All posts by Gina Barreca


Advice to a Student Who Didn’t Like His First Year of College

Dear —–,

Thanks for your note today; your mom told me you’d be writing to me to get some advice about how to make your second year at college better than your first.

Let’s begin: The best way to get off to a good start with your professors is to call them “Professor,” and, if they’re women, not “Miss” or “Mrs.”; “Ms.” is preferable to either of those, but I’d stick with “Professor” since you know the person whose advice you’re asking happens to be one of those.

It’s also good to spell that perso…


20 Funny: The August Version (Part 2)

11. “Have you ever wondered about the stupidity of the term ‘o’clock’?  Americans have happily incorporated into our everyday speech a term that makes us sound like leprechauns.” Gene Weingarten, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for The Washington Post, from The Hypochondriac’s Guide to Life. And Death.

12. Voice-mail prompt: “After the tone please leave your I.Q. or your blood pressure, whichever is higher.” Lewis Frumkes, author of How To Raise Your I.Q. by Eating Gifted Children.

13. On health f…


20 Funny: The August Version (Part 1)

George Carlin (HBO photo by Paul Schiraldi on New York Times site. Click to get to source page.)

1-3. “Regardless of what other people say, my tendency to overreact and lose all perspective makes me a theatrically interesting person”; “Because I unfairly demand too much of myself, today I will allow myself to act in distinctly untrustworthy and irresponsible ways”; “I take pride in the fact that my personal power comes from my innate sense of insecurity.”

–Ann Thornhill and Sarah Wells, from Tod…


Do You Remember Your First Computer?

(Photo by Marcin Wichary via Flickr/CC)

On November 30th of 1984, I let a Macintosh computer into my life. Do you remember your very first computer? If you’re anywhere close to my age, I bet you do.

I was a graduate student living mostly on what I made from teaching two sections of basic comp  at Queens College and on loans. But I was also working at the Development Office at Queens where, at six dollars an hour, I wrote most of what turned into a hugely successful grant for the place.

I receive…


Hooray for Mark Emmert!

(Photo at

In an interview with The New York Times on Monday July 23, National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert was asked, “So with the Freeh report coming out about 10 days ago, did you already have options on the table or did all this happen in a 10-day crunch?” to which Emmert answers, “It all happened in a 10-day time period.”

He didn’t pretend, he didn’t waffle, and he didn’t prevaricate. And he didn’t use the word “crunch.”

Mark Emmert took action swiftly, witho…


The Aurora Shooting and Lone-Wolf Grad Students

A conversation on Friday morning about the killings in Colorado by, allegedly, a 24-year-old “former honors student” went something like this:

Friend: “The shooter was a medical student? Don’t they still test for ability to handle stress? What happened to the rigorous standard for the mental health of those entering medical programs?”

G: “For this kid to get into medical school, he had to have recommendation letters saying he could work as part of a team. To find out who wrote those letters woul…


6 Things Your Dissertation Director Wishes You Knew

(photo by Drew Coffman via Flickr/CC)

1. Only you can figure out how to manage your personal and emotional life; as advisers we can listen, challenge comfort, and offer guidance. The guidance we can offer most effectively is of the professional sort.

You must handle your domestic conflicts in the appropriate arena while keeping a check on how they affect your productivity.  Please don’t ask us to assist you with anything apart from your work too often, too regularly, or with too much of an empha…


My Husband on Emma Stone’s Bed in ‘Spider-Man’

Let me clarify that: my husband’s book–Poetry, An Introduction (fifth edition), published by Bedford/St. Martins–appears briefly but decidedly  in the scene where Spider-Man first shows up at her bedroom window. As the good high school student Stone plays, she has a couple of books displayed prominently on the bedspread and TA-DA! Michael’s is one of them.

I was delighted by the prospect of seeing this shot the moment a friend from marketing told us about it; I dragged us both to an early show. …


When Teaching Goes Well, Life Is Good

Dear PK,

Your letter about how amazing it was to talk with your graduate student–the one who really GOT what you were saying and changed the direction of her plans–and then asked me why I recognized earlier in life the pleasures that teaching provides made me incredibly happy.

I’m not saying that only because it’s incredibly generous to me. You’ve always been that. But I’m saying it because you helped to remind me why teaching–good teaching– matters.

Coming to the profession as someone who has a…


Top 20 Smart & Witty Lines for July 2012

1. “I have never allowed my schooling to interfere with my education.” Mark Twain

2. “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  Mark Twain

3. “I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.” Gilda Radner

4. . “Why are they called illegal immigrants? They’re undocumented workers. If someone broke into my house and vacuumed my rug, I might be puzzled. But mad?” Wanda Sykes

5. “Laughter rises out of tragedy, when you need it the most, and rewards you for …


MacFarlane’s ‘Ted,’ Waugh’s ‘Sebastian,’ and Betjeman’s ‘Archie’




Grown men with teddy bears? A new movie with Mark Wahlberg? The 1981 Granada series with Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons? A heartbreaking poem about a teddy bear– mentioning Adler, Jung and Freud in its final stanza?

Okay, so my first thought, when faced with grown men and furry toys, is of the terribly well-groomed Aloysuis belonging to Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited.”

Then I think immediately of Archie, a.k.a. Archibald Ormsby-Gore, the strict Baptist teddy bea…


A Friend’s Letter, Written Right Before Her Death

Dragon sculpture photo via Flickr/CC. JJ loved dragons.

I just returned from a week in the west. It was, as always, beautiful.

And it reminded me, as it always does, of a friend from my days as a student in England who, after getting her M.D. and Ph.D. in pharmacology at Cambridge, moved to a place she loved in the western U.S. only to die of cancer in her early thirties.

JJ was a remarkable woman and I think of her in the way you inevitably think of a friend who dies before her time; she still …


‘The Longest Dusk’: a Poem About Longing in Summer

I picture this boy taking my hand
and then pulling me towards him, of his hands in my hair,
of his mouth hot against mine.
I think of nights when I was seventeen in the long backseats of cars
with one-night-stand boys, never going below the waist dictated by morality and a need not to have to bother: who needed to be that busy on those July evenings?
I remember hands on my breasts and kisses that went on for hours and the deep hunger for tongues and sweat and breaths that
were as shallow and as…


When Did People Stop Whistling?

Remember Harris Mackim from Catcher in the Rye? You probably don’t remember his name. I didn’t either and I spent years of my adolescence reading and re-reading Salinger.

But if you read the book even once, you probably remember Mackim as ”very intelligent and all, but … one of the biggest bores I ever met. He had one of these very raspy voices, and he never stopped talking, practically. He never stopped talking, and what was awful was, he never said anything you wanted to hear in the first pla…


Last, First, Best, and Worst of Sins: Pride

Pride, say the sin scholars, led to our being expelled from Eden; Eve was flattered and ate.

Adam didn’t want to bother making his own meal and since there was no fast food in Paradise, he ate, too. It was downhill from there, leading to depravity, mortality, and Popeye’s-to-go.

Pride made Lucifer into the bad guy. Declaring in Milton’s version that he’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven, Lucifer went from being merely head chef in paradise to owning the first barbecue franchise. As much …


The Joy of Cooking and the Malleus Maleficarum

Photo by Flickr/CC user daniellehelm

Why is gluttony a sin? Because we associate gluttony with incontinence and rapacity. Anything that blurs the clearly delineated boundaries between self-indulgence (giving in to your own desire) and self-denial (giving up on ever getting your desire) is frightening to us as a culture.

We view self-indulgence with contempt and often confuse self-denial with discipline. “Look at how it’s presented to us: Fat is bad and skinny is good; spending is bad and saving …


What, Me Angry?

(Flickr/CC photo by Ricardo Liberato)

Today I am angry about everything. I started off the day by getting mad at myself. I forgot to put gas in the car yesterday, which meant that I need to go to the service station, which meant I’d be late for my first meeting.

I’m mad at the foolish woman I was yesterday who didn’t plan for the efficient and considerate woman that I woke up as today. I’d like to go back and yell at me. (When this wish to tell myself off in different voices becomes too frequent…


Reading, Writing, and Envy

(Photo by NeoGaboX via Flickr/CC)

I owe a great deal to envy. The first piece I ever sent out for publication I wrote only because a girl I went to college with had two poems printed in a small literary journal that I happened to come across in a tiny bookstore on St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan’s East Village.

There I was, flipping through these thin pages after cranking out another paper for graduate school, and there was her name in print. It tripped some internal alarm signal, her name in prin…


Lust: A Dish Best Served Warm

(Photo by Leah Vanderbilt via Flickr/CC)

My students are prudes as well as innocents. Science has convinced them, against their better judgement, that they haven’t actually invented sex. But they continue to believe they are the only people to have ever experienced lust.

Isn’t that just adorable?

Every generation thinks it invents lust, but that’s as cute and as false as every generation’s thinking its elders sat around carving wheels out of stone as the earth’s crust cooled.

As long as people h…


Does Sloth=Lazy=Unproductive=No Fun?

I’m terrified of sloth. More than any other of the cozier and more familiar sins,  I regard sloth as my natural enemy and the embodiment of my biggest fear.

I’m not kidding now. I’d take a festive feast with gluttony, a steamy night with lust, a stuffed purse from greed, a shouting match with anger, a bragging contest with pride, and a beauty contest with envy without worrying about my immortal soul. Maybe I’m overconfident (do I feel a breeze created by heads nodding in unison?), but I still ha…