Teresa Bergen is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. After years of toil in literary fiction, she is now completing her first thriller. Her articles and stories have appeared many places, including Exquisite Corpse, Ms., and the South China Morning Post. Teresa’s website is www.babylovecat.com. She contributes regularly to portland.readinglocal.com.
S&TG: Do you use the word artist, poet, etc. to describe yourself? Do you feel like you don’t “deserve” to call yourself that because you’re not paid, published, etc. or famous? Have you always thought of yourself as an artist?
I do a few different artistic things, including painting, writing, and playing bass. I’ve been paid for all of these activities at various times – not enough to make a living – but paid, nonetheless. I don’t worry about the deserving part. God knows I’ve written and painted a lot, so I feel fine describing myself as a writer and painter. Calling myself a musician might be a stretch.
S&TG: And what does it mean to you to be an artist, poet, etc? And have you always thought of yourself as one? If not, when did you?
It means I’m dedicated to expressing myself through some kind of art form. It’s always what I’ve done. As a kid, I wrote stories, painted, made things out of clay, thumped on percussion instruments.
S&TG: How long have you been making art?
Since I shot out of Mama’s womb.
S&TG: Why is your art important to you? Why do you spend time creating when you could be doing something completely different and no one else would stop you?
Haven’t found anything more satisfying to do with my time.
S&TG: What does it feel like to create? No, seriously, what does it feel like?
Kind of uncomfortable sometimes. I am mostly a writer, and I don’t wait for muses. I sit my butt down and make myself write. It’s not always fun. Often I prefer the editing over the writing.
S&TG: What kind of art do you make? What excites you as an artist?
After a long time writing literary fiction, I am trying to write a commercial thriller. It’s been a big challenge to come up with all the twists and turns a thriller requires. I’ve also been writing some point of view characters that are very different from[for?] me. That’s required lots of research and efforts at empathy.
S&TG: What’s your creative process? Do you follow a routine?
I’m self-employed, so I always have to see how much paying work I have in a week. Then I plan my writing sessions around that. I like to live indoors, so paying for that roof over my head comes first.
S&TG: Are there habits or places that help you create or get you inspired?
My couch is super inspiring. Coffee. Cafes.
S&TG: Who are your creative heroes?
Those who persist.
Some of my favorite writers are Graham Greene, Francois Sagan and Joan Didion.
S&TG: What are your dreams?
Make a living as a novelist. Paint as a hobby. Live somewhere sunny with someone I love.
S&TG: What kind of support system do you have?
Great family and friends, including lots of writers and other artists of various sorts. My friends in a monthly Art Club where we share our latest works and cheer each other on. A boyfriend who keeps all my electronics working so I have computers to write on. A devoted cat who likes to sit on my lap underneath the laptop. (I don’t recommend this. I hear the fur can get inside the computer.)
S&TG: What’s the most important lesson that you want to share with a beginning artist about how to be creative?
In the words of Jack Kerouac, “Something that you feel will find its own form.”
Making a living
S&TG: How do you pay your bills? Etc.
Mostly from words. I work in the field of oral history, transcribing, editing, and making finding aids for interviews. I do some freelance writing. I teach yoga. I also have a wholesale business making costume devil horns, mostly for Halloween and Mardi Gras.
S&TG: How does the way you make a living right now either support or complicate making art?
Listening to oral history interviews gives me insight into different character types, so that is useful. But it’s also solitary and involves staring at a screen, just like writing. So sometimes I overdose on that. Yoga is a good counterbalance for too much sitting and wiggling my fingers over a keyboard.
S&TG: What’s the most important lesson you want to share with an artist about how to make a living?
Try not to use up all your energy on a job if you want to have some left over for art. I know too many artists that have nothing left after work, so they fall into the beer-and-TV trap.
S&TG: Do you hope to make a living doing your art one day?
S&TG: Do you feel having to make money limits your creative life?
Yes and no. People who don’t have to make a living often become unmoored from reality. Plus, the rest of us resent them.