Goodbye, Gotham

“Goodbye, Love” from Rent was stuck in my head as I walked to Gotham this morning. Luckily, I am not an AIDS-ridden stripper singing farewell to my guitar-playing, also AIDS-ridden, boyfriend as he leaves for Santa Fe. But the sentiment is still there: today is my last day at Gotham and I’m going to miss it very much.

gothamI’m wearing the dress I wore on my first day because it pleases me when life comes full-circle. I’m sitting at the Intern desks, admiring our wall filled with passwords and codes that make our lives easier. I’m reflecting on the time I’ve spent here: brainstorming, debating, writing, laughing, other happy verbs. I helped to create a class, proofed great material, and chatted with students about everything from registration to their middle school traumas.

On last days of the past (camp, high school), I felt time slipping through my fingers like grains of sand, a general helplessness, a sense of some unstoppable tragedy. Leaving Gotham feels different. I’m going to miss being here, but there’s nothing to mourn. Gotham is a place that I am simply confident will always be a part of my life.

gotham1I’ll be glad to see its yellow boxes on the street (pictures below). I will always smile at the pop-up advertisements featuring Britt on every website I visit.  When I hear Gotham mentioned, I will proudly announce that I spent a summer becoming a person there. When I’m old and wrinkly my Gotham-class-taking grandchildren will say “Should I take Memoir II or Fiction I?” and, using my deep knowledge and love of Gotham’s classes, I will have the answer.

I’ll always be thankful for my summer here and for everything I’ve learned about writing, about myself, and about the magic of highlighter-pens.

Thank you for everything, Gotham!

Brittany Berke

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An Ode to Penn Station

Business men in black suits headed home after work, ties loosened and sleeves rolled up, already cracking open beers. Chattering tourists placing their oversized suitcases directly in your way. Teenage girls with knobby knees, clutching their yellow Forever 21 shopping bags and Frappuccinos. Everyone gazes determinedly up at the Pen Station LIRR  departure board. It looks like a sci-fi movie where machines rule the world, as in an array of familiar colors- green for Babylon line, red for Port Washington line, etc.- the board flicks up a track number and sends hordes of people running for the closest staircase.

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The grey floors, messy crowds, and incoherent loudspeaker announcements always tickle a smile onto my face. I get a lot of confused looks, walking through Penn looking like I’m headed to a big date, my eyes fluttering and lips curved into a little u. I don’t think most people find it as enchanting as I do. They hurry into and away from their tracks. Their eyes focus on the exit signs. They walk in straight lines, destination driven.

The trick to loving Penn is looking at it. Starbucks is always drowning with commuters and teens alike and I laugh every time- do they know there’s an identical store maybe 100 feet away? If you leave through the main 7th Avenue exit, take the time to enjoy Zaro’s Bakery’s cheeky announcement: “Send a challah to Walla Walla! Send black and whites to Shaker Heights!” Or, walk towards the ACE trains to see my favorite attraction: a white sign that flaunts in huge red letters “TOASTED BAGEL WITH CREAM CHEESE”. The glamour of it all!

Penn Station is a good place to start and end my days. It’s warm (too warm) and familiar, a constant in my life, a gritty little utopia. Waiting near the departure board after a Gotham Write-In the other night, I was overcome with affection for the place, and stood coyly smiling as if  I had just shared the totally best secret. The musician planted near the 123 trains crooned reggae. The smell of New York pizza from Rose’s fluttered towards me, fighting through the cinnamon of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels around the corner and the staleness of the brown-bag beers in the hands of the couple swaying next to me. Why do all rules about drinking in public disappear in Penn? I’m not sure, but I think the miniature bottles of Jameson sold on the platforms are very cute.

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Brittany Berke

How to Adult

I had a second bat mitzvah the other day. Hear me out:

Driving on Searingtown Road (on LawngIsland), I got stuck behind a lumbering bus filled with campers and noticed tiny hands waving to me from inside. My first thought was that maybe the children were in need of help? Waving down a passerby to save them from a mass kidnapping? Season 1 of True Detective may have skewed my worldview just a little.tru detObviously, I realized with a giggle to my empty car, the kids were playing Sweet and Sour, a game I spent five summers worth of bus rides obsessing over. You know: you wave at drivers and the ones who wave back are Sweet, while the others are Sour and you can talk about how they probably hate kids and candy and fun, etc.

I waved back, feeling unwarrantedly flattered. The kids cheered; they called in for backup troops of their friends; they high-fived each other. I wondered where their bus counselor was in the midst of this chaos (I’ve been yelled at by enough bus counselors in my time as a tiny camper).

oyI was disappointed when I had to change lanes and move on with my life. Those kids made me feel important. While coping with this feeling of loss, the following thoughts occurred to me:

  1. It is pretty difficult as a driver to see through those back bus windows, especially if you’re wearing sunglasses/ not searching for children, so maybe all those Sours I’d scowled at years ago were just focusing on the road like good drivers. I owe them apologies.
  2. I must have looked almost like an adult for the kids to react the way they did. An adult!? I had a professor tell me I looked “about nine” just a few months ago, although I’m actually 19 and think I can at least pull off at least 13, so it’s important that the mini folks on the bus thought I was a grown-up worthy of being deemed Sweet. They probably assumed I held responsibilities, understood taxes, and was good at making important and reasonable decisions! A true rite of passage. Thank you, kids!

Adulthood: here I am. Thanks for having me- I look forward to the years to come. Mazel Tov.

Brittany Berke

The Intern and The Pen

I spent my first 165 hours at Gotham feeling great about the internship, but frankly a little worried about the pen quality. The pens write great- a delicious blue ink. They look great, which is important as they dominate Gotham Headquarters, lurking on every desk and in every drawer. However, I always felt like the bottom of a pen (the “end plug” as Google tells me) would come off in my hand if I made one wrong move.

I thought about this end plug issue an alarming amount. I spent a lot of time nervously trying to push each pen further into itself. It didn’t consume my thoughts and ruin my life or anything, but I often found myself wondering when I would break a Gotham pen and have to run to the bathroom covered in ink and the guilt of office supply murder.

Almost 2 months into my Gotham time, I looked over and noticed that another intern, Cara, had highlighted something in the manual she was proofreading. The part of my brain the cries over school supplies started sparking, my eyes widened, and I asked “How’d you do that?” Silence in the room. Complete silence as Cara removed the end plug of a Gotham pen revealing an absolutely majestic highlighter.

WHO KNEW? I cried, exasperated. EVERYONE KNEW it turns out!!!

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I may or may not have teared up a little (I did, okay!?). Here I’d been, analyzing and adjusting and stressing out over the lil cap at the butt of my pen, when a whole world of highlighting possibility could have been stretched out before me! This story translates very well into an extended metaphor about how the *beauty* of life is right in front of you if you just look for it. It also translates well into an anecdote demonstrating how silly and unnecessarily worrisome Brittany is.

I know I shouldn’t force the Gotham pens to carry those sorts of literary burdens. They do enough hard work already. Pens are not metaphors… but let me say this: Find your highlighters in life. Explore. Be curious, be confident, and be prepared for everyone in the office to think you’re just a little bit crazy when you finally figure it all out.

Brittany Berke

Murder Lake.

“Someone is standing at the edge of a lake. They just committed a murder. Write about it.”

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But… you can’t mention anything that has to do with murder, violence, blood, so on and so forth. Let the setting do the talking.”

Oh, great. I can’t write about murder. I write YA fiction. What the hell? Oh my God, this is going to suck. And I’m going to have to read it aloud. Joy. 

I began to write. Luckily, I had just visited a lake by my house two days before. So, the images of a lake were still crisp and clear.

I feel heavy. The murky waters of what once was beautiful splashes against my Converse. The sap and pollen from the trees that shade me formed a barrier between two of the classical elements: air and water. Mosquitos and other flying insects have found a dwelling on this dark olive barrier. The insects fly past me, and I could hear his name in their buzz. The stagnant water’s putrid odor repulses me. To my left, the home of a rodent: a dam. And now, the new home of this. I am light.

Did I like this lil’ piece? Uh, no.
But can I admit that there’s some good writing in there? Yeah.
Was I nearly about to pass out, knowing I had to read this in front of six other older students? Definitely.
But at the end of the day, would their professional criticisms of my work deter my dreams? Nope.

Carter approached the pieces written by his students with positivity. Vibrant positivity.
To be quite honest, I wasn’t expecting it. I was an English major for four years and most workshops, they were a little, um… harsh.
His constructive criticism actually put a smile on my face, and he made sure I understood what was strong, what could be worked on, and what was “technically cheating” since he said not to mention anything that would cause all the unanswered questions of the reader to be answered (yet).

Carter also had us write a pitch for a piece we already have. I have two. I had to choose the one less worked on, naturally. I wrote WAY too much, but in the end — I came up with this:

Without judgement of cover, she extends a hand to reach for a book which happens to be a portal to a parallel universe. There, she meets her parallel self, but… they aren’t technically supposed to ever meet. This creates a rift in the atmosphere between the two worlds. In the midst of chaos, the atmosphere falling apart, and of course — a guy — Charli forgets where she put the portal back to reality. If it gets into the wrong hands, hell could break lose.

Now, I’m actually excited to write again.
Thanks, Carter.

☆ NEG (also known as Furiosa)

The Two Gentlemen (and Many Letters) of Verona

Hamlet writes a letter to Horatio announcing his return to Denmark. Maria forges a letter as Olivia confessing her love to Malvolio. Edmund uses a letter to fool his father into thinking his other son is planning to kill him. Shakespeare loves using letters in his plays- for jest, identity theft, important news and even for simple communication. Two Gentlemen of Verona– possibly Shakespeare’s first play- is no exception to this rule. Letters are integral to the plot and sent between the characters to profess their love and share their desires. Fiasco Theatre’s production of Two Gents at Theatre for a New Audience does a beautiful job capturing the importance of letters. Picture, if you will, the Polonsky Shakespeare Center’s stage exploding with pages and pages of Renaissance writing.

Theatre for a New Audience’s fourth and final production this season, Two Gents comes at an appropriate time. As we enter summer, a feeling of merriment and promise is upon as that we feel throughout the show. Some of the letters adorning the set (DerekMcLane) look like prose, while others are crumpled intomakeshift, surprisingly beautiful flowers. Complementing the letters perfectly, the costumes (WhitneyLocher) all have a light and springy quality achieved through neutral and light pastel colors, a lot of eyelet and khaki, and very cute shoes.

Proteus (Noah Brody) consoles a love-struck Valentine (Zachary Fine)

Directors Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld have outdone themselves.The cast has not a single weak link. They are connected, focused, and deliver their lines as if they’re telling you a great story in your favorite coffee shop. Zachary Fine in particular shines as Valentine, creating a lovable and earnest character who holds our heart in his hand. He also plays Crab the dog, providing beautiful comic relief.

With all respect and love to the Bard, it seems like often people find themselves stuck at long Shakespearean shows with actors who seem to be doing more yelling than performing. In my (very minimal) experience performing Shakespeare, I’ve learned that to bring a line to life, you have to dissect it, translate it, and apply action to it to make it your own. Approach with caution and try not to modernize, but to personalize the work. For example, Hamlet comes to life not when he is just the brooding Prince of Denmark, but rather when he is a dimensional protagonist who intrigues his audience. The actors of Fiasco Theatre’s Two Gents achieve the perfect balance. They bring new and beautiful life to their roles, while still maintaining the uniqueness and specificity of each character.

The full cast of Two Gentlemen of Verona at Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center

A real treat of Fiasco Theatre’s Two Gents is the safety the audience feels with the actors. There is no condescension, no barrier between their gift of the performance and our acceptance of it. Before the show begins, the actors roam the stage setting their props, warming up, and chatting with one another. They even come out into the audience to greet their friends and family and to chat with their supporters. The cast remains visible throughout the entire show, sitting on benches on the sides of the stage and watching the story unfold. This creates a feeling of unity and support within the theatre, which makes the audience feel as if we’ve been accepted into the worlds of these talented actors and their stunning production.

Brittany Berke

Intern Adventures: Amsterdam Avenue

Our Mission: Hand out postcards and brochures to
lil’ cafés, mom + pop shops, and bookstores.
Our Captain: Cara Dempsey

Oh Captain, my captain. 

And it was pretty awesome.

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It was nice to discover new places around Manhattan that I have yet to see. I have a bad habit of sticking to the familiar, but it’s certainly time for a change.

I’m normally a really shy person, but Gotham — somehow — changed that.
I’m more open and I have no problem speaking to others.
And that’s why today was so awesome.

Cara and Steph are two interns who are relatively new.
Back in the day, new people were my enemy. I barely spoke; most of the time, I chomped on my nails. I went through a ton of things in my head:

What could I say to make conversation?
What if they don’t like me?
What if I say something wrong? 

Nowadays, it’s a simple task that I’ve overcome. And Cara & Steph are two awesome people with personality, humor, and friendliness that makes it easier for me to talk more.

Amongst our list of targets was Master Bike and Westsiders Records and Used Books. However, we thought Westsiders was actually West Riders — another cyclist place who were rivals with Master Bike and had a bike gang: a group of crunchy cyclists. westsider-books2

I knew off the bat that Westsiders was going to be a danger zone for me. Cheap, used books with A Very Hungry Caterpillar and Alice in Wonderland totes hanging in the window? TAKE MY MONEY. But, I have learned self-control after my literature escapade at BookCon a few weeks back.

Steph & I learned that Cara’s favorite book (one of, at least) is Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin. And we totally encouraged her to spend the $18 to get tote… and the two of them totally encouraged me to get my pixie cut once again. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll shock everyone, including myself, sometime soon.

Our adventure ended in Dunkin’ Donuts, over an iced tea and two iced coffees, talking about our boys and showin’ them off.

I really wish I could be more creative about this, but it was totally spur of the moment.
Perhaps, I’ll make an edit later tonight.

☆ NEG

Girl as a Thumbnail

Undeniable truth: I’m not as cute as a thumbnail as I am as a girl. Despite my generation’s propensity for Twitter and IMessage, I’m just not a particularly attractive line of text. I speak quickly and nervously, joke often, self deprecate, sass playfully, and alternate between monotone one-liners and long, enthusiastic stories. All of these things, which I like to think greatly contribute to whether or not a person likes me, are pretty difficult to do over a computer.

This is obviously a very serious problem for me, but I can generally get by. There are only a few times where this technological shortcoming becomes really apparent and detrimental:

  • Online dating (which I’ve never tried)
  • Chatrooms (do people still use these?)
  • Conversations with strangers carried out entirely via YouTube comments (which I don’t usually post)
  • Online writing classes where I’m asked to interact with my classmates and instructor over the internet (which I’ve just started taking during my time here at Gotham Writers)

Last night, I took a look at my fiction II class’s discussion board for the first time since I signed up for the class. People are articulate. People are engaged and engaging.

I have no clue what to say.

Reading through the comments, I felt like anything smart I could say had been said. Either that, or anything I would say would come off wrong, like I was trying to sound smart. In life, I would just toss in a dash of irony and let everyone know, Hey, I’m no jerk! I’m still trying to figure out what the online equivalent of that is.

Anyway, enough complaining. Time to participate in my first online class discussion. This week’s topic has to do with writing like a dreamscape. I’ll let you know how it goes.

–Cara

It’s not the destination — it’s the journey.

We’ve all heard it before: It’s not the destination — it’s the journey. Some journeys are literal: road trips and hikes, study abroad and backpacking a continent. There are others such as your journey starting as a freshman in college and ending as valedictorian at graduation. Or you hear something controversial and decide to delve into scholarly articles, personal accounts and more to figure out where you stand.

All of these are journeys and they all change you in one way or another.Then, there are the journeys I’ve taken via reading. I discovered the Wardrobe with Lucy and greeted Mr. Tummus. There was largenothing like experiencing falling down the rabbit hole with Alice. One of my favorite journeys was walking out of that old house in Paris that was covered in vines, with the smallest of all the girls — Madeline. I remember my first day at Hogwarts with Harry, Ron and Hermione. I can precisely recall the adventures I went on with them as we grew older, wiser, and braver. There is nothing like an adventure through imagination. And it was these adventures with Harry, Ron and Hermione, with Lucy and Alice, with Madeline, that I discovered my own adventures and journeys through writing. I’ve worked on stories/short pieces based in a university laundry room, Camden Lock (London), Washington Heights (NYC), the Dominican Republic, and most recently— an alternate universe. Your imagination could take you on so many journeys.

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Don’t let anything stop you from them.  New York Times said it perfectly: It’s not the destination — it’s the journey. We’ve all heard this before.

What does it mean to you? There are literal journeys, like road trips or hikes, but there are other kinds, too, such as learning and mastering a skill, or doing in-depth research about something.

What are your journeys? What did they teach you about yourself? Talk about the journeys you’ve taken or are dreaming to take.

What have you gained from your past journeys? Why do you want to take future journeys? Do you believe that in such undertakings, it’s what happens along the way that matters more than crossing the real or metaphorical finish line?

NEG

Some Wonderful People

By Brittany Berke 

“Door: Gold lettering on a black plate reads ‘Gotham Writers Workshop’

Do I have coffee breath?

Is my hair okay?

I know they said ‘casual’ but am I too casual??

There’s a glass door- Plexiglas?- and there are adults inside that I badly want to impress which is why I’m writing in this tiny journal I just bought at Penn instead of texting Jake cute emojis to try to make him smile in class.

Should I have warmed up?

The doorman was sweet. We shook hands. I told him I was headed up to Gotham. He told me “They’re some wonderful people”.

Should I put the journal away- is it weird that I have a backpack?

Okay a guy just walked out and I nervously went “helloooo” and he was like hi. Is he interviewing me? Is that Alex?

Do I have coffee breath?

Maybe coffee breath is okay? Coffee is a nice-to-smell thing.

AH the guy walked back into the room and went “Let’s do this thing”. Oh gawd.

Breathe.

Put the journal away.”

This is word-for-word my journal entry from when I was waiting for my Gotham interview on April 7th, 2015. Rereading it I can freely admit that I seem neurotic at best. It’s all true (and all embarrassing)- I really did buy a tiny overpriced Moleskine journal in Penn Station hoping the Gotham staff would be impressed that I was writing instead of texting. I thought they’d say “Oh look, this girl is writing! We like writing! Let’s pick her.” And I really did regret not warming up. I’ve spent years of my life auditioning and performing; I thought maybe I should have done some lip trills? Arpeggios? At least a few ‘cleansing breaths’?

Sure enough, the “guy” was Alex and I was called in for my interview shortly after putting away the journal. We sat in the conference room while Dana sipped tea and told me it was less of an interview and more of a discussion. We chatted about college, about theatre, about what we loved to read and write and hated to read and write. I couldn’t stop smiling and interjecting “cool” and “wow” into conversation. I left feeling like there was just no way any potential employers could be so wonderful.

When I received Dana’s e-mail welcoming me to the position a few days later, I was so excited that I forgot to answer her. She followed up- thankfully- making sure I was still interested which of course I wholeheartedly was and continue to be. And now I’m here. I’m sitting in a beautiful office in the middle of Manhattan. From the staff to the other interns to Henry the doorman I have the pleasure of interacting with only the best of people. I spend my days reading and writing and basically floating with joy.

As a Gotham Intern for the past two weeks I have also become a brain stormer, blog poster, phone answerer, spellchecker, format fixer, and absolute lover of all things at 555 8th Avenue. I often find myself checking the Gotham website just to look at all of the amazing classes we offer again. I want to write it all, learn everything, and soak in the magic that circulates in this office.

I’m grateful that Dana and Alex took a chance on a nervous and fervently journaling freshman who was so busy squealing with joy at an e-mail that she forgot to answer it. I’d like to think they chose me less because of my pre-interview activity and more because they saw something in me that they wanted hanging around the office all summer. That’s a great feeling. But if the journal won them over, I guess I’m okay with that, too. The gold lettering on Gotham’s door was the first thing I noted on April 7th, and now it’s the first thing I see when I get here in the morning to start each perfect day.