Viewing entries tagged
LMFT

Failure: An Expected Guest

Failure: An Expected Guest

...losing taught me freedom.

When I was in college, I was a sprinter (for you track fans out there, the 400m dash was my main event). Many, many training sessions, pairs of shoes, taped feet, and ice baths later, one of the most valuable things I gained was getting used to failure.

I’m actually pretty competitive, so don’t be misled into thinking I don’t care about winning. (Ha!) But while the drive to win taught me discipline, confidence, and focus, losing taught me freedom.

Regular public failure required me to develop a sense of security beyond success, and once I had it, I was able to freely find the edge of my capacity and risk stepping beyond it.

In my post college years, I have looked back on my experience with failure in athletics as a season of “training wheels.” The risks and failures I ventured into in that season had few real world consequences.

...I was able to freely find the edge of my capacity and risk stepping beyond it.

These days, I find that my failures often carry a much bigger ripple effect, affecting the lives of those I care about. It’s challenged me to again develop a sense of security beyond perfection. Really, no system that depends on me to be perfect is very secure, though I think it can have that illusion. “If I could just perform perfectly, things will be alright in my own life and the lives of those I care for.”

But really, things became much more secure when I got honest with myself and others about the reality of failure as part of my existence and my best efforts to help. That honesty allowed me to think of responding to my own failures as part of “normal life.” Not something to be rigidly prevented or defended against, but allowed in as an expected guest.


Allison (Allie) Ramsey is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Therapist. Allie works with individuals on a broad range of issues, including anxiety, depression, relational challenges, faith integration, divorce, and aging. 

Sitting in the Muck

Sitting in the Muck

Fermentation that leads to cheese is this process that begins with sitting in muck allowing for some ugliness to rise to the surface, all for the purpose of the beautiful, emotional experience that is a great cheese.

It may not be comforting to hear, but when I think about the process of fermentation…I think about my work with couples.  Fermentation that leads to cheese is this process that begins with sitting in muck allowing for some ugliness to rise to the surface, all for the purpose of the beautiful, emotional experience that is a great cheese. I often tell couples at the beginning of our work together that at times they may feel worse before they feel better.  This is because a part of couples therapy is coming to weekly (or more) sessions and talking about the parts of each individual and of their “us” that have long gone ignored or have felt too vulnerable or scary to bring up.  The times that have been shoved down further and further so that the couple can function and pretend like life is going on as planned.  However, as we continue to work together, those ugly pieces that rise to the surface and make themselves known are also the pieces that help us to allow for positive growth. Growth that comes from the good kind of fermentation- where we sit in the muck so that we may reach the beautiful, emotional experience that is an authentic connection. So here’s to cheese, here’s to couples therapy, and here’s to growing some weird stuff before we make it to the beauty. 


Janie McGlasson, MS, LMFT works extensively with adolescents, adults, and couples and specializes in the areas of attachment, trauma, and grief. 

The Cold Brew

The Cold Brew

Cheese is a juggernaut of transformation. In the right hands, what is presumably rotten transforms into utter deliciousness. Fermentation, the heart of how cheese becomes cheese, parallels our own emotional process of change as humans. Change often has the aroma of death. It's a stinky business. I wanted to gain a deeper insight into this process of change. I interviewed Ms. Leah Fierro, owner of Milkfarm and fiercest cheesemonger in the West.

M: So tell us, what has cheese taught you?

L: Cheese has taught me a lot but foremost, how little people know about where food comes from.

M: Yeah, I find that interesting too. In general, we are really disconnected from our food. You’ve also chosen a food that people love but know little about. I wonder how aware people are that cheese is basically in various stages of rot, controlled spoilage?

L: People don’t understand that cheese was created due to lack of refrigeration. What do you do with an excess of milk that you can’t drink? You make cheese. Same thing with vegetables. You have seasonal bounty. What happens in the middle of winter when there is no produce? That’s where fermentation comes in. Because in 2016, we don’t know seasons, everything is available to us. Whatever we can’t get in California, we can get from Chile, from anywhere so people are disconnected from seasonality.

People don’t think about controlled spoilage. They think if something has mold on it they have to discard it but that’s not true, you don’t. You just cut it off and keep eating it. Everything in our store molds. Everything.

I think it’s interesting that as a cheesemonger, I am essentially serving a form of controlled spoilage and milk to consumers but people are very shocked by this. They ask questions like “How long does this last?” To which I answer, “This Parmigiano-Reggiano has been around for three years. It’s not going to spoil in three days in your refrigerator.” People don’t think about controlled spoilage. They think if something has mold on it they have to discard it but that’s not true, you don’t. You just cut it off and keep eating it. Everything in our store molds. Everything.

M: Everything?

L:  Everything. Cheese molds, everything molds. Everything, everything molds. We just cut it off and keep going. I often wonder if I have cheese mold in my lungs. Cheese is controlled spoilage. Sometimes people come in asking for blue cheese, not understanding that blue cheese is mold. The blue is mold. Or asking for camembert, brie, and not understanding that the white fungus on the outside is mold that is intentionally sprayed on the cheese to help develop the flavor. This helps the cheese mature and break down. There’s proteolysis which is the breakdown of proteins and fats which help the cheese develop to the ooey gooeyness that we all love. Spoilage.

Nearly everyone eats cheese but few people understand it. I get asked all the time “Why did you call you store Milkfarm?” People don’t really think about how cheese comes from milk and there is somehow a farm involved. It’s up to me to educate my consumers.

So there are 4 outlets for cheese making. 1. The Diary Man: he is raising the cows, growing the grass, making sure they are eating right. 2. The Cheesemaker: he ensures the cheese is being made in the proper way, controlling the pH. and the bacteria. 3. Affineur: this is the person who ages the cheese, who controls the bacteria in these cheese caves, on these wooden planks as cheeses age. This effects the flavor of the cheese. 4. The Cheesemonger: this person educates and serves the cheese. How we take care of the cheese represents all three people.

I’ve gone to a lot of cheese stores where the cheese looks like s*$%. It’s dead. It’s lived, it’s died. And it does represent all the hard work the other people have put in.

By the way, you need to come to my Parmigiano-Reggiano class on the 26th. You can learn a lot through my classes.

M: Umm. Done. 

M: I’m really fascinated by the process of fermentation, controlled spoilage, or as you have said, “delicious rot.” The idea that something decaying or rotting, in skilled hands, can become something rather delicious.

L: But it can also be very not delicious! If the cheesemaker doesn’t have the appropriate skill or knowledge, they can really mess things up. So like, if you come to the Parmigiano-Reggiano class you’ll learn about microbial rennet, why things can get bitter. If the cheesemaker doesn’t cut the curd the right way, it messes up the pH. of the milk because milk is an alive thing. The process of trying to get the perfect pH. before they add the salt, before they add the rennet, before they maneuver and manipulate it. That has a lot to do with the  outcome of the cheese.

Or the problem can lie with the cheesemonger. So let’s say you get a brie and you cut this brie at a restaurant and its ooey and gooey and delicious. Then you have another piece at another restaurant and it’s hard, kind of chalky. Then you have another piece at another restaurant and it smells like Windex and its brown. This could be the exact same cheese but just in different phase of the lifespan.

M: So what I hear is that it’s not only the cheesemaker but it’s how the cheese is used.  Shifting gears…Let’s talk about biodiversity. As a culture we are so germaphobic but from what I have read, it’s actually the diversity of microbes that brings the complexity of flavor. Bacteria is our friend.

L: (laughs) My sister has a newborn and if she could put her in a bubble or dip her in latex she would but the truth is the human body is a complex system of microbiomes. We need all of that bacteria. Like the nun in Cooked Episode 4, she needs all the funky bacteria growing in that wood for years and years to develop that cheese.

A few years ago the FDA was cracking down on affineurs using wooden planks. There were some high counts of “bad bacteria” on some planks so they wanted to banish all wooden planks. That would have been disastrous because we need all that funkiness to play a role on the cheeses surface to create beautifully complex cheeses. The interesting nuances and flavor profiles would be gone.

M: So there is a fine line between safety and danger and the potential for growth and goodness.

M: If you were to make a t-shirt, what would it say?

L: I heart bacteria. 

M: (laughs) So back to this concept of fermentation. When was a time in your life where it seemed like you reached a point of change, where it felt like the end but it became something new?

L: There was a point after I got married where I felt like I had no oxygen. That I was done. But I regenerated. I started to figure things out, what I needed. Interestingly though, in cheese oxygen can accelerate the ripening process. So like with blue cheese, at certain stage they actually purposely introduce it to oxygen to feed the bacteria.

M: So cheese has an anaerobic process but then it’s purposely exposed to oxygen. So the lack of exposure starts the cheesemaking process but then it’s all about exposure and handling?

L: Yes, but oxygen exposure starts the ripening process. So like blue cheese, the second you cut the wheel open you can literally see, with your bare eyes, the blue becoming more blue. And every day, you will see it become bluer and develop more mold.

M: So what does that mean? Is that more flavor or is there some line between deliciousness and rot?

L: It’s more flavor until you hit that point where it becomes too bitter or the flavor too strong.

M: So, it’s a dance

L: Absolutely. There’s high amount of spoilage in my industry. People wonder why cheese is so expensive. You already heard about all the people involved in the process of making the cheese. It becomes my job to sell it within that peak window. So, a lot can spoil.

M: You leave a lot cheese on the table so to speak.

L: Well, not so much anymore. People are starting to get it. It’s a good feeling. Slowly people are starting to get what we are serving is of the best quality.

M: Anything you want people to know about cheese that they may not know?

L: Not all soft cheeses are bries. (laughs)  and not every hard cheese tastes like parmesan. These are probably the two most irritating things to the cheesemonger. But those are things we chip away at as we educate the public about cheese and its differences.

L: Also, terroir. It’s a French word that translates to 'of the land.' So, if you are having a pinot noir from the Willamette Valley versus a pinot noir from France or Paso Robles, they will all taste different because of the soil, the hands that touch it, the climate, the bugs that are eating it, the ripening, they all make a difference in taste. Terroir effects cheese a lot.

So, take Raclette.  It's a very famous cheese meant to be melted and scrapped atop potatoes. Raclette is made in France. It’s made in Switzerland. I chose to use a Raclette that’s made in Vermont. The flavor is completely different. The taste, the flavor of it is delicious because these people are raising cows that are eating the freshest sustainable grasses; it’s made in these really great caves. It’s all terroir. Everything about that farm is effecting the way that cheese taste. Terroir.

M: The ecology of cheese. (laughs)

L: Cheese is interesting. I think I’ve stayed into it because it’s not so black and white. It’s not simply: follow a recipe and then, done. Cheese is living, changing, breathing. It's so much more than just a cheese shop.

M: That it is.


Michelle Harwell, MS, 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 is currently completing 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.

 

The Girl in the Arena

The Girl in the Arena

For years, my father kept this quote from Theodore Roosevelt hanging in his office. I have read it countless times and it always inspires me to be gritty.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
— Theordore Roosevelt "The Man In The Arena" Excerpt from “Citizenship In A Republic” Speech delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France April 23, 1910

I was struck by my Father’s model of grit from an early age. He taught by example that there is always a reason to show up and enter “the arena.” He embraced possibilities, risks and all, because he understood the value of experience. As a mother, I hope to share my father’s message that success is the process of learning and that winning is simply a byproduct of that over time. I am mindful to validate my children’s processes more then their products. I strive to model compassion for my own errors and shortfalls with the hopes they will learn to be gentle with themselves and others. For although, grit requires moving forward in life with fortitude, it is equally important to recognize when to pause and attend to our wounds.


-Laura “Wayne Gritzky” MacRae-Serpa, MFTI, CCLS has special interests in supporting children and families navigating adoption and the challenges of chronic illness.

I. Can't. Even. | A Story of Grit

I. Can't. Even. | A Story of Grit

Grit was the process of knowing that, despite my exhaustion, I had what it took to keep getting up.

     It is that time of year when many of my clients are finishing up the school year.  Whether stumbling or triumphant, each teacher, student, administrator, etc. will be done with the bulk of their work for this school year within a months time. Because of this, there is a general feeling of tiredness that is in the air when you step foot on any campus.  I have had many the conversation with high school students and teachers about how they just. can’t. even. with these AP tests and finals.  And I have to say- I get it. As I have spent the majority of my year studying for my licensing exams, I have been reminded of just how hard it is to keep your head in the game when you are exhausted and ready for the end. I recently watched the Life of Pi and, however dramatic this may sound, identified with the feeling that I saw in Pi as he would weather a storm at sea, trying to just hold on while waves are crashing threateningly around him. I remember many moments in the studying process that I would have to convince myself that I was the type of person that did not drown in the storm but held my ground and got back up when the waves calmed. This is where grit comes in. Grit was the process of knowing that, despite my exhaustion, I had what it took to keep getting up.   Remembering this feeling makes me wonder if that exact process is the basis of grit- that having grit may often mean choosing to believe in yourself even when the odds are stacked against you.  And I don’t use the word “process” here lightly. The “I can’t even” days were many- days where the waves started to pick up pace and leave little time to breathe between contact and it seemed like the only option was to succumb and give up. But in these days, I instead chose to trust myself. There were evenings when my energy was low and I knew that the best thing that I could do was to let go for that night and watch 4 episodes of The Office to lighten my spirits.  There were weekends when I chose to stay in to study with the knowledge that my people were cheering for me on the sidelines and were patient to wade through the storm waters with me.  The grit that guided me was the belief that, whether I took a night off or studied for 8 hours straight, I would be okay in the end. Not because I would undoubtedly be successful- but because I had the grit to keep going no matter the outcome.


Janie "Hermione Slasher" McGlasson, MS, MFT-Intern works extensively with adolescents, adults, and couples and specializes in the areas of attachment, trauma, and grief. 

 

We all become stronger.

We all become stronger.

Our team at Michelle Harwell Therapy attended the LA Derby Dolls and I had the opportunity to interview Oblivienne Westwood, captain of the undefeated Varsity Brawlers, aspiring fashion designer, and all around badass woman extraordinaire. She filled me in on all things derby- from its origins and culture to the somewhat democratic process involved in choosing a derby name. More than that, she shared the ways in which being a Derby Doll has empowered her to approach obstacles in her life head on, much in the same way she is forced to do on the roller track on a weekly basis. --Cresson Haughland, MFT Intern at Michelle Harwell Therapy.

CH: So Oblivienne, should I call you Oblivienne? Or would you prefer your actual name? What is your actual name?

OW: Ha! Oblivienne is fine. I go back and forth between Oblivienne, Viv, Amber (my actual name), so much that I forget how I’ve introduced myself to different people.

CH: Got it. Well then, Oblivienne, tell me about how you first got involved with roller derby?

OW: No one starts roller derby because their life is perfect. I’ve been skating for 5 years as of March. I originally started in a league in Orange County, where I was living at the time. Everybody that you talk in derby will have a different story about why they started, but you’ll find a running theme- they were lacking something or something wasn’t right or they were looking for an outlet. Everyone comes in trying to fill a void somewhere in their life.

I was in a really awful relationship with an emotionally-abusive drug addict and I was trying to leave that relationship as well as the friends and lifestyle that came with it. I have always been the kind of person who is trying to find something new or weird or different to do on a Saturday night. I found an ad for the local league....Within 5 minutes of being there I was like I can definitely do this, this looks awesome. I grew up going to mosh pits and being in the punk rock scene and was always the little girl with all the guys trying to beat them up, so I fit right into that. My relationship was falling apart, my life was falling apart and I thought, let’s try something new. And I did. And I haven’t stopped since.

No one starts roller derby because their life is perfect.
— Obliviene Westwood

CH: So you were always the girl in the mosh pits wanting to fight with the boys. How does that mentality play into the sport?

OW: When the derby started in Austin it was definitely a punk rock, DIY thing. Now you have people that are stay at home moms, artists, nurses, doctors, so not everyone comes from that background. When it started that was definitely the case though-everyone was into punk rock, had tattoos, drank beer at halftime, but now its no longer that way. It’s more athletic. I was an athlete and a dancer growing up. And you see more of that in the sport now, people that played sports in college, former figure skaters, hockey players and now as adults they don’t have that as an outlet. As adults we don’t have anything like what we had as kids playing sports, so derby serves to fill that void.

CH: I think that’s a great point. Watching last night it was obvious how much athleticism is involved in the game and that isn’t something there’s much opportunity to express once you reach adulthood.

OW: Absolutely, especially not for women. A lot of amateur or pick up sports leagues are geared towards men. A lot of what we do at LA Derby Dolls is empowering women to find that athletic part of themselves again. We also have a lot of people that have never been athletes, so we give them different options, all with the goal of empowering women to find something within them, giving them the confidence to try something new, to be competitive, to light that fire within them and tell them its ok to be competitive, to look at your competitor and say I’m going to hit that person right now. So often women are taught to be a little more docile and this gives them the opportunity to be more confident, to be aggressive, and for that to be ok.

CH: Would you say that gaining some of that confidence and channeling your aggression has translated into other areas of your life? If so, how?

OW: You see it in so many different ways. Derby is a lifestyle. You’re coming into a community that is very open and receptive and we try to help each other as much as we can. When you have a bad day, you have a cheering section at any time. Your teammates encourage you to be more confident when you don’t feel it for yourself. A lot of people that try derby realize they’ve already tried this new crazy thing, so it makes doing other new things seem easier. Like going out for that new job. I actually completely quit my job and it’s ok, I’ll figure it out. In roller derby you have to do a lot of just figuring it out. In a lot of industries it is women against women, a very negative environment. Women tear down other women all the time. Derby encourages women to build one another up instead of tear them down. We have a junior program for girls 7-17 and I think one of the biggest things we do is teach those young girls to be assertive and confident and instill in them to work together instead of talk shit about each other behind their backs.

CH: As a jammer, what is going through your mind while you’re skating into a pack of very strong women whose goal it is to hold you back?

OW: We actually practice going into walls. Everything in your body physically and mentally tells you this is a bad idea, don’t do this. But, you convince yourself that you can do this. Its very important to be thinking about the right things, not dwelling on the negative, or else you’ll never get past that wall. When I’m on the jam line I’m sizing up the wall- the blockers, my potential paths. I don’t want to run straight into the wall of people, my goal is to not fall down and to get away from them as fast as possible. Most of the moves you make as a jammer are to avoid getting hit or not falling down, trying to find the path of least resistance. Sometimes you do get annihilated and blocked in the back and it feels like the longest 60 seconds of your life. We talk a lot about how every jam is only 60 seconds. You can do anything for 60 seconds. But if you dwell on those 60 seconds, the rest of the game will not be successful. You have to set it aside, move from that jam, and start a fresh jam.

CH: What is it that makes you get back up after taking a really terrible hit?

OW: There was one time I got hit so hard that I was literally knocked off the track. And I remember thinking about this girl who, when she fell down, was always so slow to get back up. We would all talk about how she wasn’t useful after getting hit because she was so slow to get back into the game. All I could think was, “ I don’t want to be that girl.” I don’t want to be the girl that can’t keep up. You want to be the girl that can keep up. You want to be successful for your team and your blockers that are doing so much to help you. As a team, we need to play to the weakest person’s weakest, not the strongest person’s strength. If we can build them up in their weakness, we all become stronger.

As a team, we need to play to the weakest person’s weakest, not the strongest person’s strength. If we can build them up in their weakness, we all become stronger.
— Oblivienne Westwood

CH: Do you feel like your derby name has its own persona?

OW: I think maybe Oblivienne Westwood is a showier person than I am in real life. When you put your name and jersey on you’re playing a part, you’re doing a job. It is up to me to go out take photos with fans, be outgoing, and cheer myself on when I do well. I have this out of body experience sometimes where I think, “What am I doing?” My real life self would never do that. But I don’t want to be such a different person that it’s hard to track, it is more that Oblivienne is an enhanced version of myself. The most confident version of myself. Having a derby name is like when you’ve had two drinks-you aren’t stumbling around by any means, but you’re just confident enough to get on stage to do some karaoke.

CH: We came up with our names when we were here last night.

OW: Let’s hear yours.

CH: I decided I would be the Nordic Nightmare because I’m Norwegian.

OW: That’s amazing. You could wear a Viking hat, people call you nightmare for short. Cool makeup, all blue, lots of glitter.

CH: I feel really good about that.

CH: Who would you say inspires you?

OW: I don’t really believe in looking up to someone else. I don’t believe you should aspire to be anyone else other than you. My mom had me really young and was very encouraging to be yourself, do what you want to do, make the right choices, don’t rely on other people to help you, be independent. That was one of the best things that could ever have happened to me. I don’t know if I would have moved here to go to art school if she hadn’t encouraged me that I could take on things like that on my own.

CH: Last question. If you could put something on a t-shirt, what would it be?

OW: I want to do a “babe with the power” shirt, a David Bowie reference. It would have a line drawing of a girl’s face and a lightning bolt that says “babe with the power.”

Oblivienne Westwood, captain of the undefeated Varsity Brawlers, aspiring fashion designer, and all around badass woman extraordinaire, find more about her at  https://twitter.com/oblivionwstwood and support your local Derby Doll community. 

Join the LA Derby Doll Community for a bout this weekend (May 21st) and Fresh Meat (new skater) try-outs in June.  


Cresson Haugland, MS, MFT Intern has worked in both the community mental health and private practice settings and has extensive experience working with families in transition, couples, adolescents, and individuals. 
 

The "rules" of Poetry

The "rules" of Poetry

A B B A

A B B A

B A B A

B A B A

     I still remember my first time studying poetry. It was third grade, Mrs. Hornback’s class. Because who forgets a teacher named Mrs. Hornback, right? We learned about couplets and meters and rhyme and the ways in which these literary devices create symmetry and meaning that plain old sentences have to work a lot harder to accomplish.

B A B C

A B A B

B A B C

A B A B

     This was how I was taught poetry. Each line perfectly coordinating with another waiting for it within the poem, knowing that if it did not, something was certainly awry. Imagine my surprise when I was introduced to poets like Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, and Bradley Hathway, to name a few. Artists that do not adhere to the structure within which I allowed poetry to exist. Authors who honor the complexity and simplicity of language by allowing words to hang on the ledge of a page all on their own; They are the reason I love poetry. 

Authors who honor the complexity and simplicity of language by allowing words to hang on the ledge of a page all on their own; They are the reason I love poetry.

     Don’t get me wrong; I believe the masters of rhyme and rhythm deserve equal amounts of respect. There is something for me, however, locked within the feeling of being captivated by a single word. An ellipsis that allows me to fill in the blank however I so choose. And in a world with a lot of forms and “sign here’s”, I really appreciate that space.  

Cresson Haugland MS, MFT Intern has worked in both the community mental health and private practice settings and has extensive experience working with families in transition, couples, adolescents, and individuals. 

Poetic Play

Poetic Play

     There is something poetic about children’s play. Like a poems’ meter and line breaks, play also has rhythmic measures and choice pauses.  Both can be emotionally charged and offer the opportunity to peer through another’s lens. They require few words to make us think, and often help us learn and reflect on everyday things. In poetry as in play, words may be symbols and contain hidden messages. Both require mindful engagement to read between the lines. Poetry like play can be enjoyed alone or with a group and be short and humorous, flowing and long lasting, or anything in between.       

In the same way that poetry allows us to share and be touched by the human experience, play allows children to imagine, create, connect and rise about their daily selves.

Poetry offers the opportunity to switch off automatic pilot and be jolted by something profound, meaningful and beautiful. In the same way that poetry allows us to share and be touched by the human experience, play allows children to imagine, create, connect and rise above their daily selves.

 

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

All Imagery from this post are by the author and illustrator Shel Silverstein.

 

Hometown Poet: Brandon Jordan Brown

Hometown Poet: Brandon Jordan Brown

As a therapist, I am used to connecting with the experience of the other through words. Listening, empathizing, exploring, connecting. It is a humbling and honoring experience to be let into the psyche of another through their story. The beauty of words is that they do not have to be spoken to land with another person.  Brandon Jordan Brown utilizes the artistic expression of words to not only connect with the other but to help them connect to themselves. Here he reminds us of the beauty of poetry and how it can be used to draw us closer to the human experience. -Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern

JM: Why is art/creativity important?

BJB: There is something about when you interact with it...it forces you to slow down….It pulls you in inward and it pulls you outward...And I think that if you are open to it- and you have to be really open to it- it forces you to confront things that you don't want to or to celebrate things that we forget are worth celebrating. That’s the weird thing about it. Every element or every response that art evokes almost has an equal and opposite response.  It is capable of either/or, both/and, almost simultaneously…I can tell you as someone who practices it, it is terrifying. It makes you feel very vulnerable and brings up all your fears. But I’m sure we will get into that more with upcoming questions.

JM: You’re right, we definitely will. Let’s get vulnerable.

...Poetry is a way for me to really wrestle and grapple with my experience and to feel validated as a human being.
— Brandon Jordan Brown

JM: Why did you choose poetry as your art form?

BJB: ...What is so compelling about poetry that I am learning...that it is almost like experiential theology or human-centered in a way that religion can be afraid to be….I think that poetry is a way for me to really wrestle and grapple with my experience and to feel validated as a human being.

JM: We have been talking a lot about vulnerability at MHT...the impact that it has on our relationships, work, day to day life, etc.  Do you see vulnerability playing a part in your poetry?

BJB: 100%. In a scary way. Almost to where I have written poems and sent them out and had...doesn’t Brene Brown call them vulnerability hangovers?... I haven’t figured out how to balance that. Poetry is a craft. It is different than a diary in that it takes revision and editing to create this piece of art.  So when it does connect it has the biggest chance for success.

JM: When it does connect with you?

BJB: When it connects with other people. You want to figure out a way to break open language and find a fresh way to describe something so that a person will feel like they are seeing or feeling it in a new way.  And so, it is hard to figure out the balance of being raw and vulnerable in making art and still to be healthy. I haven’t quite figured it out yet.  

There will be things I write and think “Oh that is too honest”...a moment of pure openness.  And I think there are moments when I feel really ready for that. Brave and able and courageous. Confident enough in myself that even if someone says “Wow, that is really intense” I could reply with just “Yeah, life is intense man. Deal with it.”  And in other times I think that if someone were to say that to me I would crawl behind the couch and not be able to write for a while...Maybe the biggest fear is showing people your wounds. That is really when it opens something up is when you say “this is where it hurts.”

JM: You know, that’s actually something that came up in the last interview. Debbie Edgar talked about this level where you have to find safe people to open up with. Sometimes we choose poorly where a person shows you that “oh, okay I should not have shared so much.” But this is a different form of that because it is not so simple as you just having a raw conversation with a person that you have deemed safe-you are opening yourself up to a lot of people, not knowing who will be a safe recipient and who will not.

BJB:  Yeah exactly. And not that you have to be published or be out there to be serious- but, for me, that is a goal that I have- to put my work into the world…The whole goal is for it to be ingested by others and for them to interact with it.  So when I am feeling healthy, I feel like I am in the role of challenging people to think things through and wrestle with them. To shake and wake them up and open up the space for those kinds of conversations. But when I am not feeling safe, for whatever reason, I can feel that moment that Debbie was talking about of that “oh no.”

My Father's Father's Bones by Brandon Jordan Brown

JM: How do you find that poetry connects you to yourself?

BJB: What I have found in being from the South- growing up where and how I did- there is a strong literary tradition that has a certain flavor to it...that I resonate with.  

... It is almost like that person is leading you to a doorway and opening it up and maybe even standing there with you. Helping to open up a space inside of yourself. I think that we all have blindspots. That is one of the things about writing poetry- you sit down and you write to figure out what you actually think. You don’t necessarily sit down with an idea and a plan of “here is point A and here is point B and this is how I am going to write it.”  But it could be a story or a phrase or a character or a scene and you just sit down and as you start writing it feels mysterious how you even get to the end. It is like walking down a trail and just figuring out where it leads. You may have a scrap of paper or a fragment of a map but you just kind of guess and go somewhere. It brings about a lot of trust in yourself.

JM: How do you find that it connects you to others?

BJB: Writing and being an artist can be really lonely...It is not like I am in a band and can show up to practice and just be one part, it is all on me. So for it to be put out into the world and published it gives you faith that it matters.  

The trick is that people have to be willing to slow down. It is almost as if you have to develop a discipline to sit with things. You have to make yourself slow down to be able to appreciate beautiful things....It’s must easier to watch 6 episodes of a show on Netflix than it is to sit with a book and slowly savor a poem and engage your mind and imagination. It is like prayer or meditation that you have to practice. Both of those things I am also not good at. I really admire people who aren’t even artist but have that “thing” in them to be able to quickly go there because they so easily remember that art is so life-giving and can be what they need. Whatever you’re feeling there is a poem for that or a song for that. It connects us back with our experience and with the experience of the person who made it.

JM: What ways, if any, does psychology or therapy play a part in your poetry?

BJB: I am actively engaged in therapy. My poetry comes up a lot even in talking in therapy. Art comes from our lived experience. So just like therapy helps us process our unique lived experience, art does the same thing. It is a way to explore how we make meaning of what is happening all around us- inside of us, outside of us...To sum it up, I think that they both teach us how to be human. And that maybe that's not a bad place to start….Us as real people with bodies that fail us. I’m interested in art that approaches our shortcomings and in therapy we have to do the same. You have to walk towards failure and learn how to smile at it. I think you could write a whole book on that subject. You should write that.

Art comes from our lived experience. So just like therapy helps us process our unique lived experience, art does the same thing.
— Brandon Jordan Brown

JM: You’re the writer, man.

BJB: Okay, we should write it then.

JM: Alright deal. Let’s do it. Okay, who are some of your favorites and why?

BJB: Easy. The best living poet is a guy named Maurice Manning...He writes a lot about his rural upbringing, his childhood. For me, I have such a love and fondness for where I came from but also have to look back at how it made me and kind of sort through it. It’s like sorting through an entire world- and he does a good job at that. At holding up his memories and the pieces of his life in this fantastic Kentucky place and having such compassion for it.

Brandon Jordan Brown, LA based Poet

Another guy is Phillip Levine who just recently died last year.  He was a US Poet Laureate and was from Detroit. He is from working class, hard living, blue collar Detroit. And again, he had a love for a place and a people and was able to reckon with hardships and face pain head on.

JM: Do you have a mantra to get you into your creative space or to move you out of a block?

BJB: I just put a note on my computer that just says “Be Brave.”...I think when you take the risk and you are in a good state of mind it feels worth it.  When you have that person that memorizes a poem of yours or a piece of yours lands with someone and you think, “oh man i'm glad i said it because it helped someone.”

JM: What is your favorite word?

BJB: “Maybe.” I think as a writer and as an artist it opens up a lot of space.

Brandon Jordan Brown is a former PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow in poetry, was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his work has been published or is forthcoming in Forklift, Ohio; Day One; decomP; Rufous City Review; Cultural Weekly and more. Brandon reviews poetry for Invisible City and lives in Los Angeles, where he is working on his first book. You can find him at www.brandonjordanbrown.com


Janie McGlasson, MFT Intern, has worked in both a community mental health setting as well as private practice and specializes in the areas of attachment, grief and loss, and trauma. 

Shake the Dust

Shake the Dust

January 9, 2010 at House of Blues Orlando. Meet Anis Mojgani. The two-time National Slam Poetry Champion stole the show, reminding everyone the power of words and the value in their stories. Here, he performs "Shake the Dust."

     Poetry, I'm a fan. I think poets are the grand tutors of amazement. The best poetry can, not only describe the feeling of a moment but also, unexpectedly turn that moment on its head, help you to see it from another angle. In life it is easy to rest in the warm familiarity of what seems certain. Great poetry demands more. It asks us to peer into places not often seen, to look between and beyond.

A grand example and one of my favorites is,  "Shake the Dust" by Anis Mojgani.       

-Michelle Harwell, LMFT

 


Michelle Harwell, MS, 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 is currently completing 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.