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Women are Fecund

Women are Fecund

We are meant to give birth to love.
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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. 


She, 

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? 

Lost.Alone.Dead.


The walking dead,

I tell you. Do you 

get what I'm saying?

Love has come, inside you.


We.are.the.mother.of.love.


Labor.Birth.Growth.

 

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 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.

Clinical Candor: An Interview with Dr. Karen Maroda

Clinical Candor: An Interview with Dr. Karen Maroda

M: I'm at the tail end of my analytic training and I’ve become fascinated by how my mind has shifted in the process of training. How in love I am with this process, this way of thinking but how inaccessible it feels to the masses. I don't think it has to be. My idea with my newsletter and blogs, similar to analysis, is how can we think more complexly about simple ideas and think more simply about complex ideas. Karen, I think you excel at this. You have a great ability to speak about ideas in a really clear and approachable way. Before we jump into the idea of candor, can you give us an idea of how you got interested in psychoanalysis.

K: My mother, who we did not have a college education, was naturally psychologically minded. She would observe our emotions and if it wasn't clear to her what I was feeling or why, she would inquire. She would say, “Well, Karen you seem a little down or you're not as lively coming home after school. Did something happen?” She always knew of course. She was very intuitive. She was just asking, “did I want to talk about it?” So, in a sense, my mother was psychoanalyzing me from the time I was young and inducting me into the whole notion that you don't just accept what someone says at face value, that you should trust your feelings. I think that my mother introduced me to the whole notion of trusting my emotional intuition and that asking someone about what they were feeling was an expression of love.

K: It’s been life pursuit, a way of being. I was speaking in Indianapolis a few months ago and I was pleased to hear a candidate talk about psychoanalysis not simply as a profession, it’s a calling. It’s a life.

Dr. Karen Maroda

Dr. Karen Maroda

M: Yes! I had this experience when I was developing as a young clinician where I would get around analysts and I couldn't always keep up with the terminology used but their minds were so alive to me. They had this spontaneous quality. It reminds me how you shared the origins of the word candor is candid which evokes a sense of freedom and spontaneity. There was a flexibility and freedom to explore, play and reflect that was more than the sum of its parts. And I could just feel the difference between their mind and my own. It's a way of thinking and being that that evolves overtime...

In your paper on counter-transference, you talk about how clinicians, by our nature we are often empaths. We feel, we care, we listen but we are not very good at being direct or honest both clinically and in our lives.  How do prepare your client for the role of honesty in therapy?

K: Well, most people don't really understand what an analytically-oriented treatment looks like. I tell them the three basic rules are: they have to show up, they have to be as open as they reasonably can be given that no one is completely open, and they have to pay. (laughs)

M: (laughs) Good basics.

K: Then I usually explain about transference. That any of their feelings toward me are not out of bounds. Anything that comes up and particularly anything that's repetitive that they're feeling either positively or negatively toward me is important for them to express.

M: This idea of having candor, of being direct, the fear is, in speaking up, you might shut the client down. How do you negotiate this: keeping lines of communication open given that generally the analyst is in a position of some kind of power?

K: The idea is there’s candor and then there’s candor.  You know what I mean?  You don't just blurt out anything that you may be thinking which is like, “Boy, was that a stupid thing to do.”

M: Right, right.

K: So I take a moment to gather my thoughts and think about how it fits in the context of the person. I seek to complete the analytic task to gain perspective on their behavior historically and currently. But you know if somebody did something really stupid then I am more likely to say, “Well, it seems to me that this behavior had a pretty bad outcome for you. You know, probably not one of your finest moments.” (laughs)

M: (laughs)

K:  I use humor a lot. It cuts the tension. I'm agreeing that they screwed up without saying you're screwed.

M: I'm thinking about this on two levels: what are you trying to create within your client through the use of candor; what are you hoping that they bring into their lives through this process? The other part I'd love to hear more about is, the fact that our patients don't just want empathy, or I should say, sympathy, they also crave sincerity. There's relief when we can speak directly to all parts of the self, even negative ones.

Being authentic without being insulting or cruel. Finding a way to constructively give feedback, whether positive or negative. So the positive isn’t too over-stimulating or generate too much expectation of a repeat performance. The whole notion of not waiting until your own feelings are so intense that you have trouble managing them and being in control of them when you’re talking. It’s easier to be honest when you’re in control of how you feel. Most people white knuckle it.

K: Absolutely. I think people want feedback. Particularly, as I wrote in “The Power of Countertransference” if they are seeking it, then I don’t understand why you would not be responsive to a direct request for feedback. I think where we get into the delicate issue is when you're not sure, or when the patient is provoking possible feedback but not asking for it directly. Then you have to explore it and make a decision which may or may not include asking them if they want feedback. I think it's a no brainer when the patient is literally saying I want to know what you are really thinking or feeling about me?

M: Yeah, yeah.

K: For example: most of my clients become much more successful as a result of their treatment and they want to know am I going to resent them? Especially if their parents were very competitive with them. If they are too successful will I try to destroy them, take it away?

M: So what do you think benefits your clients in being able to ask you those questions in terms of their growth and development?

K: I think it gives them a tremendous confidence in their own intuition because I think one of the greatest contributions of neuroscience and the whole notion of unconscious to unconscious communication, is that clients already know what we are feeling. We already know what they’re feeling. I think the art is to determine, ultimately, what's most beneficial to actually discuss to get to the bottom of what’s going on. What's important to the work and what isn't. Will some of our ideas, notions shut down the patient experience, I think inevitably yes! That's the nature of relationships, whether it's analyst and patient or mother and child or spouse. There are ways you just cannot relate to someone else or you can't promote it.

M: A client having to contend with the real you rather than just feeling it.

K:  You know, I successfully treated someone with severe borderline personality disorder. That was where I first experimented with expressing rage. She thought everything was somebody else's fault. She would talk about her husband and blame the poor guy for everything. He was responsible for every feeling she ever had. She wanted me to endorse that. That he wasn’t sufficiently empathic but he was!  He martyred himself for her, whatever it took. She really needed somebody to stand up to her.

M: You made a comment about our culture not leaving room for negative emotions. I see this an an epidemic in parenting. We've got the hover parent generation where parents can't give feedback to their children or they have to sandwich it with so much goodness. To me, it's about emotional clarity, right? Sometimes it's not about positive or negative. It's about being clear with emotions and our intentions.

K: Yes. Being authentic without being insulting or cruel. Finding a way to constructively give feedback, whether positive or negative. So the positive isn’t too over-stimulating or generate too much expectation of a repeat performance. The whole notion of not waiting until your own feelings are so intense that you have trouble managing them and being in control of them when you're talking. It’s easier to be honest when you’re in control of how you feel. Most people white knuckle it. Neuroscience shows us that negative emotions are rarely outside of our conscious awareness. (They are felt and known even if not explicitly acknowledged). So we need to talk about it….

M:. You alluded to something earlier that I’ve been processing for a while, personally. I have a tendency at to be effusive with my language, you spoke to how we can say something positively in a way that is not too overstimulating.  Candor is about being clear in feedback. I have an awareness  of my tendency to slant towards hope and it has impact. Not always negative but I have to watch it. The truth is I have these little awareness all the time in session and I think ‘bookmark’ I need to go back to that. But how often do we, have the internal candor to take a deeper look?

K: Bookmark is a great word. That’s the beauty of the whole analytic approach. You bookmark it and you're curious about it. You don’t just blurt it out to the patient. You bookmark it and think about it. You wait to see, is this more about me or more about the patient. Because transference is repetitive, it will always come up again, and you don't have to figure it out in the moment.

M: So, what I hear is with candor, there's a certain amount of measure. Working towards an internal space that is curious. Curiosity to pay attention to the tiniest movements inside, an internal honesty that translates to a clinical (relational) honesty. 

So with enactments, there can be a dishonesty there. I mean, of course, we fall into things but I think you're putting more onus on the clinician to pay attention. 

K: Absolutely, and I think that if you look at the literature most of the enactments are not positive, they’re negative. But if you have transcript of sessions you would see there are just as many positive enactments as negative going on, but we don't yet care about those. Because those generally are not disturbing the universe of the relationship. (laughs)  I will notice with a patient that I really like or admire we do this little mutual admiration thing, you know? It is a sense a form of acting out. A little flirtation, something.

M: This is where the awareness comes in. How much of that is unconscious to the analyst?. There's a part of you that's just feeling good and maybe another part has the passing thought..I wonder if this is something?

Be thoughtful, of course, but be courageous. If you have any anxiety when you’re practicing, that’s good...Take risks. If you’re never afraid and you’re just offering soothing, comforting things you’re probably not giving the person everything that person really needs.

K: Right, it depends. If it’s happening too often (repeating) then it's like OK, well, wait a minute.  The enactments that we talk about in literature are mostly negative ones. I have yet to talk to a therapist where they were not aware of some negative feelings before the enactment. An enactment comes typically after an impasse that’s lasted a minimum of days if not a weeks or months. The impasse is broken by an enactment or treatment is destroyed by the enactment. I think that since I started using self disclosure regularly I have almost no enactments. I currently have one patient I have regular enactments with on a regular basis because she cannot accept negative emotions mine or hers. She simply won't allow for an emotionally honest exchange. You cannot eliminate enactments with everyone.

I think if you are sitting harboring negative feelings and thinking about them, no treatment is taking place. That’s why my new line I'm going to be using a lot in my next book is, “what is the analyst’s fiduciary responsibility to the patient? (laughs) What is clinically beneficial and to what extent are we stealing their money? When we sit white knuckled and think ‘this guy is a pain in the ass.”

M: Well, it’s another aspect of coasting in the counter-transference right?

K: Yes, like what you were saying about parents being overly effusive or overly positive. Therapists do this too. They try to be super positive or uplifting and affirming. Of course we want to do that to a point but that's not really what most people come to treatment for. Most people who have a lot of positive attributes and good relation skills get reinforcement in the world. They come to us to help them work through the obstacles and the negative behaviors that they can't work out anywhere else and the pain.

K: Right. I was thinking about submitting a presentation to Division 39, “Did Winnicott kill psychoanalysis?”

M: (laughs) Oh no!

K: Of course I’m tongue and cheek but we are so enamored with good enough mother which is about always being positive,  always being the cheerleader. I think most therapists are so masochistic and they allow patients in small and large ways to be abusive towards them...

M: Yeah I thought that that is what is revolutionary about your paper. In the first paragraph you talk about why as therapists we're drawn to this profession to help but simultaneously you are calling out our own masochism.  The way we feed off our ability to hold pain in the service of someone, to contain, soften…

K: To be saint like.  We're so overly invested in ourselves being the perfect mother to all of our patients. As if  the perfect mother is somebody who would just lie down, puts up with everything. It’s not.

M: Well, thank you for jumping in with me to explore the concept of candor and your clinical practice. Your mind is so alive. It’s been a pleasure.

K: You know, I end my most of my lectures with this:  Be thoughtful, of course, but be courageous. If you have any anxiety when you're practicing, that’s good.

M: Ah! I love that.

K: Take risks. If you're never afraid and you're just offering soothing, comforting things you're probably not giving the person everything that person really needs.

 

Karen Maroda, PhD is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and a board certified in psychoanalyst by the American Board of Professional Psychology. In 2012, she was elected Fellow status by the American Psychological Association for her contributions to psychology on a national level. She is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis. She has been in private practice for over 30 years and lectures nationally and internationally. She is the author of three books, several book chapters, and numerous journal articles and book reviews. She is passionate about the change process and has made it her life’s work to innovate psychodynamic techniques, making the process more interactive and collaborative. 


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.
 

Playing a Different Tune

Playing a Different Tune

I love to play piano.

I remember the piano I grew up with: the ivory keys, chalky under my fingertips, and the horseshoe notch on the tip of middle C.

The piano was a phenomenal outlet.  It still is.

I don’t know if you ever play piano, but imagine this: playing piano from a place of blame. Picture yourself when you’ve just had it. You just can’t even. The world is going to crap, your dry cleaner ruined your interview suit, you’ve been audited for no good reason, your kids are being bullied, your partner did not stop doing that thing you cannot STAND...

Instead of getting stuck in the Blame Game where it’s you vs. me, how about we create space for us to carefully experience ourselves and our relationship from a different angle? How about we try a third way?

WHAT. IS. WRONG. WITH. EV-ER-Y-ONE

Piano strings trembling, box radiating, sound waves bouncing off the smooth walls, in a grand crescendo until - resolution.

Blame. As much it doesn’t feel good to blame, it feels good to blame.

Songs are beautiful in that way. You play and play all the feelings, the instrument simply listens, and you, almost always, come to some kind of resolution. All on your own.

This principle doesn't work so well in relationships. And it's one of the reasons why I love working with couples. When a couple comes into the room, it’s like opening up a piece of music.  We stumble over the notes together, we find the affect, we determine the cadence, and before we know it, we’re in a full blown situation where the couple is enacting the very issue they are coming to see me for. And much of the time what they’re coming to see me for involves blame.

Hard blame. The fiery hot blame that spews steam from our ears.  The ninja-quiet blame that sneaks up and cuts us open, so quickly you question if it actually happened. The pedestal blame that points a finger from an ideological monument and leaves us feeling small.  Sometimes, it even feels better to blame ourselves and crumple into shame than it does to walk through the pain.

Listen. We all do it. It just looks differently.

A couple comes in with a song, a way of desperately trying to connect to one another, and the song often does not sound the way they want it to.

WHAT. IS. WRONG. WITH MY. PART-NER.

or

what.is.wrong.with.me?

are usually the songs that gets sung.

It’s either you or me. I get it. It feels good to find the cause of something painful.  Blame perpetually hunts for a culprit, where it can give birth to contempt, shame, and moral superiority. And when Baby Contempt is born, the research shows the relationship is in trouble: a roll of the eyes, a scoff of disgust, a correction of a person’s grammar, a questioning of a person’s upbringing...

Blame closes down the conversation. It darkens our vision of what is actually going on between us. It prevents us from taking ownership of our own stuff.  It turns a dialogue between two fleshy humans into an assailment towards an inanimate object.

Our goal is to open, loosen, and lighten what is going on inside of us and between us. Instead of getting stuck in the Blame Game where it’s you vs. me, how about we create space for us to carefully experience ourselves and our relationship from a different angle?  How about we try a third way?

When we step outside the Blame Game and into dialogue, we develop stronger empathy and personal responsibility. We stumble along until we meet a safe kind of humor and laugh with the parts of ourselves that got us so riled up in the first place. Instead of performing a solo rage onto the smooth, hard keys of a piano, we find ourselves in an authentic duet: giving and taking, listening and speaking, back and forth, two fleshy humans singing together the song of connection.


Lauren Masopust, MS, MFT Intern has extensive experience working with young adults, adolescents, and couples, and specializes in areas of trauma, identity development, and multicultural issues.

 

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.

The Power of Play

The Power of Play

      I was fortunate to have parents who saw value in unstructured play. I was encouraged to spend my free time as, a worm surgeon, astronaut or potion maker. I had my father’s entrepreneurial spirit so, my unstructured playtime brewed many business ventures. For example, I was determined to invent weed killer when I was seven years old. I transformed into a scientist mixing concoctions of aftershave, perfume, toothpaste and other random bathroom supplies in old ice cream buckets. I fermented the mixtures under my bed and waited patiently for my weed poison to develop. I poured buckets of mixtures over unsuspecting weeds in the garden only to discover them growing stronger week after week. Failure? Heck no, I had invented plant food! When bathroom supplies ran low, I painted rocks from that same garden to look like ladybugs and sold them to my neighbors as paperweights. I eventually decided to expand from sole proprietorship to partnership with my friend across the street. Due to limited customers, we needed to switch up products and services often. Paperweights turned to lemonade and car washes in the summer months. During down times, we stayed busy negotiating business roles and rules. If I was bossy, then I was met with a kick in the shins or another swift reminder that playing successfully with others required relationship not dictatorship. I learned quickly that planning and creating was powerful when it was a shared process.

I imagined, created and shared. I learned that failure ultimately leads to success and that success is sweeter when it’s shared with others.

     Reflecting back on that year, I recognize my unstructured playtime facilitated resiliency through skill building, relationships and a sense of community. I hypothesized, tested and persevered. I imagined, created and shared. I learned that failure ultimately leads to success and that success is sweeter when it’s shared with others. As a parent and clinician, I am not aware of a single structured activity for children providing lessons so powerful. Although many structured activities do indeed hold value, unstructured play facilitates endless opportunities for children to exercise relationships, ideas and choices. For many children, homework and multiple structured activities leave little time for unstructured play. As parents, we are bombarded with “optimal choices” for our children's time. In a society where structured activities are marketed with promises of providing children with an edge, I think it is important to pause and consider what we might be edging out. 


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