We had the good fortune of connecting with Elya Braden and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elya, how do you think about risk?
All acts of creation require risk – the first word on a page, the first brushstroke, the first failed lightbulb. Looking back on my life and my career, I see that it has been defined by “intelligent risk taking.” Whether it was leaving my hometown to attend a college, sight unseen, on the other side of the country, or leaving a successful career as general counsel of a public company without knowing “what’s next,” every risk I’ve taken in my life has led to something not only new, but a chance to grow and stretch into new skills and possibilities. Perhaps it was my changing schools every year or two until I got to high school that made me comfortable with change in a way that many people are not, or perhaps I just crave the adrenalin-rush of the leap, but I’ve learned to trust that when I do leap, either wings will sprout from my shoulders or stairs will materialize ahead of my reaching foot. And from my first in-house lawyer job in a new city to my first jazz concert to my first theater audition to the first poem I submitted to a lit journal – every risk I took gave me the confidence to take the next and the next.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
It’s never too late to reignite your passions in life! I tucked my childhood poems, collages, scripts and sheet music into boxes stacked in the garage as I immersed myself in my legal career, my marriage and raising two children. My creativity was compressed into stitching family Halloween costumes, creating craft projects for my kids, decorating elaborate cakes and writing party invitations in the form of poems. I was almost 40 and recently retired from law when I took my first voice lesson since high school, a few years later when I auditioned for my first musical and a handful of years after that before I submitted my first poem to a literary magazine and plunged into my first mixed-media class. My first steps were, in a way, far easier than the middle steps, as the joy and wonder of creating carried me through my rather wobbly initial efforts. It was the moment I decided to turn hobby into craft that took a new kind of fearlessness, the willingness to subject my fledging efforts to the scrutiny of others. Now, I’m Assistant Editor of a poetry journal, Gyroscope Review. My poems have been published in dozens of journals and my first collection, Open The Fist, with my art as the cover, was released in 2020, just a few months into the pandemic. And while I love the craft of writing poetry, what I realized along the way is that I want to share with others the opportunity to embrace writing, as well as art, dance, music and theater, not as craft, but as a path to healing – emotionally, psychologically and even physically. That’s why I created my nonprofit, HaGomel Foundation, to provide expressive arts programs to help heal women who have experienced sexual trauma or abuse.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Wow – that’s a tough one after a year of almost never going out! But a few places stand out in my memory.
Most surprising indoor experience: The Museum of Jurassic Technology
Best rooftop bars: Nomad Hotel, Perch, Ace Hotel
Best Instagram moments: The Happy Place pop-up, Madcap Motel
Favorite poetry reading/spoken word venues: Beyond Baroque, Rapp Saloon, Tasty Words, Library Girl (at the Ruskin Theater), Whiskey and Poetry series (varying locations)
Favorite sunset views: Santa Monica Pier, Gladstones
Favorite small museums: The Broad, The Hammer, MOCA, Craft Contemporary
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I feel so blessed for the many people whose support and encouragement helped me get to where I am today. A few standouts: my brilliant and creative husband, Jon Pearson (http://www.jonpearsoncreative.com/), who saw the writer and artist in me when I was just starting to experiment with poetry and paint and who encouraged me to keep exploring; my first and long-term writing teacher, Jack Grapes (https://jackgrapes.com/), whose Method Writing program helped me find my deep voice and learn how to think/write like a poet, and whose Poets and Writers Collective became my tribe; my art teacher, Kathy Leader, (https://www.theart-process.com/), whose zoom art classes saved me from pandemic malaise, particularly summer of 2020 when it seemed like it would go on forever, and UCLArts & Healing (https://uclartsandhealing.org/) for their Social Emotional Arts Certification and other programs that showed me how I could use my skills in poetry, art, dance, theater and music to help others on their healing journeys.
For the photos labeled “Elya B” and “Open The Fist Book and author photo” – the photo credit is Bader Howar Photography.