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Six Questions with a SMALL TIME Resident: Amy Berkowitz!

Amy Berkowitz

What was your SMALL TIME residency like? How did the time/space/environment impact your work, if at all? 

I had a wonderful time at the SMALL TIME residency. There are no clocks in the cabin. Even the microwave clock is broken (I wondered if this was on purpose). So there was this feeling of having boundless time to write. Days. Because I was trained as a poet and not a prose writer, it had never occurred to me to count the number of words I write, to try to meet word quotas every day. I had long resisted the idea—I wasn't some kind of jock, was I? But as it turns out, trying to write 1000 or 2000 or 3000 words a day is helpful if you're trying to write a novel. In doing this, I was able to push myself into the momentum of writing and writing and not going back to revise or revisit. Telling the whole story in a fast sketch and then turning around to look at it. Those 12 timeless days let me write thousands of words at a time and fall into that rhythm. 

What do you think is urgent about art making in this particular socio/political/ecological moment? 

Oh god. Well, one reaction I have to this moment is despair, inaction. The urge to curl up in a ball under the table and give up. Reading the news makes me feel hopeless, immobilized. Making art is a way to keep moving.

Does the Bay Area figure into your work at all? How? 

Yes. The Bay Area is a unique, weird, and inspiring place to live, and I've lived here for eight years now. So it's seeping in, one way or another. Right now there are some references to Beat poetry (! not something I started out writing about) in my manuscript. 

What is something you're kind of obsessed with right now? 

Oatmeal, specifically with almonds and a sliced banana and molasses and cinnamon.

 What are you working on right now? Why? 

I'm writing a novel that explores friendship, art, abuse and rape, and the ways we try and fail to support rape survivors. I'm interested in writing about this because I want to understand what makes us fail. I'm interested in finding a solution/or the impossibility of finding a solution. 

Can you share a piece of recent work?

Here is a short excerpt. It might be part of the prologue of my book, if my book has a prologue: 

Last time I was at the New Museum I saw this piece of art* that I’m still thinking about: Picture a big black banner that says WE FUCK UP in black letters and then SOMETIMES in smaller black letters below. And then under that, a torn scrap of black lace hanging down.

I like it because it’s true: We fuck up sometimes. And sometimes our fuck-ups are subtle, like the banner, how you can barely discern the black letters from the black background. The shame around our fuck-ups, how we don’t want to call attention to them. And the torn lace is the grace of our efforts and also the certainty of their failure, abandoned and incomplete and still left there, hanging. 

We all fuck up, including me. I fuck up at least twice in this story. Thinking about all of our fuck-ups, this endless parade of errors, I ask myself: Is life just a series of fuck-ups and learning from them slash not learning from them? I want to take a closer look. I want to understand the subtle fuck-ups, the well-meaning fuck-ups. The fuck-ups that happened because we were trying so hard to do the right thing.

*"Sometimes" by Tuesday Smillie.

SMALL TIME grants selected experimental writers and their collaborators, at any stage in their career, a free residency program at This Will Take Time in Point Arena.