Dream Journal Update – A Woman’s Place

December 23, 2016

“Here, write some more.” Michelle Obama urges me on. President Obama is already giving his speech, and I know it is short. I’ll have to write quickly to get a few paragraphs added to it.

“Come on, come on . . .” She leans over me, ready to grab the envelope I am writing on, to get it to him while he still is on the podium. Thoughts are slow in coming to me. Now he is talking about creating a world that his daughters can live in happily. Yes, that is good. “C’mon, c’mon.” Michelle grabs my envelope and hands it over. Too late; he is done. But he will have another chance to use it, if he wants – for the speech he will give later.

So Michelle and I go to the huge hall and he has the envelope in his hands. Maybe now? I’d be so happy, so honored it he uses more of my words. She stands at my left, arm around me, pulling me in. But I had not liked her much before now. What will people think?

“Look,” she says.“People are finding empty seats in the front rows.” She dashes to find one, and I follow. I expect an empty seat near her for me, but no, they are full. Oh, there’s one a few rows back. I grab it though I don’t know anyone nearby. Will they mind? I see the President looking at my crumbled envelope. I wonder what he will say. Are my words the right ones? Does he know they are mine?

Meanwhile Amy Poehler is playing Hillary Clinton in the new movie and I’m on hand to see the rehearsals. Young “Hillary” is coming down the path, about to meet her fate: she is being introduced to Bill Clinton. Amy is flawless. It’s uncanny. How does she do it?

Now I’m meeting the real Hillary in her early days. The car from Texas pulls into the driveway and she gets out. She is visiting my friend; I am just an extra. Will she even acknowledge me? Should I stay silent in the background? Do I even belong here? Her car sports an elaborate hood ornament, four-feet high, sculptured from gold. It looks the inside labyrinth of an abandoned ant hill, filled with molten gold, solidified. A gold crown sits atop the car. She is flawless. I didn’t know about her Texas days.

For awhile I hold back, but now I’m asking her many questions and it seems okay. Maybe I’m asking too many. Well I have a lot of questions and she is an intelligent woman and I don’t have to hold back, do I? The way I usually do, not letting people know how much I know.

The sizes of the apartments in Texas are amazing, she tells us. Sometimes a whole house from some other state could fit into one room of a Texas apartment. She has an apartment that a barn could fit into. I want to tell her about sizes of families – the number of children – being correlated with sizes of homes and apartments found in each state. But I don’t remember the specifics or who did the study, so I keep silent.

I do ask about the caravan car. Looks like an old circus car, with gray drapes pulled across its broad side. It is not a solid drape with sewn seams. “Does it open from the middle, pulling to each side, or does it draws all to one side, as if it were a solid piece?” I don’t think I’m explaining my question well; she looks at me but doesn’t answer. I repeat. No answer. I have to be satisfied with my conclusion.

My questions continue. Her wall is filled with thousands of books and I recognize most of the titles. “You really like 19th century American writers?”

“Yes,” she says. “An exciting time when all the groundwork for the 20th century was laid: economics, politics, technology, industry. So different from the 18th.” I was never that interested in 19th century literature, but I am reconsidering; my interests are changing. I see a book by Washington Irving called “Yonkers.” I want to catch up. I continue to comment about the books and ideas. I’m worried I am showing off my knowledge in the process but I remind myself it won’t bother her that I know these things and I’m not stupid. She knows so much, herself.

Bill Murray is playing the piano accompaniment for the in-house concert. Maybe it’s Tom Hanks. The performer is new and losing his place. Murray covers for him nicely. When the phone rings in the next room, no one moves to get it. Well I guess it’s my place to go; I am not a real guest, just a tag along.

“Clinton residence, Barbara speaking.” Someone following up about a delivery. A bed order I think. I have to relay a message but I didn’t get his name. Dan Carther? Or Parther? “Is it c as in carter or p as in parter?” That doesn’t help. “Is it C as in Carpenter or P as in …. as in Petticoat”?  I’ll try real hard to get this right. I want to do right by her.

“Carpenter.  Dan Carpenter.”

I can do good.

* * *

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Dream Journal Update – Hugh and Me

July 23, 2016

“You are the most beautiful man in the world,” I tell him. He looks like Hugh Jackman – maybe he is Hugh Jackman – and he seems a bit embarrassed, but not surprised. “That is why I am so forward,” I say, “asking if I can touch you.” He is tall and solid and strong and I want to lean up against him.

“Let me fix you,” Hugh says. I agree only because I am under his spell and his charm. But something goes wrong. After the mystery treatment, only the whites of my eyes show; the irises are barely visible on the edges of the eye sockets; they float around. He is frantic but he can get it fixed.

I notice Hugh’s feet are deformed: clubbed feet with whispers of toes. But he is still so beautiful. Oh no, his hands are deformed also. Clubbed stumps for hands. How did I miss that? I feel sorry for him but try to remember how beautiful he is. I am not sure I want him to touch me now.

The doctor is nervous; I can hear it in his voice. Only three secret doctors in the world can fix my eyes. He knows who they are, but he is not one of them. Cost is $1,800. I am desperate and scared. I beg Hugh to come with me, and he feels so guilty that he agrees. They whisk me off and later I don’t remember anything. Did they drug me immediately? After the treatment, my left eye looks normal but the iris in the right eye is still off center and wobbles. Can they fix it? Probably not.

The doctor warns me about being careful the next few weeks and to avoid Novocaine. But I have dentist appointments the next two days for an implant. Yes, there will be numbing. And I had a detached retina. The doctor is upset. He turns to Hugh. “You told me she was healthy. This is a serious problem.” He sounds angry.

I try to find the doctor who operated on me. Finally I get someone in Asia on the phone. It is a secret Buddhist retreat, or some type of alternative healing center. They had to re-attach the ligaments that hold my eyeballs in place. They stitched them together from the outside of my face. Somehow Hugh had accidentally severed them.

The doctor here is angry that I found the operating doctor in Asia. Hugh is afraid of getting in trouble: I must lie to my parents about the whole situation, he insists, to protect him. To protect them all. I say I will consult with my retinal specialist and they become more afraid of getting in trouble. My cornea has smudges on it but I can wipe them off with my finger now; I’m not scared anymore to touch the eye. I don’t seem to love Hugh anymore. My right eye is still off center. How I wish this were all a dream.


* * *

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In Memory of Uncle Freddy

Just a few words in memory of your beloved husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and uncle, Fred (Efraim) Berger.

Like Moshe Ginsburg, my first memory of my Uncle Freddy was his wedding to Irene, March 4, 1956. Yes, I was four days shy of my third birthday, but I remember the beautiful event clearly. The highlight was seeing my father Albert – Uncle Freddy’s older brother – walk down the aisle in a tuxedo as the best man, and my shouting, “That’s my daddy!” But you will understand why that would be the wedding highlight for a little girl! The simcha was the most marvelous event I could imagine, and, as the nieces, Rhonda and I – in our matching dresses – were treated like honored guests, like princesses. Everyone was full of joy that day.

Berger Family  (4)

Wedding of Irene and Fred Berger

Starting with that simcha, I always think of happiness when thinking of Uncle Freddy (my father called him Freddy his whole life, so that is how I think of him – Freddy, not Fred or Efraim). I think of happiness, and learning.

Because my second cherished memory was of learning with him. We were sitting at a table together, and he was drawing diagrams of plants. “Is the tomato a vegetable, or a fruit?” I was only six or seven, but Uncle Freddy helped me understand the technicalities of botany and how they dictate the proper barucha for a tomato. I was impressed with his knowledge and appreciated his taking me into his confidence, teaching me these fine distinctions which I was sure he alone was privy to.

Uncle Fred always seemed to have joy in his heart when I saw him, even the last years when his health was no longer strong. He never complained about his health or circumstances when I saw him, even if he was in a hospital bed at the time. Instead, he took the opportunity to help me understand things, and raise up my spirits, whatever the conditions. In fact, in these quiet visits, one-on-one the last few years especially, we grew closer than ever before. He used the time wisely, to tell me more about my father, and teach me how important family is. It was an honor to feel taken into his confidence – again – as he shared the wisdom gained from a long life lived devoted to his family and to performing mitzvah.

As Moshe said, Uncle Fred’s legacy – the wonderful family he served as patriarch to – speaks to his merit more than any words can point to. With his devoted wife, Irene, he raised my cousins who I respect and trust implicitly and love like siblings – and they in turn have raised their children to follow in their parents’ path. I will always remember Uncle Fred being there for me when my own parents were ill; how Uncle Fred and the rest of his family were there for us in every possible way. The three siblings – Helen, Albert and Fred – always helped and supported each other, their own parents, and their nieces and nephews like their own children, and set that fine example for the rest of us.

Thank you, Uncle Freddy, for bringing such joy, learning and mitzvah into the world.

Barbara E. Berger
4 Shvat 5776, January 14, 2016

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Dream Journal Update – Ernie and Liz and Carole and …

August 26, 2015

No, it couldn’t be Ernie M. He was fine. I saw him just a few hours ago, Ernie with the black hair –wearing shorts, getting into his UPS truck to make deliveries. What? He fell from the rooftop? Splat on the concrete? Oh no! Did Liz see? How traumatic if she did. It could stop her 100-year-old heart in mid-beat. She didn’t see? Oh, good.

The police are there? Put them on the phone. Please. I must speak to them. Thanks.

You are the police? Tell me, does Liz know yet? About Ernie? No, please don’t tell her yet. No, don’t tell her! Give me some time. A few hours, maybe longer until I can get a locksmith there. I must take care of the broken key before she knows about Ernie and is even more distraught. First I must tell her about the key. Don’t worry about it. Just put her on the phone.

Hi, Liz, it’s me. It’s about the key. It broke off in the lock. Yes, I have the key here, the key to the main door. When I left, I saw a piece in the lock but I didn’t know what it was. Now I realize; the tip of the key broke off and is in the lock. About a quarter of the key. Maybe a third. Not a half. Let me look. I would say almost a quarter. It won’t work. I must get a locksmith there. Okay? I will call from where I am. Just give me the name of the locksmith. It could be a few hours, maybe a day … I will get a locksmith there as soon as possible. Just don’t go out of the house.


We leave the two-story home, the house with wide-eyed black-trimmed windows, the gaping-mouth glass and metallic, black-trimmed front door facing the street. Security people are surveying the scene. “Make sure you wire all the windows,” I tell them.

Liz takes my arm and with her cane and white hair we make it up the hill.

“I will be so happy to have the new alarm system. I will probably sleep better at night, knowing the windows are wired. I don’t feel afraid now, but somehow I will feel even safer. And sleep more deeply,” Liz says.

I eye the upcoming corner; no sign of Ernie’s body. Whew. They cleared his splat out in time. She won’t know until we tell her. I’m relieved. Must protect her. Protect. Protect. Protect.

* * *

I go to hug Carole C. – haven’t seen her in years! – but it’s awkward. Her arms are jutting out at her sides so I can’t get close enough to put mine around her.

“Put your arms down, please, so I can give you a hug!”

“My arms ARE down,” Carole says.

“No, like this.” I show her how her arms are coming out at the elbows, and how to position them close to her body so we can hug. She argues; she doesn’t understand. Or want to understand. Finally she gets her elbows by her sides instead of extended and we embrace.

Her green eyes are smeared and all the skin around her big, beautiful eyes are shining with the green.

* * *

Yes, these are my eyeglasses. I need new ones, with lenses that will transition from light to dark. Like I used to have. Where did these old frames come from? Looking in the mirror, I’m astounded I ever wore these regularly. Huge, plastic kaleidoscope frames with dark rose-peppermint stripes covering most of my face, shaped in perfect circles with miniature circular lenses embedded in them. I must look so weird.

August 17, 2015

Four theater tickets. I don’t need them. Would you like them? Know someone who can use them? They are free. You want to pay? Okay. You can pay.

Don? You want them? Sure. They cost …

How dare you charge Don! He’s your friend. You selfish, cheap b….

I’m embarrassed and confused. I meant no harm.

August 5, 2015

The much-anticipated vacation in China turns into a surprise nightmare week: I’m a prisoner. The Russians have occupied the land. Bombs are going off in the distance. Bombs might be close by, too; I must be careful not to set any off accidentally.

We sold our bench so now we are in trouble; we have no hard-soled shoes, either. The Russians don’t want us in this building, but they won’t let us leave it. What to do? The first day they served us Jewish delicatessen food; after that we haven’t been able to identify the food at all. They interrupt me when trying to go to the bathroom. Wish I had instructions on how to use the toilets. Not self-explanatory, and they seem to be pop-out drawers of dressers.

Russians now are asking us who we are. How can I reassure my parents I am okay? Oh, I can see how my sister feels now.

* * *

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Dream Journal Update – The Patois of Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton

April 5, 2015
The professor and six fellow students sit around me in a semi-circle. Walking amongst them, I consult the well-worn book in my hands, with its yellow-highlighted passages. Flipping ahead, I see not enough are marked; I will run out. I wish I were more prepared. I begin to read them some passages, though I had meant to have more to offer than reading them excerpts. Feeling nervous now.

“And this passage introduces a sex scene. Oh, you don’t want to hear about that!” I say and keep going. I expect them to object, to prod me into reading it to them, but they let me skip it. They don’t even laugh, as I had hoped. I best wrap this up quickly; I’m running out of material. I don’t even know what my points were.

“I chose Edith Wharton because of my interest in 18th century English literature,” I say.  I say “Wharton” three times, hoping to pronounce it correctly. It never comes out right. “Excuse my speech impediment.”

“Nineteenth,” someone corrects me. “Nineteenth century.”  Is that even true? I really don’t know anything about her. I hope it is a her. Maybe this is one of the authors whose gender I confuse, and I don’t have that right either. “She liked to write about 19th century  manners.” I’m hoping I’m right. Hoping. Was she British? Wasn’t she in New England?

The students know the word patois, the book’s title, because it was just made into a movie. What does the word mean? I offer its linguistic meaning; will that suffice? I check the front pages of the book. “You may think this is a modern book, but it is from 1871. But I first heard the word patois in 2005, way before the movie.” I’m making some point; what is it?

I read the book’s French subheadings aloud as best I can, not even being able to make out all of the scrawled cursive letters, and knowing my pronunciation is only fair. I make up words I can’t decipher. I assure the students that their own audience won’t know the correct pronunciation either, so they also can just do the best they can.

“How long did you study 18th century British literature? French?”

“Two years studying French.” Now I wish I had studied harder. And read Edith Wharton. A lot.

 * * *

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Dream Journal Update – Quiet in Midtown

On another, much clearer day

March 23, 2015
Unlike yesterday, this morning the fog blocks out the sun; the concrete pavement and steel buildings are stark, flat grays. Even the tree branches look gray without the light.

As I walk in midtown Manhattan, I see the clouds are so low they hover between the buildings. The sight is so beautiful, I gasp. Looking across the street at the Empire State Building, I see only its first few stories; the clouds even hide the rest of the building. They have descended to the first cantilever, where the wide base of the massive structure gives way to its first indentation. The fog is so thick, you would not even guess the size of the whole building if you did not know it was there.

I will walk the length of the block, tracing the base of the Empire State Building. On a map, a city block looks so large; even in a photo of this building the sidewalk looks long. The building is so tall, the base must be large as well. But it’s not. On the ground, it is a different scale. Here in person, it is only a short block. I can walk it in … let’s see, I will count the seconds it takes to get to the end of the block.

I am there already! I can turn the corner and walk the perimeter in a couple of minutes.When I reach the corner, I gaze up. The vision is breathtaking; the swirls of the gray and white fog, the light now streaming through enough to hit and bounce off some of the tallest tree branches.

I notice how quiet the street is. Not another person, not even a car, not a sound. I have found a moment alone in a quiet fog in midtown Manhattan. How would I capture this moment? I don’t have the skill to photograph the shades as the sun breaks up the solid blocks of gray into shards of white and black, from light to dark. I will have to remember this glorious moment on my own, and preserve the vision in the memory of my mind’s eye. Its dream eye.

* * *

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Paths to the Promised Land

Book Review: The Klein-Winnicott Dialectic: Transformative New Metapyschology and Interactive Clinical Theory by Susan Kavaler-Adler Ph.D., ABPP, D.Litt
Reviewed by Barbara E. Berger

Expertly using psychobiography to mine for insight, Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler brings us The Klein-Winnicott Dialectic: Transformative New Metapyschology and Interactive Clinical Theory. She illuminates the subterranean psyches of two giants of the British Psychoanalytic Institute: Melanie Klein and Donald W. Winnicott. Adding phenomenological and clinical perspectives, Kavaler-Adler reveals forces shaping their groundbreaking psychoanalytic theories, and, poignantly, the intrapsychic ceiling that Klein hit in developing hers – preventing Klein, like Moses, from reaching the Promised Land. (p. 78)

Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler

Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler

Kavaler-Adler goes beyond analysis to synthesis: she integrates Klein and Winnicott’s views by moderating a gratifying objective discourse – a dialectic – that Klein and Winnicott were not able to sustain themselves. Kavaler-Adler herself stands on their shoulders to reach greater insights and add her own theories to the field.

In the first half of the 20th century, the institute’s relationship-based, object relations theorists, such as Klein, debated the more instinct-based (and medically trained) Freudians. Klein identified developmental stages different from Freud’s: first the infant’s “paranoid-schizoid position” from which the world appears split into all-good and all-bad parts, and later, if all goes well, a “depressive position”— from which one can enter into satisfying relationships, experiencing both autonomy and empathy for others.

Kavaler-Adler shows us how Klein’s unconscious psychological defenses kept her from seeing her mother’s ostensible narcissism, blinding her to theoretical possibilities and closing her mind. They also led Klein to resist Winnicott’s discoveries – and reject him. Klein’s own psychoanalysis might have dismantled her defenses, but she chose only abbreviated exposure to that side of the couch. Her need to deny her mother’s true nature kept Klein from realizing the shortcomings of upholding an outmoded death instinct theory, and from appreciating the value of developmental mourning of object loss, which Kavaler-Adler explores and widely writes about.

But Winnicott had a different experience with a different – a schizoid rather than narcissistic – mother, which informed his own work on relational mirroring and development. Without Klein’s internal roadblocks, he could see the paths ahead more clearly. And as a pediatrician, making first-hand observations of child and mother interactions, he could correctly identify that the infant was affected by real-life interactions with a real-life mother, beyond the mental-only constructs theorized by Klein. He could see aggression stemming from infants being mismatched, through the luck of the draw, with mothers not attuned to their developmental needs. Aggression was no longer an inborn, free-floating biological drive independent of external relationship; his theories did not have to protect an idealized, narcissistic, blameless mother.

In retrospect, Klein was a bridge between Freudian thought and a fuller expression of a non-drive-based object relations theory realized by Winnicott. And now Kavaler-Adler continues building on the past. With this brilliant work, she enriches our understanding of object relations theory, of the research potential of psychobiography, and of her own work in developmental mourning. She shows us how the depressive position can encompass empathy, creativity, and even deep regret that spurs healthy mourning of object loss. This work is an example of how to synergize the best of what has gone before us, to plant seeds for the next field of insights in a promised land.


Barbara E. Berger Barbara E. Berger is a Portland, Oregon-based writer, editor and photographer. She serves as managing and contributing editor for the VoiceCatcher community of women writers and artists. See her review of other books by Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler: Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change and Anatomy of Regret.

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Artlessness Breeds Art: Introducing Koka Filipovic

By Barbara E. Berger

Collage artist Koka Filipovic layers found objects and cut paper in a process that is as meditative as the product.

– Sarah Fagan, guest art editor, VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions, Summer 2014 issue

Gazing at the landscape of North Plains, Oregon, through her living room’s picture windows, Koka Filipovic rearranges her face and limbs into a liquid, serene repose. She is deeply inspired by nature and shares that special heart place with us through her art. The Summer 2014  issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & vision introduced Koka with two multi-media collages from her garden series: Garden Gate and Purple Shade in the Garden.

Koka’s life and art present an authentic, seamless, organic whole. Like the artist herself, the creations charm with elegant simplicity and balance that reveal depth, complexity and intelligence upon closer observation; they fascinate in this way.

With that closer observation, I can detect a sliver of the exotic – a sometimes-crispness to her speech; an unconscious, confident note in her carriage – adding to Koka’s personal charm. Her roots in Zagreb, Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia), with a youthful exposure to art – including day trips across the Adriatic Sea to museums in Italy – inform her humility and straightforwardness today with a deeper and worldly foundation.

Koka had pencil in hand even in her early teens – drafting interior room layouts, sketching fashions or designing fabrics “the old-fashioned way, with ink,” she recalls. She developed her own look, inspired by the 1920s, the ancient Greek, or harlequins. “I was always playing with ideas, designing something, playing with scraps of paper.“ She designed shoes and purses, including detailed measurements.

“Back then, the Zagreb retail stores were limited. It was cheaper to have a local cobbler make fashionable shoes from scratch from my own designs than to travel to London to buy a ready-made pair.” By 1973, she was living in Portland, Oregon with her husband – a Portland State University student she met during his studies in Zagreb – and their son, but she still sewed many of her own clothes to get exactly what she wanted.

Twenty-five years later, Koka joined her second husband, Robert Theiss, in the countryside outside of Eugene – where nature and a creek running through her property provided solace and inspired her to create fine art. Robert, a master artisan of custom-made wood furniture himself, asked her if it wasn’t time to exit her career as an interior designer and devote herself to art-making. “If not now, when will you get to it?”

She became a full-time artist; but, she did not share her work with others until just a few years ago. Then, each gallery and juried show she applied to immediately signed her on, to only her surprise. “Soon, people would approach me first, and ask me to show.” Moving back to the Portland area in 2009, she repeated the experience and again found warm reception with new local galleries.

She learned that there is no point in trying to second guess what galleries want; that won’t work. “Your joy is what attracts people; that joy is what people want in art.” Nature is what brings Koka joy, and nature is the basis for her art. Her process is intentionally meditative rather than intellectual. She allows projects to percolate organically. “I’m always working on a number of projects at the same time, sometimes a dozen different ones,” explains Koka. She collects elements for each project in a tray: plastic, bamboo or, mostly, wooden office trays from Goodwill.

Each starts with a description of what the project will be: maybe a collage, a framed piece of art, a commercial stationery line, or part of her journal offerings. Her gratitude and travel journals are adorned with pieces of art and include inspirational quotes. She’ll collect pebbles, leaves, fabrics, color palettes she’s attracted to, and add sketches. She seldom scans information electronically, preferring to handle the originals. “I want the texture in my hands. It’s more alive then; I’m more inspired if it’s 3-D. It’s more spontaneous for me.”

Nature Jewels by Koka Filipovic

“Nature Jewels” by Koka Filipovic. Mixed-media collage of real, natural leaves, 18K gold leaf, oil pastel, hand-made paper, and glass.

Koka’s 3-D collages are greater than the sum of their parts, which often are natural substances that she personally collects in the field. She sorts through her finds, selecting and preserving natural treasures with the care of a perfectionist. Koka will collect hundreds of leaves to find one or two that are worthy of a place in her art. She uses the finest papers, museum-quality glass, and frames custom-made by her husband. Her shadow box techniques float the elements and create layers and depth in her work.

To arrange the elements, Koka listens to them. “How do they want to be arranged? What needs to be added? How will they be balanced?” She spreads pressed leaves, other parts on a table. “They tell me the story of how to put them together: what colors to use, the composition, the movement, everything. The story evolves.” Koka waits until things are just right and does not hurry them. She works without a predetermined deadline, allowing the projects to marinate over time in their trays.

Trinity by Koka Filipovic. Mixed-media collage of real, natural leaves, 18K gold leaf, oil pastel, hand-made paper.

“Trinity” by Koka Filipovic. Mixed-media collage of real, natural leaves, 18K gold leaf, oil pastel, hand-made paper.

Koka says she is not trying to make any political, social, or even gender statement. It’s more about her connection with nature. “My pieces are often about an intimate presence in the moment. I’m looking for a balance or serenity, for the feeling I get from being in nature. It’s personal, and can be vulnerable because they will show where I was – or wasn’t – when I was creating the piece. It’s not about technique, or the spiritual. It’s about coming from wherever art comes from for the individual.”

“I’m looking for the balance,” Koka explains, “between male and female, between heart and mind. How do I come to the peaceful, centered place? Nature helps me to breathe, helps me to look at things from that place, the place that does not require any of those. You can sit by a creek, or ocean or a tree and take a deep breath and think ‘Who am I’? What do I want? What do I want to focus on, literally and technically?”

I have seen people respond to Koka and her art with respect, appreciation and a quiet reverence. Her authentic self – with its joy and serenity – finds expression in her art, and attracts the hearts of others. Ironically, her artlessness is what creates her best art, as she sits by the creek in the woods, listening quietly to hear direction from her elements.


Koka FilipovicKosjenka “Koka” Filipovic is a member of the board of directors of the Valley Art Association, Forest Grove, Oregon. She founded the RoseSprings Center art gallery in Hillsboro, Oregon, which she curated for the last four years. You can view more of her art on her website, as well as see a list of her upcoming events: Sanctuary Designs.


This profile first appeared in VoiceCatcher, August 18, 2014.

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The Royal Road of Regret

Book Review: Anatomy of Regret: From Death Instinct to Reparation and Symbolization Through Vivid Clinical Cases, by Susan Kavaler-Adler Ph.D., ABPP, D.Litt
Reviewed by Barbara E. Berger

That deepest part of the sleepless night, when a person dares to wonder – Is it me?  – might help unlock doors separating the heart and mind, the self from others, and a soul from its heart’s desire.

Is it me? Is this question a courageous search for self-awareness? Or a dangerous descent into the self-doubt seeded when the mother first looked away from the infant and ignored her cries? When the mother was not good enough, was not attuned; and the infant could not develop strong, solid and confident without that foundation?

Does the question herald a night of self-blame? Or hours tallying others’ crimes? I’m okay. It’s them. Or, might the question precipitate a realistic and successful grieving of losses – a necessary developmental journey – allowing for growth?

Susan Kavaler-Adler

Susan Kavaler-Adler

Alone, it might be impossible to navigate successfully that dark terrain. But, having the right guide – an attuned therapist – can make the difference. Then the client might be able to face, acknowledge and grieve the hole of his missing foundation, and connect the walled-off rooms of his psychic house. This healthy self-integration, Kavaler-Adler explains, is “a psychological state in which one can be both separate [from others] and creative, as well as internally connected and loving, a state … coined as the love-creativity dialect.” p. xviii

The Anatomy of Regret explains the role of regret in the needed developmental mourning process. The reader witnesses Dr. Kavaler-Adler working with her clients so they can mourn their losses and lost opportunities, then self-connect and form successful loving relationships with others. She demonstrates the process by detailing nine case study vignettes of clients’ struggles with psychic regret. The Anatomy of Regret is “a journey into the deep levels of psychic change, which can occur when the grief of regret can be faced consciously.” p. 230

This “psychic regret” is more than an intellectual exercise, a defense against painful awareness, or self-blame. It is not a supernatural phenomenon, or self-punishment, or martyrdom. Through it:

… one moves beyond mental, neurotic, and self-attacking modes of guilt to the conscious experiencing of the ‘grief of existential guilt’ that takes place in the body, in clear visceral experience …. To feel the grief of regret is to be embodied. Tolerating such grief, related to the pain of compassion towards those whom one has hurt (including the hurt towards one’s own self) is a manifestation of a separate and individuated self …

–Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler, The Anatomy of Regret, pp. xvi-xvii

The reader will be inspired by Kavaler-Adler’s evolving theory of developmental mourning and the role of regret. With healthy grieving, the question Is it me?” has an answer: one that can open the door to “making peace with internal ‘bad’ objects,” allowing “for a rebirth of self into full emotional presence,” where “life becomes a vital endeavor of love and creativity evolving in the ‘now.’”  p. 231


See B. E. Berger’s review of Susan Kavaler-Adler’s Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change, a New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis.

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Mourning Becomes Electric

Book Review: Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change: A New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis, by Susan Kavaler-Adler Ph.D., ABPP, D.Litt

Reviewed by Barbara E. Berger

Aspiring artists – as well as actualizing ones – continually ask themselves the central question: “How do I best express myself creatively?”

This has two sides and subtexts: How do I get healthy enough to express myself at all? And, secondly, how do I continue to produce creative work if I no longer have the drive for a cathartic expression – because I have channeled my energy into a relationship with another person, instead of into creative self-expression; or, because I am so “healthy” I have lost the urge to purge my demons or soothe myself through my creative works?

Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler

Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler

In Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change: A New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis, Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler explores the process and answers to these questions. Her theories and own clinical practice go beyond the earlier and more widely known, more intellectually and instinct-focused Freudian school; she builds on the findings and insights of the British School of Object Relations: that the self does not develop or persist in isolation, but does so existentially, in relation to others, and lives within relationships alive both in the external, concrete world and within the internal world of the subject.

Ironically, the lay person may think “objects” are inanimate, and the term “object relations” an oxymoron: how can one have an inter-personal relationship with a rock? But the grammarian will instinctively approach with a closer meaning – we are talking about the “objects” of our affections, desires, and relating. How these “objects” become incorporated into our hearts and psyche (or fail to), beginning in infancy give rise to the mysterious missteps of development – and resulting personality disorders, the disorders of the self  – are central to object relations practitioners’ study.

Kavaler-Adler’s insights into the dance of those missteps – and her guidance to fellow analysts on how to lead clients on the dance floor towards healthy self-expression – are healthy, brilliant, creative works. Her progressive steps lead to facing and mourning the lack of the perfect early environment that none of us got to grow up in, and dealing with the regrets of having lived imperfectly and hurting ourselves and others along the way.

Mourning gives way to becoming electric and alive in creativity, and the analysand achieves self-compassion, as well as compassion and healthy love for others when led through the dance by an insightful and loving therapist. Yes, inserting love into the room with the couch might be a Freudian heresy, but we are now in the room of a compassionate object relations theorist and practitioner.

I believe that a baseline definition of psychic health is quite simple. We need to be able to love and create, without using interpersonal relations as a defense against creativity and without using creativity as a defense against love and its expression in intimacy. Those of us who can both love and create, achieve development increments in intimacy and creative self-expression, and to the extent that we can do so, we can evolve towards psychic health.

–  Susan Kavaler-Adler, Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change, p. 42


See B. E. Berger’s review of Susan Kavaler-Adler’s Anatomy of Regret.

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