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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Dream Journal Update – Today I Saved Lives

August 8, 2014
The oncoming car stops just in time. The driver is aghast, frightened at almost hitting us. Why is she driving the wrong way? Oh, no! We are the ones going the wrong way. Lisa is slumped at the wheel of our car. Heart attack? Passed out? Dead? I try to get our car out of the lane but I can’t get to the controls. No, think clearly. What is the priority? I gently pull Lisa out of her seat. She is so small, I can get her prone across my lap inside the car. Breaths, short shallow breaths, are coming through. She is alive; there is hope. I get her revived.

* * *

The new supervisor has his own style for presentations. I gave him beautiful printouts, the ones he asked for, to place on the display board for the meeting. Now that he sees them, he wants to make changes. Okay, we can do that. He doesn’t know what to do with a two-sided document he wants split out, so I explain the options to him. I do tell him I’m done for the day and won’t be coming to his room later. I’m not sure what he wants, but I know to protect myself from such a long workday. Oh, no. I forgot to give him the pile of submissions. Lisa will take them to him.

* * *

M. wants to use the bathroom and he doesn’t care that Judith is still in there. I tell him, but he is determined. With his full force and a boulder he knocks in the white bathroom door. It dislodges from its hinges and falls directly on Judith in the tub, knocking her out. She slips below the bath water. I dash in. I don’t know how I do it but I get her out and stretch her out on the floor; I know she is naked and feel bad for that but I must save her life if I can. Yes, she is breathing; I feel the air with my hand. It will be okay.

* * *

The new building lacks bathrooms, except for one in its depths accessible only by the obstacle-course training stairwell. We go up and down the stairwell, pushing against the sides and swinging from one foothold to another. The stairwell is too wide for my short body; I can only get from one wall to the other by leaping across. Too scary. I realize I can get down to the bathroom in the women’s locker room by simply walking down the stairs! I cheat and do it that way.

It’s a long walk from the building back to the road but I can do it. We remark on how stupid the building planners were, leaving out bathrooms and placing the building remotely. Maybe it was cheaper in the short run, but now who would want to buy the building?

* * *

What a beautiful amusement park! Does it even have a Japanese Garden within its borders? That even I can visit? Yes! All included in the park’s entrance fee! A lovely bubbling brook is in front of the Japanese Garden’s enchanting, lush entrance … uh oh, that water looks deep. More like a fast creek. Oh, I see some stepping-stones on one end, maybe I can cross it. The man in the entrance fee booth encourages me to try. I make it over; wasn’t too bad. I love the animals in the garden! Yes, they are wild and might hurt me but so far they are friendly and I can manage it fine. After all, I saved three lives today.

* * *

One of the staff alongside of me, walking down the stairs, looks angry and standoffish. As usual.  Finally, I’ll just ask. “What do you have against me?”

“You cheat. You take credit for other people’s work.”

“I don’t! That isn’t true! Why do you think that?” I am so upset hearing this unjust accusation.

“People have known it for years. You copy from other people’s papers on tests. And after that change in policy in 1987, when things became stricter, we didn’t have to hide it anymore, hide how we don’t like you.”

“But who said that? It isn’t true!” I am so unjustly accused, but powerless. How does one stop a rumor that has circulated for years, and believed even though it isn’t true. Well, at least now I know why they act like they hate me. Why they do hate me. I’m so frustrated, trying to figure out how to right the record.

August 6, 2014
Beautiful cat. Big beautiful. Wow she’s big. Looks like a leopard. Spots, and big and all. Coming up to me for petting. Love the cat.

* * *

The stairs are missing, so I float through the air down from the second story to the first. The walls are covered with decorations. What are they? Oh, Christmas decorations? I’m looking for the woman who did them. Amazingly, I find her right next to me.

My dressing up in the Christmas suit is appropriate after all. My red flannel pullovers, with the holiday decorations, fit right in with the other costumes at the Christmas party. So warm in here. Must be 200 people. I start to remove pieces of the costume to cool myself off. I have regular clothes on underneath.

Felicias emails me asking me out for Friday night. He wants me to go to a Finish dance with him. Checking the website, I see he probably is confused. The dance is the last weekend of December, not November as he thought. He gave me a strange, partial email address to use to respond to him. “You’ll figure it out he tells me,” with his thick Spanish accent, accenting his good looks. So that’s who he is! I wasn’t sure at first, when I got the email. Yes, I’ll go out with him.

I don’t want to move to another desk but I have no choice but to share a cubicle with another person now. She complains about people who keep out more than one pen or pencil and I say yes, I am one of those. I always have a few lined up. I did wean out many, see these coffee mugs with just a few pens in them? I eye a few inches of wall space near my cubicle mate’s desk. “Could I put a file cabinet there?”

“You’re taking up all the room here.”

No room for my supplies; must ask Merle for my own office or cubicle back. Karen G. lets me in; wasn’t sure if it was right apt. because of the two baby carriages outside the door. Phil Lang is there. Again he doesn’t feel well. He is lying down, naked from the waist up. Has been having fevers. “You weren’t feeling well last time I saw you, Phil. Sorry you aren’t better.” Karen looks surprised at our familiarity.

Someone finds me to tell me that I’m late for a meeting. “Sorry, I didn’t realize it was on my calendar. It came on when I was out of town and I didn’t notice it.” I have trouble finding room 124 but when I finally stumble on it, it’s the room I first found a while back for some other class; the one with the strange, fluid, moving desks. I find an empty one in front; I see F. is in the room as well. But I don’t have anything for taking notes. I want one of my white pads; they are at my old workspace – there wasn’t any room for them in the new cubicle. But now they are gone; someone returned them to the supply room and they were taken. Someone walks into the room now and gives me one of my pads. It still has my notes on it.

The professor says today is a tour day; we’ll go out in the field. He starts arranging carpool groups.

A driver misunderstands a group: a man and his wife and his girlfriend. He mistakes the man’s wife as his girlfriend and splits up the group based on this confusion. In the process the man’s wife realizes the other woman is a girlfriend; she had not known. Chaos ensues.

Karen G. is applying a treatment to the top of Merle’s head. “You’re hitting the electrodes,” says Lang. “Don’t hit the electrodes.” Karen G. keeps applying the hair-removal plate to the electrode at the top of Merle’s head. He is screaming in pain. She keeps going. Lang tells her to stop and finally she relents.

Keeping an apartment; this is how it is done in our culture – the way my apartment is furnished – this is the type of furniture our society expects; some people are on the edge; they don’t know or care about how to keep an apartment. according to our culture’s norms.

August 3, 2014
Laura wants me on a committee to replace the Hispanic. People don’t think I’m white; they think I’m a minority. “Seems that just because I’m Russian they think I’m not Caucasian,” I tell them. “You are wrong though.” I don’t understand why they are confused; I feel hurt that they misunderstand me, who I am, and only want me because they think I’m a minority.

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Dream Journal Update – Falling Behind

July 28, 2014
I had told Rudy yes, I’ll be able to spend Saturday working with him, but now that is a problem. G. wants to meet at 7:30 a.m. and has a day of activities scheduled; I had not anticipated that. So Friday night I call Rudy on my cell. He answers immediately and says not to worry. What had I been thinking? I would visit G. for first time in 40 years and he wouldn’t expect we would spend the day together?

G. and I go to the gathering Friday night and I meet his wife – her name is something like Bal or Blo; I have trouble remembering and have to keep double checking. Is this the woman he had told me about? I don’t think so, but maybe it is. It’s confusing.

She has beautiful blonde hair and speaks with an Appalachian accent. It really is confusing; who is this woman? I’m introduced to her large family of all ethnic groups. I tell them I can remember each individual because each member always stands in the same spot in the family-gathering photos, printed on postcards G. has sent me over the years. It is a large, happy family but I notice they do tend to group themselves around ethnic lines, even so.

When G. holds out his hand to me, I join him on the dance floor. The slow dance turns into a two-step line dance. G. knows the steps well and I want to do it. I shadow his footwork but I am always behind. So frustrating, falling behind.

G. and I will leave when two other couples are ready to go; we’re giving them rides. One woman tells me she and her partner are ready but I’m not sure who her partner is. Is it Mike Reed or the other man? Confusion reigns, but we figure it out.

My hair, carefully coiffed in curls on top of my head, keeps getting undone. Finally I let it down and find it is surprisingly smooth. Will that last? No, it doesn’t. Two women advise me to smooth the hairdo with my hands. Also, to stand “plae.”  They figure out I don’t know what that means when I ignore the advice.

“It means to stop standing with your toes pointed out so much,” one explains.

“But I can’t do that,” I say and keep my toes out.

I ask G. for a sweater for the morning. We’ll be going to the cool mountains and I didn’t pack anything more than the light clothes I’m wearing. He is sorry but says he has nothing that would help.

“No sweater? Maybe a light fleece jacket? Anything? Look, something like these would work for me,” I say, pointing to three V-neck sweaters.

“No, I have nothing,” he says regretfully.

I want to tell G. how he has not changed in 40 years, unlike other friends. He does let on that some things have changed.

“Any moment the balloon in my head will expire. You’ll hear a noise and I will have to change it,” he says, pointing to his temple. I’m not sure the balloon’s purpose, but I want to reassure him he is not alone in having ailments and contraptions in his head.

“See these tiny plastic ducts in the corner of my eyes?” I say to G.  “You are not alone in having things inserted. I say this not for your sympathy, but to try to demonstrate I can feel empathy for your situation.”

G. recommends the top doctor in the local hospital. Surprisingly, the small town has a renowned doctor heading its colonoscopy department. “He is an arthritis doctor plus a colonoscopy doctor,” says G. They’ve discovered a link between arthritis and colon cancer, so he specializes in both.

Now I’m reading the local paper page by page. So many articles about crime and corruption. “This is not a small town paper like I’m used to in Portland,” I observe.

I’m worried that I won’t be able to keep up with G. He is in good shape. He takes the steep staircase instead of the rapid escalator nearby and I do my best to keep up. Eventually I find him resting on a flight of stairs waiting for me to catch up.

As we lie down on the conveyor to take us to the next level, he sees my beige high-heeled shoes and is fascinating by the numerous straps. He thinks the shoes look like cages, but I assure him they are not real cage shoes; others look much more like cages than these. Meanwhile, the buckles have become undone and I struggle to get them fixed. The shoes are old and worn, but I still love them.

Next we walk over the Sellwood Bridge; I show him the new bridge being built alongside this aged and decrepit original one. The last stretch of bridge is missing its deck. I’m used to this part; I straddle my feet on the ledges that line the inner sides of the bridge. But G. wasn’t prepared for the missing deck and didn’t position his feet on the side ledges in time. I look back to see him madly swinging, hands gripping the handrails, as he tries to get his feet on the ledges. It’s too late; he can’t reach them. He falls to the dirt below. Luckily, we are so far along that we’re past the river and he can fall on soft dirt and walk the rest of the way. I feel guilty and responsible for his mishap. I should have anticipated he wouldn’t be prepared and warned him of the missing deck. It could have been so dangerous for him.

 *  *  *

Finally I find the math classroom. The chairs – small sofas – are arranged facing the front of the classroom, but the whiteboard is in the back. Time to turn all the sofas around. That seems more practical than trying to find another classroom as someone suggests. I grab an aisle seat though I know someone else wants it, too. No problem; they take the aisle seat in back of my row.

 July 25, 2014
The plane crashes. I see it fall from the sky. Then, is that another? I look up in time to see a plane taking off, stalling in the sky, and – no! no! – it is turning down towards the river. It looks like a limp black and white whale as it forms an arc and falls nose down into the river. I feel sick. So sick. Two planes down. Sick. Sick. Sick. The planes were full of passengers. Sick.

 *  *  *

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Dream Journal Update – Packing for College

June 26, 2014
It’s not like on the television commercials. Not for me. I am packing for life in a dorm room, and I will drive to Seattle and unpack, myself. Not a family event with Mom gathering up what’s needed and Dad loading the station wagon. But I don’t know what I’ll need. Does a dormitory even have an iron? I don’t have time to research; I must get on the road within half an hour to get to Seattle before dark, so I don’t get caught driving in the dusk or dark in a strange area.

I go to my mother and wait for her to turn my way to ask my question. When she does, she tells me to go ahead without her.

Is there time for me to Google for directions? Probably not. I ask Alisa for her number; maybe I can get help from her if I’m lost along the way. She motions for me to give her paper and pencil. She writes and hands back the paper and all it says is “?”

“Oh, you don’t have a phone number? No cell?”

I go back to sorting and packing. I abandon the methodical sifting through box after box and instead search for specifics, rolling up sweaters and pants and placing them in the suitcase. Gray cords and brown cords. No, the brown ones are old and small, where are the black cords? I find them buried and throw them in. The sweaters are old but reliable: pink turtleneck, red turtleneck. Where are the black ones? Do I need these vests? I better take a dress, but they are so old. I count out socks for a week; no, maybe I need for more than a week? How long will I be there? I don’t know which colors. Four pairs of whites go in; I better find the black ones.

Boxes of mismatched socks and T-shirts. I try to pile them by type to hasten matching up pairs, but the patterns are so large yet intricate; I can’t tell if I have a match unless I unfold the shirts and lay them side by side. No time for that; I’ll just find the obvious matches and take those. Beautiful patterns, scenes – I like the ones of Firenze especially. No time.

I think I’m done, but the suitcase still has room. What else? Oh, now I see where the missing blouses are, still hanging on the extra rod in the back. Louise points to her own silk print blouses in front. “These are my favorites,” she says.

“And my favorites are in back of them. See, the petite versions – shorter blouses on the lower rack.” I take beautiful patterns in jewel tones. But do these require vests? So complicated. Where are the black vests that go with the blouse in my hand? How will I have time to sort which vests with which tops with which pants with which socks?

My mother appears, looking sheepish, a bit hesitant. Then she asks about the pen.

“Do you still have it? The one he gave you?” Dream Seed Pen by B. E. Berger 2014

“Yes,” I say. “But it doesn’t work.” I tell her how recently I tried to write with the green fountain pen Daddy gave me but it was too old and broken.

“He gave it to me when I was ten, you know.”

“No, I didn’t realize the pen was that old. But doesn’t it work anyway? Can we use it?”

“No, the nub is broken and the pen is twisted. And when I tried to fill it up, that bottle was so old the ink had turned to water. But even so, the pen wouldn’t draw up any liquid.”

Too bad. Such a fine pen it was. I miss it.

 *  *  *

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Dream Journal Update — You’re So Vain

May 26, 2014
They are willing to take the cat. My 13-year-old cat. Love my cat. Thick gray striped coat. Her head seems a bit small now; must be in comparison to her body, so hefty now. She won’t get a lot of attention here; only a couple of people work on any shift and it is a huge warehouse-like building. But she doesn’t need a lot of company — just a little attention in the morning, a little at night.

Now, at home, I miss her. I feel the keen lack of her in my arms. The separation pain. I feel it in my stomach. I know it will heal, but now it hurts. I didn’t tell them her history. They don’t know her age. What she likes to eat. Eat! She must be hungry. Yes, she is starved. As soon as she hears me enter the kitchen she comes running in, falling all over her bowl. But once again I’m out of cat food. I couldn’t take care of her anymore. I will resort to giving her my own tuna fish. She is starved and I can’t bear it.

“Not a good choice,” says the roommate. “I’m planning on tuna casserole for dinner for us tonight. Need that tuna for us.”

Something better than tuna is in the cabinet. I take two chunks of freshly cooked salmon and put it into the cat’s bowl. She is picking at it carefully, but I know it’s the best.

So there.

I don’t want to impose but I really want G’s advice. I wait for a lull in the conversation and show her the coats; I hope she will agree that I do need that fourth one. See, this long black wool coat, with the 20 buttons down the front – it’s so dressy. And this blue, hooded parka, so casual. And the black leather, so specific. I need another nice jacket to go with nice pants. But the money? Well, what else would I spend it on. Visiting your brother in NYC. That is what you would spend it on.

“What about that light blue jacket?” asks G. It’s lightweight, for a summer night. And my fourth jacket would be black so it would go with everything the blue one doesn’t go with. I think I have it justified now, but it does seem like a lot of coats and jackets. G and I get into the car but it’s crowded. She has shown me how to adjust my seat up so I can see past the windshield well now. In hers, the windows are curving in so far I can barely get myself in, with all my coats and the two purses. Why do I have two purses with me? I don’t know but that is what I needed.

“You know that song? The one that starts like this?” She sings the first bar and I remember it; a girl is invited out to the dance floor. Yes, I remember the rest. “Some people say it was about that teacher. The one who slept with his high school students.”   Sophomore year biology. Solomon. Yes, that is what they said about him. Bill Solomon. I start to sing the song but the wrong one comes out. After a few bars it turns into “You’re So Vain.” No, not that song. I keep trying to remember the other one, but it eludes me.

 *  *  *

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Dream Journal Update — The Blue Dog

April 27, 2014
Nudist Day at work. Voluntary, of course. I hold back — those extra pounds I’m ashamed of. If I were younger, more in shape – no problem joining in.

People I didn’t expect are in fact participating. I watch them strip, men and women alike. The women have come prepared with alternate outfits, as well. Jazzy and pretty and sexy and how did they have the time to prepare them at a moment’s notice? Takes me so long to shop for outfits for a new venture; they must have had them on hand. One is now in a pair of black lace pants, a style I’ve never seen before this; other fancy cover-ups on all the women: bright pinks, yellows. Oh, they do not walk around naked! That makes it work for me: cover-ups on the way to the nudist lounge. Standing on the sidelines I, too, take off my underwear. I don a plain-as-you-can-get long, gray t-shirt. Well, it’s what I have with me.

Nudist Day is part of an extended conference. We’ve taken over a hotel which has refurnished a wing for us; the organizers brought their own furnishings. I get to share with two others, and I’m relieved that our room is so large and comfortable. Looks like a basement family room with wood paneling, shaggy carpet and plaid upholstery. But, dirty dishes left in the sink – a serious omission by the last guests or by the hotel.  No problem. I volunteer to clean them up; I want to be a great roommate. I do select the slightly better- positioned sofa to sleep on, but the others are perfectly adequate. I’m sure it’s only my idiosyncrasies that make this brown and tan plaid, slightly sagging one better for me, I think, as I lay my glasses on the armrest: a perfect fit.

Trouble finding lighting though. Ah, there is the switch to the kitchen lights, along a greasy wall. My fingers are sticky now. How disgusting! I must wash them. I have to navigate a narrow turn in the kitchen to the sink; I wonder if most people could even make it. Not much of a kitchen with a single sink. But, later I discover two mini-kitchen stainless steel sinks, hidden away in corners. How delightful! A truly fabulous kitchen after all. How did I miss seeing those little sinks for so long? Oh, it’s a cluttered kitchen. Easy to miss.

A note invites the guests to take certain items home – gifts. I gather up the cooking oil and other gift sundries, put them in a basket. A party has formed in the room. I announce to the group of 12 that guests may pick from these free items, but I can’t get heard. They are speaking loudly to each other; I raise my volume again and again but cannot get attention. My throat hurts from the effort. Fine. I put the basket down. Put it away. I go and clean the greasy wall.

One woman across the room calls out for my attention, though. “Do you think blue is a good color to paint my pet dog?”

I know it’s a silly question and perhaps she is testing me in some crazy way. I decide to play along and see.

“Depends on the color blue.”

“How many colors blue could there be?”

I take the nonsense question to heart. “Blue on the green side, blue on the yellow side. Light blue, dark blue.”

We decide on a sky blue.

“With silver electric stripes, one around each foot,” she adds.

I agree, but didn’t she also want a stripe on the head? To balance it out.

“Yes, five silver electric stripes then.”

A little bulldog: sky blue with five silver electric stripes.

I could see it running cheerfully towards me, already.

 *  *  *

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Dream Journal Update — The Spuyten Duyvil Museum

March 10, 2014
After my putting in the five quarters, the machine gives back a strange, bronze coin.  Is it the bus token?  Or change?  Not sure, I pocket it and hope for the best.  Wait, let me try it again.  Same thing.  Now I have two beaten-up bronze coins.

I walk up the block, following the crowd, and ask someone.

“Yes,” he says.  “You are supposed to get a token back that keeps you from getting a fine for not paying.”  I’ll get on anyway and hope for the best. Maybe they waive the penalty for newcomers, I think. Am I thinking I’m special, that I don’t have to go by the rules? But I did pay; I’m following the rules.

About to board the bus, I can’t find the change I need. I’ll do the courteous thing, and hold back until I figure out my money, so others can board.  But a man glowers at me.

“Are you going or not?”

I tell him to go ahead, but he keeps ranting about me.

As I settle into a seat, he comes down the aisle and keeps looking at me.

“Don’t worry,” he says. “I will ignore you as soon as I sit down.”

That was bad timing. I see that he is the man who is in the apartment I’m visiting.  The family is going to give me a ride. Will they get going? I’ll be late. The couple is acting out a play. Slowly. Seems to be a play that doesn’t go anywhere. How did such a thing get produced?

A young woman in another room says she knows the couple will not really move out of the apartment, because of the baby they had here. They agree, but point out she herself is the baby, now grown up. They feel they can leave, because she will inherit the apartment. “The baby will still be here!” They discuss how things are more orderly since she stopped having her friends over to drink.

The glowering man is warming up to me, now that he gets to know me better. His wife shows me through the apartment, and I marvel at the beauty. The stove is ceramic, a polished, deep beige painted with gorgeous pink and blue flowers. The rest of the kitchen is painted ceramic, too. Luscious and stunning. Reminds me of the museum I’m trying to get to. I have just enough time to get there, then make it to dinner with B., in time for the theater later this evening.

After walking a few blocks to the bus stop, I try to call my mother. A few failed attempts – I have to stop while trying to get on the bus and figure out my fare – I get through. I want to explain to her that I’m living one bus stop away from the old apartment on McDonald Avenue. She will appreciate the irony. And to tell her my schedule for the day. She doesn’t need to know but I want to tell her anyway, though I’m not sure why it’s so important to me for her to know.

But will I even make it to the museum on time? Does this bus go there? My new friends try to help me figure it out. I find the museum info in a battered, overflowing file I’ve been lugging around along with three shoulder bags that don’t want to stay on my shoulder. The museum pamphlet is embarrassingly beaten up. Ah, as I thought, its name is indeed the Spuyten Duyvil Museum of Early NYC Dutch Culture. Maybe I need to take a cab part of the way. It’s a challenge, but if I get there today, I have no extra entrance fee because it’s part of the complex of museums I visited in the morning. And I love early NYC Dutch history.

The radio blasts by the train teller’s booth:  The middle class will suffer in the economy this next year, thanks to Congress. That means me. I will not have enough money, but somehow it will work out, I’m sure. I hope. I like visiting museums.

*  *  *

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Dream Journal Update — Medley 2

December 7, 2013
She says she’s my mother, but do you believe her?  Look at her: a good foot taller than I am, a large person.  Hard to believe she’s my mother. Now here is the woman I always believed is my mother. Don’t we have similar bodies?  Isn’t she more likely my mother?

*  *  *

R. and I are on the boat drifting down the canal. Feels good.I’m sitting in the front of the boat, folded into such a small space my feet are dangling off the boat. R. is right in back of me, his arms around my waist. I feel secure but then I realize I can’t swim. I remind R. that if I fall in, I will need help. Now I don’t feel so comfortable. “Let’s get off!”

R. is driving the car when we come across the passage that dips down between the buildings. Is that water? How deep?  No place for us to go but through the red, murky shadows. R. is not going to risk damaging the car; instead, he pulls up on some fallen beams. Then we see it’s not water, just dirt, and we drive back up to the street safely. Being with R. is one adventure after another, I reflect.

R. shows me the stack of gym clothes and other items his elementary school sent him. “They send this every year, along with a check. My education cost $200,000; this is what I get from the investment.”

I want to show R. the photo of me in my ninth grade class picture, but I can’t find it in the yearbook. I keep flipping the pages, to show him. “I must have taken it out to put in the family album, where it would be seen more.  It’s the picture of myself I like best.”

*  *  *

“We take turns walking the dogs. So many of us live here, it’s no problem. We’re always walking the dogs, they always get out.” Oh, so that’s how it’s done, I see.

*  *  *

When touring the building, I have to pay $5 to go to the bathroom. Okay, it’s worth it, even though the room has two toilets without dividing walls, and I have a tough time finding toilet paper that has not been used. Later I need to go again. I pay the $5 but then I have to rush through corridors and up the elevator and into another part of the building and they say it will be another ten minutes at least. “I can’t wait! I’ll have an accident!” I yell. I’m desperate. I have to go now! Finally they say I can go in.

*  *  *

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