Getting to know the warm and wonderful Brenda (she/her) was an absolute delight and eye-opening encounter with the many facets of creativity that can be contained in one person. Decadent Cosmos hopes you enjoy this conversation as much as we did!
DECADENT: I want to start off with one of the mediums you previously mentioned: cooking. I think that is a really important reminder that the everyday things we do can still be creative activities. Can you say a little more about that?
BRENDA: Absolutely. That's a wonderful question. First, I am studying expressive arts therapy. And that is the mix of all of the art forms. You might have heard of art therapy, or drama therapy, or music therapy... Expressive arts therapy is using all of the creative art forms, along with mental health counseling. So it's layered and in that way I am able to reach out to a larger population of people who have a wide range of interests. It's hard for me to choose because I like to dabble in a little bit of everything.
In our program, there's this phrase, "jack of all trades, but master of none". And that's a phrase that we've talked about quite a lot, in the sense of, is one better than the other?
I don't know if I'm a master at anything, but I definitely feel that I have a variety of interests and I'm not scared to try new art forms.
DECADENT: You had also told me earlier that some of the other influences in your work are your Hispanic heritage and womanism. I'm wondering whether how intersectional thinking and reflection plays out in your creative work and how does that tie your art into your daily life?
BRENDA: The first thing that comes to mind is the nature-based work that I do, in the sense that it's almost like a spiritual connection that I am cultivating with the planet around me. So that sense that is tied into a lot of my artwork is one way that I am practicing a form of womanism. And when I say womanism, it's a little different from feminism in the sense that it is incorporating intersectionality. It incorporates more than what first wave feminism did because that was very much for white women, right? Particularly wealthy women who had the time and the opportunity to speak out. They left out a lot of people. Even leaving out the planet is a form of erasure, you know? There's this concept that I've been learning about called ecofeminism, I try to reword it as eco-womanism, because you could think of [the planet] as another being that is oppressed.
I try to connect a lot of my artwork to those concepts, and it just comes out naturally because I see that when I am outside in nature, when I am connecting with people, it is healing for me.
And it's genuine and authentic for me. I'm able to incorporate it into everything that I do: in my singing, my music, my visual art, my poetry.
I also realize I didn't really answer the question about the cooking! I mentioned expressive arts therapy because I'm bringing in cooking as one of those main art forms. In the internship that I'm at now we have a meal program. So I cook with clients and we prepare a meal. I help to host with some of their peers. It's a form of socialization. It helps form independent living skills. And in cooking itself, you're using all colors and textures and shapes and aromas. It's like bringing in your whole body: [movement when] you're chopping, the sound that comes up when something is sizzling, right? All of these things are very beautiful. And it's been really nice to work at the internship in the sense that they are validating cooking as an art form. It's an awesome practice. I cook for myself and it's a wonderful thing to be able to share it with others.
DECADENT: I just want to say, Brenda, that even the way you speak about the things that you are passionate about communicates your entire attitude toward the potential that creativity holds. But I also know that you mentioned to me previously that it was kind of hard for you to accept that you were an artist, or to call yourself an artist. Can you talk about that journey from a time when maybe you didn't consider yourself to be creative in the way that you now know and respect yourself as an artist?
BRENDA: So throughout my childhood, I was very engaged in a lot of extracurriculars. My mother and father were both very loving in the sense that they opened our world to the arts. So I was in dance. I did drama club, I was in art club. I even got to do singing lessons, which was a huge blessing.
Anyway, I went to college, so at 17 years old I started doing pre-med. I really still have quite an interest in all of the sciences, and particularly in emergency medicine, but I was really neglecting my creative side. I wasn't creating anything really, in the sense that I wasn't building community to create art, I wasn't pushing myself or challenging myself to. I had friends that were artists in college, but I felt intimidated, you know? So I kept moving, I kept singing at the occasional little thing here and there, maybe like twice a year.
I ended a long term relationship and that is really what started a lot of things. I was so devastated. I didn't know what to do. So I sang. And that opened up everything because then I was like, "Okay, I can perform, I can go to these open mics, I can make art". I started thinking about wanting to get back into school again. I took a four year gap between my undergrad and graduate school. There were then two years of that gap where I was doing all of this creative stuff that made me feel so good. I couldn't ignore it anymore.
When I found this program, the Expressive Arts Therapy program, I started mentally preparing myself, started building up a portfolio.
I let myself start considering myself to be an artist because I am, and that changed my thinking on what it means to be an artist. Everyone has the ability to be creative and resourceful. And everyone in their own way is an artist.
I think some people feel almost offended by that because they want you to have some sort of skill and technique and experience: "You have to be a master to be an artist", "you have to sell your work to be an artist", "you have to show your work at a gallery to be an artist". So I flipped that idea and was like well, to wake up in the morning and cook a meal is to be an artist; people that are working in construction or landscaping, people that are gardening, people that are providing services, that is an art form in the sense of the interpersonal skills [those fields require] and the environments those people create. So, perhaps I brought my definition of "artist" to that point so that I could step into that.
DECADENT: I mean, I love that idea that anyone can be an artist, because anyone really, truly can be creative, right? I've spent a lot of time thinking about that recently. I've realized that the quality of attention that we give something is really what shapes whether or not something becomes art.
BRENDA: You say "attention" and that makes me think of intention. A purposeful action towards something. I actually led a group recently, and we had a huge conversation about intentions. And we were discussing the difference between intentions and goals. Goals, at least as they brainstormed it, are very specific action items. And intention is almost like an attitude towards your goals.
When I think about creativity, it's about my intention in every moment of my life.
If I don't have the huge chunk of time that I really want to dedicate to creating, I still have the intention of creating even in those brief little moments that I do have, which sounds a little silly like, "Oh, let me write my notes in class, but I'll do a little doodle while I'm at it".
You need to remind yourself that your main intention is to [be creative] and that every action you take will be aligned with that intention. You need to nourish it in every breath that you take.
DECADENT: I love that. How do you feel interpersonal connections play into your own creative practices, but also how are you able to bring your personal practices into the work that you do with others?
BRENDA: Connecting creativity and spirituality. Creativity is basically an energy that is flowing within the human body. When it becomes stagnant, when it gets blocked, it becomes like this swamp rather than a flowing river. And that's when there's emotional mental anguish, and even physical pain and suffering can start to manifest because this creative energy is stuck.
Creativity needs to flow within and then flow out so that it can be shared and received back. All of those channels need to be open. A lot of my self care is working towards allowing those channels to stay as open as possible.
It's also so important to be forgiving, and patient, and understanding when I see that they're not open within me or within another person. You might have engaged in creative work with another person and really have seen the hesitancy or the doubt, the inner critic attacking, it might be frustrating but then you realize that this person's channels are not fully open, and have to ask, "What can I do in my presence with them right now to help them open it a little bit more?" That might require verbal validation and encouragement, or just the consistency of meeting frequently and showing that you have faith in them. I do that for other people and I do that for myself.
I spend time outdoors, I try to eat meals that I prepare for myself as much as possible, because that is beautiful energy that I am creating, and then giving to myself.
And again, being understanding is so important because there are a lot of mistakes that I've made, and a lot of times that I think I've harmed people, because I injected anger or suffering onto the situation. That brings in this concept of trauma: things get stuck in your body, in your memory, and those can come out at the worst times. But being able to understand that for myself, educating myself and then sharing that with others is so important.
DECADENT: Yes, I think that openness and the ability to forgive yourself and be more open and forgiving to others is one of the incredible things that creative practices can teach us. Do you think that your art helps you process and better understand your feelings and memories? And how does it feel when you then maybe share that work with your community?
BRENDA: It's difficult to take criticism in any form, because you always have the expectation that people will see what you see. But then that makes me ask you, "Who are you making the art for?" How everyone chooses to interpret an art piece is a reflection of themselves. You can consider adding other elements to it. If I'm trying to get a message across, perhaps I can add music, perhaps I can add a written description. Think about installations: what kind of like aroma can I add to this experience?
There's this theory called "crystallization". The more that you choose to work by layering different modalities, meaning different art forms, or engaging different of senses, it crystallizes the work, it makes it more clear. It's more so for the self to that you're crystallizing or clarifying that idea.
DECADENT: That's a very cool concept. Speaking of crystallizing and clarifying your work, how do you see your future as an artist and expressive arts therapist moving forward?
BRENDA: One of my dreams in this moment is to create a community center that offers mental health services, as well as creative arts services, whether it be educational courses, or just workshops, and then combining those two as frequently as possible. And also having some sort of performance venue space! I would like it to be free for people so that it remains as accessible as possible.
When I think about that, I do have some anxiety. Where am I going to get the finances for this? Do I have all the knowledge and skills that I need in order to start this up? And there's a voice in my head that's like, "Hell yeah". In the sense that I have a lot of faith and hope for the future.
I have this mantra that I tell myself, "I have faith in my talent and my abilities and I can face anything that comes my way, because of that faith".
I know challenge and conflict and suffering is going to come but I trust that I can manage it, that I can get through it. Even if it does hurt, being understanding and patient with myself means returning to that mantra that I have talent and the ability to do it, whatever it is.
DECADENT: I love that and I completely believe in your ability as well because of how genuine you are as an artist and as a person. Thank you so much for making the time to share your thoughts and commitment to creativity with us today!
Thank you so much, Brenda!
You can follow Brenda on Instagram @13.m.e . And check out one of her poems published in the most recent issue of An Empty Zine below: