,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.