Remain Calm While You Read This

July 23, 2017

Tags: Hugh Jackman, Wolverine, Les Miserables, New Paltz, British War Ministry

My"Keep Calm and Carry On" cup. Every home should have (at least) one for those special cliff-hanging moments, personal and political.
We were eating in a Japanese restaurant in New Paltz when my daughter slipped me a carefully folded note: “Remain calm while you read this…” I opened the note and read further: “Hugh Jackman and his family are sitting to your right.”

My daughter and I are Hugh Jackman fans, not “Wolverine” but “Les Miserables” on Broadway, 2013, Jackman singing and dancing. Plus, my son-in-law looks a lot like him, but is even more handsome.

Of course, when one is told not to do something, how can one resist? In fact, this is a psychological phenomena similar to the urge to jump off a cliff, a bridge or a high building, no suicide intended. The French have a poetic phrase for it: L’appel du vide. The call of the void.

I looked all around, desperately trying to avoid looking to my right and to stay calm. I saw other diners chatting and enjoying their sushi. Then I saw HIM, or felt him, more probably, as the tables are in close proximity in this serene, small-town restaurant. Hugh Jackman! His wife was across from HIM, two kids, one on each side of the table, if memory serves, everyone enjoying their sushi. I’d be a terrible spy for The National Enquirer as I don’t recall all the details, just my embarrassment at discovering them, so to speak, though I had been told to remain calm.

Suddenly, I felt more than embarrassed, I felt nervous. And that is strange because I have interviewed more than a few celebrities and they are, as I have written here, just recently, persons to me. It is my mandate, as a writer, to write about them in the most human way possible, right? So why was I dumbstruck when my daughter handed me the note? L’appel du vide, obviously. I had jumped off a mental cliff.

Remember the British WW II poster: “Remain Calm and Carry On?” More than two million were printed in 1939 in anticipation of the Nazi advance across the Channel, but they were never distributed, they were stored away, only to be rediscovered in the 21st century and reprinted ad infinitum on cups and t-shirts. And the reason the posters were not distributed is interesting: the War Ministry didn’t like the wording, they thought it was condescending. As everyone knows, Brits always carry on, they can be trusted to carry on, it’s in the DNA.

But back to the restaurant: I think my husband felt my muscles tense and put his hand on my arm. I tried to eat and look straight ahead at my daughter and the mountains beyond, but I didn’t say a word. I carried on eating. And so did Hugh Jackman and his family. Had we allowed ourselves to speak casually to one another, as neighbors in a restaurant often do, I think we would all have agreed that the food was good.


July 12, 2017

Tags: Bob Keeshan, Captain Kangaroo, Children's Television Workshop, Sesame Street

My agent called to set up a meeting with a television celebrity who was trying to write a memoir. She wouldn’t tell me his name and I didn’t ask. It was a gig. I needed the work. And I didn’t care who it was; a celebrity is a person and I am interested in all persons. I’d lived in London at a time when famous and infamous people walked around in shorts and t-shirts in the warm weather without body guards just like the rest of us, or turned up at dinner parties carrying flowers or bottles of wine, and took public transport, just like the rest of us. Politicians were always available for interview in their constituency and the word “spin” wasn’t yet in the dictionary, in the political sense of spin. There is a lot I could say about living in London that isn’t true anymore, including the ease with which I moved around as a journalist before violence and fear, and I am sad about that because London is one of the most magnificent, cosmopolitan cities I have ever lived in, and a truly movable feast for a writer.

I value my reputation as a journalist who listens without touting my own ego, and when I returned to New York, I started writing “as told to” stories for women’s magazines, mostly ordinary day-to-day women, and one or two high profile women. So when my agent was approached by the male celebrity’s manager, she thought of me, even though she with-held the details at first, because she didn’t think I’d particularly want to do it if I knew all the details. But I’ll do anything that pays good money and doesn’t compromise my ethical standards. I wouldn’t work with 45, for example, not for a gazillion dollars, but I suppose, dear reader, if you have been reading my blog posts, you already know that. And you also know that 45’s ghost, the guy that wrote “The Art of the Deal,” is now telling all.

I had lived out of the country for a decade so was oblivious to the most recent American celebrities and their travails. I’d written an article about the development of Elmo for a parenting magazine and that was fun because I got to bring my daughter to the set and hang out with all the characters we all love. And those Muppets are celebrities for sure. But this new gig was something else, and something new for me, too. A man by the name of Bob Keeshan, aka Captain Kangaroo, was losing his audience, aging nervously, and his manager had the idea that he could write a memoir/parenting book to keep the character he’d created alive and earning money. “Captain Kangaroo” had moved from CBS to PBS and Keeshan had kept the rights to the character so no worry there. But even on PBS the show seemed old-fashioned, out of sync with all the fast-paced, high production values of children’s programming; the ratings were in a death throe.

So it was time for a briefing: two writers before me, my agent said, both men, had tried and failed to work with Bob Keeshan. The reason remained mysterious, no one could define it, but like any successful relationship there had to be chemistry, right? Now it was my turn. One of the problems, it seemed, was that Mr. Keeshan thought of himself as a writer and wanted complete control of the process. How would this fly with me?

We’ll see, I said.

The first meeting with my agent and Bob Keeshan’s agent and Bob and me in his manager’s office went well. I wasn’t on tenterhooks at all, nor was Bob. Well, it goes to show that expectations about people hitting it off are never right. And then there was the man-woman rather than the man-man combination. Bob Keeshan was gallant, he was a gentleman, he helped me off with my coat for goodness sake. Everyone...sighed. Most important, we liked each other immediately, said so openly, and were both ready to sign a contract. My name would not appear on the cover, but I’d be in the first line of the acknowledgments. I was now a ghost.

So we made plans. We would meet in his office on 57th Street at least once a week. I would record our conversations and read everything Bob Keeshan had ever written, including his radio and television scripts, and his testimonies in front of Congressional committees advocating for children. I would interview every one who had ever worked with him. He was bitter that Children’s Television Workshop (Sesame Street) had head hunted most of his old friends who were also his employees, so it was hard to report back to Bob about them, that they were doing so well, that Sesame Street was doing so well. But the more private Bob Keeshan was lost to me, and to his fans, and to television history. No emails or letters or diaries, no interviews permitted with his wife and kids. One day I was so frustrated I had a temper tantrum:

“This book will be remaindered in two weeks in Barnes & Noble.”

He laughed and made a comment about what I was wearing: a white top and pants with a thick black belt. He said it looked like a Karate outfit.

But all the laughter and warm feeling made no difference, he wouldn’t budge, and remained secretive about his family. Or, perhaps, protective. He remained protective.

An editor at Doubleday was assigned, much rewriting was done, a collaboration of three people now, and one year later, we had a book, “Growing up Happy.” I knew that the best parts of Bob Keeshan’s story had hit the cutting room floor as his own parenting struggles were not revealed. Whatever I did find out, I found out by reporting, and not with his permission, always, more by accident, talking to one person, then another. And this is what Bob Keeshan meant when he said he wanted complete control of the process. Nothing must be revealed that he did not want revealed. I was his ghost and, by definition, had to respect his wishes and remain silent. I don’t know if I would have done the same for 45. Probably not.

Summer Sundays

July 9, 2017

My stepfather with my daughter, Chloe. He was my anchor and lodestar. Photo © by Jim Bergman
I haven’t written much about my stepfather over the years—curious in itself—but if it hadn’t been for him I would never have had a memorable childhood summer, or any memorable childhood memories for that matter, or a precocious interest in the etymology of words and language, or courage on the ski slope when I was still too short to use poles, or a lifelong devotion to reading the newspaper and talking intelligently about “current affairs.”

My mother married him when I was four-years-old and always told me—bless her sweet lie—that she chose him just for me. I think I believed her until I was an adult because it certainly seemed that my stepfather –Ernst P. Poll –and I were fated in some way. I started calling him “Dad,” very quickly. My biological father was “Fred,” and the less I saw of him, the better.

From the day we met, until he became too demented to think, my Dad and I both talked about what we were reading and the new words we had learned. He was a native German speaker, had also studied Latin, and was continually improving his English to a self-imposed high standard. His shelves had books in German and English as well as dual-language dictionaries, a huge Webster’s, a two-volume Oxford English Dictionary, and law books. He had been a lawyer in Vienna, and though he never practiced law in America, he followed the Supreme Court decisions avidly, as well as American politics. When he picked up the New York Times at the breakfast table, and folded it back in that very adult way, I wanted to do the same, and I did, more or less.

Summer Sundays were luxurious, with the newspaper of record spread out on the wooden picnic table on the screened-in porch in our getaway home in New Jersey (that my stepfather built), my mother tackling the crossword puzzle, my baby sister in a high chair, and the Scrabble set waiting for the arrival of at least one of my stepfather’s brothers and his wife, both of whom had houses nearby. I would watch them play, or retreat to read a book, or ride my bike up the road to visit a friend and play Battleship, which was very boring compared to my discussions with Dad about what was going on in the big wide world.

Girls and their dolls were always boring to me. I was active, physical, what used to be called a “tomboy,” not a moniker I approve of, because I was a girl with athletic skill and an inquisitive mind that should have been rewarded, culturally speaking, but wasn’t when I was growing up in America. Lucky for me, my parents were European, my mother was a doctor, and my stepfather in particular encouraged my questions, my education, and my athletic abilities: ice-skating, tennis, swimming, softball, track. I excelled at all of them. Because of his attention to me personally, and my progress at school, I skipped two grades and entered college—too young—at sixteen. This is not a boast, it’s an origin story reality. I didn’t fit in, I was eager to learn, I could run fast and win races, I did well at school, I wasn’t an ordinary American girl, I became a writer.

I had never considered until just recently how important my stepfather’s gentle, loving, mentoring influence has been on my romantic and writing life. He was an anchor and a lodestar. My first boyfriend had a glove compartment filled with books like Graham Greene’s “The Comedians” which I thought was very sexy. Books-sexy? How do those things go together? Well, they do for me. My husband is an historian and deep political thinker from a renowned journalism family who reads the newspaper every morning cover to cover, albeit electronically. I struggle to keep pace with his incisive interpretations, and only rarely beat him at Scrabble.

WTF: A Personal History of Swearing

June 27, 2017

At the age of sixteen, as I was about to leave for college, my mother and stepfather gave me a lecture about swearing. I was the daughter of professionals, swearing was low-class, they said. Plus, I was a girl. What would the young men I met at mixers think of me?

Until then, my parents had never paid attention to my shits and fucks. I was still very young, had skipped two grades and I knew, even if they didn’t, that the swearing was bravado. I felt taller, older, safer, and more transgressive when I swore, ready to leave home with an arsenal of curses. I didn’t have a Teddy Bear, or a Snoopy, or any other transitional object to sneak under the pillow in my dorm room; swearing was it.

My parents weren’t native English speakers so I deluded myself that there was a chance they didn’t understand these delicious words. I don’t know if my mother ever swore in German or French, her two languages before arriving in America, and it was only years later, when I had acquired some French—merde merde merde—and taken a beginner’s class in German at NYU’s Deutsches Haus, that I figured out something about German I’d never realized: every imperative sounded like a swear word to me—achtung, achtung achtung. Oddly, my teacher was from Salzburg where the German is “soft,” similar to my parents’ cultivated, Viennese German. But that made no difference. The death camps surfaced in my over-active imagination and I couldn’t concentrate. And that is one reason I was there. I wanted to transcend my visceral hatred—and fear—of the German language, my parents’ mother tongue. No wonder they only ever talked to their children in English, I thought, as though the German language itself, its intrinsic, percussive evil-ness, had led to the Holocaust.

I remember the first day of class and the“why are you here?” interrogation. One person was an opera singer—lots of librettos in German—another was a business woman—lots of travel to Germany, another had a new German girlfriend, and so on. Then it was my turn: “How is that most of our English curse words derive from German words and not French words though English has also descended from French ?,” I asked. “Is there an explanation?” I had been working on etymologies for a textbook company and had tinkered with swear words in several languages. I knew I was right, I did not want to be challenged, I lied about why I had registered for the class. Luckily, I was not there to make friends.

At the break, I went out into the hallway and ate a peach to calm myself. There was the teacher right behind me, her hand on my shoulder, gently asking if I was okay. I was not okay. I wish I had been able to use WTF in that moment, but it hadn’t appeared yet in our swearing lexicon. And it’s really very tame, isn’t it, compared to What The Fuck with its implied, rhetorical question mark?

My American Passport: Chapter 2

June 18, 2017

One of the interior "visa" pages in my new passport. Words by Martin Luther King, Jr.
My new passport arrived last week. It looks and feels different than my old passport, which I had to surrender to the State Department. A passport is not a souvenir, it does not belong to us personally, it belongs to the government. And it is now a traceable, electronic document; it has a chip. No wonder it feels different. We all do.

I had never studied the interior (visa) pages of my passport, never read the text from cover to cover, never appreciated its design, or the etchings and quotations. If I were stuck in an elevator with nothing else to read but my passport, there would be plenty to read until the fire department arrived to rescue me. And plenty to think about, too. What has happened to the so-called American dream? Does our Constitution still make sense? What about Lincoln’s words, quoted on the opening page: “And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Memorized in junior high, I can still easily imagine that great man reciting those incisive words. His words, and all the words in the passport, are not platitudes; they carry weight.

The first American passports were issued during the American Revolution to Benjamin Franklin and his aides as they embarked on their mission to France to raise money and military assistance for the Patriots. Ben Franklin had a printing press, he printed them. They were just a sheet of paper with a description—words only—of the bearer on one side; the description was in French, the diplomatic language. I don’t remember if any women traveled with Franklin—he established a new “family” in London, I recall—but American women were not allowed to carry their own passports until they/we “got” the vote in 1920. I cherish that piece of American history, and I cherish my new passport and what it implies and confers: citizenship and responsibility.

A Writer's Mandate in a Pixelated World

June 8, 2017

Tags: Graphic novels, Maus, Persopolis, Common Core, Classic Comics, Tobias Tak

Graham Greene wrote “The Third Man,” as a long narrative prose story before he crafted the screenplay for the film, now considered a noir masterpiece. I watched it last night for the umpteenth time and still found it riveting, the interaction between text and image, image and text is pitch perfect. Greene wrote about his narrative process: “Even a film depends on more than a plot, on a certain measure of characterization, on mood and atmosphere; and these seem to be almost impossible to capture for the first time in the dull shorthand of a script.”

The “dull shorthand of a script.” I thought of that phrase as I “read” the “New York Stories” published in the The New York Times Magazine last weekend, each one adapted from a published news feature story. I clicked on all the links to the original stories, went back to the graphic rendering, went back to the narrative prose. And I asked myself questions: Which one works better? Does one amplify the other? And, finally, why has the newspaper of record done this?

Let’s tackle the two first questions first: Without exception, the narrative prose worked better: richer, deeper, more nuanced. Therefore, no amplification, none at all. As for the last question, that is more problematic, as my answer might seem cynical. But I do believe that the shifting demographics of the newspaper of record, and its digitalization, has hastened an effort to reach its younger, visually-oriented audience with yet more embedded videos and graphics. I enjoy some of them, of course, but only as an addendum to the reporter’s investigative struggle transposed to words.

Graphic novels are now a $35 million dollar industry. It began in the late 1970’s and then solidified with the publication of two graphic non-fiction memoirs, “Maus” by Art Spiegelman and “Persopolis,” by Marjane Satrapi which has also been adapted as an animated film, easy to do as the frames of graphic novels read like storyboards. Beyond that, both of these books are narrative and graphic masterpieces, both have entered the literary canon, and deservedly so. But they are the exception. So much of what is published these days is mediocre, diluted and eviscerated narrative. The educational establishment, eager to reach “reluctant learners,” uses graphic literature in the hope that students will eventually become real readers. There is no evidence I can find to suggest that this happens in any significant, measurable way, despite the efforts of Common Core pundits to test the life out of our children.

This writer worries, worries that our language is being attenuated, that words are falling out of use, that our children and college students cannot express themselves in writing or speech, that they are becoming semi-literate and ill informed, that they cannot solve complex problems, or identify fake news when they hear or see it. I have devised my own antidotes: I encourage the use of long captions on Facebook as writing practice, analysis of the news media, and oral story-telling at dinner parties and the beginning of every workshop session. I have a mantra I recite often: It’s a writer’s mandate to use language artfully, and to preserve it.

When I was in high school, and a classic such as “Great Expectations” was assigned, we cheated and bought the Classic Comics version. We came to class ill-prepared but confident, as only a young person can be, that we’d be able to talk about the book when called upon. We were not. We understood nothing about this great novel, or its writer, or its message. On the day the last chapter of “Great Expectations” was due, the teacher’s disappointment turned to anger and punishment: 100 lines of the first line of every chapter. If we weren’t finished by the end of class, detention. Suddenly, we were living the book, we were inside it. I began to read it that night. And, so, inadvertently, because of a teacher’s imbecilic cruelty, I entered the world of the book and its rich language.

The Cashless Spin: Sweetgreen

May 29, 2017

Tags: Sweetgreen, cashless society, underclass, economic discrimination, sustainability, fake news

I was on my way to meet a friend for an early dinner at “Sweetgreen,” a salad bar/restaurant/shop/assembly line? I am not sure what to call it. Shop, I’ll call it a shop. Suffice to say, it’s a vegetarian’s delight if one is vegetarian (one doesn’t have to be to enjoy Sweetgreen—there are various protein choices). I’d been there once, commented on being coerced into presenting my credit card—no cash accepted—and enjoyed the more than affordable meal. So this was my second visit and I was alert to more details. This time I saw the small sign at the counter explaining the“sustainability” of going cashless: no armored trucks, less chance of theft, more hygienic, etc. (It wasn’t that long, I looked up the “sustainability” reasons later.)

I was skeptical. How many New Yorkers would this decision exclude? A lot. In the USA, 7% of the adult population do not have credit cards. In Sweden, a cashless nation, 35,000 senior citizens who rely on cash, are excluded from the new app-driven economy. The government has a problem. They can’t wait for these seniors to die, they have to sustain them. Government and sustainability. Those words go together, they are sweet to me. So what regulations might be on the horizon? Hard to say.

But, first, a bit of a local flashback: The Amsterdam Avenue Sweetgreen shop I’m discussing here is on the flight path from two local public high schools—Laguardia and Martin Luther King—and a MacDonald’s on 71st and Broadway. It was just past 3 p.m. and the street corner was mobbed with kids—mostly black—socializing and munching on junkie food. Just steps away: an inexpensive healthy meal at Sweetgreen’s. Credit cards only.

So I began to think about this as I entered Sweetgreen. I arrived early to study the menu choices more carefully and to ponder the recent no-cash decision of its owners. Of Sweetgreen’s 64 locations throughout the US, only the shops in Massachusetts allow cash, and only because cashless is illegal there. The 1978 MA law states that no retailer “shall discriminate against a cash buyer by requiring the use of credit.” Federal law leaves the decision to the states.

Is this fair? Is it just? Aren’t we in the throes of a social justice discourse about the chasms between rich and poor in our country right now, at this very moment that I write?

Like most corporations, Sweetgreen has a mission statement, a website, and a PR department. They do philanthropic work in the city’s schools and they have a solid career advancement program for their employees. In other words, they seem to care about the “community,” a word that appears in their mission statement. But what, exactly, do they mean by “community?” Which community? And why not share their affordable, healthy, delicious offerings to everyone?

Here is my recent (May 25th) correspondence with Ben Famous, a PR at Sweetgreen. Please note that he did not want to have what might have been an off-the-record background conversation on the phone, he insisted on email. I wanted some answers so I didn’t push it:

ME: Hi Ben,
Could we have a short conversation on the phone?
I'm at my desk until about 2:30 today.

BEN:Hi Carol
I am tied up in meetings but can be responsive over email. How can I help?

ME: I'm interested in the decision to go cashless. Sweetgreen does terrific work in the schools and it would be logical to offer a cash alternative –like EZ Pass—for kids, for example, who've tasted your offerings and philosophy and would like to go to a store in their neighborhood but don't have a credit card. I saw a bunch of kids in front of the MacDonald's just steps away from your Amsterdam store the other day as I was headed to Sweetgreen to meet a friend, and that's what got me started on this. Just imagine if those kids would walk away from MacDonald's and into Sweetgreen, I thought to myself.

Going cashless is a global trend and some of the reasons make sense and some don't. So I was interested in how a socially conscious company like Sweetgreen is addressing this controversy.

BEN: Thanks for that note. I notice that your write for outlets - are you wanting to write a piece on the policy or are you asking as a customer for your general knowledge?

ME: I'm a free-lancer and an adjunct professor of writing at NYU. I follow my (personal) interests. I have no idea where this will lead. I may talk to other companies that have decided to go cashless. I may keep it small. I may put a posting on my blog. I am finding the subject challenging as even socially conscious companies such as yours are going cashless. There's fallout from this decision, consequences, nationally and internationally. I want to know how Sweetgreen is handling the controversy.

BEN: Sorry it took a bit for me to get back. As you know, Sweetgreen made the decision to go cashless in all of its locations this year, except those in Massachusetts, after a year long process of testing and careful consideration. At this time however we do not have any further comment on that decision beyond what has already been communicated. Please feel free to refer to statements and comments made in both the Fast Company & Business Insider pieces from our announcement which I've linked below. As we look to the future, and continue to evolve, we'd be happy to reach out with any updates or key learnings on cashless.

“Key learnings?” What does that mean? What has happened to the language wherein we speak to one another about important issues of the day? How would I be able to explain to those kids on the corner that they will never be able to enjoy a meal at Sweetgreen unless—or until—they qualify for a credit card.

Sleeping Babies

May 19, 2017

Tags: Immigrants, Dominicans in New York, photo-journalists, Daguerreotypes

"Sleeping Baby," Courtesy of The Huffington Post.
We went to have new passport photos taken at Ulloa’s, a local portrait studio between 181 & 182 on Broadway. There aren’t many of these left in Manhattan—we almost went to a drugstore instead—but we live in a mostly Dominican neighborhood and families from the DR are devoted to commemorating their family connections, accomplishments, status, and well-being. The walls of the studio are filled to the ceiling with framed, tinted portraits of important occasions—graduations, weddings, Communions—each one the touchstone of a complex, multi-generational family story. Hard copy is sent home, or carried in suitcases on annual visits.

The shop caters to their clientele with panache. The photographers are dressed in crisp shirts and ties out of respect for their customers and their craft. Compared to the insouciant, disheveled photo-journalists my husband and I have worked with over the years, this earnestness is a refreshing reminder of what it means to start a new life in another country: hard work.

Immigrants and children of immigrants run this small, bi-lingual business. Why not support them? Don’t we all have a story of migration somewhere in our family history? Shall I build a wall around my neighbors? Shall I shun them? These questions are in my mind these days. I cannot abide the hatred that has been unleashed since the recent election. So I sit at my desk today writing about yet another pleasant encounter with immigrants. Writing is my tool of resistance; I am delighted I found this photo shop.

Our photographer was dressed in black, his digital camera an appendage of his arm. I was dreading the results—digital photography is not kind to aging faces—but he did a commendable job of making both of us look good, or good enough for our passports. There was a short wait for the prints, time to ask questions. I was curious about the photos of “resting” babies on the walls as there were so many. These were babies who had fallen asleep during the photo shoot, our photographer explained. Parents usually decide to include them anyway as they are easy to photograph while asleep.

Healthy looking sleeping babies, not dead babies. I was relieved, as these images were reminiscent of dead Victorian infants dressed in bonnets and long gowns. In the earliest days of photography in the mid 1830’s, infant mortality was high, and families commissioned photographs of their short-lived children. The shiny copper Daguerreotypes felt more ethereal than oil paintings, a soul embedded in a photograph forever.

A Writer's Dreams

May 8, 2017

Tags: interpretation of dreams, Dada, Freud, Stettheimer, Jewish Museum, MOMA

I dreamt I was walking up a long stone staircase behind my mother and her small dog. She was wearing a taupe silk suit that matched her permed gray hair and the dog’s fur. Someone said, “She likes dogs.” I knew that was correct, but it wasn’t me that said it. I remained silent.

Slowly, I followed my mother up the stairs. She did not know I was there because I had not as yet been born.

I awoke with a sentence in my head: “We walk behind our mothers.” That sentence became the first sentence in an email letter I wrote to a friend about being both a daughter and a mother. And now it is here, in this blog post.

Why do I record my dreams? The unconscious mind surfaces in dream stories, a great gift to artists and writers if we can interpret and use the emotional information, sensation and epiphanies gleaned from them.

It was a therapist who first suggested I record my dreams. I would bring my journal to our sessions and read my dream stories aloud. The therapist would comment and I would reflect on her comments orally and then, later, in my journal. After a while, recording and interpreting my dreams became a habit and a writer’s ritual, one I look forward to every morning as I open my journal. If I can’t remember a dream, I often feel uneasy. Then, as I start to work, the dreams often come back to me.

Over the years, I’ve written fiction, nonfiction, poems and screen treatments out of my dreams. I get ideas as I am sleeping, in fact, and resolve knots in my life and my work. After a visit to MOMA to see “Women and Abstraction,” I couldn’t figure out why the exhibition felt so strange to me. I had a dream about it that night and there it was: these women painters had been appendages of men until just recently, their work hadn’t been taken seriously, it had been stored in the archives of the museum until just now rather than integrated into the “abstraction” galleries, and it was now “segregated” in a special exhibition. I woke up with all these thoughts in my head, closer to an essay than a dream, and I was fuming. Will I write a longer, more considered article on the subject? Possibly.

Hashtags, Tweets and Blogs

April 28, 2017

My first hashtag: #mentaldetoxspringrenewal . Photo by Carol Bergman
I think I just wrote my first hashtag: #mentaldetoxspringrenewal. I sent it to my daughter. I wanted to show off. Now I am wondering why I resisted hashtags until this moment and why, suddenly, I wanted to write a hashtag. Are they contagious? And where on earth did the word hashtag came from and who was the first to use one? The answers to these questions are in a Wikipedia entry, and they are complicated. Suffice to say—in measured narrative prose—that hashtags have #takenofflikewildfire. Now is that a sentence or a real meta data hashtag? Neither, I’d say.

I vividly remember resisting –and eventually surrendering—to Facebook. Surrender finally came when I “found” my college room-mate and an old boyfriend. I wrote blog posts about my resistance and surrender and figured out a way to beat abbreviated posts: I only write full sentences, and more than one. Sometimes I post a photo and write a story—yes, a full story—to caption the photo. It’s good writing practice.
I now have three Facebook sites, use them to advertise my workshops, my publications and my publishing company, and friend people who I meet casually here and there. I even friended my bank manager recently. He was interesting. I write notes and blog posts and participate in a lot of political discourse these days. I follow, unfollow, de-friend and de-capitate only occasionally. Dear reader, please don’t do that to me.

Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and many other challenging books, loves hashtags and she loves tweeting. I heard her talk about it at a PEN conference maybe five years ago, but I still didn’t get it. By then I had a Twitter account but never used it except to watch, supinely, as my FB Carol Bergman: Writer posts fed into it. Once in a while I received a notice that someone was trying to contact me through Twitter, and only then did I pay attention. I still don't tweet but if you tweet me, I will twitter like a bird.

As for hashtags, I don’t think I will surrender until I can figure out a way to use them that satisfies me as a writer. I don’t want my narrative brain to atrophy and I don’t want my students to communicate with me or each other in sound bytes or 140 characters. When and if you have the pleasure of walking into my classroom, this is what you will hear from me on the first day: We’re writers. It’s our mandate to preserve our language and participate, fully, in its evolution.