began drawing obsessively with pen and ink as she "tried to 're-view' my experience with LSD."

Out poured images that are impossible to describe. They are dark, ugly, punishing, fearful, sometimes a bit on the New Age, self-conscious side. Skulls, skeletal fish, piles of human bones abound. We see her lying naked and forsaken in a cave. We see her abdomen sewn up by a giant needle on one page, her body nearly crushed by boulders on the next.

In several images she is stripped of flesh, her rib cage stretching to the snapping point, her spine bulging with three sets of swollen shoulders and serpentine arms. Much of the torment appears to represent a woman trying to kill (or separate herself from) the "demon" - the artist inside - to become something she was raised to be but clearly doesn't want to be.

These 18 drawings were the first series to emerge from the LSD experiment, and, considered more eloquent than anything received before, they astonished professionals at the Foundation, including Joseph Campbell, who came to visit later in 1963.

But Frances had only started. "They told me [the first series] was valuable, but I was too full of the tension of it," she said in an interview. "I felt the experience kept leading me to something else, something evolving. You know, it's not as though you take a little LSD and bang, you're instantly transformed. That's what the media had been saying, but it wasn't true for me."

The book, then, charts one trigger in Frances's life after another that sent her back to pen and ink - from hypnotherapy, from her father's death, from the collapse of a love affair (after her marriage broke up). Each time she moves to a deeper level of understanding, filling up drawing pages until she is, once again, exhausted and spent.

Soon her images in the book grow more active - a giant hand emerges from a swirling whirlpool to grab Frances by the throat; an enormous bull rises up to threaten, enslave, penetrate, then liberate her body. She sees herself again with six arms, two attempting to pull her abdomen closed, two to hold her just-born (stillborn?) babies, two flung in the air - one with a carving knife that might be lethal, one to plea to what might be a heaven to help her.

As the pages turn, we see her impaled by genitalia, horns, claws, chains; she finds forgiveness in the sun, her own reflection, even, more playfully, the Higgins Black India ink that has translated her memory into six series of pen-and-ink drawings that monitor a profound "descent and return" through this subconscious journey.

"At first I was flattered when people said there was a connection between my drawings and Joseph Campbell's 'Hero's Journey,' " she says today. "But later I felt my drawings supplied what's missing in the male version of that hero's journey - that is, an internalized female process in which women demonize different parts of themselves after centuries of being told what we cannot do, even though we're capable; what we cannot pursue even though we want it. To me this explains why women's experience can differ internally from the male experience in the same culture, given the same directives."

In the deepest realm, of course, the archetypes that Frances explores are genderless. With each drawing, she transcends social and cultural limitations to find an "authentic center" in her own life that has universal implications.

But the problem for the publisher (MAPS is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Sarasota, Florida), and for Frances herself, is that readers who pick up the book will probably look at the illustrations first. If so, they won't see one woman's own heroic journey; they'll see only the pain.

For example, in one image, a giant womb with a baby inside turns out to be a mouth with teeth, with tentacle-like fingers as well as male genitalia protruding. This monstrous, mutant growth is assaulting a gutted, dead female whose hands have grown into a snake's head and pterodactyl claw.

If this is the first illustration you happen to see, it doesn't exactly invite you into Frances' story. Yet it is one of the more beautifully perverse and revealing images in the book.

So the curse and the blessing of "Drawing It Out" is that you can't browse the dang thing without feeling repelled. You must read Frances's story to appreciate the historic and personal value of drawings that make up the author's highly personalized, illustrated narrative. Yet the drawings are so powerful that they demand the eye attend to them first.

On the other hand, it occurred to me as I went through this book many times that for anyone who's gone through the kind of mental torture Frances has experienced - especially anyone who's been institutionalized and has a talent for painting or drawing - this book could be a life-saver. It tells the reader that nothing in the human psyche is beyond the limits of exploration; that however repugnant others may find our subconscious, we owe it to ourselves - even the self that has not been discovered yet - to interpret what we find, to put it on paper, to save it, keep it, name it, watch it grow.

Of course, artists, psychotherapists, historians, and readers of spiritual, New Age and psychedelic literature all constitute a target audience for "Drawing It Out." But I think that for any general reader who wants to see how the concepts of Aldous Huxley's famous "Doors of Perception" saved the life of one quietly talented artist, this book has its vast benefits.

After all, "at present, the future of psychedelics as clinical and research tools does not look very bright," as Stanislav Grof, M.D., writes in the introduction. "The legal and administrative sanctions against psychedelics ... [have been] a tragic loss for psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy."

Thus what Frances has created in this book, which should have been the beginning of extensive research on LSD, may be one of the only documents we have left.

"Her healing has come from levels that are beyond the reach of traditional therapy. There is little doubt that the probing of the psyche to this depth was made possible by her experiences of nonordinary states of consciousness," Grof writes. "Her extraordinary capacity to find artistic expression for visionary experiences," he adds, makes Frances' book "truly extraordinary."



Thanks to the many readers who asked for the URLS to websites mentioned last time for Dads & Daughters, the great advocacy website for which Joe Kelly is executive director (see #332), and for New Moon, a magazine written and edited by girls under the guidance of Joe's wife, Nancy Gruver.

For Dads and Daughters, click on http://www.dadsanddaughters.com, where you will also find Daughters, a magazine for parents of girls.

For New Moon, magazine click on http://www.newmoon.org or subscribe at http://www.newmooncatalog.com/store/Products.ASP?DEPT=7.



Dear Holt Uncensored:

I read your review of Joe Kelly's book and wanted to let you know how great it was that you mentioned Heather Henderson. I was Heather's fiance'. She actually died in my - our - house six months before we were going to get married You wrote that she missed work because of not feeling well. True, she often did not feel well, but she ALWAYS showed for work. She worked at least 60 hours a week. Joe tried to forbid her from coming into work on weekends - not a chance. With her organizational skills she launched Dads and Daughters with Joe, but it's ironic how she does not get that position or title of a founder of Dads and Daughters in articles about DADS. Shouldn't we recognize and empower women's efforts? I thought that's what DAD was about. She was the daughter in Dads and Daughters.

True, Heather is gone now, but her contributions made every media action you mentioned in your article possible except the last one, which occurred after her death. It was her reading magazines as we travelled together on the weekends or surfing the Net during her "lunch hour" that found those media actions. She would show up at 7 a.m. and leave the office at 6 or 7 p.m. I think that her efforts and energy need to be understood. Yesm she suffered from a terrible mental illness, yet she still changed the world for the better, even though she often was batting anorexia-bulimia. Sean Taylor

Dear Holt Uncensored:

More about the Pledge of Allegiance: I heard that the original creator was a Socialist who intended the pledge to reflect his own views of what America should stand for. Then I heard that congress later inserted the words "under God" at the behest of a religious organization. Since everyone seems to have a hand in meddling with it, maybe each individual should create his or her own pledge without the government telling us what to say.

Sharon Jarvis

Dear Holt Uncensored:

[Re your stories about librarians resisting demands of FBI agents to see records of library users:]

Put the fucking librarians' asses in jail where they belong.

Marty Juneau

Holt responds: If we did that, guess what would happen? See below.

Dear Holt Uncensored:

I thought you would enjoy a commercial that is now running by the Ad Council as part of their freedom campaign. A friend of mine in New York plays the librarian. The Ad Council: Campaign for Freedom (Campaign) and click the library icon on right.

I wrote down the dialog:

Young man walks into a library.
    Young man - "Excuse me. I can't seem to find these anywhere."
Gives librarian a list of titles.
    Librarian - "These books are no longer available."
    Young man - "I didn't know."
    Librarian reluctantly asks - "May I have your name please?"
    Young man - "Why?"
    Young man walks away dejected and is met by some men in suits that were sitting (lurking) behind a book shelf.
    Young man - "What did I do?"
    One of men in suits - "We just have a couple of questions."
    Young man - "Take it easy! Easy . ."
    Librarian looks at the scene with sadness.
Fade out.
    Message across screen: "What if America wasn't America?" Then: "Freedom. Appreciate It. Cherish It. Protect It."

Karen Burnson

Holt responds: I thought from browsing this website that the Ad Council's public service ad on libraries would try to be positive and inspiring in that bland way that says libraries are great so love them. But this ad sounds truly (wonderfully) subversive in the way it sends the same message - it's certainly not an ad to yawn through and at this time of FBI agents barging into libraries without formal search warrants and armed by the gag order of the USA PATRIOT Act, it sure gets the point across.

Dear Holt Uncensored:

You mentioned Nat Hentoff's description of the Patriot Act as allowing the FBI to gain records from libraries and bookstores.

You may be interested to know that Hentoff was part of a panel dealing with censorship and threats to freedom in the post 911 climate at this year's BookExpoAmerica - along with Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Moore and Rick McCarthy. I took copious notes at this event, and a close-to-verbatim transcript is posted in the Writing and Scribal Arts section of Global Arts Review http://www.frugalfun.com/review.html#writing.

Shel Horowitz

Holt responds: The entire website of Horowitz's "Frugal Fun" is worth exploring, but if you want to go directly to the BEA panel, click on http://www.frugalfun.com/freeexpression.shtml - although a bit dated, this conversation is an eye-opener. It took place after Barbara Kingsolver, in spite of what she calls her "squeaky-clean image," was trashed by the press for her outspoken remarks after 9/11. One reflection: "I have discovered in recent months that booksellers and librarians are the greatest advocates of free expression." We knew she thought that before, but seeing it typed out here is restorative and lovely.

Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.

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