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Making Art

"Sunrise from the Deck" © by Michael Gold 2024 with permission.  Michael began his artistic career as a painter and became a well known documentary and portrait photographer. "I paint with my camera," he once told me. 

 

 

The world is a sphere. There is no East or West.

― Ai Weiwei, Weiwei-isms

 

Your life is already artful-waiting, just waiting, for you to make it art.

-Toni Morrison

 

I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.

― Georgia O'Keeffe

 

 

 

 

At different times I've written in different genres, sometimes simultaneously. I might be writing a poem while finishing up an essay, or attempting my first murder mystery while on assignment for a magazine. Every genre and every subject stretches and inspires me. I never stop. Every day, I try to express ideas with the tools I have available—notebook and paper, my computer, my phone, my chatterbox brain struggling to make sense of my life, ordering it into sentences and stories.  In the  first scene of the Netflix documentary, American Symphony, about the musician and composer, Jon Batiste, the camera lingers on his sculptural hands hovering over the piano keyboard. His eyes are closed until a note or a melody surfaces, and he begins to play. He is patient and attentive, as is the filmmaker, whose tool is the camera. And the viewer must remain patient also. "Nothing that surrounds is object, all is subject," the surrealist poet André Breton wrote. Once we are engaged with a work, if we are open to receive it, it becomes ours.

 

All art making is experimentation, a challenge to conventional expectations in its singularity, more so when an artist has long experience and control of his/her/ their craft. I don't think for a moment that as professional, accomplished writers, photographers, visual artists or musicians we should repeat ourselves if we have found a winning money-making formula. Nor that we should impose new ideas on a devoted cohort of fans if they are unwilling. There might be appreciation, disdain, or confusion when new work is presented that departs radically from what we have done before. No matter. We press on with our muse and our purpose. Our creative impulse effloresces and a creation has reached fruition. Let it be shown, read, performed, or played without censorship or restraint.

 

This post is dedicated to all the exiled Russian writers and artists—and to Navalny whose defiance inside a despotic regime was a creative act. May his courage inspire all of us in our efforts to celebrate and protect life and freedom.

 

 

 

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The Long View

 

 

We'd taken a path not really knowing where it would lead, not knowing how long it was, and while still on our way, realizing we had taken the wrong road but that it was too late to turn back, every one of us, so as not to be swallowed up by the dark, had started slicing off pieces of our own flesh.


― Ismail Kadare, "Agamemnon's Daughter: A Novella & Stories"

 

 

#ceasefirenow  #standbyinternationalhumanitarianlaw

 

 

 

 

I am blessed to be living with a historian. "I take the long view," my husband, Jim, tells me whenever I recite the upshot of a recent article that has spun me into despair. In other words, he insists, humankind has become more "civilized" and the wars we are witnessing and/or experiencing are not the barbaric bloodbaths of the 12th century. Is that what he means? No, what he is referring to is the progress we've made against disease, poverty, inequality, etc.  I don't buy the argument that advances in science, technology and governance have made us more "civilized," or that there are fewer tyrants as heads of state. Take a breath, I say, look at the map of the world, all the wars and migration because of war, disease, poverty, intemperate government, repression of civil liberties, and climate change. Where, indeed, are we headed?

 

So that's my retort to "I take the long view," not optimistic, I know, but there it is. I appreciate Jim's optimism; it's one reason among many that I married him. He says I'm a pessimist. Not exactly, more a realist, I'd say. I applaud all progress, I stay connected, I keep my eye on good things that are happening among and between people in my neighborhood, and the larger world, and report on them. But Jim's family secured their safety in America after the pogroms at the turn of the 20th century. One of the first Jewish families who settled in Seattle, the Bergmans owned salmon fisheries in Alaska, and also a luggage store in town, "Bergman Luggage."  The store and the sign are still there, though owned by another family. His family has long roots in America by now, whereas mine are just one generation away from war, displacement and atrocity. It makes a difference; my perspective is short, from here to there is not far. Once again the eruption of vengeance and unimaginable violence disturbs my sleep. Though far away in miles, perhaps, and safe or safe enough in America, I feel the conflagrations in my bones. It's also because I know people there. I have an acquaintance in Ukraine, a broadcaster, and Israeli and Palestinian relatives and friends. I stay in touch with all of them as best I can from my safe enclave.

 

Fanatics in the Middle East—Muslim, Jew—who read and obey the scriptures written millennia ago—revere a God who sanctions rape, slavery, and the execution of nonconformists and infidels. This, the present-day warring tribes have in common, and much else, including a rapacious insistence on a God-given homeland.  How can we who live in relative privilege and enlightenment, safe from  the day to day siege, quiet these ignorant voices and murderous actions?  How will our polarized, enraged conversations on social media and zoom calls and college campuses help? Is it not time to walk in concert with one another towards peace as Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi once did for the benefit of us all? Have we forgotten their courageous example?

 

The words injustice, genocide, equality, reparations, and Geneva Conventions do not appear in ancient parchments or on the lips of dictators. Nonetheless, they are enshrined in international humanitarian law. Though tender in its application as contemporary wars effloresce, this  law deserves attention and celebration every day. It saved what is left of my family. One day, it may save yours.

 

This post is dedicated to my physician parents who fled to Paris and worked for the Red Cross there until boarding a British convoy to New York. They risked their lives to escape a genocidal war zone, became front line workers, and helped many refugees heal, physically and psychologically, once they landed in America.  #ceasefirenow  #standbyinternationalhumanitarianlaw

 

 

 

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A Writer's Intentions

Cover photo © Carol Bergman. Cover Design by Matthew Frederick & Chloe Annetts

 

 

 

Maybe the true purpose of my life is for my body, my sensations and my thoughts to become writing, in other words, something intelligible and universal, causing my existence to merge into the lives and heads of other people.

 

     -from "Happening," by Annie Ernaux, 2022 Nobel Laureate

 

 

I've had a lot of congratulations and some interesting responses to my new book, Becoming a Writer; A Memoir and Workbook. "Your book has arrived and I am reading it," a colleague wrote. I wonder if reading it from beginning to end was my intention. Books are usually read cover to cover, of course, but this book has slipped out of my psyche not from beginning to end, but incrementally over the years; it's a distillation, a compendium, a philosophy.

 

Forgive me, if I continue to ruminate about my effort to convey what I hold dear: staying present in the world through writing, whether it is my immediate surroundings, or the world beyond the circumscribed borders of my life. If I have not expressed this intention well, I must continue to write about it …intentionally. Indeed, I am reminded every day that the discipline of daily writing, as well as its satisfactions and joys, keeps the pen in my  hand and that "procrastination" a self-flagellating word I abhor, does not exist for me. If I hear a student voice that word, I stop him/her/they immediately. I also do not entertain the words "writers block." If we are not writing, we are mulching, and when the compost pail is full-up, we only have to sit down and start writing, even if what we are writing feels like nonsense, at first, or we fear that it is not good enough.

 

In a Sam Fragoso, "Talk Easy"  podcast interview with David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, the German word Sitzfleisch, was mentioned amidst laughter as a characteristic most successful writers possess or, I'd  prefer to say, cultivate. In short: keep your bottom in the chair, do not move, as I am doing right now so that I can lay down a draft of this blog post before I get onto a Zoom call. I did not mention Sitzfleisch in my book, but Becoming a Writer is not a finite entity, so I will mention it now. Becoming a writer is a fluid state, an evolution, ever expanding, like the universe.  Or, is that to grand a concept?
 

Lastly, some gratitude:  I wrote back to everyone who sent me congratulations or annotations about their own work. Recording our stories, either for pleasure, or for the historical record, is a worthy vocation or avocation for everyone. And a special thanks to those who took the time to read the book in PDF and write endorsements, as follows:

 

 

An engaging tour d'horizon, employing Bergman's varied experiences to render a compelling guide to writing as art and calling. Practical recommendations for thriving as a writer—both creatively and professionally—are rendered with clear examples from the author's long career; the book will appeal especially to those whose creative writing strengths are always open to change.

 

MacKay Wolff is an international humanitarian aid worker.

 

***

 

Carol Bergman offers a rich pathway into the writing world.  She shares a lifetime's cache of personal experiences spanning all aspects of the writing experience, as well as concrete steps for the aspiring writer. This is a book that will encourage as well guide all who are seeking a way in to writing.

 

Ellen Taussig

Co-founder, The Northwest School

Seattle, Washington

 ***

 

Carol Bergman provides helpful guidance to those wishing to become writers, or to enhance their writing skills. Based on her personal experiences as a writer and mentor, she covers many topics critical in developing writing skills. She includes specific exercises and suggestions for incorporating her advice into one's own work, a particularly practical and helpful feature of this book.

 

Sherry Deren 

Author of  Not Done Yet: The Humor of Aging

 

 ***

 

Carol's writing advice, in a creative nonfiction workshop and now in Becoming a Writer, has been invaluable to me as I tackle a difficult memoir. Through a combination of group critiques, written comments, astute questions, and reading discussions, Carol shared her wisdom with our intimate group, helping us to refine our perspectives as well as our sentences. Her book offers insights into many writing genres and the challenges they bring, extended through personal examples of her journey to become a writer. I need only open this generous book to regain my sense of direction when out of balance.

 

Betty Leigh Hutcheson, Grant Writer and Literary Enthusiast

 

 ***

 

In Becoming a Writer writing Carol Bergman shares a treasure trove of memories and a lifetime of experience as a writing mentor.This is a generous welcome to writing, a beckoning.

.

Nancy Caputi, retired ESL teacher

 

***

 

 As a professional writer and an educator of many decades, I thought I knew all the tricks. Happily, Bergman's book has proven me wrong. A deceptively chatty tone belies the formidable skills required of the craft, imparting a lifetime's worth of knowledge and experience. Old pros will learn new approaches and young writers will especially benefit from Bergman's emphasis on the psychological challenges of the trade. I will surely use entire sections from this book in the next writing course I teach.

 

Dr. William L Gibson is a writer, researcher and educator based in Southeast Asia

 

***

 

Carol Bergman has been all kinds of writer. She has produced texts sometimes elegant, sometimes necessary. She knows how to address many a reading audience and her new guide, Becoming a Writer, distills her knowledge, her wisdom and her cleverness for any who want to learn the many facets of this frustrating, satisfying business.

 

George Szanto, author of Bog Tender and Whatever Lola Wants

 

***

 

Becoming a Writer reminds me of an elegant set of Matryoshka nesting dolls—in tightly fitting sequences, Bergman shows (never tells) us how to both craft a meaningful life as a writer and how to shape the "armature" of that life into art. This book is a treasure, one doll opening our imaginations to the next, with generosity and kinship to those who follow.

 

—Martha Greenwald, Writer, Educator, Founder/Curator of The WhoWeLost Project, and editor of Who We Lost: A Portable COVID Memorial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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