Interviews

Life, Chaos, & the Sublime: An Interview with Barbara Greenstein

Nancy and I are delighted that Barbara Greenstein will be joining us in August for High Altitude Inspiration Retreat in Grand Lake (Note: There is ONE room still available for one or two to share and we’d love for you to join us!).

  • Hi and welcome to our blog, Barbara! Regarding the upcoming gathering in Grand Lake, what are you most looking forward to?

I’m new to Flash Fiction – I’ve haven’t intentionally written in the genre.  But I’ve been writing small pieces for years, and I’m excited to be part of a gathering at 8000 feet all about words and stories and creativity.  Sounds like heaven to me. 

  • What are the themes or topics or images that seem to recur in your writing, i.e., what are your writerly obsessions?

My writing often deals with family, with illness, with trees and landscape, and with human interaction. I believe Grace Paley’s observation that a good story is found at the intersection of two stories.  I’m often looking for the intersection of the transgressive and the sublime.  I want to know what brings you to your knees.  One of my family members has had a serious chronic illness for over 25 years.  While I can’t change it, I can describe it, and be a witness. When my world becomes fraught, I try to take a step back and deal with the chaos in a writerly way. 

  • Wow, yes, I love that from Grace Paley (one of my favorite writers) and I love what you say here about “the intersection of the transgressive and the sublime.” It makes me eager to get to know you and your writing more! Now…Solitude vs. Community: what is your own perfect balance of these two when it comes to your writing life?

One week before the Twin Towers fell I had the great good fortune to join a weekly writing workshop.  Since then I’ve been meeting with the same teacher (Irene Borger) and largely the same people. We’ll listen to poetry, or sentences, or a particular approach, write for 45 minutes or so, and then read our work aloud. Speaking and hearing my own words, and getting immediate feedback always changes how I perceive what I’ve written. I’ve learned that I can be funny – because people laugh.  And of course we know each other so well by now, the group is infused with trust and love.  So I’ve benefitted greatly from having a writing community.  I’ve done a poorer job at creating my own space to write.  I’m hoping that the Flash workshop will open some floodgates, or at least doors. 

  • Oh, I know it will, Barbara! And you’re very lucky to have a regular writing group like that. Is there an author you’d love to meet someday? And why?

Barry Lopez.  Arctic Dreams changed the way I saw the world.  His latest book, Horizon, is stacked near my bed but as yet unread.  I love the way Lopez combines a deep look at the natural world with history and anthropology and biology and art and personal reflection. He draws threads from many disciplines to weave the world into something glittering and whole, all done in lyrical language.  I’d also place Robert McFarlane and Peter Mathiessen in this group.  And Rebecca Solnit, as a wide-ranging public intellectual, writing about landscape and art and humanity.  Any of them, give me any of them to meet, to listen to.   

  • Oh yes. I’m imagining a very large table with food and drink and favorite authors gathered. Heaven! Barbara, is there something about you that you’d like to share? 

I love baseball.  And so far it’s been a good year to watch the Dodgers, though I worry about their relief pitching.

This last spring I took two classes at UCLA on writers in early modern Italy.  In one class we read Dante, Boccachio, Machiavelli, and about Michaelangelo, Rafael, Leonardo, Galileo.  The second class was on women’s voices from that same period.  Reading primary sources (in English translation) of women from the 1400s – 1600s is an education in female intellect and oppression and how far we have, and haven’t come in half a millennium.  

  • What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

At the Port Townsend Writer’s Conference, 2004, from the poet Olga Broumas, at a craft lecture. “Rinse your words.  Hold up the page and let the words and the syllables you don’t need fall off the page.”  

Wow, I love that advice. Seems especially apt for flash fiction. Thanks so much for your time, Barbara! See you soon in Grand Lake!

Barbara’s Bio: A degree in Anthropology.  Grad school:  Paleolithic archaeology, then primate behavior.  Six months in Puerto Rico watching rhesus monkeys.  Drop out with Imposter Syndrome.  Law school.  Work at the Santa Monica Rent Control Board, at Legal Aid, in the City Attorney’s Office.  Poverty law, landlord tenant, employment law.  Every case a story.  Join a writer’s workshop. Married with children.  A boy and a girl, now 35 and 33.  A husband with multiple sclerosis.  Retire after 30 years.  Two dogs, a fluffy white Marilyn Monroe of dogs, and a crazy Pekingese who talks to me.  A stint at the Getty Villa, immersed in myths and spells and ancient lore.  A house with a secret garden:  A tough job, watching the light, but somebody has to do it. 

Note: There is ONE remaining room available for our Grand Lake Retreat (for one or two to share). Consider joining us! We’d love to have you!

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