The Laugh Machine

The Laugh Machine

While humor can build up or tear down, it’s fundamental value lies in the way it allows us to approach truth less directly, to come at it sideways but to come at it nonetheless. It’s a way of coping with the things that…need coping with. At its best, it unites us as we share a laugh over some aspect of being human.

I remember my mother telling me a story about her younger sister growing up. Her sister was tying various strings to an old bottle and attaching a bunch of different objects to the other end of each string. When asked what she was doing, she explained that she was making a laugh machine. While the family was at first incredulous, simply watching her twirl her odd contraption had them all in stitches in the end. Why? It was so ridiculous! There was an irony in the fact that her prediction came true from those unlikely beginnings. My mother was still giggling 50-some years later.

What makes humor such an important part of our humanity? Fundamentally, all humor centers around truth. In slapstick, we highlight the ridiculous aspects of daily life. In a roast, we exaggerate selected features of a person to create a comic caricature. Wit often shows us a wry perspective on a situation. Sarcasm presents a critical truth mercilessly, Gallows humor transcends what is most grim in our human experience to point out irony or the absurd. Freudian humor, as Taz reminds us, carries the truth of our unconscious desires.

While humor can build up or tear down, it’s fundamental value lies in the way it allows us to approach truth less directly, to come at it sideways but to come at it nonetheless. It’s a way of coping with the things that…need coping with. At its best, it unites us as we share a laugh over some aspect of being human. Its playfulness pulls on a younger part of us. And isn’t it always children that overcome divisions that adults can’t seem to get around, simply by not seeing them in the first place? When we laugh together, we’re in touch with a part of us that can meet others in a place of youthful glee.

Personally, I love the way my kindergarten-age daughter laughs uproariously and uncontrollably when I crack a string of jokes about the inescapable truths of our digestive tracts. She can’t stop. She’s utterly helpless in the waves of laughter shaking her small body. Part of her will never outgrow her love of earthy humor. When she’s 16, perhaps we’ll find it awkward and difficult to connect in the tried and true fashion of adolescence. I’m sure I’ll be googling fart jokes and letting them rip.


Monica Green, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, PSY27391, working with Michelle Harwell Therapy, specializing in depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues and psychological aspects of chronic health conditions. She enjoys terrible puns. 

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Abby Wambaugh

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Abby Wambaugh

Maria Elena: Hey Abby—how are you?

Abby: I’m good, how are you?

ME: I’m good. So, I’m interviewing you today….what does humanness mean to you?

Abby: I’ve been thinking about this in anticipation of our talk today, and after hearing what everyone else has said…I just really want to think about what does humanness mean to me specifically. And as I was thinking about it, I saw that it has two meanings for me. One is that it’s a reminder of my own work with perfectionism and that I am a human…with flaws, with things that I’m working on, and with things that I want to do differently. In some ways, it allows me to have self-compassion - to remember my own humanness and come into contact with it. And I was also thinking part of humanness is resiliency for me…that we as humans are capable of handling much more than we think we can. There’s something really beautiful about the fact that we are both flawed and imperfect…and yet sometimes even stronger than we could imagine. So, I think some combination of this self-compassion and this resiliency is what humanness means to me. 

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ME: Wow, thank you so much for sharing. I feel inspired right now. So, you chose humor to represent your humanness. What does humor mean to you?

Abby: Humor has always been a way to connect with people…and in some ways a way to connect with myself. I remember when I was a kid… at the dinner table….I had this impression that I did of one of my teachers at school and my family use to request that I do the impression. And it would make everybody laugh. So, I have these really rich and vivid childhood memories of humor being a way that I could connect with people that I love and a way that I could let go of some of the stress that would carry throughout the day. And as an adult, it still continued to show up for me. I did a comedy standup set one time, and realized that I like to be more in the audience than the one up front, but it was part of this way of me engaging with humor and engaging with how much it takes a weight off of you. I think sometimes about some of the difficult things we talk about in the therapy room…and sometimes you just have to bring some humor in there. Some of the most amazing parts of sessions for me are the ones where you have these really intense moments and you also get to laugh with your client. And so I think that same type of connection and relief that humor brings is not only important to me as a human but it’s also really important to be as a therapist, and it’s something that I try to utilize a lot in the therapy room.

ME: Wow, have there been any shining moments as a clinician where you use your humor since you already said you use it clinically?

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Abby: One moment that comes to mind for me was with a teenager that I used to work with who was particularly resistant to therapy, as most teenagers are (laughs). Who was really having trouble engaging with the things that she wanted to work on and with even what it meant to her to be in therapy. We started…I don’t even really remember how it started…but we started doing voices together. We would start our sessions with accents. We kinda had our “go-to” accents. Mine, because I’m from Texas originally…I like to do a good Southern accent. Sometimes we would switches into British accents. And we would have different accents that we would do. It was a way of breaking ice and way of us connecting at the beginning of the session to remind her that yes, I was her therapist, but I was also somebody sitting with her…wanting to connect with her and care about her and help make what was not going well for her better and help her find healing. That’s one silly thing that I don’t do all the time, but that definitely comes to mind for me when I think about how I’ve used humor in the past with clients.

ME: Wow, I really enjoy your spin on humor and how it helps facilitate hard conversations or even just helps to bring the human in the room. And say like, “Hey, we can laugh together, cry together, and heal together.”

Abby: What’s tricky about humor…I think I even mentioned this to you…is that it can definitely be a form of avoidance. I think we see that a lot as therapists…that someone will come in contact with a hard part of their story and will deflect with humor. I’ve definitely been guilty of that before, too. It’s one of those ways to care for self and to connect. But I’m also aware there’s a shadow side to humor…where you can use it to try to escape moments of intimacy with people. I try not to use humor in that way and I think It’s helpful to even be aware of that because it’s something that we all do sometimes. 

ME: Yeah, yes. It was really great interviewing you. I feel a little more inspired. I feel a little looser to use humor in the room with clients instead of being so serious…us art therapist are just so serious. Just kidding. (laughs).

Abby: Yes, exactly. (Laughs).

ME: Well, thank you.

Abby: Thank you. 


Abigail (Abby) Wambaugh, M.S., is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #94231, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, Psy.D., MFT 50732. She specializes in treating relationship difficulties, trauma, and sexual issues.


Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #103470, working under the supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT.  As an art therapist, Maria is passionate about helping clients unravel complex cultural beliefs and family pressures through the use of expressive art.

A New Taste of Home

A New Taste of Home

chicken korma

For me, food holds memories of being grounded and content. Memories of dishes I’ve shared with people I love, dishes I’ve made for people I love, and lingering together with food and wine. These memories are places I come back to time and time again to feel at home.

When I was 18 years old, I moved away from my family and lived in England for a year working as a nanny. It was there that I remember first solidifying food as a grounding memory. The family I worked for regularly made chicken korma and it became a dish of comfort and calm for me. Something about the strong curry scent, basmati rice, and creamy yellow sauce shared with a family I cared about deeply eased my feelings of homesickness.

In doing some research, I found neuroscience affirms my experience of food as grounding. Eating food engages all of our senses, and senses are deeply tied to memories. Researchers have found that smell is often the strongest sense tied to memory, and if you add on the layers of all other senses experienced when eating food our brains are given multiple cues to recall a memory linked to a meal.

In a study done in 2007 by Johan Willander and Maria Larsson, researchers found that memories triggered by smell were also more emotional than those triggered by verbal information alone. This may be why even today, years after my time in England, I find myself ordering chicken korma when I feel a bit lost and alone, and after a few bites I find myself at home again.

For me, food holds memories of being grounded and content...These memories are places I come back to time and time again to feel at home.

Abigail (Abby) Wambaugh, M.S., is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #94231, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, Psy.D., MFT 50732. She specializes in treating relationship difficulties, trauma, and sexual issues.

Yummm....Tasty Musings

Yummm....Tasty Musings

It wasn’t until I arrived at Yale my freshman year that I really realized that Subway was not a “nice” restaurant.

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This memory always makes me smile these days, but really, I think there was something about that surprising “Aha” I had as an 18-year-old that has stayed with me. It captures something of the widely varying perspectives we bring to food, and how those perspectives influence us.

Food is a display of our cultural backgrounds, our socioeconomic status, our values. If you and I share a meal that I love together, and my food signals something different than yours, I think we undergo something sacred, but perhaps quite fragile as well. There is a “getting to know you” going on in those moments. The capacity for both recognition and rejection is high. 

For being the center around which hospitality often orbits, food can be a rather centrifugal force that flings us quite far away from one another. I think the problem is, we can forget to pay attention to just how much is at play when we eat together (or even talk about eating!). The foods we presume to have in common, and our response to that which we don’t have in common, sets the stage for how well we will recognize one another. 

At the same time, what a bond comes from being able to learn we share a favorite dish or restaurant! And how vulnerable and affirming to share a favorite meal of mine with someone who has never tasted it before, knowing they are interested in it because of me. 

What do your favorite food memories say about you?


Allison (Allie) Ramsey is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #94391, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, MFT 50732. Allie works with individuals on a broad range of issues, including anxiety, depression, relational challenges, faith integration, divorce, and aging. 

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Maria Elena Marquez

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Maria Elena Marquez

Lauren Ziel: Hi Maria Elena! I am really excited to talk with you today about humanness. I think this is the second to last interview we’re doing with all of our clinicians. And the first question we lead off with in this series is: What does humanness mean to you?

Maria Elena Marquez: Great question. What does humanness mean to me...it's where I feel most grounded, the most connected…to myself. And in this case it means with food and those around me. So, for me humanness is a sense of calmness in myself.

L: You mention food and your connection with food as this space of feeling grounded, feeling connected…it's so interesting because that’s such a primal thing. It's in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – it’s the baseline, you know. And on one hand it's survival but it can also be a way to connect socially and a lot of the activities we have are based around food. I am wondering for you how food is the mechanism to which you find your humanness. So, why is it FOOD for you?

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ME: Food for me is a place in which I can be in my five senses. I can look at this dish, I can smell it, I can see the smile of the person bringing it to me; and just talking about the ingredients, it takes me to a place; it either takes me to my childhood or to a place in my adulthood maybe where I am going to a new restaurant and trying a new dish and we’re both discovering this new dish together. So, it’s a sense of being connected to my past or just in this present moment and both of us are just enjoying this, and talking about it; talking about the ingredients and if anything feels familiar or totally not familiar to you. So, that’s the connection part for me  - the connection with the other person that’s sitting with me or a group of friends and we’re really just connecting and enjoying this present moment with this food and it's doing something, and just connecting to your emotions and your warmth in your body or the coolness when you're eating something like sushi… so that’s a little bit about my process with food.

L: I can see you light up when you talk about it. Like even as you describe it you are completely going into the memory of.  I mean, it radiates off of you! I was also thinking as you were talking it also sounds like a mindful meditation practice - using all of your five senses, being in the moment, if there is someone with you connecting with them in that moment. It just sounds like a really real-world practical way you can be mindful and present. I hadn’t thought about it in the context of food but there a little ‘light bulb’ moment.

So food being an extension of a place of grounding for you, I can totally see how that applies perhaps on a personal level, how does it show up for you in your work as a therapist?

ME: As my work as a therapist, I feel it really helps me be in the moment. When I am with clients I try to calm myself down in the process of looking at all these processes the client is going through. So it reminds me to calm down and go piece by piece, ingredient by ingredient with a client. And also I use it outside of therapy for me - it's my self-care - in actually making an intention to go out with someone or maybe by myself and try new food just to get me in the state of acknowledging what’s in front of me instead of always being in my head and trying to process client work. It’s really a place for me to calm myself down and just enjoy my surroundings, the person serving me, this dish. I feel it helps me to be more grounded and just more mindful of what’s in front of me, whether it’s a client or maybe an amazing dish. 

L: This is a little off the sheet perhaps but I’m really curious what’s a recent meal you had that just blew your mind because it reminded you of something or that it was completely new and exciting? I should have eaten before this…

ME: Well, a dish that took me back, or a restaurant that took me back to my roots, which is Salvadorian and Columbian, was actually a Mexican restaurant here in Highland Park. I was with a colleague and we had plantains and black beans, a nice queso fresco; we had some fresh avocado. And just the way it was plated was so beautiful. To me it was very simple, it was very humble because that’s the type of food I would have in El Salvador so it took me back. It was really nice.

I was eating with this coworker and I was able to go back with her and tell her a little bit about myself and a little bit about my culture. Though I was in a Mexican restaurant, all these ingredients and all the spices and how it was plated was so home-based that it was just a great way to start my day.

[It’s] a place in which I can be in my five senses. I can look at this dish, I can smell it, I can see the smile of the person bringing it to me...it’s a sense of being connected to my past or just in this present moment.
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L: I mean, I was thinking about kind of an analogy - you're in a Mexican restaurant but then there are all these familiar flavors - its almost as if…I mean, sometimes I find myself in front of a client and I don’t share their cultural background, or I don’t have parallel experiences to them, but there is always this sort of ingredient or this flavor of “I see you. I understand”. Anyways, that was a little off the cuff but… its really lovely to hear how food is this one connecting thing; how you bring your culture in your work with clients, how it helps you stay grounded, how it keeps you full so that you are able to be that for the clients that you have. Its just really awesome. I would have never thought ‘food’ but I totally see it now.

ME: Yeah! And that’s why we should make a date and have a group dinner, and we can really enjoy and dive in and be mindful and just engage with a different place within ourselves.

L: Love it. I love it. Well it was lovely to interview you here and I am definitely going to go have food now . But thank you Maria Elena. I appreciate it.

ME: You're welcome. Thank you.


Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #103470, working under the supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT.  As an art therapist, Maria is passionate about helping clients unravel complex cultural beliefs and family pressures through the use of expressive art.


Lauren Ziel, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, ASW #76483, working under the supervision of Gabrielle Taylor, PhD. Through the use of movement and mindfulness, Lauren develops specialized treatment for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, challenges in life-stage transitions, relational difficulties, and identity/intrapersonal development.

What is Now

What is Now

I know I may lose many of you while reading the following but here it goes…this blog post is about running.

 Still with me?  Okay.

While running may not immediately conjure up conventional notions of meditation practices, for me, running gets me in a meditative state.  When I run, sure I can do it for the challenge, the endorphins, or a time to tune-out and listen to my favorite Podcast or an artfully crafted Spotify playlist, but my most rewarding excursions are those when I take the time to mindfully engage with my body via its motion.

In contrast to sitting mindfulness meditations where sensations in the body often arise subtly, a moving body is interacting more with its environment and thus it inevitably receives more input and/or stimulation. Therefore, for many people, movement enables one to more easily be aware of their bodies. This is true for me.

Rather than deny and move away from my discomfort, I use it as a support to my consciousness of what is now. 

The repetitive movement patterns of my gate (its rhythm and pace), my foot strike on the ground, the stack of my shoulders over my hips and engagement of my torso, perhaps the tightness between my ribs as my body begins to crave oxygen for its muscles -- these are just a sampling of physical sensations I begin to attend to as I start my trek into the urban trailhead.

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As I fall into embodiment, I unavoidably notice my mental patterns emerge and my mind begins to jump to the various “to-dos“ or a negative narrative about my sluggish legs which feel as though they’re made of cement. I allow it. I notice it. I kindly (without judgment) bring my awareness back to the present moment. Perhaps my way back in is through the sensation in those legs made of cement: heavy and cumbersome - struggling to lift away from their favorite cousin, asphalt.

Rather than deny and move away from my discomfort, I use it as a support to my consciousness of what is now. There is discomfort but there is not damaging pain. I move my mind closer to it, immerse my consciousness in it, and singularly focus on my legs of cement - so heavy and cumbersome. After several moments, I begin to notice the sensations change -- an energy moving in spirals up and down my thighs. The heaviness subsides and my pace quickens.  

Obviously in a running meditation I cannot withdraw my complete attention from the outside world. I have to maintain awareness of my environment if not for anything else than my safety. Because of this fact, I can also use running as an opportunity to practice externalized mindfulness.  So often runners traverse the same routes over and over and never actually notice their environment because they have turned inwards toward those mental patterns and become lost in thought. For those who identify, try having a gentle curiosity about the world around you. Whatever catches your attention, become interested in it and examine its qualities as fully as you can until the next moment/place/thing draws your interest to it.

However you decide to shift your perspective, whether you find an embodied practice or set an intention to convene with the present moment around you, running (or any other moving mediation) can be a great way to tap into both the physical benefits of movement and the mental and spiritual benefits of a divine meditative practice.


Lauren Ziel, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, ASW #76483, working under the supervision of Vanessa Spooner, PsyD. Through the use of movement and mindfulness, Lauren develops specialized treatment for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, challenges in life-stage transitions, relational difficulties, and identity/intrapersonal development.

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Taz Morgan

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Taz Morgan

Our Humans of MHT series continues with more glimpses behind the humans that sit in the chair across from you....

This time Abby invites Taz to contemplate the mysteries of being human and to discuss how practicing meditation and appreciating the arts has enriched her clinical practice. 

Taz: [laughs]

Abby: Hi Taz! It’s good to speak with you today. As you know, we are doing the series of Humans of MHT where we are looking at each different therapist and asking what humanness means to them and what human feature they bring to their practice. I’m excited to specifically talk with you because you know that I find you very interesting and I’m so curious just to start off by hearing...what does humanness mean to you?

T: I’m excited to be talking with you too, although you know I’m feeling anxious about this.

A: [laughs] Which is a human emotion.

T: Which is very human. I’ve been thinking about this question “What does humanness mean to you?” I kept coming back to – I really don’t know – or that what excites me about being human is the attempt to make meaning of what it means to be human. I kept thinking about, I think it’s the Rumi poem, basically saying, “This being human thing is a guesthouse.” So, there’s something about humanness to me that has a lot to do with mystery and not ever fully knowing why we’re here. But, I guess getting excited or feeling alive by the attempt to understand why we’re here.

A: I feel like this is your biggest strength as a therapist – you don’t just tolerate unknown, you sort of thrive in the unknown. And it sounds like that’s part of what you’re getting at when you think about this idea of humanness.

T: There is something uncertain or ambiguous about being human, and it makes us vulnerable to pain or loss and then there’s this other part of my understanding of humanness that’s important – it’s about imagination, too. That we have all this strength and resources to contend with the ambiguity...that we have our imaginations to build bridges in what sometimes feels like an abyss. I think what has helped me make sense of my experience is the arts or humanities, and I look to films, or philosophy, or literature to kind of get an understanding of what it means to be human. So, I think those things to me give me the most answers or solace, not conclusions, but they help me contend with the ambiguity.

People come to therapy often because something is hurting, something is painful, and I think what I get from meditation and from the arts is this real understanding that pain is not pathological, that it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong with you, but that you’re having a human experience.

A: This feels related to what you picked for your humanness feature, which was the practice of mindfulness and meditation. I wonder how that practice that you picked fits into this idea of humanness to you.

T: Part of the reason why I chose it as something that represents my humanness is because I feel like I have a very imperfect relationship with meditation. Like it’s not a thing – I mean recently I’ve been trying to do it every day, but I don’t feel like I’ve had this perfect, easy relationship with it, it’s been kind of complicated. And I like that it represents a place where I’ve found a certain home. In meditation I have a place to just go, it’s like a container for thoughts, feelings, sensations, and it’s expanded my relationship to myself. I found meditation, or stumbled upon it, because I was really trying to, I think, improve myself or eliminate the feelings of anxiety that I was feeling, or to alleviate stress, and I think I thought it would be this thing to become a better person or become calmer and it didn’t really happen. [laughs] I didn’t really just arrive at any other new place necessarily, but it did change my relationship to my feelings of anxiety; that I held a much more compassionate space for it.

A: I had a similar experience when I first did meditation, which was I came into it wanting to feel better. And sometimes you don’t come out of an experience of meditation feeling better, because you’re actually allowing space for you to observe all of the things that are maybe making these feelings come up for you. And so it’s interesting that you talk about the arts as a catalyst for you having creative thoughts and meaning making around humanness, and then mindfulness as the container for some of those thoughts that are happening for you.

T: That’s a nice way of putting it.

A: I like that they go together for you, and they both feel very you – that one is sparking things and the other is making space for things.

T: I guess there is a dialogue then between the two, because I think I can run wired, like I can get overwhelmed by my thoughts, and this doesn’t have to do with art, but I was thinking that some of why meditation feels so human to me too is because my dad also always talked about his meditation practice growing up. 

A: He was so beyond his time, or before his time I mean!

T: I think he was getting it from hippie days, but way before this huge boom. And I remember thinking, “OK Dad, sure, great, I’m glad you have this thing you do.” But I resonate with him a lot. He and I have a lot of similar traits, character wise, just in being very introverted. So it’s also in some weird way I feel connected to him and more accepting of these traits that we both have. Growing up I also was irritated when I could see his introversion, like, “Why don’t I have a normal Dad!” So there’s something about that too that it connects to my family.

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A: How do you feel like all of this shows up for you in the therapy room?

T: I think the meditation coupled with respect for the arts –I bring sort of a reverence or a respect for people’s uniqueness – like their unique expression of what it means to be human or to be embodied in this world as a human being and a humility in not really knowing. Having maybe some ideas, ways to process through pain, but not necessarily having concrete answers right away. People come to therapy often because something is hurting, something is painful, and I think what I get from meditation and from the arts is this real understanding that pain is not pathological, that it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong with you, but that you’re having a human experience. So I know that plays a lot into the work that I do with clients. And a willingness to reflect, and to reflect on my own humanness and how clients’ stories will move me, or to reflect on that and to be open to that I think it also a human thing that I bring.

A: It sounds like you bring not only all of the work that you’ve done in yourself into the room, but you also try and bring your whole self into the room as an experience. As somebody to question with. As somebody to empathize with. As somebody to be in pain with. And I feel like the way that you’re talking about mindfulness, when we bring our mind into a room and it seems open I feel like that’s contagious for other people. And it sounds like that’s a lot of the work that you’ve been doing. Just to be curious, and questioning, and also containing all at the same time.

T: Ya, at least that’s the attempt. That reminds me of the word kinship – like being in kinship with; being with. That humanness is also so much about relating to others and relating to ourselves. I love how you’re making these connections and summarizing what I’m saying very well. [laughs]

A: Well now that we’re at the end...do you feel less anxious?

T: I do! It’s funny, I can trust in showing up and letting things just flow.

A: That’s the yoga Taz coming out.

T: [laughs] That is, yes.

A: Well, I’m so glad that we were able to connect today about your views on humanness and how you bring your human self into the room. And how you use the practice of meditation not only for your own work, but for your work with your clients as well. So thank you so much for talking with me.

T: Thank you Abby, thanks for making it so comfortable.

A: You’re welcome.


Taz MorganMA, is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, IMF #99714, working under the supervision of Vanessa Spooner, PsyD. She has trained in Depth-oriented psychotherapy and works with adolescents, adults, and couples. 


Abigail (Abby) Wambaugh, M.S., is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #94231, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, Psy.D., MFT 50732. She specializes in treating relationship difficulties, trauma, and sexual issues.

Women of Style: Anais Nin

Women of Style: Anais Nin

It’s all right for a woman to be, above all, human. I am a woman first of all
— Anaïs Nin
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I have a complex relationship with my closet. It's a place that greets me each morning with the question, "Who will you be today?" It's a somber and celebratory catalogue of the many selves I have lived and hoped to live (maybe still secretly hope to return to). It's filled with greatest hits and one hit wonders alike. As women, I think our closet evokes a complex conversation with ourselves, a dialogue with the multitude of women that live inside.

This is what I like most about Anaïs Nin. Her writing gives you a front row seat to the fullness and complexity of the feminine internal life. While Nin published an array of fiction and poetry throughout her career, it is really the extensive diaries that she kept for over 40 years that best display her artistry.

Her diaries are complicated and controversial, even paradoxical which, to me, makes her all the more compelling and real. I think she was a woman determined to live her own life and to understand it as it emerges. I think it is a strong act to engage in the journey to know thyself and to lend that journey to others to witness and be inspired by. Now that’s style.

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I don’t really want to become normal, average, standard. I want merely to gain in strength, in the courage to live out my life more fully, enjoy more, experience more. I want to develop even more original and more unconventional traits.
— Anaïs Nin
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Dr. Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT is an expert trainer, respected speaker, and licensed therapist in trauma and attachment. She is noted for her specialization in areas of development, attachment, trauma, and neuroscience, and her ability to communicate complex topics with clarity and humor. Michelle completed her PhD in Psychoanalysis from The Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis. She received her BA in English Literature from University of Oklahoma, MA in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, and MS in Marriage and Family Therapy from the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology.

Women of Style: My Grandmother

Women of Style: My Grandmother

It wasn’t about owning the best but presenting your best.
Laura's Grandmother

My grandmother’s sense of style represented her consistency and strength. She was always well put together, rarely casual and never disheveled.  For my grandmother, being well-groomed was a matter of respect for self and others - it wasn't about owning the best but presenting your best. Presentation included etiquette - be timely, understand which fork to use, and how to make a proper cup of tea. She was gracious and kind - not pretentious or flashy. 

My grandmother had classic taste and chose quality items to be enjoyed for several years.  Her wardrobe reflected her belief of valuing and caring for what you own. Instead of accumulating, she tailored, mended, and accessorized. When I see pictures of my grandmother from the forties, I am reminded that details and quality matter and that simple, elegant clothing with clean, feminine lines can be both beautiful and powerful. I am also reminded to sit up straight and that everything is better with a cup of tea!

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HERE'S HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN DRESSEMBER WITH US:

Give! Visit our Dressember page and make a donation. It's that simple and no sum is too small. Truly.

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Laura MacRae-Serpa, LMFT, CCLS has special interests in supporting children and families navigating adoption and the challenges of chronic illness.

Women of Style: My Aunt Mia

Women of Style: My Aunt Mia

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Who: Maternal Aunt - Mia Evans

Wear: Style - Eclectic 70's; mix of the androgyny of Annie Hall, the glamour of Bianca Jagger, and the all-american classic of Lauren Hutton.

Why: My aunt Mia: a woman both of and before her time. A forward thinking feminist, classically trained harpist, ambitious lawyer, loving aunt and mother of Pugs. She is the kind of person that has always sparked my curiosity - so transparent and direct, yet full of quirks, stories, and talents that she alone could be the muse to spawn dozens of literary characters. To me, she is this shining example of how a modern woman can be so many things (and wear so many hats), while still maintaining her individuality and stand in it without pretense or explanation. 

Her clothes reflect this to a "T." She's always polished and put together, but in the kind of way you know it didn't take her more than 10 minutes to get ready because while she cares how she looks, vanity comes second to comfort and necessity. Pairing classic elements of style (like a beige trench coat or clean cotton blouse) with more distinctive and/or whimsical flare (à la red woven platform clogs and kitschy handmade jewelry she bought in some bizarre half way around the world), she always curates a balanced ensemble that at first glance feels chic, serious and sophisticated but upon a second inspection you realized it belies the humble levity of a woman that knows she has her shit together so she doesn't take herself too seriously. 

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HERE'S HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN DRESSEMBER WITH US:

Give! Visit our Dressember page and make a donation. It's that simple and no sum is too small. Truly.

Follow! Be sure to follow us on Instagram and our blog throughout the month of December. 

Share!  Help us spread the word. You can do this by sharing our social media posts or links to our Dressember fundraising page.


Lauren Ziel, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, ASW #76483, working under the supervision of Vanessa Spooner, PsyD. Through the use of movement and mindfulness, Lauren develops specialized treatment for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, challenges in life-stage transitions, relational difficulties, and identity/intrapersonal development.