March 31, 2013
Went to the Metropolitan Museum yesterday and it was crowded. I’d sent my students on a walkabout to any museum as a mid-term assignment and one had gone to the Met and complained of the crowd, how she was jostled and couldn’t get close to the work, how her notes were all about being jostled, the crowd, and the guards telling people not to take photographs. No Photographs. No Photographs. One of my instructions had been: take notes. The other: eavesdrop and record snippets of conversation. The third: don’t Google any of the artists or the exhibition before you go. And the fourth, unstated, develop concentration, stay focused no matter what else is going on, a reporter’s discipline. Finally, the fifth, also unstated: find the story.
I wondered if I would meet any of my students; I didn’t. Standing in front of a vitrine of corsets for women (to my surprise, men also sometimes wore them), a visitor from Russia told me that, though her daughter is a size #2, she would not fit into any of these corsets. I took notes as she spoke. I took notes as she moved away. I took notes as I moved away. In fact, I didn’t stop taking notes throughout the exhibition: “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity.”
Yes, there was a crowd; it was a crowd pleaser. I knew a lot about some of the artists, next to nothing about a few others. It was a group of artists known for their radical experimentation. They were so talented, so skilled, that they were able to earn their livings as portrait painters of the leisured class. That kept them eating and corseted in many ways but also gave them freedom to experiment. The stays came off.
March 18, 2013
I’m sick but happy this week because 1) I have a heavy cold and can’t/won’t run around the city and 2) I’m not teaching and don’t have to read any manuscripts and don’t have to get on the subway where I probably picked up this cold and/or where my husband picked up this cold which we are sharing. Thank you.
I hope that my students don’t take this blog post personally and forgive me for being happy without them or their manuscripts this week even though I am being punished for my happiness with a bad cold. I am sure they will understand what it means to have time to write because we talk about their frustrations all the time. They go something like this: I have a full-time job and can’t find time to write. I have two young kids and can’t find time to write. I have two young kids and a full-time job and can’t find time to write. I have to travel to Chicago next week and I have two young kids and I am too tired to write. I have to travel to China next week and I am too tired to write. And so on.
What happens, then, when we do have time to write? We write without knowing what day or hour it is and we stop only when we are hungry or have a doctor’s appointment or some other necessary obligation. We don’t care about the weather. Rain or shine or wind, we are writing. Is it still winter? Is it spring? We may or may not feel hunger and eat breakfast at lunch and lunch at dinner. We may or may not answer the phone and not understand who is calling or why they have called. We are utterly and completely immersed in our work, and sustained by it. We write more than 1,000 usable words a day. We surface and it is already Tuesday of our sustainable writing week and we have hit 22,000 words of our revision. And there are still two days left of this bliss—until Thursday—when manuscripts must be read and emails sent out to my wonderful students.
March 16, 2013
One of my students has more than 1,000 friends on FB. How does she find time to write? “If they don’t hear from me, they’ll think I’m dead,” she said. The class riffed a bit on that. Much laughter and also some practical suggestions. Why not post a status that says: not dead, just writing? Would that work?
The discussion got me to thinking about my own use of FB which has increased since I first joined in 2007. The questions that I raised for myself in earlier blogs have not been answered to my satisfaction: Is this virtual platform good for writers? Is it good for our relationships? Is a FB friend a real friend? Is FB just fun? Entertainment? Free advertising? Or more? How are we using or abusing this technology? Is it enhancing or interfering with our creative life?
And so I woke thinking about FB again this morning and posted this on my personal page:
Dear FB Friends,
Except for my Carol Bergman: Writer page, which I use for professional reasons –links to Twitter and my website blog—I am taking a vacation/hiatus from Facebook. If you wish to contact me, discuss, comment, send me a hug, wish me anything at all, or get together in the flesh, and feel one another’s flesh, please send me a private message on FB and I will send you my regular email address and my cell phone # if you don’t already have it. I look forward to talking with you, wishing you a happy birthday, and/or seeing all of you very soon in a non-virtual venue where we can linger and connect. The voice and the body are wonderful instruments.
March 13, 2013
I suppose I should be pleased that I now have 67 Facebook friends on my professional Carol Bergman: Writer page. It’s an active page but what does that mean exactly and how does it enhance the writing life and/or help to solicit professional gigs and/or sell my books? I’m not sure. I do know that my students, prospective students and private clients look at my website and read my blog though they are loathe to admit this. Until I have mentioned them in a blog, then they might say something. “Oh, I think you were referring to me in that blog post the other day.” Of course, I don’t use anyone’s real name but they are nonetheless able to identify themselves and their triumphs or conundrums. I keep the FB page active by routing my blog into the “notes” function. The blog post, this one included, also appears as an RSS feed on my Amazon Authors Page and Goodreads. It also used to appear on the PEN AMERICA website but that has been redesigned and I can’t be bothered to re-do everything, not this week anyway. Are you getting my drift? All of this takes time, energy and a different mind-set than writing itself, although I am writing right now as I write this blog post. (And I hope you noticed the alliteration.) It’s so pleasurable I could do it all day but I have to get back to some other business, as opposed to writing, and then meditate/rest for a half hour before I go off to teach at NYU. Must remind myself to cut up an apple to slip into my bag. (Sentence fragment.) And what else? How about some reading? I’m in the midst of three books at the moment, two on my Kindle e-reader, another in hard copy. The current New Yorker is interesting and there’s more than one article I want to read there. I’ve read the NY Times online today. I wish I could be in a hammock, or on a cruise ship, or at a writer’s retreat because my mind is so befuddled by some brick work drilling on the East Side of my apartment house that I can hardly think much less work today on the revision of one of three failed novels. I have my headset plugged into the computer and am mildly distracted by the Brandenburg Concertos on Pandora, thank goodness. And did I mention that I’ve been “friended”( noun into a verb, quite common in the vernacular American English tongue) by a young woman writer in Kenya and a writer in Hong Kong and another somewhere else, all three people I don’t know, which is a bit unsettling. If you like me, I will like you. Isn’t that how it goes? Unsettling also because I am being “mapped” and “followed.” I forgot to say that my Carol Bergman: Writer FB page appears automatically on Twitter, whatever that means, and that I get notifications there of so many people following me, more than 67, and why? Then these same people, strangers all, writers in far flung places, turn up as requests on Linked In. I think my blog posts appear there also. All told, as I end this blog post, I realize that social media may be more exhausting than useful. Comments welcome.
March 4, 2013
A student in my Wednesday night NYU class complained this week that his sentences are short and choppy, like sound byte texts. Everything shorthand, no full sentences or ideas, as I am demonstrating here. And he can’t seem to stop or change or shift into any other gear so that he can cruise into a longer sentence, a paragraph, or a page of sustained story. Apart from turning off electronic devices and/or never using them again, or using them only as needed, could I offer a realistic solution? I suggested he follow his intuition—turn off all electronic devices including the TV—and read all day long for days and days and days. Of course, he might need to abscond from his job and/or sequester himself in his apartment and/or take a trip around the world. Possible? Maybe.
It’s strange that my students never complain about this suggestion; they are longing for it. Even at the beginning of term when I suggest keeping notebooks and journals in longhand, they don’t object. Well, not entirely, perhaps. One or two might object. But then they get into it. The journals thicken, they have heft, they satisfy all our senses, and they slow us down.
There is no way to achieve precision and glory in our sentences unless we slow down.