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

"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


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

  1. Caliban's Sister Says:

    Terrific essay. I agree with you, and Rollo May was a brilliant writer/thinker. The idea of Encounter is where talent, and hard work come together. Of not turning away from what hurts but encountering it and making something out of it. “Talent” is a meaningless word if it’s not realized in the making of something. Thanks for writing this, gave me lots to think about. love CS


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hi CS! First, thank you for reading this essay. I have sort of cobbled it together, and really want to take it apart and do better service to the points, but I also wanted to say something about creativity and what it means….at least to me.

    Rolla May was brilliant and I am shocked that a number of therapists I know have never read him. Yikes! Liz didn’t know of him and I think this is probably a problem for me. He wrote so lucidly about this issue and she and I have gone around and around for years on this. For some reason, I see talent as ‘passive’. Creativity is born from our encounter with life and all sorts of nasty encounters…and people.

    Also, there is something about narcissism….as the destroyer of creativity, and the ‘pusher’ of a passive ‘talent’ that I think both of us have come in contact with a lot in our personal lives. There was a section in his book that really made me sit up and pay attention: about the effects of narcissism (parents) in different class cases. I don’t have the book at hand but it really opened my eyes: something about how working class parents didn’t ‘lie’ to their daughters like middle class parents: the effects on these two sets of young women were different: in the working class women they bounced back from the injuries of narcissist parents…they were abandoned as narcissists do to their children, but as they detached they recovered better, whereas in the middle class women, the lies did more damage. The behavior of the middle class narcissistic parents was worse. I’m not making his argument well here but this is something to look in to. I’ll raise it in some blogs where this discussion of narcissism and parental behavior belongs.

    Reading May made me come to some of my own conclusions, CS. and that is good. I haven’t read his whole book, but so much made such good sense. And it certainly is worth expanding on.

    Again, thanks for reading this first pass on these issues of whence creativity.

    Love, Jane


  3. Victoria C. Slotto Says:

    A very well thought-out, insightful essay, Jane. I feel like you (and I) are at a point in life, finally, where we are coming to be comfortable with who we are and what we believe…forget about what others thinks. I wish you lived a bit closer…I’d love to share ideas with you over a nice hot cup of tea! I remember Rollo May from psych classes many years ago. You make me want to go back and take a deeper look. Bless you!


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Ah,Victoria…..you made my heart just leap! Such kindness.

    Yes, we are at that age where we HAVE to forget what others think. We have to live into our potential because …well, just because. I have always admired your work, and I am so glad to reconnect with you. Yes, we do live too far for that cuppa but! We can keep in contact through email and blogs. By the way, Nick Nicholson, a writer from ERWA, etc…an excellent writer who has turned photog..is making his second visit to us in Atlanta in March. He was here for 4 days October, 2013. So….He’s making a four month tour in a convertible!!!! (in the middle of Winter!~) of the US and stopping to stay with us in March. Never thought, after knowing him for 8 years that we would ever meet. He keeps in contact by phone, email and when we finally met, it was a great. So….miracles do happen.

    It is so essential for us at our age, to finally become comfortable with who we are. We have struggled hard in life to get there. And though I haven’t needed a kidney….I’ve felt some of the very same things you have as you have written. Doubt, insecurities, etc…but look was a marvelous writer you are! That takes great effort and energy.

    Rollo May….I hadn’t read him and coming across this book was an eye opener. He helped me answer some of the questions that have been bugging me about creativity and where it comes from and how it is under minded and suppressed. I do think that the narcissism of others, these chiding, oppressive people who float in and out of our lives take a toll on our creativity. I have had to go No Contact with family because of this: especially when there are pathological narcissists around, it is very hard to try to maintain balance. They take such work and energy…and our creative abilities suffer. We are given a gift when we are going beyond talent, which I feel is passive …to real creativity which I feel is active…and we have to clear the path of all these stumbling blocks. And they are endless.

    Thank you so much, Victoria. For reading and your insightful comment. I intend to extend that short essay further.

    Bless you with the Gifts of Samhain! (which for me are room for contemplation…)



  5. After Beckett Says:

    I really like Rollo May, I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on his writing.

    I like your questioning why. Why some people start, and then stop, what is the motivation… I think about this a lot, since I once did, and now I do not… make art.

    I started when I was young because I was interested in the classes and got good feedback from teachers. The relationships I had with my art teachers (jr. and high school) were really just the only positive adult relationships I had. Proxy for parents who were doing real damage at home. What was really interesting was when I started working seriously. I was winning awards and scholarships, my work couldn’t be denied. It was getting attention from people who knew about these things, and then… I started to do more than just make pictures. I started to say things, show things. I put a reality to a situation I was in that was in effect unreal, absurd, and completely unexplainable to anyone who looked at me and saw a nice unassuming girl. Even now, I look back and wonder what in the world were people thinking when they saw me and then saw THAT. THAT image that shouldn’t come from someone without any life experience. I was using my artwork to scream in the faces of those people who should have been listening and weren’t. Funny thing was, I don’t think they ever got it. My mother was an idiot who thought everything I made was hers, her object, her accomplishment, not seeing my harsh criticism of her at all. My stepfather never said anything to me about my work, but once, with one of my more pointed pieces, took it off the wall, turned it around, and put it behind a sofa. Just another thing I did to make him uncomfortable and pissed off.

    I eventually left my family, and over time lightly came to terms with the fact that I was no longer going to do any work. It was as if there was no longer any point. There was no more conversation. I didn’t feel like I had a reason to hash over everything that was becoming an ever more distant past. Why would I put myself through that? Who cares? I removed myself from the fight. I had a formal art education to fall back on, but I felt creating out of a sense of formality with nothing behind it was silly. Every conventional artistic pursuit bored me to tears.

    I do sometimes think I have a creative life left in me, I just don’t know how to pick up on where that thread is. My husband thinks I have a book in me. Maybe a graphic novel, maybe some sort of creative non-fiction book. I am not sure. I still keep a journal/sketchbook. I still have ideas. I just don’t know what I will do with any of it.

    Anyway, I am looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

    (In your comment, are you referring to the study of young mothers who were either lied to about being loved (having no solid foundation), or those who were told they were not wanted and left to deal with their lives alone? Ironically, when I was about 20-21 I sent a copy of that study (from Rollo May’s book) to my mother, highlighted and commented on… It sent her into a rage and into therapy. I never knew if she understood the article from my point of view, as she was a teenage mother herself and could have gotten confused. But I have always wished I could again see the annotated copy of what I sent to her. I was told she “tried” therapy, but stopped because she was very angry at the process. Typical of narcissists, as I understand it.)


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Wow! There is so much in your comment that it will take me some time to answer more fully.

    But first, I commend your insight into yourself and your own questioning nature! I find this rather rare actually, so I embrace these efforts.

    Although I am not a professional therapist, I have 6 decades of dealing with a mother who is what is called a Malignant Narcissist. It took me years of research and therapy for the last 20 (on and off and with some really BAD therapists who didn’t understand a bit about narcissism, in fact were struck with the ugly stick of Narcissism themselves) to understand and come to that conclusion. And the destructive narcissism didn’t stop with her: it permeated my siblings (both Golden Boys). I was the scapegoat. It sounds like you were, too, in the family dynamic.

    There is a very interesting dynamic here in your earlier life. You got affirmation from other adults, teachers, etc. but not your parents. I know the same. And….you were ‘inexperienced’ in life and perhaps some questioned how in Hell were you able to develop your artistic abilities? You had no ‘real life’ experience. Hah!

    I think you found solace in your abilities and this was a natural flowing ability. You developed your artistic abilities as a secure and grounded world when all around you was abuse by parents. We withdraw into our abilities when we are physically and emotionally threatened. I think this is a WONDERFUL gift and it was…and IS real.

    I don’t think the creative impulse in you is dead, or gone or has disappeared for good. not at all. We can doubt ourselves to the point that we ‘give up’ but that is only at a certain level in ourselves; our psyches. I think it is always there…this creative ability. We just flounder because of the onslaught of doubt by ourselves, and then…the chiding oppression and envy of others. So, give yourself a BIG break. You have already proven that you have this internal gift of creativity…regardless what you doubt now.

    Yeap, I hear you about your mother: claiming everything you did as her own…even as she does NOTHING to develop it. And this is a prime factor in Narcissism. These people are generally empty: they know at some cellular level that they are empty, or shallow, or conventional in artistic terms so they don’t bother to do the hard work of developing themselves further. Hell, they just grab what they can and lie about where it came from.

    Your mother will not HEAR your criticism of her and her behavior BECAUSE narcissists are deaf to all criticism. It only, if you dare to do so, will send her into Narcissistic Rage. And that is the standard for these people. It withers others who see this and shuts up legitimate criticism and comment. And they never ever really grow.

    When I published my 3rd book, “White Cranes of Heaven”…in 2011, my mother left a message gushing over the poetry and paintings…that is UNTIL she realized that I had dedicated the book to my 100 old Aunt and NOT HER> My Aunt had championed my poetry, my writing and gave me all the love that my mother couldn’t or wouldn’t. Then I got another phone call on my answering machine: “Too many Winter poems, and I have seen your sketches before.” Big liar, because she had never seen these PAINTINGS….oil and watercolor….because she hadn’t been in my house for over 15 years and these were all new. Finally, a year later, I received the last letter from her (2012) saying “I can never be truly proud of you because you wouldn’t let me into your artistry.” Whatever artistry is to her. LOL!
    (she’s still alive at 94 and no better. Narcissists get worse not better with age.)

    No, ‘mother” I wouldn’t because you, being an Extreme Narcissist, would have taken over any ‘artistry’. That statement above by her is the leitmotiv of a real narcissist. They grab and claim everything to pump up their own ego. They are malignant magpies. LOL!

    I think you just need to reconsider that artistic flame inside you. I don’t think it ever, EVER dies…it just might manifest into a different discipline. Perhaps you will become a writer, a poet, something else that allows that artistic flame to burn forth.

    I did find out that there seemed to be a 5 year cycle in me. I painted for 5 years and then dropped it. I danced for 5 years, or I fenced for 5 years….now? I don’t think there are any Chinese walls between our interests….The dancing (belly dance and some Flamenco, but boy does that ruin the knees!) segued and added to the painting and the painting added to the writing and now? I have integrated these three disciplines (plus classical voice) and they feed each other…but I had to do this all alone from family. I had to go No Contact with this dysfunctional family to create, but more so…to survive. We doubt ourselves to death…and that can be the end result of all of this crazy making of family.

    Don’t worry. Just give yourself some time and real thought to the whole process. I think, frankly, and many disagree with me, that the Encounter with Opposition is the spur for my own creativity. Tell me I can’t do it, and I do make an effort. LOL!
    And that is what it means to ‘come into yourself’…to trust yourself and to rely on what you know is in there. That centeredness that Rollo May talks about and that is what we need to rely upon.

    I am delighted with your comment and your own story. Take great courage in your abilities even though to you they right now might be flagging low: I have confidence that you will find your creative path again.

    And yes, this study of class difference by May is amazing and opens truth on these issues. I have to go over it again because I need to read it and understand it more….and I certainly want to raise it on my blog. Finally, narcissists avoid therapy for a couple of reasons: one, they think they are perfect, the rest of the world is fucked up. And two??? they are afraid of any revealing of weakness and having to do any hard work for change. Personally? I hold that therapy doesn’t work for Narcissists because the wiring is so screwed up that they can’t comprehend the world as it actually is.

    Thanks so much!



  7. Caliban's Sister Says:

    Hi Jane and AB, AB, I I remember your mother’s insistence, after your father pushed you to move out (w/o any money. and then asked why you were leaving!), that all your artwork belonged to her/them. Insanity. I do understand that once the sense of “fight” eases, it can be harder to access our drive to create. I’m in a depression at present that has frozen (temporarily I hope) my desire to paint, or do much of anything creative. I do my job (teach) but otherwise I feel very unmotivated. Anger, a sense of injustice used to motivate me. I need to find a way to get a track down that doesn’t run through the Anger Station. Jane, I know that your ability to access the full depth of your feelings drives your work. But I remain in awe especially of the painting, and the poetry you create, that is elegant, spare, evocative, disciplined. That’s the Asian poetics influence, and you’ve become quite a master at it.

    AB I hope you can return to painting. I know your mother badly poisoned that well for you; I’m glad you are talking with Jane, whose mother dissed her books and artwork because “she didn’t find herself anywhere in them.” Now THAT is a moron. Jane, your point about May’s argument about lower class Narc parents oddly doing less damage than more “genteel” (fake) middle class narc parents, who give us the lessons, etc, and make everything look fine on the surface, do MUCH MORE damage. Because they make us feel like we’re the crazy ingrates. Until we finally finally finally figure it out. love CS


  8. ladynyo Says:

    My darling friend CS. Your words struck a chord deep in my own experience. I’ve been struggling with depression, an inability to do much of anything through the summer, and damn it….before. This Anger Train you mentioned is something that is Universal in ACONs I believe and probably beyond us, too. Don’t kid yourself, I struggle with this Anger Station (or train…lol) every damn day. Especially around holidays, etc…and so many things trigger these sentiments.

    You know what I think is the solution? To realize that the Narcissists in our lives are STILL robbing us because we are allowing them to take up so much of our thoughts…they have rented (without paying) a large place in our brains…in our movements and thoughts. it’s something that will make us stop our creativity because they take up SO MUCH SPACE in there.

    So….the only way I get or stay productive, creative (and believe me it’s a constant fight to do so….) I to PUT THESE BASTARDS BEHIND ME. TO REALIZE THAT THEY STILL GIVE NOTHING, TAKE EVERYTHING CREATIVE FROM ME….so I fight through the anger and hurt (cause it’s always there…memories!) and just pick up a brush, pen, pencil and do it…even when I don’t WANT to….for myself and the Universe. Sounds crazy? Well, it’s a fight with MYSELF, because even when they are dead (you know who) they will still be in my brain, causing all sorts of havoc…because that is what they do. They are ANTI-CREATIVE and
    I know it.

    Perhaps realizing just how SHALLOW they are, and that they are put here on Earth to corrupt, ruin, stop our creativity…that we have given them ENOUGH power in our lives and over us and it’s in our power to stop this. To put them in all their maiming glory behind us and fight to remember that they don’t control us …their power is toothless…unless we continue to allow them even space in our brains. AND THIS IS THE FIGHT OF OUR LIVES!!

    Sometimes I feel like I have to swim to the surface of life, that I am drowning in sorrow and rejection, but then I take a breath and realize that I am stronger than these narcissists.

    AB, my mother did the same…tried to dictate my painting, the colors, etc. Did a full figure watercolor of my father, and upon showing it to her, she demanded I turn it to the wall. Bitch. She was jealous that I painted him for some damn reason. Same way she acted at his funeral, throwing my rose in his hands to the side of his coffin so she could place her rose in his hand. Hah! Last time I was where she lives in Savannah? A beautiful painting that I did of birds in a next and gave to her a couple of years before? She had hung it on a closet door in a spare bedroom and it had fallen and broken the frame. I took it home to Atlanta to fix and decided to keep it…obviously she didn’t want it, and she howled through the phone that “You gave it to me as a birthday present!” Hah! She was 90 years old and still a damn child. And I didn’t give it to her as a birthday present.

    All this just means, dear AB and CS….that these people are really disrupters of life and creativity. Someone called my mother “The Allatoyha” (can’t spell it…) and they are SO DAMN RIGHT.
    My mother the Taliban! LOL!

    The point is this: These people have taken up so much energy and space in our lives and brains. It takes incredible will to put them behind us and continue on in our productivity. It is the FIGHT of our life, not to be productive, creative…but to put these anti-creative elements behind us and walk on. To train our brains to do this, and it’s hard. Tried Prozac years ago, and it just made me stupid …yes, I didn’t think of them every hour, but other writers said my work was dulled down. So…it’s something else we must do to accomplish this.

    CS….I just gravitated to the Japanese literature and some of the painting methods, etc. because it was the opposite of this chaos above. It was contemplative, spoke to something DEEP in me, something that was alien to my experience, but something that just proved to be an inner vein to a world inside and outside me that just was of a deeper creativity…mostly. I do struggle with sumi-e painting right now…learning the difficult techniques…(which they say are only “The Four Gentlemen” but these four are Rogues! LOL!) and I have been resisting applying myself seriously. It’s because I’m battling depression, ennui, everything else. So it’s not an easy place I am in, and I certainly understand CS, where you are right now. you will work your way out of this ditch. I have great confidence because you are BRILLIANT.

    I need to go back to Rollo and find that short few paragraphs about the difference in class nature/mother love and post something because it knocked my socks off….He himself was so surprised! it is so relevant to our own struggle and life.

    Thank you both…We are dealing with insane people and we have to remember this or our creativity will suffer, and for long stretches …will stop, become fallow. But that is because of the injuries to our ego, done by others, but also given space in our own psyches when we already know that they are inferior, mediocre people. We are not.

    Love, and more Love!



  9. TR Says:

    Hi Jane,
    Great article! It brings up so much and I enjoyed reading others’ insights into creativity.

    I took two things out of the essay, first, that interests are multi-faceted and no one needs to pick one thing. I love that you juxtapose your artwork with your poems and that you write books. Humans are complex creatures to limit ourselves to one medium goes against the grain. I find this often to be true when I talk about an interest with Ns. If I like photography or hiking or anything, it is only worth it if I become an expert. Why? I love doing these things, not to be an expert, for joy and pleasure it brings to my life. I think we are often faced subtly with that question in society. Like we have to pick one thing and stick with it. And that advance can be valuable when it comes to paying bills, when it comes to creativity that is another thing.

    The second is how you tie it to a more social / cultural level. How this impacts growth in creativity. Restriction and such as authoritarianism and narcissism inhibit the development of it. Down to the narcissistic influences of our childhood to narcissistic society, this slows down growth, creativity of the human spirit. There is so much to say on it and I can say that in my environment I feel it acutely so when I start to create something. I stop myself nor do I want to share it or create further. It is something I am struggling with and am trying to push through. I even started a new hobby a month ago and have since been developing it that I can see the same patterns happening in my mind. Your post is so timely for me on this.

    Thank you for creating and inspiring others to create. A beautiful essay.

    Love, TR


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Hi TR! Your comment expanded my knowledge and thinking on this issue. Thank you! And that is the issue, that we learn from others as to their own struggle to express and create. And you are exactly right: we feel pushed to become ‘experts’ on the things we love, and these things are life-time projects and interests and they can’t be done fast. We need time to grow and develop ourselves and our interests, and narcissists push us into a corner, saying that these things aren’t good enough or complete! Yet many of the narcissists WE know don’t even bother to work at things….they just try to claim what others do.

    That’s wonderful that you have started a new hobby. And be kind to yourself. See this interest through your own eyes and not the critical eyes of others. They are brutal in their behavior and that is something we don’t need in our lives. Creativity is something that must be championed carefully, not pushed brutally.

    You are a brilliant writer and a deep thinker. Center yourself, as you know how to do, and enjoy the process. I think that is the problem for most of us: we don’t really enjoy the process because we expect, and have been ‘trained’ to hurry through the process to the end. I do this repeatedly. Slowing down and claiming time and energy for yourself, and again, being mindful of this centeredness that Rollo May talks about is something I think we have to relearn.

    What I have learned in my over 6 decades of life is this: there is NO Chinese wall between interests and talents. It all goes into the mix. We can segue from one interest to the other and understanding this process is something that takes time and effort. We certainly are discouraged from doing this because people want to see immediate results. This isn’t possible. Again, creativity is a process that pulls from so many other issues.

    I, too…loved the comments, experience and our general issue shared by all: our inability to center on something that we love…and the resulting depression. I felt not alone in this just reading other’s experience. Depression for me really is tied to something real…it’s not just a malaise that we can’t understand or have to be drugged to get out of. I think it is very much tied to our issues, and the narcissism we have experienced in our families and in general certainly complicates this.

    Thank you, dear friend for your insightful comment. A number of people, and all these were men, rejected the issue of narcissism being a great stoppage to creativity. Obviously, they have their collective heads up their asses.

    Love, Jane


  11. czbz Says:

    Collective heads up asses? ha! Well let me say that narcissism is a powerful force to contend with. The primary motivation of narcissistic creation is “perfection”. Notoriety, financial reward, being better than everyone else. Narcissism disconnects us from self and from others. Our artistic endeavors CONNECT us to others and ourselves, in ways that are profoundly healing and meaningful. When I have been emotionally traumatized (using this word lightly), I feel OUTSIDE myself. Lost. I have used the “shattered” metaphor to describe the way I’ve felt after abuse, tragedy, crisis. Crises separate; creativity connects. Narcissism imposes the false self over authenticity, disconnecting us from our life force.

    If we are subordinated to the narcissistic imperative, we will ‘copy’ work we know is sanctioned by the critics/audience. We will question, criticize, fearmonger ourselves into giving up, the narcissistic imperative keeping us outside our personal experience through comparison to others. “Is what I’m painting good enough, or should I just kill myself now and end the misery?” Having a standard measure imposed by narcissistic family members who do not understand the joy of creation but must measure it in dollars and cents, can ruin our spontaneity and desire to immerse ourselves IN A PROCESS. Not a final product! A process.

    I also think narcissistic parents/family members have ridiculous expectations that we know, as normal human beings, are impossible. This too can be a hindrance when our Inner Critic judges our efforts as inferior, not good enough. This voice haunted me for years, preventing me from engaging in art beyond the work I did at home (you can’t keep a creative woman down! Give me a crisis and my walls turn into works of art!). I work things out when immersing myself in the creative process and that includes beautiful surroundings. Until I went to therapy to deal with childhood trauma, I was too afraid to compete. Too afraid of failure to even try showing my work. Facing my internalized shame eventually silenced the inner narcissist and I was able to embody my experience fully, finding significant relief in connecting a wounded ego with a courageous soul.

    How do we put a price on that? We can’t and that is why narcissism is destructive to creativity because it places value on a thing, a product, dismissing the process as the ‘means to an end’.

    I hope something in there makes sense…I wasn’t sure what to write after reading your thoughtful essay but decided to “immerse myself in the keyboard” and see what happened.



  12. ladynyo Says:

    It all makes sense, CZ. And it speaks of true, direct, real experience….the best and only kind. I get so sick and tired of reading stuff about creativity/narcissism that is intellectual, distanced, overly analytical ….give me a related experience that stinks of the pain and suffering and I can believe that. I can relate because none of this crap is proper/clean, without scars and deep wounds.

    Yeah, why in HELL do we carry such ‘shame’ about ourselves, our work, our attempts to make sense, even to ourselves with our creativity? Narcissism is such a pervasive and all abiding cancer on our lives and in society.

    What Rollo May says about pseudo creativity and real creativity is that the second one comes from this centeredness. And that is only something we discover when we pull all the narcissistic arrows from our asses. It takes years and a lot of discovery/recovery to heal ourselves. But I seriously think that we need to put stop gates on all the attempts to wound us and to make us shut up metaphorically.

    Your blog alone shows the remarkable fortitude, courage and healing….and yes, I see you with two swords…swinging over your head at the dragons of narcissism. You are one of the strongest and most aware women I have ever known. But you came through that field of fire…and few helped you I would guess. People don’t want to get involved, especially if they are part of the issue we go up against. That is why I don’t tolerate any ‘nice’ with my corrupted birth family. They are the seat of my earlier misery and there is NO apologies or even shame at what they did. Misogyny and narcissism is bound up into one wounding ball.

    I think ‘immersing oneself in the keyboard’ is something exactly right. And Rollo May talks about this very thing: that our preconceptions of answers, analysis, what we are told, can come to a crashing heap and what gives us the real answers are accessing and embracing those unconscious stuff. Allowing I to come to the surface, past that wall of pain. I wish you would get his book because I think not only would you understand it, I think you personally, CZ….would elevate these theories to something new.

    Love, Jane. Oh, and creativity? We can create stuff that shocks and disgruntles people and they try to shame us with what we produce, but we have to take the chances to ‘color outside the lines’. Tonight I posted “The Shibari Series” that should bring a lot of criticism from a lot of shocked people…but we must dare to attempt to push the limits of our own creativity. hah.

    Love, Jane…and thank you, CZ.


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