(c) 2014 Rayven Young, Photographer
bill berry: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. As I read your poetry and internalized the emotions contained in your artwork, I wondered at what point in your life did you start to write poetry, create art and was there a motivating scenario that led to each aspect of your creative expressions?
Chrystal Berche: You’re welcome, Bill, and thank you for asking me to participate.
I started writing poetry when I was ten or eleven, simple like 5-7 line pieces, some of which my mother still has put away in her scrapbooks. What inspired me to start writing was simply all the reading that I did growing up. We lived on a Navy base on Guam. There wasn’t a lot to do after school but read, play in the park and swim, so whenever I couldn’t go outdoors I read. After a while, I got bored with my own books so I started reading the classics and the poetry that my mom had laying around the house. I remember thinking to myself “I can do that” so I put pen to paper and tried. Drawing kind of happened the same way. I wanted to try to mimic the cartoon characters in my coloring books, so those imitations of ‘Tigger’ and ‘Donald’ were the first drawings I ever really did. It was a great rainy day activity for an only child.
bb: Maybe your Mom can pull a few early poems out of her scrapbook and we can include them as inclusions for this interview and it would be a hoot to even see your early drawings if any of those still exist! Seriously, ask her. And your early art will make for great visuals. Anyway, so you grew up in a military environment and family household that valued reading and literature. In what ways did that childhood environment contribute to your development growing up, and do you still feel a kinship with those childhood influences in your current work?
CB: I will certainly ask her about the poems; the drawings are much easier, I still have the first real sketchbook I ever received so I will scan a few images and send them to you. As for my childhood environment, I think it was the perfect breeding ground for a rich and active imagination. As I mentioned before, I was an only child, which can be lonely if you can’t think of ways to keep yourself occupied, so not only would I read, but I would sit daydreaming and thinking up my own endings for stories. Sometimes I would re-write the stories in my mind, and other times I would use my toys to act out the stories the way that I thought they should take place. Eventually, I started writing down the stories that I was creating or the ideas that I had for how something should unfold.
Images from Chrystal’s first “real” sketchbook as a child
When I was a kid I would sit in this old tree fort in the woods with my notebook and a good book and I would get lost in the story. It was a great place to silently just sit undisturbed without having to be inside the house. I think that love of going out into nature and sitting in silent places is one of the biggest things I have carried with me from my childhood, because the woods is the place I go the most to read and work on my stories and poetry. I still read a great deal too. I still think about ways that a story could have gone a different way, or how a character might have been portrayed. It is still a great way to generate ideas, playing the “what if” game.
bb: There is a certain whimsy, joyful abandonment, and imagination in these early sketches. And I know as an adult, you still find solace and creative peace in the woods so I am compelled to raise a “what if’ question. Keeping your penchant for reading and writing and even your love of the woods, if you were not being creative what would you be doing? What if your life aspirations were not the way they are now, what would you be doing with your life? And “what if” the woods, reading, and writing were not majority stakeholders in your life or just absent because you were raised differently, who would Chrystal Berche be and what would that person be doing at this stage of life?
CB: I’d like to think I’d have turned to my other love, archeology. All the traveling, the history in each of the places that we visited, the museums and living history depictions my parents took me to was something that always fascinated me not to mention I’d fallen in love with the Indiana Jones movies and archeology seemed exciting and fun. I’d like to think that at this stage in my life, I would be traveling from dig to dig, maybe finding old catacombs of dinosaur bones. I never could decide which I would have preferred to tailor my studies towards, paleontology or archeology but I always loved digging so that’s what I think I would be doing if I wasn’t writing and creating digital art. On a side note, I do still fossil hunt in creek beds. I’ve found a spear head; no arrow heads yet, unfortunately, but I have found Bison teeth too. It’s always fun to discover something that’s just been lying there for longer than you’ve been alive.
bb: With your inner sense of exploration and discovery that is evident in your creative work supplemented by the alter–ego realization of searching for things lost, are there any poets, writers and/or visual artists you have “discovered” lately who rock your world and influence the work that you are doing?
CB: The poet who will always be my primary inspiration is Jim Morrison. From the time I was in high school and found the volume of his poetry titled “An American Night,” I’ve been hooked on his way of using words to paint a scene of make a point about some aspect of life and society. His poems read like his music, this swirling blend of shamanism, mysticism and experience that makes you look deeper than the words when you read his work.
As for writers, I consider myself a very open person when it comes to reading new work. I am part of a writing group in my town, as well as participate in online critiquing, so I’m always reading something different. Right now a lot of what I am reading is old folklore. I’m pulling together myths about the Selkies as preparation for a story that I plan to write.
As for digital artists/photographers, I am a huge fan of Frank C. Grace (https://www.flickr.com/photos/41658249@N02/) who is a photographer from New Bedford, Massachusetts, where I went to high school. His style is very dynamic, lots of HDR usage, crisp images and amazing composition, and it’s what I model my photography after, and photography is really the base of my digital art, especially with the pieces I’ve been working on in a new collection.
bb: Interesting choice of influencers and your pending work on the Selkies should be very intriguing. While you have experienced living in different parts of the world, how did you get to MA for high school and what prompted you to be where you are now? Is there a part of the US that you would prefer to live in?
CB: My father’s family lives in New Bedford, and with my mom getting out of the Navy and looking for a civilian job, it seemed like the best place to head would be close to family. I lived there for four years, then moved to Vermont for about three years after I graduated (from where). I’ve also lived in Virginia for a time and Tennessee before landing in Iowa. The choice to move to Iowa, and remain here was made about 8 years ago, and it was the best choice I have ever made in regards to places to live because it is so peaceful and the woods and trails stretch on to where a person can spend the whole day out in them and not see anyone else. I’d initially visited the state with a friend and stayed the week with her on her father’s farm and just being able to sit by the fire pit and listen to the crickets and the flames made my writing flow effortlessly. I knew by the end of the week that it was the place that I wanted to be. This is the place I prefer to live, though there are still plenty of places, like Alaska, that I would love to visit and photograph.
bb: It appears you have found a serenity…a joyful and fulfilling home where you have nestled your heart and spirit. Too many people want such a place but because of a job, family or whatever their situation is, they fail to create their place on this earth and just settle for what is before them. You have not, and have been very gracious in sharing who you are. There are other things I now know about you off-interview that our readers will just have to wait to read somewhere else. But with that said, is there anything else that you are willing to share publicly that would even surprise me?!
CB: Well, I am utterly and completely spontaneous. I find it next to impossible to work within any sort of a time table or a schedule. What that translates to with my artwork is that it is completely unplanned and comes together in Photoshop sometimes in tiny steps and other times in huge leaps and bounds. I never quite know what the plan is for the day when I roll out of bed, which is usually what makes the day turn out so wonderful. On a side note, I am also a huge professional wrestling fan. I’ve been watching since I was a child. I love the X-Games, especially snowboarding in winter and I am a mega fan of dirt track motorcycle racing and freestyle. I love rodeo, the sound of an acoustic guitar, and sitting around the fire ring at night, reading, or writing stories by firelight.
bb: Growing up, I loved watching wrestling on TV…Bruno Samartino, the Graham Brothers…and didn’t care if it was fake or not, the same with roller derby. Anyway, this is not about me, therefore, I suspect it would be an understatement to attached ‘renaissance woman’ to your life since you are more than that term can convey.
So Ms. Berche in closing, without thinking, quickly answer the following ten questions and THANK YOU for a delightful and informative conversation. Wishing you the best! I’m out.
N.B. Chrystal’s answers are in red.
Pizza or ice cream?
Ice cream, homemade in the ice cream maker; peach is my favorite, along with blackberry.
Hybrid car or bicycle/mountain bike?
Neither. Pickup truck or dirt bike depending on the trail and the accessibility.
Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Rolling Stones. Wild Horses is one of my favorite songs, though I do love the Beatles Blackbird.
Vinyl or CD?
Nothing beats Vinyl. I still have all of my records, among them The Doors, Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, Led Zepplin, and Pink Floyd.
DVD or movie theater?
DVD. I like to watch things over and over if I really enjoy them, and I’m not a person who likes crowds, so the theater isn’t really appealing to me.
Print books or digital reader?
Print. There is just something about having the physical book in hand and the connection that comes through the pages. I like being surrounded by books. If all of my books were on a digital reader, my living space would be very, very empty.
Saving water or reducing carbon footprint?
Saving and preserving water. It’s such a shame to see what some of our rivers and lakes look like. I’ve visited places where the water is clear and bright and beautiful and you can drink it right out of the spring. There is no reason for so many of our natural resources to be polluted, destroyed, and mistreated the way they’ve been over the years. I think it’s time people stop and look at the way they use and treat our water supply and think of ways that they could be less wasteful.
Exploiting the Rainforest for possible new drugs or new technology to prevent building collapses during an earthquake?
New technology, definitely. I don’t believe in exploiting any of the world’s forests, there are better ways of creating new drugs, in my opinion.
Affordable citizen-driven space travel or manned mission to Mars?
Neither. I feel strongly that before we need to take care of our own world before trying to visit others. We have so many veterans in this country that need assistance, far too many folks living on the streets, children who don’t get proper meals before going to school, schools where teachers are spending portions of their salaries just to provide basic teaching supplies for their classrooms. Elderly citizens without proper care, the list of those who need aid is long and growing longer each day. Those millions of dollars we spend on space exploration could be put to better use aiding those who need help.
Live to be 100 or have perfect health now?
Live to be 100. I just imagine all of the things I could accomplish if I had time like that to dabble in all of the things that catch my attention and interest. Plus, I’d get to see the changes that come; things that haven’t even been imagined yet. Who knows, maybe we finally get to fly “Jetson” cars.
When aaduna started, I did an interview process titled “E-Viewpoints” with contributors. The purpose was to construct a wider audience for aaduna writers and artists while providing our readership with a better understanding and glimpse of the individuals who penned the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction and created the diverse array of visual arts. For a variety of unplanned reasons, I took a hiatus from that initiative. But now, I am back with “Conversations.” The plan is to chat with current and previous contributors and delve into aspects of their background that you may find intriguing and uplifting. I hope you become a regular follower of this series of “Conversations” and continue to enjoy the work of the individual that I have a chat with. The intent is not to be “in your face” but enable you to savor the nuances, expectations, and challenges that aaduna contributors face as people, just like you and me. I think you will find “Conversations” interesting, maybe provocative, and enlightening. I hope so.