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Women are Creators

Women are Creators

An embodied woman...has access to her appetite, her desire...a woman who can act, who can harness her creative energies, an alive and fertile mind, ready to give birth to many things.

Recently, I hung a piece of art in one of our therapy rooms that elicited strong reactions from our staff; feelings of embarrassment, discomfort, and mild disgust were expressed. One staff even admitted to turning the piece around when working in that room. What was the subject of such an evocative image? Breasts.


As a group of all-female therapists, I found these responses to be both curious and illuminating. It got me thinking about the internal dialogue we women are often having with our bodies, our sexuality, and the outside world. It strikes me that part of what is so dysregulating in viewing such a straight-forward image of breasts is the potency of desire it has the capacity to evoke, the immediacy of arousal and the direct awareness of the power we women carry just in our form. It feels dangerous.

So what does all of this have to do with a woman’s creativity or the embrace of women as creators? It is my belief that the disavowal of our sexuality is, in part, a disavowal of our creative selves. Sexuality or eros is not simply about sex but about appetite; what we crave, what we desire. To me, a foundational element of creative energy; a basic requirement in troubling the rough and unknown terrain between imagination and manifestation. Audre Lorde describes this energy as, “a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.” To say it another way, eros is about vitality, life-force and the importance in learning to trust, shape, and share our self-knowledge and self-expression. Sensuality is about the embodiment of this energy; about an ability to inhabit and own oneself and utilize that energy in the process of creation. A powerful elixir.  An embodied woman who has access to her appetite, her desire, is a woman who can act, who can harness her creative energies, an alive and fertile mind, ready to give birth to many things.

 I return to image of the breasts but this time I imagine them as part of a whole, a full body of an alive and vital woman. A small act of rebellion to the discomfort and internalized patriarchy that has taught me to fear myself, to view my body and sexuality through the exclusive lens as an object of another’s desire. This woman I imagine has a subjectivity and a sexuality that is part of the whole, a sexuality that is deeply embedded in the story of woman.

So the picture remains. It hangs in testimony of the dialogue and tension we seek to hold as an all female staff. We are nurturers, comforters, and caretakers, we are also vitalized, embodied selves with the ability to dream, make, and do big things in this world.


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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. 

Women are Fecund

Women are Fecund

We are meant to give birth to love.

Fecund. Such a fun word. Fecund. See, what I mean? It’s so fun to say. And, then, when you look up the definition, because you do have to look it up, (how else would I have known what it means??), it’s so deeply meaningful. “Capable of producing offspring, fruit, vegetation, etc. in abundance: prolific: fruitful. Very productive or creative intellectually.” A powerful combination - a word that contains the joy of playfulness and depth of meaning - and what it’s like to work at MHT. I came on board as Clinical Director with this group of wonderful women about six months ago and my time has been just that, joyful and deeply meaningful. 

And with Christmas upon us, I keep thinking about how this joyful, deeply meaningful word - fecund - encapsulates the message of Christmas in the Judeo-Christian narrative. The story starts with an ever important announcement - the Angel Gabriel visiting the virgin Mary in Luke 1:26-38. The story is fantastical! An angel visiting a terrified, virgin woman, telling her she is to give birth to the son of God. Crazy! Right? But I say dismissing it as “crazy” is old news. How about we let ourselves play with it a little bit, give our imagination some room, and let the story be a parable of sorts, with room for metaphor. The concrete, literal message has a broader reach. A deeper meaning for our everyday lives, loaded with a crucial message for us.

When we let metaphor in, the story teaches us that, as women, (and humans), we are meant to give birth to love. Generative and creative and help meet the world’s needs. No matter our circumstances and when we think it’s impossible, we are called to be growthful, fruitful, and, in abundance, for the world’s sake. Fecund. And, if we remember the way love permeates Jesus’s message in the story as it continues - “For god so love the world, he gave his only son,” “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. And the greatest of these is love,” “love the lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. These are the two greatest commandments.” 

This is the message of Christmas to me - that we are called to give birth to love and this love will heal us, forgive us, and ultimately, save us. I wrote a poem in this fecund spirit. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of you from MHT!

Love Has Come

The Angel Gabriel and Mary. 

The encounter. 


cowering in the corner, 

hiding in the darkness. 

The message. 

Love has been born, 

inside you. 

You are pregnant 

with love.

The floor is moving, 

the walls shaking, 

the house’s foundation 

put to test. 

Earthquake news. 

An identity crisis.

Love has come,

out of the darkness.

Out of the cold.

Through you. 

I know you didn't know, 

how hard it would be,

to love. To birth love. 

To steward love. 

Terror. Rage. Despair.

The hardest thing 

you’ve ever done. 

I know you're scared. 

I'm scared too. 

But just because 

you're scared, 

doesn't mean 

you can't do it. 

You can’t not. 

We can’t not. 

Where will we be 

If we don’t bear love? 


The walking dead,

I tell you. Do you 

get what I'm saying?

Love has come, inside you.



This is how healing takes place.

This is where our suffering

can be held. 

This is what we need 

to be human.

Love has come. 


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Dr. Gabrielle Taylor serves as Clinical Director at Michelle Harwell Therapy and is a licensed Psychologist and Psychoanalyst in private practice in Pasadena, CA. She is also a member at New Center for Psychoanalysis where she serves on the Admissions Committee. She is Core Faculty at Wright Institute Los Angeles whee she supervises and teaches – her class The Poetry of Psychoanalysis: Contemporary Psychoanalytic Theory is favored among many of the students.

Women are Victorious

Women are Victorious

I am Victorious because I chose MYSELF and listened to my inner voice. I am a Warrior because I am fighting against the status quo. And I am Brave because I seek help when I need it.

When thinking of the phrase, Women Are Victorious, I look to my amazing tribe of friends — strong individuals who have protected me, shaped me, and helped me rise above adversity, pain, and trauma. These women (and one man) have displayed courage, inspiration, and wisdom — and that to me shows Victoriousness. I wanted to celebrate them in this piece as well as share some of my own thoughts.

You know that feeling when you get goosebumps because something resonates with you so deeply? Yep, that’s what happened to me as I was compiling these vignettes from my friends. My heart felt raw with emotion as I was filled up by their inspiring words.

Shared by Lorena: 

I smile because

I have survived everything

the world has thrown at me. 

I smile because 

when I was knocked down 

I got back up.


"My life has changed dramatically from broken to repaired. It took a lot of work but I did it and I'm so damn proud of myself. A year ago today, I wanted to find the nearest hole and crawl into it. The despair I felt was unbearable, the embarrassment from the betrayal on so many levels was too much to take. A year later my life is so different and it feels Fabulous!"

Shared by Taz:

"My mom is a victorious woman! I know it's cliche but she truly has turned obstacles into opportunities. And that has been inspiring to me when I've felt defeated." 
Shared by "She":

“I've suffered from the age of 4 when my father died in an accident. Soon after that tragedy, despair and sexual abuse caused great horrifying pain in my life. I found faith in Jesus, which has really kept me going, I would copy Bible verses and memorize them during that time. My teachers would help me too even though they never knew what I was going through. There were sturdy figures and their consistency helped ground me. Later in life, I found therapy to be of great help. My first therapist was an angel! She saved me in many ways I cannot put into words. I've had many therapists since, and I value the personal and spiritual growth that comes with going to therapy regularly.”

Shared by Marcos:

As I think of Victorious Women in my life, I think of two important women: 1. My little sister 2. My mother. 

My sister surpassed what many people expected, including doctors, due to her medical diagnosis. Living with fibromatosis she has shown me repeatedly how strong she is and how she does not feel defeated. Now she is a mother of a healthy baby boy. She was told she would have a complicated pregnancy and the baby would have high chances of having the illness, but what a miracle to see her and the baby thriving. When I think of her I think Warrior!! Undefeated!!

My mother - her whole life has always been tough in one way or another. But it is safe to say she's overcome - her father passing at a young age, her bad luck with husbands , and the struggles of being a single mother of three in a foreign country. She has taught me many things in life, such as integrity, hard working ethics, self-respect, and family values. To me, she means the WORLD! She reminds me of a mosaic: broken into many pieces, but a beautiful masterpiece when the light shines through and you take a step back and admire the edges, light, and color. I love her. 

Shared by Nina:

I feel honored to be included.

I have had my share of struggles, including abusive relationships and being brainwashed into believing I was worthless as a Woman. Anger, resentment, and hatred used to plague me. What I have learned from my life of anger was to forgive and extend Grace on those who have hurt me including myself. I found out God loved me regardless of what I had done or what had been done to me. The security of feeling I was completely forgiven of ALL my sins give me a sense of internal freedom and rejoiced in my Christianity. 


Shared by Author - Maria Elena:

What led me down this long, windy path of becoming a therapist is Victoriousness. Throughout my life, I have collapsed and have felt insecure about my sense of worth, and yet have continually chosen to stay true to myself. One such crossroad emerged in my life when I thought I had found love, but it was actually abusive, dishonest, and destructive.

Guess what I chose?

That’s right — my self, my self-respect, my dignity and my ability to rise above the falsity of that love. I was brokenhearted for 5 years after the dissolution of that relationship, but that hurt ultimately took me down a path of curiosity which ultimately helped me discover my calling.

I sought out understanding about the nature of relationships. I wondered: How do relationships last? How does one become aware of relationship ed flags? How does one heal from childhood trauma? And how do I become the best version of myself as a Latina woman? 

My mother has been my rock, my safety, my reality checker, and along the way I found other amazing women to encourage, inspire, and hold me in making the decision to start a new career. I immersed myself in my studies about relationship dynamics and connected to grow my own capacity for love. I am now an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist who loves to challenge couples, individuals, and families to tune inward, to express their fears and remain curious about their rules, roles and contradictions. I am healing as my clients are healing. I am Victorious because I chose MYSELF and listened to my inner voice. I am a Warrior because I am fighting against the status quo. And I am Brave because I seek help when I need it.

Women are Victorious. As the women and man featured in this post have shown, Victoriousness is all around us. If we can face our fears with courage, reflection, or a sacred space of surrender, then often we can find a sense of freedom, pride, and creativity on the other side of adversity.

Finally, I would like to leave you with this: 

Shared by Beatriz:

Women are victorious when we unite, commune, invite, and remain curious despite fear of rejection or pain - and choosing a different path, changing the rigid holdings of the mind and allowing light to enter and creating positivity.

Shared by Rebecca:

Just like Esther, you were born for such a time as this, you came at the right time, you are not an accident, God knew you were coming and He prepared for you. Your life is for a divine purpose.  -Esther 4:14


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. We will be documenting our fierce fashion choices but our deepest intention is to empower and educate.

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

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

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'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’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.

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Laura MacRae-Serpa

Humans of MHT: An Interview with Laura MacRae-Serpa

Our Humans of MHT series continues this month by spotlighting Laura MacRae-Serpa as she shares her love of learning and play with fellow intern Allie. 

Allie: Okay, so hi Laura, I'm so excited that I get to interview you. It was all random, who interviewed who. And it feels very special to me to get to talk with you about humanness and about your work as a therapist, I think, because you're someone who –  as a therapist and a human – I admire a lot.

Laura: Thank you, Allie.

A: I feel like you do such a amazing job of making the heart connection with people, but also just being extremely skilled and knowledgeable. Sometimes people have one of those [capacities] more than the other and I feel like you have both in abundance so it's um -

L: Thank you, I feel the same way about you.

A: Thank you. So, I'm curious, I want to hear about your picture in our humans of MHT photo series. I'm especially curious about your goggles picture. What's going on with your goggles?

L: Soap making. So that's one thing I like to do as a hobby is make soap. And you have to use lye at one point, so you have to protect your eyes, wear gloves, and you get to look like a scientist for a moment (laughter).

A: That's so fun! So you enjoy the lye process in particular then? Is that why you picked the goggles?

L: (laughter) Yes I do. I like taking anything and mixing it. So, soap making, baking, you know, a lot of things that children play with – I just enjoy that process.

A: You like having different ingredients, that you're putting into the pot –

L: Anything I can mix together in a pot, and see what it comes out as, I like.

A: Yeah, I love that. Um, well, lye is a really fascinating one to think about too, because it's poisonous, right?

L: Yes (laughs).

A: So, but there you are, creating something very nice and healthful.

L: Yes I am.

A: Do you feel like there any, like how do you make sense of that maybe even metaphorically: The mixing of the lye into your pot to make soap, and you like mixing all different kinds of things together in play or in therapy?

L: Yeah, I think symbolically, when we think about pieces of ourselves, you know, we mix the good in with the not-so-great. Or what we perceive as not so great. But you know I think it's the sum of the parts that create the whole, which obviously, you know, the end result can be a beautiful thing.

A: Mmm.

L: A valuable, worthy thing.

A: Mmm, yeah, I like that. That's kind of an interesting comment, you slipped in there – just the parts that we maybe think are less valuable

L: Right.

A: What what do you mean by that?

L: I think sometimes our vulnerabilities, sometimes the pieces of ourselves that we hide, or feel we have to hide or protect from from other people are actually the parts of ourselves that are the most human. You know, our flawed self, or like I said, what we perceive as flawed

A: Hmm.

L: When we have a relational experience where we can actually share some of the parts maybe that we're less proud of, when those are received and accepted, it can be a very powerful experience.

A: Hmm.

L: There's risk in that, of course.

A: Yeah, kind of beauty from ashes sort of experience to have something like that turn into something beautiful in a relationship. Yeah, like that. I like thinking about lye as the – I'll think of that for myself next time I'm not sure. “Well maybe this'll turn into something like soap. (Laughter).

Laura_Humans Photo.jpg
...I really believe in change. That we can all change. I consider myself a lifelong learner, so I feel like if I’m always sitting in that space and place with my clients, that I mean, I am learning as well. I’m growing as well.

A: Well, tell me a little bit about your humanness as a therapist. How do you feel like your humanness shows up in your sessions and and who you are as a therapist?

L: I think most importantly I really believe in change. That we can all change. I consider myself a lifelong learner, so I feel like if I'm always sitting in that space and place with my clients, that I mean, I am learning as well. I'm growing as well. And I think since I have such a powerful belief in just humans ability to be resilient, I carry that hope and that kind of strength-based energy with me into the room.

And play as well. Creativity and just making a little bit of space for play.

A: Yeah I think those – maybe your learning posture, which shows up perhaps more consistently with you than anyone else I've met, which is amazing because you already know a lot – but also your love of play, feel like two pretty special things about you. So that makes sense. Those are things that kind of mark your humaness as a therapist.

I actually wanted to ask you a little bit about about play, because you are such a skilled play therapist, and I know that you really love play. I think you've said to me that you just, you like play.

L: I do. (laughter)

A: It's a good job for you! But I'm kind of curious, what you what sort of thoughts you have, if you can condense them down into a minute or two, of how how play can be leveraged for healing. I don't think we always are used to thinking about it that way. But my goodness, you do that so effectively so what are your thoughts about how that works?

L: I think play is children's work. It's how they process their world. It's how they you know try on their different parts, different selves. And often how they share. I think it creates safety. You know when I think about a play in a relationship, it creates safety. It's a mask almost. Not always, but sometimes it's a mask where the person feels a little safer to share or test or explore. So I think the potential for growth with play is unlike any other type of therapy, actually.

And I think that's why it's important to include play in our lives as adults. You know, however that's manifesting in your life. Whether it be team sports, or hobbies, or just giving yourself that freedom of creative process, it can be a powerful change agent and growth.

A: Yeah, the idea of a mask makes me think of play as providing a little bit of a buffer between the most like vulnerable parts of us and whatever it is that we're trying to learn to interact with.

L: Yeah.

A: And then that brings about safety that allows maybe for more growth than could happen if it was made maybe quite so explicit what we were doing. That would make it scarier, yeah.

L: Yeah, it feels a little safer, I think. I agree, just to kind of have it – it's almost like walking beside the experience and then processing it with someone else kind of beside to you, before you have to take that and integrate it.

A: Hmm, you're kind of trying things on, but it's not yet. Doesn't have to be you. Until you find out if it fits, maybe.

L: Yeah.

A: Interesting, I like that.

Um, well what about this huge question: What does humanness mean to you? How do you think about that?

L: Resiliency is the big one that comes to mind. I tend to think of the positive definition of humanness. I think of empathy, relationship building, our ability to be connected and to really feel each other's experiences. But within the resiliency, you know, it includes those darker experiences. Or the, the lye, shall we go back to that. (laughs) The parts of ourselves that maybe are harder to share. I think humanness is also very much about those parts and really allowing our relationship with those parts to ourself, so that we can kind of share relationally with other people in a very authentic way.

A: Mm-hmm. Yeah, do you feel like that those two things interact? Resiliency and being able to share the lye, the less desirable, or what we perceive as less desirable, inside of us?

L: I do. I think when we walk through or move through an experience that's difficult, yeah it's it's being a little more gritty. It's being able to maybe risk, because we're sitting comfortable in our sense of self, and we've had that relationship with all of our parts, so to speak. You know, and whether that includes acceptance, forgiveness, understanding; I think it then allows us to grow, be a little bit braver. I think it allows us to accept those parts in others too.

A: Mm-hmm.

L: You know, instead of just stepping into something with maybe an ideal that isn't attainable. I think sometimes it's the real pieces of people that we connect the most to.

A: Mmm, yeah, something that is maybe less ideal but actually ends up being better, or more special to us.

L: Yeah, I think it's relatable. And I always feel, with all of my clients, just a sense of respect for the courage it takes to step into therapy and look at those experiences. And you know the willingness to kind of explore just who they are, and maybe where they want to be, it's a very courageous process.

A: Well those are profound thoughts Laura, thank you for sharing.

L: Thank you, Allie.

A: Yeah, it's been so fun to interview you in our mini interview series. So, we'll sign off now. But thank you, and I'll get to talk to you soon (laughter).

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

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. 

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 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

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.