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Story of 'Ways to Survive'

It was in June 2019. Donna and Berna, two friends and former colleagues living in

Boston and Istanbul respectively, were having one of their regular video calls, checking in, sharing stories about their lives, news of common friends, and laughing out loud together as they always did no matter how serious the topic. For some time, a highlight of their

conversations had been the dark political and social realities that they were witnessing in their own countries and the world. They discussed how they both found their artistic outlets, painting and poetry, to be at the core of giving expression to positive life forces.

Donna wondered whether they could start an exchange; Berna would share a poem with her and she would pair the poem with a painting. They had a practice of writing together, back and forth, from when they were co-researchers at a university in Boston, but collaborating through their art was new and they were both curious and excited to

venture into this next journey together. 

The process turned out to be somewhat magical. Berna would send Donna a poem and Donna would create a painting to pair with that poem or find a finished painting in her archive which expressed her sense and emotional response to Berna’s poetic words or vice versa. Very often, they allowed the words or image to sink in before creating the pairing; at times, one or the other offered some background on the origins of the poem

or painting which allowed them to have multiple layers to ponder.

They experienced synchrony in their reactions that felt like a rare and unique gift.

In no time, this exchange became a ritual which opened the door for cherished, silent and reflective moments. For a period of six months, during which they exchanged and paired poems and paintings, they allowed themselves to take small breaks from their daily lives. 

From 2007 to 2012, in Boston, Donna and Berna had carried out research in the areas of poverty and homelessness in Massachusetts and in the United States. The work that they did together teaming up with others relied on methods and practices that honored the experiences of those individuals whose lives were directly impacted by policies. They paid attention to individuals’ stories, which enlightened their work and they discovered and

re-discovered: There were as many ‘ways to survive’ as there were individuals and

their stories. 


A few months after they embarked on this new journey of pairing poems and paintings, Donna and Berna decided to put it all together in the form of a book to share it with others. They named their joint endeavor, ‘Ways to Survive’, and decided that all proceeds from the sale of this collection would be given to organizations or causes that are making

a positive difference in the world.

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