Corvallis resident Shea Pedersen has been tacking together pieces of her soul to share with the community for the past three years in the form of her intimate and meditative self-published zine Mettanoia.
Unrestricted in form, Mettanoia is a hand-collaged mix of Pedersen’s art and writing – from fragmented, thought-provoking proverbs, poetry, personal narratives, and essays, to intricate doodles, sketches, and comic strips starring the animated and rosy-cheeked Pedersen as she thinks through life.
Waxing whimsical with the macabre, Pedersen’s art tactfully juxtaposes drawings of disjointed body parts, like loose teeth, vertebrae, and ventricles, alongside symbolic dreamscapes with quotes and banners reading things like “don’t die I love you too much.”
Exploring societal boundaries and conventions that weigh down topics like death or the linguistics of pain, Pedersen unpacks pieces of stunted growth by offering a window into her personal life as she navigates a world of pain and healing, following a partner’s suicide.
Healing through Narrative
Currently in its sixth edition, Mettanoia has evolved from its original title “On Sadness” (volumes 1-3).
“What I realized was that it was not on sadness, it was on happiness or well-being, or trying to reach a place of more equilibrium,” she says.
When the suicide first happened, Pedersen says she lost all of her words. “Physically, I couldn’t really speak; my vocabulary shortened so much and I felt like my brain was short-circuiting, it was such an intense trauma.”
She continues, “When I thought about what happened and all of the terrible things leading up to that, I could only think about it in emotions. I didn’t have a narrative to put to that.”
Through the creation of her zine, Pedersen feels she’s “finally able to piece it together, and not only that, but share it, which has been really powerful.”
Borrowing the word from her roommate, Pedersen announces the name change in volume four, writing, “Metta is an expression of love and the desire that all things be well. In buddhist belief, metta counters ill-will and dispels negative energy. It means cultivating kindness and extending it out towards all things so that one can reduce suffering both inwards and outwards… the suffix -noia refers to thought or a condition of the mind.”
Pedersen’s English and Philosophy background at Oregon State have helped drive the zine’s expansive thought-trails as she teases out topics of silence, dreams, abuse, and advance directives (or a person’s instructions for when they die), in a graceful way that garners a positive perspective. Pedersen lightens the mood with existential comics or things like salt bath instructions, a seasonal eating guide, or one thoughtful review of Corvallis park swings.
She wanted to stray from the perfect lines and spacing seen so commonly in art collections and magazines. “My eye is hungry for the messy lines,” she says.
“I’m cutting things from journals and things I wrote and different sizes of paper, and then I try to glue it to that and it’s just a mess, really.” To her, “that’s just what feels more natural.”
The zine includes photo-copies of Pedersen’s cursive penmanship and some typed portions – and readers are bound to catch a spelling error or two. But let that be refreshing; Without espousing perfectionism, Pedersen presents a relaxed, realistic frame of thought, similar to her drawing style.
“My drawing style has just been me working with mistakes, and adding details enough to have it look okay – just drawing on top of the layers,” she says.
Mettanoia is loaded with quotes and references to great thinkers now and throughout history including Audre Lorde and Ta-Nehisi Coates. An avid reader, Pedersen presents seedlings of ideas, elaborating on their context within our current climate/culture and her own lived experience.
“I feel like my English degree got me really well acquainted with male authors, so the past year or so I’ve been making a conscious effort to read primarily women [authors],” she says, continuing, “Being at center of the story instead of on the periphery… [and] hearing stories from the female point of view is really refreshing.”
Growing up, Pedersen was an avid reader of romantic era poets, such as Charles Baudelaire. In fact, she says, “On Sadness was kind of a play off of John Keats Oates, with all of these very emotional [pieces of] writing.”
Now she lists Naomi Shihab Nye and Mary Oliver among her favorite poets, and as for zines, Pedersen favors “Doris” by author and feminist Cindy Crabb, which first debuted in 1991.
Other than books, Pedersen finds grounding and inspiration in the woods. McDonald Forest or Dimple Hill are some of her favorite spots in Corvallis. “I feel like that’s my thing that keeps me balanced as a person. I feel so different when I’m in the woods,” she says.
When she’s not walking paths of peace and knowledge, Pedersen is cooking at Gathering Together Farms, the magical farm to table eatery in Corvallis, where she’s worked since graduating from OSU. To top it all off, she aspires to become a nurse practitioner.
Bringing Mindfulness to Mainstream Medicine
“I have a really difficult relationship with western medicine,” says Pedersen, explaining, “I feel like it has failed so many people, and I’m still really suspicious of whether it’s the most helpful thing, as it kind of positions itself to be a lot of the time.”
Pedersen wants to enter the nursing profession as a means of reaching people who, due to cost and insurance, aren’t privy to the alternative health resources that helped her heal, such as acupuncture or Chinese medicine. “I feel like a lot of people in the dominant health field look down on those things but those oddly are the things that have helped me most.”
She intends to bring this open mindset to the mainstream, and is most attracted to the aspect of getting one-on-one time with patients. “When I’ve been hospitalized, it’s the nurses and the conversations they’ve had with me that have been the most healing part of being in the hospital,” she says.
Pedersen sees nursing and mainstream medicine as “the most accessible tool people have when they’re sick or having mental health problems.”
Lack of Local Mental Health Help
“The lack of [mental health] resources that people have [in Corvallis] has been mind-boggling,” says Pedersen, speaking from the experience of her and others close to her.
Pedersen confirms what many of us know: that beds are always full and waiting lists are always high at local psychology wards. Not just hospitals, Pedersen says the suicide hotline has contributed to the hopelessness she’s felt, at least in the instance where she was told to refer a friend to the hospital, after the hospital referred her to the hotline.
“It seems like if you need immediate help, there’s no option,” she says.
Those that are lucky enough to land a bed confront the added stress of rising medical bills the longer they stay. Plus, Pedersen questions the therapeutic potency of psych wards in our culture, and is hesitant to believe that medical stabilization is the true answer to healing when a person needs help.
Be Brave, Share Your Story
For Pedersen, zine writing has contributed hugely to her healing experience. She credits storytelling as a form of medicine which helped isolate single incidents and thread them together until she had a narrative to reflect on.
“If you are someone that does have the ability to be brave and tell your story,” she says, “that creates more room in the world for someone who has a similar story to share.”
Pedersen references people being historically ridiculed, disregarded, or even killed when attempting to speak their stories. “I feel like it’s so easy to assume that there’s no room for your voice, especially if your narrative doesn’t fit the dominant narrative” (in movies, pop culture, etc.).
She hopes we can all tune into our inner narratives and lend an ear to others when needed.
“I would like us all to be better and more patient listeners, and braver speakers who are true.”
Pick up your copy of Mettanoia today at Interzone coffee on Monroe for $3 each.
By Stevie Beisswanger