I also blog at A Mile a Minute over here. The site is about mental health issues and advocacy.
,I interviewed Gina Barreca, columnist, humorist, professor, and author about writing funny, gender roles, and the direction of this country. Barreca writes a column in the Hartford Courant, teaches English at UCONN and is the author of many books including If You Lean in, Will Men just look down your blouse?. We opened up with talk about the recent elections and Barreca openly said she was dissappointed but wished the columnist Molly Ivins were around to comment on this one.
AZ: What’s wrong with American society today?
GB: We have a bigger divide in terms of class more than anything else. I think we need to have a better context for making sense of our country. We don’t talk to people who believe differently than we do enough. We need to make sure people get the ramifications of choices they make.
AZ: What direction is America going in?
GB: We may be heading in one direction but that doesn’t mean we can’t change it.
The conversation turned to a different direction.
AZ: Describe yourself in six words.
GB: Loud. Funny. Troublemaking. Curious. Hungry. Lucky.
AZ: What makes you, you?
GB: I have a lot less shame than other people do. I say out loud what other people are worried about saying. I rarely hear from anybody that’s a bizarre idea. I learned to be a little more fearless a little earlier than others my age I’m 59. My mother died when I was 16. I recognized that tomorrow was promised to no one and had a sense of my own mortality and do what I needed to do as swiftly as possible.
GB: It profoundly alters the course of your life and how you look at time. You realize people die before a lot of older people. I try to make sure I do something every day that makes me laugh, that gives me pleasure.
AZ: What is the secret to writing funny?
GB: Listening to what people have to say. To write funny all you have to do is pay attention. There is no trick. You don’t invent. You simply write down as fast as you can what you hear. The great thing about writing funny is all the material is laid out. I don’t write fiction because it is a mystery to me how people can invent in that way. I don’t have that capacity. Not my talent. Boy can I all I need to do is watch television ads, read a magazine or newspaper, go to CVS or listen to my students and I got enough stuff. But you have to write it all down immediately. I carry notebooks with me everywhere. You can’t say I’ll remember that. You lose the intensity and sharp edge of the moment when you actually hear it.
AZ: What mistakes do women writers make?
GB: They try to write to please. Power is the ability not to have to please. Any writer is not writing to please. He or she is writing with power and with honesty and not to make anybody happy. Write without fear. Simple but not easy. Terrified we will get judged.
Barreca’s not afraid of what she writes. When she gets hatemail and believe me, she does, she thanks the person first before she responds to the comment.
GB: Most of the time people just want to be heard. Acknowledgement and validaton is what everybody wants. All of us have so much more in common than we think.
The conversation then turned toward relationships.
AZ: How do you define a good relationship?
GB: Something where you get to say what you want without fear of being censored. My husband and I married 25 years and we laugh a lot. Sharing humor is an intimate act among friends or in a partnership.
Barreca shared that the writers she loves arer Margaret Atwood, Fay Weldon, and the early humorists such as Dorothy Parker, Jean Kerr, and Erma Bomback. She’s involved in the Erma Bomback Writer’s Workshop in person and online.
The non-writers she admires are as she dedicates in her latest book If you Lean in, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse, the women who ride the bus to the end of the line, women who are earning minimum wage and have kids they plan on sending to college. She admired Hilary Clinton and feels a sense of loss for Janet Reno. She grew up in Brooklyn next door to Judy Scheindlen and always found her a strong, funny woman.
I asked Barreca if there was anything else she wanted to talk about and she answered with “What’s the real question you want to ask?, The “Secret” question under all this?
I asked about her relationship to food.
GB: I like to cook. I never use a recipe when I cook. When I cook, I cook enough food for 12 people. I make a fabulous lasanga When I cant read or write or grade papers anymore and I still feel like do something productive that will bring joy that has nothing to do with language, I cook.
Barreca doesn’t read many food writers but loves the Faith Middleton Show on Food Schmooze.
To reach Gina Barreca click on her web site at www.ginabarreca.com.
From the photos posted on her blog, Susannah Conway, a 41-year-old Londoner, might be described as the next Diane Arbus creating meaningful moments of her passions, her loves, her city. In stark simplicity, she shares images both real yet deeply personal. Her writing too draws you in as if reading the journal of a good friend, true writing from the heart.
As the owner of a creative online business, Conway wears many hats—author, photographer, blogger, teacher. She works alone in her flat and refills the well with a coffee and sessions with her journal. A prolific journaler since age 11 and a self-confessed stationary addict, she owns many, her favorite being Moleskine notebooks and Filofax binders. But she’s never met a notebook she didn’t fall in love with as she touts the cute, unusual ones on her blog from time to time.
Conway is the author of Londontown: A Photographic Tour of the City’s Delights, This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart, co-author of Instant Love: How to Make Magic and Memories with Polaroids, along with over five e-courses which she teaches independently on her blog.
I was an active reader of her blog, admiring the simple beauty of her photography, and one day I joined her conversation and enrolled in her Unraveling e-course. The course explored the photography of our lives and journal prompts were included for those inclined to write as well. We shared our photographs on Flickr and Conway not only led the course but shared her photo interpretations of the prompts. Conway gives of herself unselfishly in both art and as an instructor. Unraveling is about peeling the layers back of our inner onions, embracing the good and the awful truths, and discovering and nurturing our gifts.
“Unraveling is not a bad thing. It’s not coming undone or losing control. It’s a letting go in the best possible way, untangling the knots that hold you back, unwrapping the gifts you’ve hidden far too long, unearthing the potential that’s always been there, finally ditching the labels and should-haves, and letting yourself be what you were always meant to be,” says Conway in her book This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart.
Conway, an art school trained photographer who also lauds a journalism degree, worked in fashion journalism in London when her life was struck by something unthinkable. In her early thirties, her boyfriend at the time died of a heart attack. This launched her life into a period of bereavement. She fled London for England’s coast—trying to reclaim her fragile sense of self by the sea. Through working with a therapist, she began to look deeper, look backwards, and examine her life, her relationships, her family, her values. Through journaling and therapy, she began to gain more and more clarity, self awareness, and insight into her own creative process. She began to discover a way to use her talents of writing and photography in making a living. And the name Unraveling stems from the song by the Weepies of the same title which she heard one day as the idea for her future business clicked. First she offered it in person at a recreation center but as she wrote about it on her blog, which began about her grief and keeps evolving, her readership grew and people outside of England wanted in on it. Unraveling went online, then going viral. It wasn’t long before Conway was supporting herself again.
Every week she ate lunch out with friends or by herself always planning her budding business. Her blog caught the attention of a publisher and she gleaned the opportunity to write a book proposal for This I Know. Her friendships online led to her collaborating on another book on Polaroids as well as creating the Red Fox retreats housed at a castle in England.
Today, she recently completed another book, Londontown, after lugging her Polaroid SX-70, and other antique cameras in her collection—not to mention her iPhone around London documenting the city and its peoples. When not working, she spends her time with her 4-year-old nephew, Noah, and helps her sister with the new baby.
You can read her blog, enroll in her courses, and/or buy her books at http://www.susannahconway.com.
I am working on the manuscript for a memoir and I don’t seem to get that you have to write every day to make progress. Twice a week is not good enough. I need to write three pages a day every day. The first draft can be shitty, leaves lots of room for editing.
Work with all your heart, because—-I promise—-if you show up for your work day after day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom. —Elizabeth Gilbert
Revision is part of the process that makes the work whole. Hopefully, I’ll hire a good editor to work with me to shape the draft into everything it could be. This person should ideally not only copy edit but help me write more self-reflexively into the draft. Good editing gets to the heart of the story.
What trouble do you have in facing the blank page?
I know what its like to dance with fireflies on a hot summer night in the middle of a field of grass. I know what it means to love with reckless abandon. And I know the most truest form of love. I know the sweet and sour taste of his lips. I know facts like arithmetic, grammar, and history. I know that some things only the metaphysical world can explain. I know the feelings beyond each season changing. I know super elation and I know the bottoms of a fugue state. I know the better part of a musical encyclopedia. I know the musicality of language. I know what to eat and what not to. I know how to exericse. I know myself after an indepth investigation (lots of therapy). I know the secrets in literature. I know the difference between a person and a label. I know how to take a good photograph. I know the sour sweet taste of cold lemonade. I know that dreams take action. I know that I need to know so much more. I know that I know nothing at all.
What do you know?
I created this pdf to give you 50 ideas to help you our of a slump and get you moving, creating again. Many years ago in my twenties I used to feel periodic feelings of emptiness. I had to learn to embrace this feeling and how to get myself moving again. I don't get these feelings anymore thanks to the help of the suggestions on this pdf. Each one I have tried and I know works. I still get periods of writer's paralysis and these suggestions work for this too.
Coal miners bring canaries with them when they go down under the ground. When the birds stop singing, it means they are close to poisons and it is time to get out of there. The birds are sensitive to the poisons and they alert the miners that they too are approaching danger. It’s a lot like life. Toxic words and beliefs damage our psyches and our souls. We need to carry an inner canary with us and really listen when it stops singing. I heard this story on a video by author and blogger Glennon Doyle Melton and it got me thinking.
My inner canary almost had a psychic heart attack. I was raised in a liberal Jewish bastion, lived in cities like Boston and Chicago for most of my life, was the token heterosexual writing for a gay and lesbian newspaper, staunch Obama supporter, advocate for mental health, environment, any cause to be just and worthwhile. I had teachers and therapists tell me I was too liberal and I would get into trouble on college and job applications if I didn’t soften my views. I didn’t buy it.
But when I got married, all that changed. Slowly, I found my old views slipping. I forgot about my friends from afar. I now lived in the suburbs. I began to listen to my husband’s staunch conservative Republican views and place less and less emphasis on my progressive HuffPost reading father. I found myself afraid to express a contrary opinion with my husband. When he knocked gays or the blacklivesmatter movement, I feared the one word that might enlighten him. My truth. The truth that only some people fit the stereotypes and the rest are just people like him and me. I had become the bystander and my beliefs were getting bullied. I thought of my mentors and friends, straight and gay, black and white, who suffered because people talked like that and believed like that. My father always taught me that when someone talked bad about a person of color or any other marginalized group those people suffered and that idol chatter oppressed people more.
Protecting My Inner Canary
My inner canary sings softly. It warns me of a toxic belief system that I wasn’t raised with in the air. Although, I was raised to see both sides of an issue and not to judge until all the facts were in and even then to see the situation as it is, I still need a soul reminder of the toxic sludge of our society. When I hear Hannity or Rush, conservative and even some unabashedly liberal pundits, I have to put up boundaries to prevent other people’s words and beliefs from affecting me. My canary thinks for itself and sings its own tune, a tune that is a compellation tape of everything my soul has ever experienced.
Give a Girl a Journal and you give her permission to create worlds you can only dream about; you spark the poet inside her to write magic; you help her get the pain and angst out about being bullied; you give her a secret to defy her parentals who told her the reasons not to write; you give her a special place to look inside herself, to learn to love the sound of pen on paper; to know that writing is a definate option, even if she decides science will be her main career; you teach her how to live with intention, to set goals, to dream big;
This is what happens when you Give a Girl a Journal. You make magic happen for billions of girls around the world. You help teach girls that their stories count too, that everyone has a story, that it is important to share, that no one is alone out there, there’s always someone who has been through what you’ve been through. Self-confidence. Clarity. Self-love. These are what happen when you Give a Girl a Journal. You can begin right here by clicking on Jamie Ridler’s new initiative to find out more. Share your own journaling stories at #giveagirlajournal on social media.
In my house,
art was for the primed, the disciplined,
those who called themselves artists
and displayed works of grandeur.
I once tried to draw a tulip,
a lonely, red, tulip in a brown, clay pot,
my drawing shoved aside in a drawer.
Monster minateurs, saving art for the very best
to be kept in a cage of perfection.
And I wondered
if they ever started off
drawing rudimentary tulips in clay pots.
Art is for the 3-dimensional they always told me
So I forgot about art.
Forgot how to access it and went off
and found new hobbies to amuse myself with.
Last summer, at the age of 35, I picked up a pen
and found myself doodling on a napkin
I peered back at the nonsensical shapes and lines
and had a glimmer of recognition
“Is this art? Am I doing art?” I said.
Suddenly, the world opened and endless possibilities
Art was free.
This year, 2016, I will be gaining a sense of rhythm in my life. The rhythm of movement/exercise into my weeks. The rhythm of a daily writing schedule. Learning to listen to the rhythms of sound, nature, love. I want to find rhythm, a delicate balance, woven between my days. I want to understand what Virginia Woolf understood when she wrote about the rhythm of the sea. I want the cottonwool to be lifted and to see and feel the world deeply again. These are my simple hopes for the year to be. I don’t make resolutions. I don’t set unrealistic goals. I simply declare that this is the year of health, creativity and love. I may even create a rhythm journal this year. More about that one in a separate post.
On another note, this blog will begin to have interviews talking about their creative lives sometime in mid-January.
If you have one, what is your word of the year?