‘Reason For The Season’ ……And Happy Holidays.

December 13, 2014

Xmas wreath


I saw the Cooper’s hawk this morning. She landed on the chimney pot, probably looking for my miniature hen, Grayson.  Four years ago she was a starving fledgling who mantled over while I fed her cold chicken.  She’s back this holiday, my spirits lifting. A good Christmas present.

In the middle of the commercialization of Christmas, Nature closes the gap.  I have noticed squirrels with pecans in mouths leaping the trees, hawks hunting low over now-bare woods, unknown song birds sitting on fences, heard the migration of Sandhill cranes as they honk in formation. You hear their cacophony well before they appear.  Their chiding cries float down to our upturned faces.

There is brightness to the holly, washed by our late autumn rains and the orange of the nandina berries has turned crimson. Smell of wood smoke in the air and the crispness of mornings means the earth is going to sleep. We humans should reclaim our past and fecal plugs and join the slumber party of our brother bears.

Jingle Bells will fade and our tension with it. Looking towards deep winter when the Earth is again silent will restore our balance and calm nerves with a blanket of Peace.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2008-2014

The River Of Death, episode 11, from “The Nightingale’s Song”

December 5, 2014

Savannah Birds

(Watercolor, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2007)


It’s been a while since I have returned to this story.  Everything and anything has taken up my time since I started “The Nightingale’s Song” at the end of 2011.  I am back to my favorite research, which is anything concerning Japanese history and literature.  This time, I won’t leave it.  I have a reason to stay.  Nick Nicholson, an old friend who produced my last book, “Pitcher of Moon” this spring, is coming from Canberra, Australia in ten days for a four month trip by car around the US.  In March, he will be here with us for a number of days and  has promised to format “The Nightingale’s Song”.  I am more than grateful. Formatting anything has me all thumbs.  Nick is an expert at these things.

“The Nightingale’s Song” is a story in 12 episodes about a marriage in 17th century Japan.  Lord Nyo and Lady Nyo, he a samurai and she from the powerful clan Fujiwara, have been married since she was fifteen.  Now she is thirty and Lord Nyo sixty. Magic, a tricky Tengu and a baby plucked from the surface of the moon figure in the story.

The poetry of Saigyo is noted:  where it isn’t, it is mine.

Episode 11 is a scene from a battlefield, as Lord Nyo is a general in the provincial army of Lord Mori, an aging and despot daimyo in north west Japan, near Moon Mountain.

Lady Nyo…but not the one in the story.





There’s no gap or break in the ranks of those marching under the hill:

an endless line of dying men, coming on and on and on….



When the news of Lady Nyo

Birthing a son

Reached Lord Nyo

He was far from home,

To the east,

Over mountains

In dangerous, alien territory.


A general in the service

Of his lord,

The gore of battle,

The issue of ‘dying with honor’

Began at first light,

The air soon filled with sounds of battle-

Dying horses, dying men

Drawing their last gasps of life,

Churned into the mud of immeasurable violence.


The river of death is swollen with bodies fallen into it;

in the end  the bridge of horses cannot help.



Death, not new life

Was before his eyes at dawn,

And death, not life

Pillowed his head at night.


A battle rages around me,

But inside this old warrior

A battle rages inside my heart.

It is heavy with sorrow,

So tired beyond my old bones.


 What good have we done

In watering the soil

With blood and offal

of sons?



He stunk with the blood of battle

As his bow and swords cut a swath

Through men in service to another

And when the battle horns went silent,

With tattered banners like defeated clouds

Hanging limp over the field,

Acrid smoke stained everything

And the piteous cries of the dying

Echoed in his ears.

He wondered if his life would end here.


But the gods that he didn’t believe in

Were merciful.

His thoughts turned from fierce, ugly warriors

Towards home and a baby.


Still, he could not leave.

He was caught by status,

The prestige of his clan.

He could not desert the

Fate set out from birth.

Ah! This was fate of a man in servitude

To his Lord Daimyo.

This was the fate

Of a man chained to Honor.


Still, in the darkest hours of the night

The soft and perfumed shape of his wife

Floated down to him from the fleeting clouds,

Came to him through the smoke of battlefield fires,

And he turned on his pallet

To embrace this haunting comfort.


Off in the distance

There I see my loved one’s home

On the horizon.

How I long to be there soon

Get along black steed of mine!


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014



Some Tanka…..inspired by the Beauty of Autumn

December 3, 2014

My beautiful picture

Tanka, as many readers know, is an ancient form of Japanese poetry.  Originally called waka, it is a predominant form in Japanese literature, along with the 17th century haiku.

Tanka is much earlier than haiku, with anthologies of tanka being produced in the 8th and 9th centuries, as in the great Man’yoshu.  Basically tanka is a vehicle for  emotional verse.  In some cases, it’s deeply erotic, in other examples it celebrates nature, seasons, etc.

People who read tanka wonder:  Why so short, and why only 31 syllables? One theory is that the rhythm possesses magical power: the poems are spells. I like that.  Certainly such poems (tanka) have been used as spells, for bringing down a deity, etc. and to this day are still found embedded in the tough loam of Tantric Buddhist rites. Another practical theory is that they are formed in such a way that they can be recited in two breaths.  These poems after all, are also called songs.

I am no expert, having stumbled upon  tanka  about 7 years ago, but I have fallen in love with the form.  It is a short and powerful  vehicle for poetic thought.  And perhaps, after all, to compose them as ‘spells’ isn’t far from their historical mark.

I have found tanka to be a refuge.  Perhaps of scoundrels, but certainly a living, breathing poetry form.  I won’t go into the mechanics of tanka here, but I do have a two part essay “Short Introduction to Tanka and Classical Examples” that I was asked to present by OneShot Poetry group a few years ago.  I will post that soon.

Below are some of my tanka, though I still struggle with the form.  It is not to be confused with freeverse in the classical sense of tanka, but then again, poetry and these forms do evolve. Also, most tanka in Japan is written without punctuation.  Most English writers of tanka are more comfortable with some punctuation.  Some of my tanka have punctuation, and some don’t.

Autumn is so beautiful, even with most of the leaves gone. There is something magical in this short season that pulls at the heart. Perhaps a season of spells…..

Lady Nyo

The moon floats on wisps

Of clouds extending outward

Tendrils of white fire

Blanketing the universe

Gauzy ghosts of nothingness.

Cranes wheel in the sky

Chiding cries fall to hard earth

Warm mid winter day

A pale half moon calls the birds

To stroke her face with their wings.

The cat sits dozing

Beneath a thorny rosebush

No foot can reach him

His paws retract the sharp claws

A deep purr closes his eyes.

Give me a moment

To catch my breath and settle.

Give me some peace, please!

Stop kissing my hands, stop it!

What if someone is watching?


Presence of Autumn

Burst of color radiates

From Earth-bound anchors

Sun grabs prismatic beauty

And tosses the spectrum wide!

Bolts of lightening flash!

The sky brightens like the day

too soon it darkens.

My eyes opened or closed see

the futility of love.

Had I not known life

I would have thought it all dreams

Who is to tell truth?

It comes at too sharp a price-

Better to bear flattery.


I look up at blue

Sky this morning, watch leaves fall-

Whirling, colored tears

Clip my face like dull razors

The strokings of memory.


Like the lithe bowing

Of a red maple sapling

My heart turns to you

Yearns for those nights long ago

When pale skin challenged the moon.

When Autumn enters

Inexplicable sadness-

Season fades to death.

Hunter’s moon sits in Heaven–

Garden spiders finish, die.

Autumn wind startles–

Lowered to an ominous

Key—Ah! Mournful sounds!

The fat mountain deer listen-

Add their bellowing sorrow.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014

“The Courage to Create”: Part III

December 1, 2014


Painting, Watercolor, “Irish Bay”, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2007

The Courage to Create: Part III


The Scapegoats and the Golden Children: All Damaged In the End.

I’ve been thinking of the dynamics in dysfunctional families, especially those people who come from Narcissistic parents. There are many personality disorders, but Narcissism gives enough pain to trump most. Over the course of six years, I have written about narcissism on this blog, but still, after eight years of therapy, and with a good and compassionate therapist, I feel that I am just scratching the surface.

The learning curve is steep. Other bloggers do it better. For that I am grateful.

Recently, I have been reflecting on my childhood. And, what I have been told, my suffering from depression. I have been writing (seems like forever…) a book, titled “Memories of a Rotten Childhood”. In part it details, or at least reflects my parent’s behavior, and it seems they were always in turmoil.   That’s what it looked like then, but now I know it was much more. It took many years to understand the dynamic between not only my parents (my father has been dead for 25 years) but also the impact of their dynamic on my two brothers and myself. I was the oldest and the only girl in the family.

And about depression. When you are suffering depression, you think you are the only person in the world that has this condition. You are closed down, in a fog. But actually it’s pretty universal. Samuel Johnson described his depression as “that black dog that barks from morning to night.” Many of my friends have suffered depression and at times, this has stopped them in their tracks: they feel lost, empty, alienated, without the ability to pull themselves out of a deep hole. For those who have never suffered depression (and I don’t know these people…) this is what it feels like. Mostly. What is interesting and is the ‘connective tissue’ of these friends is they all have suffered from the narcissism of either parents in childhood (some with extreme physical abuse….most of us with emotional abuse) or with being trapped with partners as adults who are narcissists. Many times our paths cross with narcissists in the work place and this gives added anxiety to the mix. The abuse continues (and at times might be subtle and then escalate) and it is very hard to know what to do in these work related situations. Our jobs are at the core of this abuse, and the potential of loss of job aggravates the anxiety and depression. ( I remember at Emory University being asked (more than asked) to give   backrubs to my boss (female) and by the head of the department? When his designers came in drunk, if they threw up, I was to attend to them and frankly, do their work on a couple of occasions. With no acknowledgement. Basically I was to cover up their (well-known throughout the university) incompetency. Protect the department’s collective ass. This was crazy making to the max, and escaping that toxic environment was more than a blessing. But it took me five years to do so. I had just adopted a young child and I depended upon the slight salary to help.)

To many who read this blog, I will be preaching to the choir. To others, perhaps what I write here will strike a personal chord and they will find some things speaking to their condition. This is what I hope for.

I have been thinking of this dynamic between the scapegoat and the golden children in families. I have tons of experience, as I was the scapegoat. Early on, it was confusing but constant that my mother preferred her boys to me. I couldn’t understand this. Only many decades later did I start to understand this behavior on the part of her. It took a lot of convincing by my therapist who was an older woman and one who became a ‘mother-substitute’ over the years. Her steadfast kindness and ability to listen and to comfort, her belief in my potential was something I clung to. I had not experienced this with my own mother and only in the last ten years or so did I understand why. She was and is a classic Narcissist. I can see why now. Her behavior is convincing. And grows worse with age.

(Funny enough, I feel some compassion for her. Some. Whatever was the root cause of her narcissism, (nurture or nature issues…and I have my opinions…) she suffered from it: insecurities, jealousies, unbalance, isolation, etc. This is the real underpinnings of a narcissist. They just look ‘happy’ on the surface. They are generally a whirlpool of insecurities. However, they go on to make others really suffer)

The scapegoat is the child who is dumped upon in the family, the one who is blamed for the trouble that others make or feel, can be the whistle blower, or outspoken, but generally is the child who is pushed aside or ignored. Perhaps it is the child who is shy or quiet. It varies in families but the abuse that the scapegoat gets is pretty constant. Unending. It’s akin to the bullies in a school yard but these you can’t escape from. These are the entrenched bullies in the family. Any confronting the abusers, either the parents or the other siblings only makes the situation worse in many cases. These others, the dominant ones in the family don’t ‘hear’ the scapegoat: they have a lessened status, if they have any status at all. The family is ‘deaf’ to the plight of the scapegoat. Hence the suffering is unabated.

As far as the golden children, they are prized, they are rewarded, even if their talents are minor, they are the ones listened to. They also become real prats. They become in many cases abusers of the scapegoat, feeling that they are carrying out the rightful role of the parents, and they have a license to do this. If they are males, they also can become misogynistic. I have seen this where siblings have misogynistic attitudes towards women.   This comes from the atmosphere of the parental narcissist: narcissists are steeped in contempt, hated and disdain for others, and in many cases, for women. If the narcissist is a woman, she will feel competition with other random women, even women she doesn’t know…perhaps celebrities. The ‘flights of fancy’ that narcissists have would account of this. This is a form of grandiosity.

Narcissism as we learn is something common and worldwide, but when we escape these dysfunctional families we also learn that it’s not everyone, or every family that treats people in such toxic ways.

How do these people, the scapegoat and the golden children end up in life? Well, with distance and therapy perhaps, the scapegoat ends up more independent and also has a clearer understanding of these personality disorders that have affected their childhoods. Not to say that there isn’t a long run of terrible choices in spouses, friends, dangerous behaviors, etc. because a scapegoat acts upon their inferior status (they believe themselves inferior). It takes a long time to overcome self-abuse and doubt. They were never valued so they don’t value themselves. It’s parental, family abuse that segues into self-hatred.

As for the golden children? They are emotionally chained to the parent-narcissist and their ability to mature and normalize relationships are stunted in most cases. They don’t understand this, but they don’t really achieve independence emotionally and in some cases, intellectually. They are narcissistic supply to the narcissistic parent (this is the main role of them to the Narcissist). Only when this parent dies can they reconsider the damage that has been done to their lives. Actually, many refuse ever to consider the damage and go on to become what the narcissist has bred. Another narcissist.

Empathy is basically destroyed in these golden children because they take on so many of the characteristics of the parent narcissist. An example of this became clear a year ago when our remaining uncle at 86 years old made a very inappropriate comment to me over the phone. I had not seen this uncle in 50 years. He had been divorced from my mother’s sister (now dead) for many years, remarried three times, and when I wrote to my brother, (a fundamentalist Christian) in shock about this uncle, the only thing this brother wrote back in email was this: “……disturbing”. This was as shocking as the original comment of this predator uncle! I had expectations this brother would at least show outrage. He was supposed to be a Christian minister and I expected something better than this. But why? His compassion was truncated because he still saw me as our mother did: a lesser human being and therefore not worthy of his outrage. However, other male friends and cousins expressed their disgust at the behavior of this ‘uncle’. One cousin asked if I needed him to go beat up this sadly perverted uncle. He was outraged. These men were not puffed up Christians; they were normal, compassion and moral men. What a difference. This brother can wax elegant on religious issues, but his humanity smacks of misogyny. And I am not surprised.

The golden boys seem confident, outspoken, not cowed by doubt or self-esteem issues, but this is a façade. In some very important ways, the golden children never grow up. And, sadly, and predictably, they take on the role of punishing the scapegoat as they see with their narcissistic parents. They are the twisted minions of the parents. They think it is their ‘right’ to do so.

They are perpetually basking in the approval and ‘love’ of the Chief Narcissist. But this is not love, it’s the relentless search on the narcissist’s part for narcissistic supply. Their support and approval and, yes, submission must be constant for the narcissist to exist comfortably. Otherwise they are useless to the narcissist.
For narcissists on this level truly don’t know how to love. They only know how to use others because of their own ego-needs: these come first and everyone around them are sacrificed….even the Golden Children. They are, after all, just servants to the will of the Narcissist. Less than servants, they are slaves.

The scapegoats, once they make their escape from this dysfunctional family have much more freedom and growth. The growth is painful, there is no escaping this. Years of shame, doubt, self-abuse, etc. must be confronted, and the shame and abuse finally put back where it belongs: on the abusers. Then there is growth and freedom. But there must be distance, and most probably, some serious therapy to achieve this.

Finally, the scapegoat is in control of their life. Hopefully, at some point when they become adults, they have escaped a horrible slavery, though the opinions of the abusive family don’t change. They are left wounded, and maimed in many ways, but they have a chance to live a normal life, where the golden children are still chained to something that denies them growth, independence and maturity.

They remain Adult Children but nothing much more. And when the chief Narcissist finally dies, they are thrown into a tizzy. They have a serious addiction to the narcissist and little ability for critical thought. Their slavery to a toxic situation comes around and bites them in the ass. The chief narcissist is still controlling them from the grave because he/she has imprinted something so destructive to the personalities of the Golden Children left behind. In this way, a narcissist never dies. (She or he also continues to triangulate from the grave: “Glad I won’t be here to hear the howling when the will is read.” This is a prime example how the narcissistic parent continues their control on their adult children. And continues the conflict amongst siblings, which is what the narcissist did in life to continue her narcissistic supply. Alive or dead, the narcissist still has one hand around the necks of her children.)

Regaining the ‘self’ doesn’t happen for the scapegoat until there is a radical rupture with the birth family. Either a period of Low Contact or No Contact helps institute this regained self on the part of the scapegoat. It varies for each individual, but the worse the abuse and the more wounded the scapegoat, the more the necessity for this radical rupture.

It can be an issue of life or death.

Back to the issue of depression. What I am reading and sensing in my friends is that they haven’t been able to put these narcissistic people in the place they belong…which is BEHIND them. And this is damn hard to do. I can testify to that, because I held out ‘hope’ that things would change. We are connected by that twisted family umbilical cord. We have deluded expectations because they are our family. Any peace, joy, creativity, etc. is just about impossible because narcissists, and especially families who have a collection (they grow like algae) of narcissists will always pick at the one who either is the scapegoat or a scapegoat who has escaped. Every person I know who has escaped has gone on to a remarkable and well deserved independence, and over the years I have been privileged to know quite a few who have done this.  But the tentacles of the narcissists will stretch out and attempt to continue to injure, to pull them back. They need the supply like the vampires they are. And it is hard for us to keep these devils behind us. Hence, the depression. They sap our energies, and even thinking of them, rehashing ‘what should have been’ is exhausting. And, ultimately…pointless.

And more about that old depression. That depression comes from various sources: the rejection, the anxiety as to where we belong in these ‘families’ and the lies we were told and hold on to. The lies from the narcissistic parents to try to control us. This is the basis of our anxiety. This is the basis of our confusion, depression and despair. It takes a long time and distance to understand that what we have been fed is just….lies. These lies are the probably basis of our alienation and insecurities.

Each one of us has to come to a place where we have worked it out for ourselves. Each person is different and the abuse is different but in general, we have great commonalities in this sphere. For me, I have gone No Contact with my birth family. At one time, I thought when the Chief Narcissist was dead, ‘normal’ relationships could be resumed, but I seriously doubt this. And I have grown enough to know that these people are not the folk I would seek out for spiritual, intellectual and emotional comfort. They are no standard for me. Regardless of my accomplishments, I would still be inferior in their eyes. They don’t have the abilities to change their behavior. They are stunted by life with the narcissistic parent.

Right after I wrote this above, a sister in law emailed me pix of my two brothers and ‘the mother’. She wrote: “Call me soon”. I am left scratching my head.   I haven’t heard from these people in over 4 years….why would I call? My husband thinks she’s a moron, but I think she is just insensitive and since she isn’t related by blood, genetics, to the chief narcissist, she might feel a bit of guilt. She has been (forever, 40 years) hearing toxic crap. Perhaps she has a conscience. That would be nice. However, it is exhausting to try to understand toxic situations and people.

And it obstructs our creativity and our very lives because of the constant energy these things take.

What possible ‘good’ would it do to ‘reconnect’ with people who have been abusive and aloof to my family? Two years ago my husband had what was suspected to be a small stroke. One brother (who had a stroke 10 years ago) emailed me with some information about regaining balance, but the ‘mother’ and everyone else on this side of the family just ignored what happened to my husband. And this sister in law? I did speak to her in a short phone conversation seven months ago, when she was coming through the Atlanta airport and wanted me to meet her, which I declined. When I mentioned my husband’s stroke, her response: “Oh, I thought you were over that by now.”

Amazing. Of course, a glimmer of interest as to his condition, or understanding how offensive her insensitive (and cruel) words hadn’t crossed her mind. That is what the milieu of narcissism breeds. Arrogance. A lessening of humanity. Sad. At one time I thought she was a good person, but her environment has made a difference in her. Or perhaps narcissism has been too great to resist and she’s joined the monkeys. A dear friend who also has a narcissist as a mother said something I think is really true: “Your sister in law had to learn to play the game (with the narcissist) in order to survive.” This probably is the situation. Narcissism perverts and corrupts good people when they can’t escape or make continuing excuses for the narcissist.

The point is this: when we settle for people who are toxic, who refuse to apologize for their actions, who do no critical thinking, who continue to support the main narcissist in the family unconditionally (and for opportunistic reasons actually…one brother has full knowledge about the viciousness of his mother…and has threatened to feed her to the ‘gators where she lives…but only to me, certainly not to his mother!) when they continue to be a part of the Silent Majority and take a stand with the toxic narcissist, with continued contact we perpetuate our self-abuse. We allow the narcissists on all levels to continue to harm and maim. We perpetuate our self-hatred. Narcissists do it well enough without our help.

Recently I read something that spoke to this situation and to my decision to not go back to this toxic family. “Insight comes at that moment of transition between work and relaxation.” I was bound up in writing and research for a few essays, and trying to complete a book, when I walked away, disturbed by this conundrum of ‘how’ to answer this sister in law. I closed my books, turned off my computer and just stopped all activity. The answer appeared in the ‘space’ between activity and no activity. I don’t know what happened but it was no struggle at all. Einstein asked a friend this: “How come my best ideas come when I am shaving in the morning?” LOL!

It’s that space between our laborious thoughts and when our mind is off the problem. Probably that small space between the conscious struggling mind and the unconscious mind. That small space where new ideas are born. I believe this is where most of our creativity is formed.

Gone were all my concerns about ‘how to answer’, how to proceed. It was clear to me that the answer was already made: Since I had gone No Contact with this family, or more so with the chief narcissist, my life was different: productive, peaceful, with energy and a renewed creativity in a number of areas. Not perfect, but so damn different. The drama/trauma of this family that had me seriously doubting my value, my worth and even the reason for my continued living….it didn’t figure in my life anymore. These toxic people were like a deep and dark well, and I knew that any going back to that well would drown me. My life was too good and creative to do that, and my husband deserved peace and no more narcissistic/abusive drama. He had endured thirty years of this.

And their behavior wouldn’t change. But mine could. There was no ‘pull’ of ‘family’ anymore. I had moved on to something that wasn’t scarred with the trauma of the past. I had to. It was imperative that I do so, and that others were to be considered. Fine, non-toxic loving people deserved better.

There was no contest. I knew in a flash that going back to this family would mean I had once again put myself in a dangerous and toxic place. Under their power and control. And the invitation to ‘call’ came from only one. The rest? They couldn’t be less interested. However, the holidays are approaching and within narcissistic families, it’s always the ‘appearance’ of normalcy, even when it is not. It’s a shell game at best.

The four years where I was in control of contact has given me space to get away and in that distance I have realized how damn happy I have become. Depression was not major, was conditional and not chronic anymore. (Where it developed I believe it was the remains of ‘guilt’…of not making enough closure with the past.) I had found the roots of my malaise and I had the power to walk away. And walking away and meaning it was just the first step. (There’s more steps, but for each it’s different.)

My energy and creativity came flooding back. I published another book with more to come. I went back to those joyful things I loved: painting and dancing, research and poetry. Some of these interests I had put on the shelf because I was exhausted. I had the freedom from conflict for four years and I had regained energy. Why would I consider destroying this with more conflict? It would be another drop into a Hell I had finally escaped. It would be another round of self-abuse and self-hatred.

When we recognize abusers for what and who they are, then depression starts to lift and we start to live. Sure, we will make many mistakes, and for a time, do like the Russian army: One step forward, two steps back. But soon we can come out into the light of sanity and self-respect and we gain speed.

The alternative is pretty dire. When we honestly begin to put these unnatural devils behind us, we can heal and prosper. Our creativity is restored with time and effort. But only we can put this in motion. I believe there is a critical mass of something, abuse, etc…that builds to a point that continuing to reside in toxicity is nothing more than death. And it’s not so slow.

“Walking In The New Winter Woods”…..poetry

November 28, 2014





Walking in the new winter woods,

the crunch of frozen ground beneath

my boots,

my dog’s paws will be sore tonight

for we aim far afield.


I think of this morning when we

argued at breakfast,

the smell of maple bacon should

stop all that, but didn’t.


We can’t get past the desiccated ghosts

who have taken up residence in our hearts, inviting

slights and outright blows never delivered

but still lingering in the air.


I took the gun loaded with birdshot

in case there was a duck down by the pond.

Was, but those were sitting ducks

didn’t seem right, too easy a target

like this morning at breakfast when either one

of us could have let swing and landed a good one

on tender flesh and raw nerves.


The dog is game for hunting, but my heart

isn’t in it.


My thoughts go back to you standing there,

that old apron around your waist,

determined not to let me see tears

and my heart cracks and soon I head back with

a peace offering of a bough of holly.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010-2014

“Walking In The New Winter Woods” originally published in “White Cranes of Heaven”, Lulu.com, 2011

“Autumn Dusk”….and Happy Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2014

 Pre Thanksgivng Mountain Range to the East


It’s Hard To Tell what this photo above is, but the morning brought this weak storm front…and a dark cloud that stretched from the bottom of the horizon.  It transformed Atlanta to the east into a mountain range.  It reminded me of New Hampshire or Pennsylvania.  Quite a sight for the morning, and more spectacular outside my window than in the photo.  But!  A startling and welcome gift for the day before Thanksgiving.  I called around (at before 7am) to neighbors to look to the east outside their doors, and went down to one neighbor, Don to come out with me and gawk at the ‘mountain range’.  Don is a good sport and was as awed as I was.

Thanksgiving is a good time for enjoying the mysteries of Nature….and putting on Copeland’s  “Appalachian Spring”…the music that evokes an earlier, peaceful time when Thanksgiving wasn’t followed by Black Friday.

Peace to my nation in a time of outrageous turmoil, chaos, and Happy Thanksgiving for those of us who still give thanks.

Lady Nyo

And just for the fun of it, pix of my kitchen, and the sacrificial pumpkin from Halloween now to be a pumpkin pie.


pumpkin in kitchen

By the way, it’s a ‘pink’ pumpkin, though it shows up darker in this photo.


0403Whe-R01-009, reflection pond, j.kohut-bartels, wc, 2006


 This Autumn, a fleeting, transitory season, has brought heavy snows and bone numbing cold across our country.  Too early for this, but here in the South, it was just record breaking temps and rain.

Yesterday we had heavy winds, rain across Georgia and some areas had tornados. When the rain finally stopped, I looked outside and a huge rainbow spanned the sky.  What a visual gift to lift the spirits!  Then the clouds broke apart, their bellies turned pink and a soft blue mingled with the clouds.  Only a scant few minutes before dark fell, but what a Gainsborough moment. 

All week I have listened to the migration of Sandhill cranes, not seeing them, too high up, but hearing their cries. It signals the Winter to come, the smell of wood smoke and a landscape that is swept of fertility, just waiting the Earth to pirouette again.

Lady Nyo



Stuttering winds blow across

Clouds tinted by the failing sun.

Brittle air softens,

Now a faded blue–

Shade of an old man’s watery eyes.


A late flock of Sandhill cranes lift off,

Pale bodies blending in the

Twilight with legs

Flowing dark streamers,

Their celestial cries fall to


A harsh, chiding rain.


The trees in the valley

Are massed in darkness

As waning light leaches

Color from nature,

Creeps from field to hillock

And all below prepares for the

Rising of the Corn Moon.


Even frogs in the pond

Listen between croaks

For the intention of the night.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014,

“Autumn Dusk” originally published in “White Cranes of Heaven”, Lulu.com, 2011

“The Shibari Series”…..

November 15, 2014
"Sea Eagle", jane kohut-bartels, watercolor, 2001

“Sea Eagle”, jane kohut-bartels, watercolor, 2001

I’m taking a chance  in posting these pieces.  They will not be liked, understood or embraced by many readers.  But I think this is part of our creativity: daring to write or even develop some rather outrageous pieces that go against the grain of what we are known for as writers, as poets.

Breaking open myths and creating new ones…..

These segments of “The Shibari Series” speak to transformation, and a rather weird tale at that.  I started them in 2007, when I was sorely pressed with many issues and some dangerous influences. They are rather a personal story, and though they came to me in a rush, it took me years to understand their significance. Perhaps we have to grow into what springs out of our unconscious, even distasteful and confusing things, perhaps this is part of the path of creativity.  We have to take chances.

People can look up what Shibari is if they are interested.  However, in my research, and my study of Japanese culture, shibari means to ‘tie’ (as in packages) but it earlier meant a military procedure:  soldiers or police would carry a small length of jute, hemp rope, and depending upon the status of the criminal, would tie the hands as he was brought into police review.  If the ‘criminal’ had high status, he was loosely tied, or not tied at all.  If a common criminal, his hands were secured tightly.  Also, shibari was never seen as a sexual proponent until the beginning of the 20th century in Japan (though there is doubt about this) but in the West, shibari has been very much sexualized in the practice of bdsm.  My husband and I both studied shibari and did some practice, but it’s intense and it takes a lot of consideration. And ….a lot of work to do it safely and make beautiful designs with the body as a canvas and the rope as ‘paint’.  We decided it was better to write about it as fiction than to practice it.  In some cities of Japan, the police still carry a short length of jute, probably symbolic of former usage of shibari.

The series details the transformation of a woman to different species, her empowerment and finally back to human.

These tales are also about compassion and empathy…and the form is just a unusual vehicle to ‘tell the tale’.  Nothing to be afraid of, though many will reject these short pieces because of their own moral and religious beliefs.  I hope others will try to have an open mind.

The Japanese words used to describe the shibari practice can be looked up easily enough. Tengus are shapeshifters from Japanese mythology.

Lady Nyo


Japanese hemp coiled about the torso, creating diamonds where there was once only skin, looping back upon itself, over and over. Breasts now defined by a rope cut-out bra, while waist, love handles, now enclosed in more diamonds, thighs entwined. Added turns and thin jute split my cleft with a hard caress, the large knot on the bottom shifting upward. It would tease in mid air.

Dance comes from the earth, through the feet, up and out, giving shape to song. This time I would dance in flight, the pull of ropes challenging gravity, compounding my efforts.

Movements liquid and extreme startled me, the kikkou and hemp anchored me in space, my first taste of freedom in the ropes. Suddenly I felt the sting of a whip and I jerked out of time to the beat. I fell deeper into the dance, determined to continue. Again the whip’s sting and I faced a split reality: pain or pleasure. I went inward, deep into the music and rhythm, where movement was birthed and pain banished.

I flew, hollow bird bones filled with joy. Cradled within the ropes I spiraled up from heavy earth.


(Spider Web)

Restrained by the hemp to a beam above and to posts at my sides, I was secure in a blue rope karada. It bunched my skin where it bound, creating its own mountains and valleys, distorting my natural figure.

Pain was the door, the portal, the whip applied until I cried “Mercy!” I had slipped into an altered state, far from where pain ate at my flesh. Just back from subspace, I had dangled in the infinite where time stopped and a crude salvation was born.

Looking up at the ropes I was now in a spider web, frozen at all points, the fly caught, splayed in a hemp web 360.

I glanced behind me. The spider was a big one, gently stroking my welts, drinking a glass of water, or perhaps it was green goo. He smiled, now aware I was conscious and with a questioning expression, picked up the single tail and shook it at me.


I smiled slyly. Such gluttons we were, the spider and the fly.


Again, I am restrained on all sides, a fly trapped in the stickiness of a dismal fate. I can hear the spider behind me, warming up, flicking the whip, marking his targets on my body, my wings too shredded for further flight.

What am I searching for? I thought salvation, but there was little of that. Perhaps transcendence? At this point, I would settle for any transformation out of here.

The whip caught me by surprise. I jerked forward, lifted six inches in flight with a high scream, the sound pairing pain and confused need. Blackness poured in like oil and I went limp.

I awoke, the burn deep in my feathers. Looking to both sides, my eyes now two sharpened orbs with 6x vision. Hooked beak, my feet wicked talons. A furious shake and I was free of the web, free of the ropes. Extending strong wings, I flew to the top of the beam. With a loud hawk hunting call I surveyed the ground, hungry, need fulfilled – almost.

The spider saw me, only a moment of fear crossed its black eyes before bowing his head to fate.


I flew high but it was spring, and the weak thermals did not support my flight. I was hungry, without food, except for the spider. A freshly fledged hawk must learn how to fend for herself. Beginnings are dangerous.

Cupping my wings, I hovered over a stream, watching the ice break apart far below. Three days of freedom had left me weak, confused and with a troubling need. Breaking my bindings I was now lost, abandoned to nature, cold and alone.

“Hep-Hep-Hep”. I heard the ‘call-in’ of the falconer below me, as I floated over the landscape. Seeing the whirling lure with a rabbit head was too much. Starved, I spiraled downwards, landing with a thump.

“Good Girl” I heard as the man beckoned me to his glove covered with fresh meat. As I mantled over and stepped up, he slipped a jess upon my left leg, another with silver bells on the right.

“Good Girl” I heard again as he tied me tightly to a perch.

“Good Girl” as the hood slipped over my head.

At least no one whips a hawk. And there is always the sky.


For the next week I remained in the mews. During that time I was prodded, examined and weighed.  The Falconer was experienced and knew to avoid my feet when I was restrained.  I would slice him, even with bindings securing my wings and the hood blinding me.I was to eat only from his glove. He cooed, watching me as I greedily swallowed down the sparse meal, his dominance enforced.

When I was a woman I yearned for the ropes.  I wanted them tightly around my body, ‘tender is the bight’ so to speak, yet now I pecked, pulled at my leather restraints.  One day the Falconer found me hanging upsides down, like a bat, hooded and unhappy, but I gleefully bit him as he righted me on my perch.

Soon after, he put me to the glove and launched me into the air, I screaming in delight.

If I thought I had freedom I was fooled. The Falconer had tethered me with a long hemp rope. He jerked hard and I thumped back to earth.

“Good Girl” I heard through my outrage and humiliation.

“Good Girl” I heard as he pinned me to the ground.


I remained in the mews for my fall back to earth broke my wing. The cage was large, one I shared with a goshawk only allowed to a Master Falconer.

One day Master claimed me from my perch, set me on his glove and launched me. This time I had no tether and made my escape. Screaming into the wind, I climbed high until he and the hated glove were invisible. I flew with the currents, my eyes bright with freedom.

Suddenly, I was changing, feathers dropping from my breast and wings. I spiraled, awkward in my descent, landing by the same brook once choked with winter’s ice. Instead of talons I had a woman’s legs and slowly my feathers molted leaving me naked, shivering, my limbs white as the remaining snow peppering the early crocuses. My cry now a sob instead of a hawk’s high shriek.

Instinct made me start at the sound of the hunting call and there was the Falconer, a blanket in his hands. He threw both of us down and took his rights, my cooing not of doves. Later, collared in steel with long jesses I walked behind his horse.


The spring was gentle, tender rains like warm tears coursing down on sullen earth. I looked skyward and saw the palest of blue, everything fresh and transparent.   Sometimes, when I knew I was not watched, I spread my arms and called out to the wind. My voice was too thin, my bones too solid for flight, chained also with gravity.

One morning I brought meat to the goshawk in the mews. He sidled away refusing my meal. Admiring his powerful wings, thinking of the past, I called to him in chirps as I did when a hawk and he swiveled his head to me. Looking deep into his eye I could see my former freedoms as I passed over mountains and rivers, hunting and soaring, all given up for earthbound comfort.

Freedom and hunger traded for slavery and food.

I knew then what would happen. Captured, I had the power to free. Slipping on my Master’s glove, the goshawk stepped up and I worked the belled jesses from both legs.

A launch and he soared over me, screaming his delight. I raised my arms, my spirit in flight, my chains now looser for his freedom.


The Falconer, now my Master, was not a cruel man. I found this out when he realized his goshawk gone. He did not question me as I served him his dinner, nor did he ask anything of me when we slept that night.

Only at morning did I find him watching me with a quizzical look on his face.

“Do you understand the point of keeping a goshawk, girl?”

I shook my head. Rarely did I use my voice in answering him. I did not trust it after so many changes

“Well, let’s say that in freeing him, you have upset the balance of nature.”

I looked at him curiously. What balance of nature?

With a slight smile he asked: “What do you intend to cook for dinner tonight?”

Of course! The goshawk hunted and we ate what he killed.

“Know you goshawks are called ‘the pot bird’? And since he ate from the glove as you did he will probably starve. That is what I meant by upsetting the balance of nature, girl.”

I looked for the goshawk all day until my neck was stiff. My dreams that night were full of broken feathers.


(Introduction to the Tengu)

It was weeks of anxiously watching the skies for the goshawk before I gave up. I never saw him again. I learned to trap rabbits and put offal on the roof of the mews in case he flew over.

My Master sometimes watched me from the window, never saying a word about his goshawk. I now set the traps and killed the rabbits and in effect I was the goshawk.

Trapping rabbits is tricky, but soon the spring would bring fiddlehead ferns and tender green dandelions to vary our diet.

One day I passed the mews and there sat a huge bird. I quickly entered, my basket of offal in my arms. He turned his head towards me, and I screamed, the first real sound I made since my capture

It was a beautiful iridescent bird, having a man’s head with a long, red nose. He shook his feathers and crept towards the offal and wrinkled his nose.

“Girl, even a Tengu eats better fare. Get me some meat and sake.”

I backed out of the mews, and ran to the house. Transformations be damned, this was a strange one!


I ran into the house, panting with shock and exertion. A Tengu! Sitting in the mews.

No sake, just my Master’s single malt I dare not touch, but found sherry and some cold pieces of rabbit. I wondered if a Tengu, bird/man such as he was, would rather have raw fare. A bird of prey would disdain the cooked rabbit, but he did have a man’s face. The leftover rabbit would have to suffice.

My Master was gone, expected at dusk. I walked slowly back to the mews, hoping my mind was playing tricks. There he was, as big as, well, there was the Tengu scowling at my approach.

Human hands appeared from under his hummingbird colored feathers and he greedily grasped the sherry bottle and drank a long gulp.

“Not sake, girl, but good for a thirsty bird.”   He grinned and his nose got even redder.

“You are thinking, ‘why is he here now’? Ah girl, deep cosmic issues. You and me in the mix. One last chance for me to throw off some bad karma.”

He finished the sherry, belched and leered at me.

I heard my Master return on his horse.


I ran out of the mews with my offal basket over my arm. I must have looked funny to him because he kicked his horse to hurry to me. Looking down he peered into my eyes and an expression of concern crossed his face

“What is wrong, girl? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

My eyes wandered back to the mews and his followed mine. Dismounting, he let the horse wander into the barn and walked quickly into the mews. I followed him with quick steps.

He pulled on the falconer’s glove and approached the Tengu, now looking very much like a large, normal bird. He looked for bands, jesses and bells but found none of course.

“Strange, girl, he would find his way here. Well, perhaps he has promise of hunting if he is young enough to train. I don’t know though, he looks rather old to me.”

Telling me to draw water and feed him some raw meat, he headed to the house.

The Tengu watched my Master retreat with hawk eyes.

He had a nasty cackle. “Your Master has no idea how old. Feed me well girl, I’ve got magic to conjure. Scram!”


I came back with the Tengu’s dinner that I filched from my own. He wasn’t in a pleasant mood when I entered the mews, but certainly ate what I brought him with relish.

“Good”. He belched, wiped his mouth with the cloth that covered the basket of food.

Leering at me, he winked one eye.

“Sir,” I asked, “What am I to call you?” He had started to pick lice from his feathers, crush them and drop them on the ground.

“Sir will do nicely for now.”

“Where did you come from?”

“Ah, the eternal question! Well, I came from Mount Kurama, all Tengu do, but I prefer to haunt Toyko. Like to be a pigeon in a park and look up the skirts of the women there. Nothing more, just like to see muffs and thighs, favorite parts.”

I was a bit taken back. I read something of Tengu. “Don’t you hang with Buddhist priests?”

He barked a short laugh. “Picked on the wrong one. Powerful Yamabushi. Bad karma

now. That’s why I’m here. You need me.”

He wasn’t the pleasantest of Tengu, but he certainly was the first. Perhaps need went both ways.


The spring warmed up and Tengu and I took walks through the countryside. He adopted the guise of a large, golden eagle in case my Master saw us walking in the fields above the house.

The soft air nuzzled my arms and legs and the Tengu shook out his wings, opening and closing his large beak, drinking in the sweet air.

I told him of my past, the strange transformations from woman to bug to hawk and back to woman. His eyes got big with surprise.

“You have one fucked up karma, girl. And I thought mine was shitty.”

My Master had placed me in light chains, and I caught the Tengu contemplating them.

“Ah”, he said, reading my mind, “I’m wondering if they will interfere with your wings.” I was afraid to ask anything, but my heart started to race.

Later that morning, he twisted my chains into a tighter bondage. He now used my soft body for ikebana, fertile soil for him to place the stems of spring flowers and twigs in my hollows, fill my lap and hair with long grasses, giving new meaning to gardening and beauty and gentleness.

The End, so far…..

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copywrited, 2007-2014

The “Shibari Series” was previously published in “Seasoning of Lust”, Lulu.com, 2009

“The Courage to Create”, Part II

November 15, 2014


Watercolor,” Dawn Mallards”, 2005, Jane Kohut-Bartels

The Courage to Create, Part II


I came across a part of Rollo May’s book, “The Courage to Create” that had a particular interest to a number of readers who were raised by narcissistic parents. I am posting Dr. May’s words here just for further contemplation and discussion. I find this idea of May to be intriguing and thoughtful.

It is a particular discovery concerning a class difference in the behavior or the result of narcissistic parents on their daughters. In my opinion, it is true and reveals the basis for the misery of many young women from the early teen years but with an interesting class difference. Readers can draw their own conclusions. I think Dr. May revealed something very powerful, insightful.

Dr. May was studying the issue of rejection and anxiety of young women by narcissistic parents, mainly the maternal rejection. (This made it into the book under the section: “Creativity and the Unconscious”) What was surprising to him was what he and other psychologists had assumed to be true, that they would be hardened, apathetic so that they didn’t feel the rejection?


“Where they sociopathetic or psychopathetic types who didn’t feel rejection? (these were young women who were unwed, pregnant and basically thrown out of their birth families, some the victims of incest) No, they weren’t.

As one, named Helen said: “We have troubles but we don’t worry.”

One day I was walking down the street, I was tired, and out of the blue, it struck me that all these women were from the proletarian class. And as quickly as that idea struck me, other ideas poured out.   A whole new hypothesis broke loose in my mind. I realized my entire theory would have to be changed. I saw at that instant that it is not rejection by the mother that is the original trauma which is the source of anxiety (in the daughters…); it is rather rejection that is lied about.

The proletarian mothers rejected their children, but they never made any bones about it. The children knew they were rejected; they went out on the streets and found other companions, (and I believe mother substitutes…JKB) There was never any subterfuge about their situation. They knew their world—bad or good—and they could orient themselves to it. But the middle-class young women were always lied to in their families.   They were rejected by mothers who pretended they loved them. This really the source of their anxiety, not the sheer rejection. I saw in that instantaneous way that characteristics, insights from these deeper sources, that anxiety comes from not being able to know the world you’re in, not being able to orient yourself in your own existence. “

Though Dr. May is talking about how concepts can be overturned, how the unconscious holding to something that might not be true in theory (what he was taught by his professors) there comes a point hopefully, where a radical rupture with what is ‘known’ is overturned and something new, a new development in theory …is formed.

I will just put forth my own speculation, and this is because of my own experience with a narcissistic mother and also from my own class position, or that of my mother. Middle class parents, or upper class parents have a social position to ‘protect’. They would be ‘shamed’ for outright rejection of their children, be ostracized by their peers, social class, IF they were open about their hatred, dislike, contempt, etc. of their children, and especially when the mother is the narcissist and a daughter is her scapegoat. They are protecting themselves, and hence the extended lies about their pretended love of their children. They will talk in ‘glowing terms’ (to outsiders) about the very children they dismiss, demean, abuse privately, but they don’t want to get ‘caught’ doing this by their social ‘club’. That would mean that they failed in some important way as a parent. Within dysfunctional families of a particular class, it’s all about protecting the ‘image’ of the family. Further, it’s all about protecting the narcissist.

I remember an incident in my ex husband’s family. The adult children were heavily involved in drugs. They were a prominent upper class family, with much social connections to protect. One of the sons wrapped his sports car around a telephone pole, and his mother said that “they had enough money to make anything disappear.” Again, it’s all about protecting image.

So, we have discussed this issue before of rejection by narcissistic parents, and our anxiety is never really knowing where we are in the family. We are kept unbalanced, anxious, by the (sometimes sociopathetic) behavior of narcissistic parents. Our anxiety comes from not being able to know the world we are in, not being able to orient ourselves in our own existence. “


And the narcissists in our lives take great sadistic pleasure in doing this, in increasing our confusion, our inability to know our place in the family. They depend upon this. And they up the abuse where they can, even when they are  ‘nearer to their God’. And others in the family fall suit because they are afraid of the Narcissistic Rage that will turn on them if they don’t obey the Chief Narcissist.  They are true slaves, although the ‘favorites’. 



For me, this above relates to what I wrote in the first part of this essay, that our creativity comes from our centeredness, knowing ourselves and believing, taking courage in our abilities regardless what and who are trying to throw us off our mark. When we attain clarity as to the functions of a dysfunctional family, or family member (and there usually isn’t just one….other members are impacted and take on the behavior of the Chief Narcissist) we can put these destructive people behind us and go on to developing our creativity and living a better and fuller life. They are only boulders in the road and we have to go around them.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014






“The Courage to Create”…..a short essay.

November 10, 2014

"Eagle" Jane Kohut-Bartels, watercolor, 2005

American Eagle, wc, Jane Kohut-Bartels…A Large painting.

The Courage to Create

This is going to be a short article on the roots of creativity as I have come to understand. It’s a first look into this issue. I can’t cover everything, but hope to expand this piece over time. This is the first section.

I have been struggling with the issue of creativity for years. Perhaps not the analytical process of creativity, until my nose was smashed into the argument by a dear therapist and a few other people. I didn’t really have a position, just was unaware of the issues behind the ‘ability’ to create.

I became more interested in this issue….what was behind our creativity, what propelled some of us to create, what stopped us and why perhaps we felt ‘strange’ or ‘unbalanced’ considering the general population. So many artists I know, in different disciplines, haven’t a clue as to ‘why’ or what is behind their own artistic endeavors, just believing in ‘chance’, or something undefinable, mystical. They also end up, as I have seen over decades, miserable, depressed, trying one creative medium after the other and sometimes abandoning all. That is generally the seat of their dissatisfaction with their lives. They give up any attempt to dig deeper and get some answers. They just hang onto the belief that they weren’t really creative.

I became interested in this for a number of reasons. I am a writer, a musician and a painter. I have been challenged by some to ‘pick’ a talent. I’ve been mocked by a narcissist, a thoroughly degenerate character who wrote that my ‘creativity’ was nothing but narcissism. Artists hear that a lot from people who would downgrade attempts at creativity. In fact, some people have become almost angry when I insist that there are no Chinese walls between these interests of different disciplines. I have recently come to believe that it takes courage to continue on in our interests: people are challenged because they want to pigeon-hole an artist. Perhaps this is human nature because labelling artists makes for a better grasp on them, and we can be kind of slippery. But overall, it is rather uncomfortable to have to feel that you need defend your talent or interests. Having to explain yourself to people who just don’t get it….the creative impulse, is exhausting. Further, it takes time and energy that should be used in creativity.

Recently I have been reading Rollo May’s “Courage to Create”. This book set me back on my heels. It is a little dated, having been written in 1975, and points to cultural issues, political issues of that era. However, the arguments about the issues of creativity are timeless.

I am going to pose some of his arguments and also some of my own conclusions. I do this because I believe the issue that is so many times pressed, that creativity is all about will-power, is wrong and limited.

If this sounds like a book report, tough. I am struggling to understand the deeper issues around creativity and Dr. May has produced one of the best books that breaks through to new territory.

Rollo May (a world distinguished psychologist) wrote lucidly about creativity. Besides being in a medical field, he was also a gifted watercolorist. Actually, he was many things and embraced for his humanistic writings by many people all over the world. In his “The Courage to Create”, May parcels out his theories of courage in six parts which I will cover in only a small way. Very crucial to this issue of courage is what he defines as not the absence of despair, fear, insecurity but the capacity to move ahead in spite of all these things. I think many creative people do this without thinking: I think we are deeply mired in these negative obstacles but we move ahead anyway, full of doubt, haltingly. We do it because of our personal, emotional involvement with creativity. It’s the issue of acknowledging courage that throws a new and confusing concept in the mix.

May made the observation that a chief characteristic of this courage was that it required a centeredness within our own being, without which we would feel ourselves to be a vacuum. The ‘emptiness’ within corresponds to an apathy without and apathy adds up, in the long run, in my belief, to cowardice.

For me apathy extends to an inability to move, to think. Just giving up on life. And creativity. I have known people forever who end up apathetic. They might be very talented, but they hit a roadblock in their pursuit of creativity and they give up. They don’t pursue because they don’t feel this centeredness. They just give up. They may have talents, but they flail around and in the end, they abandon the process.

We must base our commitment to the center of our own being, or else no commitment will be authentic. And real courage isn’t bravado or rashness.

This issue of centeredness is interesting.   It accounts for many years of feeling alien, different, out of sync with the people either you meet or know from family ties. It basically is a denial of ‘difference’ in order to feel ‘connected’ to people. I have found that it also means that I ‘dumb down’ myself just to ‘fit in’. In the end (and beginning, middle) it’s just not worth it: this behavior delays, denies any creativity that might be brewing. This behavior denies the courage to create. And that creativity is the center of self.

In humans, courage is necessary to make being and becoming possible. In nature, this isn’t exactly so, as an acorn becomes an oak by automatic growth, but a man or woman becomes fully human only by his or her choices and the exhibited commitment to them. Our self-worth is predicated on our choices. This is a hard lesson to learn because it doesn’t come fast or easy. It’s something that comes only with an understanding of what choices lead to clarity, against choices that derail us. And it’s time consuming and something we do over and over.  It is also key to avoid the people who more than doubt, but would rather see us fail.

May describes the physical, moral, social courage and finally, what he sites as the most important courage of all….creative courage. Whereas moral courage is the righting of wrongs, creative courage is the discovering of new forms, new symbols, new patterns on which, in part…. a better society can be built.

Why is creativity so difficult? Why does it require so much courage?

George Bernard Shaw put forth something that has a profound truth to it: “Creativity provokes the jealousy of the gods”. And a creative person, IF she or he is authentic to their art, is always in some sort of turmoil. Either internally, because of doubt and fear, or externally because the gods: those in authority, or something like this, the status quo…are never accepting of something new and strange to them. I remember a gallery owner who challenged me as to whether I was a painter or manufactured sculpture. I was both, but this rather narrow woman could not accept this. My painting was fine, and my sculpture was fine, but she demanded that I choose between one medium or the other. I couldn’t and was very confused by her mentality. Now I can understand her limitations. For a while her perspective deeply affected my thoughts about my own creativity, and then I came to my senses. Who was she to limit my creativity, regardless of medium? (Her gallery closed soon after because what she carried was rather boring and stilted ‘art’.)

I faced this mentality for decades with my own mother who tried to diminish my own attempts in being creative. She was no paragon of creativity, preferring to produce ‘safe’ poetry that was pretty dull, trite stuff. Regardless of emotional ties, we need to see what boxes people attempt to stuff us into. If we are truly committed to the center of our own being (and we know what that entails) we will break free of this enforced dullness, this oppression. It leads only to a depressing state of affairs. Some people can try to enforce this dullness because they aren’t the people who create. And some are just envious of another’s creativity. My mother ‘suffers’ (or actually others suffer from her) from narcissism. And narcissists deny anything of creativity that they can’t claim…especially if it is produced by a family member. This came home to me in a real way when the last letter I received from her in 2012 stated this after the publication of my third book: “I can never be truly proud of you because you haven’t allowed me into your artistry.” Well, hell mother…had I done so, there wouldn’t BE any ‘artistry’ as you call it. But further, this statement from her, a functioning narcissist, is the leitmotiv of a true narcissist. It is always about them, regardless who holds the pen or paintbrush.

How Religion Also Screws With Creativity

In Judaism and Christianity, the second commandment states: “You shall not make yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens, earth or sea”. But this commandment holds the fear that every society has about its artists, poets, writers, those that express their authentic creativity: These are the people who threaten the status quo. In Russia for generations, and in many countries today, the struggle to control speech, art, dance, writings, poetry, etc. is continuous. We see this in our own country in many ways. And we certainly see this in Muslim/ Middle East countries (and India and Pakistan) where women especially are denied access to their creativity. To do so will upset the status quo and get you in a world of trouble. And probably stoned to death.

Mythology’s Impact

Our human psychology and social evolution is also seriously impacted with mythology. The Greek myth of Prometheus, who was chained to a rock on Mount Caucasus, (because he gave humankind fire) where a vulture would eat away his liver, only to have it grow again at night. Zeus was outraged, the gods were angry, and it is very common for artists to be exhausted at the end of the day, to despair of ever completing their vision, to have their ‘liver’ grow back at night, and for them to have a fresh perspective the next day. Artists strive with renewed hope and vigor in the smithy of their soul. (Funny, in my studies of the Berber culture, the liver is the seat of the soul, and the soul is destroyed if the liver destroyed.)

It is obvious to most artists that the creative artist and poet, etc. must fight the actual gods of our society- the gods of conformity, apathy, material success and exploitative power. These are the usual ‘idols’ that are worshiped by the multitude. And it is across the board regardless of culture.

The Nature of Creativity

There is no general agreed upon definition of this nature, especially amongst psychologists and the therapeutic field. Some hold that creativity is reductive: in other words, they reduce creativity to some other process. Also, it’s an expression of neurotic patterns, or “regression in the service of the ego.” This last immediately smacks of a reductive theory.

No wonder artists, creative people, have a hard time of it! When your attempts at creativity is seen as neurotic you lose confidence. You seriously doubt your sanity. And the general public isn’t at all helpful.

But there is a consideration (of which I won’t belabor here….) that when we define creativity, we must make the distinction between its pseudo forms and its authentic forms. Superficial creativity (art forms) that deals with only appearances or decoration, but not with reality is part of this collection of pseudo forms. True artists give birth to some new reality….and it is usually fought against by the multitude because of its alien-ness. Picasso was a good example of this, (and his creativity took so many forms and not all of them embraced) and it can take generations for acceptance by the status quo. And then the artist probably is dead and only the super wealthy can afford the genuine art.


The Encounter.


Dr. May is big on this issue of encounter. He states that escapist creativity is that which lacks encounter. (the reality of encountering life, etc. and it’s impact upon creativity. In escapist, exhibitionistic forms of creativity there is no real encounter, no engagement with reality).   We all know people who have great, elaborate ideas: they can talk about them forever, but they never actualize them. They are all fantasy and in the end….they lack the encounter with reality. I have found, (being a poet) that poets are some of the worst offenders of this encounter. Recently, I left a prestigious poetry and literary journal because the vast majority of poets and writers wrote abstract, academic work that had no reflection of the myriad problems of their respective countries. (unfortunately, these were all male poets.) They refused to. In fact, I was told basically ‘not to rock the boat’. How much more interesting and informative it would have been to read essays on the social issues of India, Pakistan, Africa, etc. and some solutions to the troubling issues of these countries…especially concerning the oppression of women. I have little patience with what I feel is an ingrained misogyny of many writers who just “aren’t interested” in these social issues, and consider them beneath the level of ‘true’ creativity. I put these writers and poets on the level of escapist creativity that lacks true encounter.

The Difference between Talent and Creativity.

And that brings up the question of the difference between talent and creativity. A few years ago, a woman who was a writer and artist was a house guest. She said she was writing a novel, and as she elaborated on it, I could see that she hadn’t put down a word. She was making it up as she talked. It was all fantasy, all in her head, and not in a very collected state. I shouldn’t have been surprised. As I knew her from five years on different writing sites, she had exhibited a lot of emotional issues: she couldn’t face them, but they certainly directed her life and her ‘creativity’. She refused any consideration of therapy and continued to stroke her wounds. At that time, I tolerated her behavior. Now? I avoid her. We are all responsible for the choices we make in our lives. She certainly had talent, but her creativity (the act) was truncated. She refused the encounter with reality in her own life and her creativity suffered because of it. She stuck to unicorns, dragons and flowers.

I’ve had this struggle of encounter with a therapist for a number of years. The concept of encounter also allows us to make clear the important distinction between talent and creativity. Talent might well have its neurological parts and can be studied as ‘given’ to a person. But creativity can only be seen in the act. Picasso is again a great example of this: great talent, great encounter with life and this produces great creativity. He is great because of his intensity of encounter. It is not necessarily pretty or polite, but it should be intense on a fundamental level.

This is the second part of the creative act: the intensity of the encounter. Genuine creativity is known by this force or power.

Many readers of this essay will recognize the altered state that comes when one is deeply involved in their creative process: time disappears, sound doesn’t impinge upon the project, hunger is ignored, a single mindedness becomes absolute until the creative person comes to a stopping point, either through exhaustion or something that intrudes too hard to ignore. The creative spell is broken. But it definitely is an altered state.

I have written only a few words about this intensity of encounter, but I intend to write more as I figure it out. I also want to get to what in my own life has been a propellant in my creativity. And that is that Creativity is born in the Encounter with Opposition. True creativity needs this frisson to birth or reveal itself.  At least this has been my experience.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014


“I Remember….”

November 8, 2014
"Early Autumn Dusk", oil, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2003

“Early Autumn Dusk”, oil, Jane Kohut-Bartels, 2003

It has been 25 years this November 5th, that my father, Albert Kohut, died.  He was the parent who loved me, his only daughter,  though I didn’t always recognize  he did.  Now?  I have only memories, nothing tangible except a mouthpiece of his French horn,  but memories and that, small enough.  Of course, his DNA courses through my veins and considering his nature, I believe that this is where the poetry was born.  You don’t forget and you don’t ‘get over it’.  He was the only adult who showed unconditional love in my childhood. He is loved by me.

Lady Nyo 


I Remember….


I remember the scream

In the middle of the night

Of something dying

Down by the river,

Killed by an owl

Or possibly a fox.


I remember bolting awake

In my parent’s bed,

My heart in my throat

My father just died

The funeral over

Sleeping in

His bed,

Afraid to move from this reality

To the next,

No comfort to be had

Even with the scent of

His tobacco in the sheets.


I wandered the house,

Touched the walls,

Looked through windows

To a landscape not

Changed over years,

Ran my hands down the

Black walnut banister,

Smooth, smooth

As if the days would turn back

Just by this touch

And he would be here.


That scream somewhere on the banks

In the middle of the night,

When I jerked from sleep to

Awake, knowing, he was dead-

The father who loved me

Was gone forever.


I knew then

I was unmoored from life

floating out of reach of love.

A scream that challenged dreams

He would come back,

He wasn’t awaiting the fire

He would wake up,

Much as I did,

In a cold-sweat fear

And slowly, slowly

resume his place in the living.


There are unseen things

That happen in the night,

Down on the river bank,

Where life is challenged by death

Where a rabbit screams his mighty last

Where the heart leaps to the throat,

Where the most we can hope

Is a silent ghost

Who walks out of the river’s fog,

Extends his arms

And embraces the sorrowing.


Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014


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