Walk out into the world — Do something or make something to ensure that deeper narrative, and the role each and every individual American plays in shaping the collective, becomes part of the larger conversation.
As part of our series about 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lucile Scott.
Lucile Scott is a writer, activist and mystic. Her book An American Covenant: A Story of Women, Mysticism and the Making of Modern America is out now from Topple books. Lucile has reported on national and international health and human rights issues for over a decade. Most recently, she has worked at the United Nations and amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, and has contributed to such publications as Literary Hub, VICE and POZ magazine. Her plays have been produced in New York City, Edinburgh and Los Angeles. She lives in Brooklyn with her wife and puppy. You can find her on Twitter @lucilebscott.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in the foothills of Appalachia in Eastern Kentucky coal country. I moved to Central Kentucky, famed for its bluegrass, bourbon and racehorses, when I was 7. I left for college and the city of Chicago at age 17 and haven’t lived in Kentucky since. But I’ve still never seen a moon as beautiful as the Kentucky moon.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a desire to tell stories about AMERICA, in that mythic all caps sense. I’ve always wanted to parse the many contradictions that constitute this nation, founded, using words on parchment, on top of a place that was already someplace else.
Prior to writing An American Covenant, the mystic and I had long had a touch-and-go relationship. I first began dabbling as a Kentucky teenager. I further submerged myself in my early twenties while basking in the glitter of urban queer culture for the very first time. But I’d always shied away from explicitly proclaiming myself a true devotee, a loud and proud witch. And I wondered why. Was it some kind of internalized misogyny, a desire not to be seen as that kind of a woman? Perhaps some bone-deep terror of accessing the depths of myself, both light and shadow, as mystic journeys generally necessitate?
Part of the power and pull of religion is the bridge it builds to a tradition and history bigger than you. So I began digging about the past, to see if by unearthing and connecting the lineage of the divine feminine and the feminist mystic in America for myself, I might alter my own relationship to it. And those two urges combined, inspired my present pursuits.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am part of a collective of artists, activists and witches called THIRD SPACE, and we are currently working on a project called Break the Spell: Five Steps to Conjure A New America.Each new moon, Break the Spell publishes a self-led experience — be it a ritual, spell or other magicks — designed to help participants process our moment in history. We also hold a collective virtual event for those who want to perform the magick in community. Together, we create a channel between the personal and the political, a window into our collective experience, a door for all who wish to enter.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I would like to give a shout out to my longtime intuitive reader and friend Victoria Libertore (who I call Alexandra in my book). She first showed me how to tap the power of the mystic to process both personal and cosmic chaos and channel the power I found there towards creating a better world. The mystic space is an inherently unknowable and liminal space, where one can only aspire to glimpse fragments of something larger. Exploring this realm has, for me, been immensely helpful in processing past trauma and releasing enough into our unpredictable world to be effective in it.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
In the summer of 2016, I set out on a 14,000 mile road trip in a MINI Cooper with my 10 lb. dog Vinni to discover what Americans have in common. Then I set out to write a book telling the story of that road trip. Instead, I ended up writing about feminist mystics. It turned out what I needed most, as I think many of us do right now, was more of an internal soul journey than a physical one.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The White Album by Joan Didion. That book employs fragmentary storytelling into something that reframes its own American moment and is bigger than the sum of its parts. In that, it feels magic.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“You are no good to anyone until you put on your own oxygen mask.” This saying can of course go too far — especially in our narcissistic leaning culture — but it’s a sentiment that took me a long time to grasp. I thought I could ignore my own demons and power forward. Then I realized I had to do the hard work of putting on that mask to really have the kind of relationships or impact on the world I desired.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
For me, the best leaders inspire people to live up to their full potential. They also help create circumstances that make that possible. Over the last four years there has been much discussion of fostering leadership not based in some patriarchal dominator model and what it might look like. However, we don’t have to speculate. There are historical examples. The five women discussed in An American Covenant, each led a progressive mystic movement that sought to create both the political and spiritual means needed for each and every American — regardless of race, gender or class — to have an equal shot at fulfilling life here on earth.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The polarization in our country has become so extreme that families have been torn apart. Erstwhile close friends have not spoken to each other because of strong partisan differences. This is likely a huge topic, but briefly, can you share your view on how this evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
As you say, this has to do with everything from migration patterns to the echo chambers of social media to the role of our “leaders” in stoking instead of bridging these divides. But all of the factors lead to one thing: We are each in some fortified box, and increasingly unable to see or reach through the walls. Boxes are almost never good. They are the fundamental tool to divide and conquer. Basically, we need to melt those boxes and “queer” the American identity — we need to embrace that we each “contain multitudes”, as that most famous of American poets, Walt Whitman, put it.
I have no pretensions about bridging the divide between politicians, or between partisan media outlets. But I’d love to discuss the divide that is occurring between families, co-workers, and friends. Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your experience about how family or friends have become a bit alienated because of the partisan atmosphere?
I have friends who are worried about letting their parents be around their small kids, because their parents disparage movements like Black Lives Matter and regurgitate bigoted talking points from Fox News.
In your opinion, what can be done to bridge the divide that has occurred in families? Can you please share a story or example?
Well, regarding the example above, I think the first step would be to respect family member’s requests about when not to talk about politics. And if you do take up the topic, don’t think you are going to completely convert the other person. It’s also important have compassion for them and consider their problems to be real, even if they say some things or hold some opinions you consider wrong or even repugnant.
I think one larger, more intellectual thing is dismantling the idea of American exceptionalism, which cuts both ways. Many on the right — especially those of older generations — think that America, as “the greatest country on earth,” has to be entirely good, and they cannot accept anything suggesting otherwise. Many on the left, conversely, believe that because the nation has failed to be entirely good, it’s entirely and exceptionally bad. Really, like all countries and most all people, we are somewhere in between.
I think one of the causes of our divide comes from the fact that many of us see a political affiliation as the primary way to self-identify. But of course there are many other ways to self-identify. What do you think can be done to address this?
Making politics a team sport relies on it feeling like a sport, with everyone focused on immediate wins and loses and squabbles, as opposed to the deeper picture. To counter that, we need to refocus people on deeper stories and histories. Ideally, this can help bolster our primary identity as Americans, in it together. But it will take work to get there, with our present divides. One key part will be creating art and recording histories that recast American myths to reflect the perspective of all Americans, not just white men.
Much ink has been spilled about how social media companies and partisan media companies continue to make money off creating a split in our society. Sadly the cat is out of the bag and at least in the near term there is no turning back. Social media and partisan media have a vested interest in maintaining the divide, but as individuals none of us benefit by continuing this conflict. What can we do moving forward to not let social media divide us?
Under these two giant umbrellas, there are many smaller ones that overlap, a blobular series of American vin diagrams. I’ve met a die-hard Ted Cruz fan who dedicated her life to preserving wildlife in Florida. I’ve met multiple Republicans, particularly in the West, who want the government out of everything, including people’s bedrooms, and are all for all gay and trans rights. Over the summer, I noticed many people who I know to be moderate Republicans, especially “white suburban women,” positing about the need for racial justice.
Creating platforms focusing on these overlaps can help circumvent the destructive polarity. These platforms could be issue-focused social media campaigns that don’t have a partisan bent — about say getting money out of politics or environmental conservation — or local forums seeking local reforms. We should also find ways of creating community virtually that are less profit driven and therefore less polarizing. For example, at THIRD SPACE we’ve considered starting an app seeking to create community among artists, activists and witches that takes donations but has no profit model.
What can we do moving forward to not let partisan media pundits divide us?
Get out of your echo chamber and off social media more. Turn off any and all screens and take a moment to think about and write down your own thoughts on the nation and your life. This can help develop your own narratives about America, created at a remove from the constant news cycle designed to trigger dopamine and outrage not understanding. And these deeper narratives cannot be so easily hijacked by that constant barrage of headlines.
Sadly we have reached a fevered pitch where it seems that the greatest existential catastrophe that can happen to our country is that “the other side” seizes power. We tend to lose sight of the fact that as a society and as a planet we face more immediate dangers. What can we do to lower the ante a bit and not make every small election cycle a battle for the “very existence of our country”?
I think it will require having both political parties focused on actually addressing these immediate dangers, from climate change to gun violence to white supremacist terrorism. Currently, the Republicans really aren’t.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
The below five steps incorporate parts of a spell I recently wrote for THIRD SPACE with my friend Jesse Alick. You can find the full spell here. The idea is to reconstruct a shared reality by uncloaking the illusions woven by pundits, outmoded American myths, social media, etc.
Step 1: Self-reflection — America has never just been a story of freedom from or freedom to, but also of power over. We each play a part in this. Go to a mirror in a quiet room and look at your reflection and think of the ways you have power. Think of the ways you use your power poorly. Do you use your power to manipulate the world? To manipulate yourself?
Step 2: Reflect the collective — Nowlook at yourself in mirror and think about the nation — which you help comprise. What do you see in your reflection that reflects an American myth? What other myths distort and cloak reality in America? Think of now. Think of history. Think of stories you’re told about people who are different than you.
Step 3: Take a new pledge — Look at yourself once more and say the following: “I pledge allegiance to uncloaking the myths that hide the true story of the United States of America, from myself and all inhabitants.”
Step 4: Think critically — Walk away from the mirror and write down what has bubbled up. At first, write freely. Then start trying to shape your thoughts into your own narrative about America and our shared history, one free from that profit-driven, surface-level 24 second news cycle.
Step 5: Walk out into the world — Do something or make something to ensure that deeper narrative, and the role each and every individual American plays in shaping the collective, becomes part of the larger conversation.
Simply put, is there anything else we can do to ‘just be nicer to each other’?
Both sides of the divide tend to see how the system is to blame for troubles encountered by their own teammates, while blaming the individual, the “other,” for all issues on the other side. While every adult is ultimately responsible for their own actions, no individual is personally responsible for say the systems of patriarchy — including white supremacy — that got us here. Spend your time dismantling the roots, not attacking the symptoms.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Somewhat. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the period known as Reconstruction, a time just after the Civil War dedicated to facing our true American history — and to building something new and better from the rubble. During Reconstruction, 22 black men entered the U.S. Congress, including two in the Senate. There were thriving black business districts and promises that every formerly enslaved person would receive 40 acres a mule. But soon enough, Americans got tired of looking at the truth and most all this progress was erased and replaced by the brutal racial apartheid known as Jim Crow. A similar window for change has opened now. We have another chance for Reconstruction — for building back better. But if we are to succeed, we cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. We have to remain willing to look at the truth about ourselves and our nation in the mirror.
If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our society, like you, what would you tell them?
As the writer and Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver so famously said, “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Gloria Steinem! There have been so many divides in the American feminist movement since the dawn of its so-called “first wave” in the 19th century — divides between those who want to focus on cultural change and those who want to focus solely on political change, between white and BIPOC activists, between the middle and upper classes and working class. Gloria, however, was intersectional before it was really a word. I’d like to hear more about her decades of wisdom on this front. I also just think she is legit one of the coolest people ever.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on Twitter @lucilebscott and on Instagram @lucile.baker.scott. You can also link to sign up for the THIRD SPACE newsletter. In the THIRD SPACE, there is no social media. Join don’t follow.
This was very meaningful, and thank you so much for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success on your great work!