Friday, September 17, 2021

Q&A with Mindy Weisel




Mindy Weisel is the author of the new memoir After: The Obligation of Beauty. It focuses on her life as the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Her other books include Daughters of Absence, and she is also an artist. She lives in Jerusalem.


Q: What inspired you to write After: The Obligation of Beauty, and how long did it take you to write?


A: In 2009 I started writing a memoir. It was called Making Marks. I worked on this slowly for another 11 years, while also painting, exhibiting and traveling. The writing/manuscript kept changing titles, as did the subject and the essence of what I was trying to explore.


In its final stages, instead of focusing primarily on my parents' history, as Holocaust survivors, I started to explore more on what being raised in a Holocaust survivors’ home meant to me, as the only daughter, and how, in fact, did I come to believe in beauty and art, coming from that bleak background.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The title of the book came after almost 10 years of title changes. The title "After": instead of talking about the Holocaust, my life before coming to the U.S., I became most interested in what happened after.


After we came to the U.S, how did we start a new life (after three years in Bergen-Belsen)? How did I survive the drama/seriousness/obligations/loneliness/tragedy of coming from a Holocaust survivors’ home? How did I become a serious painter? How did my life enter and inform my work? How did I combine being a wife and mother; losing my own mother?


The subtitle "the obligation of beauty" came from my youngest daughter (now 39, University of Chicago graduate, lives here in Israel, mother of two) who felt my life had meaning when I was involved with "beauty" in one form or another.


That beauty was what gave my life a sense of fulfillment - whether in creating it or participating in it in nature or other art forms: music, dance, poetry. My love of flowers. All came into focus while writing.


Q: As an artist and a writer, how do the two creative forms coexist for you?


A: When I'm not painting, I seem to be writing, yet when I'm painting I'm also writing. I start each work by writing directly on the canvas or paper, what I'm feeling, thinking, what's going on in the world, reactions to music, poetry, etc., and I write and write until words lose their meaning and only mark-making makes sense.


When I'm doing actual writing, no painting, it seems to come from a quieter place, and I can let the writing just almost form itself. 


I write and edit only when I've written for days. I don't judge or edit anything while working, whether writing or painting. Both in writing and painting, I seem to work in layers. Layers of time. Layers of experience. Layers of thought. Layers of emotion.


Q: You write, "We were an entire generation looking at our parents' faces to see how they felt." Can you say more about that?


A: I don't know a Holocaust survivor's child who grew up worrying about themselves. The emphasis was always on making their parents "happy." 


All I wanted, as far back as I can remember, was to be as "perfect" as I could be - not cause my parents any aggravation nor make demands on their time nor energy. I felt my entire purpose in life was to provide them with as much "ease" as possible.


All my cousins and friends, who, like me, were survivors' children, felt their mission was simply to make their parents feel fulfilled. I tried to keep my parents in the present. I could read my parents' faces from the curve of a lip, to a tip of an eyebrow, and know whether they were "here" or "there."


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on a project for Berlin, a grant gifted to me from the U.S. embassy in Berlin.


I will be creating a series in glass as an antidote to Kristallnacht, the night of the broken glass, November 9, 1938, in Germany. I am working on taking broken glass, and creating 18 new fused glass windows (18 for Chai - to life). These new glass works will represent the survival of beauty.


This exhibition coincides with the publication of my book and will also be called AFTER The Obligation of Beauty.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: That I am very grateful, Deborah, for your interest in my work and in sharing it with your readers. I send all loving regards from Jerusalem.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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