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Columnist Marks 10 Years With New Book 'Diary Of A Diva, Behind The Lipstick'
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August 21, 2014 1:18 p.m.
Columnist Marks 10 Years With New Book "Diary Of A Diva, Behind The Lipstick"
Barbarella Fokos, author of "Diary of a Diva, Behind the Lipstick"
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. After years of keeping her finger on the pulse of San Diego's arts, entertainment, and pop culture, Barbarella is out with a book. It's a compilation of some of her best Diary of a Diva columns in San Diego reader plus behind-the-scenes additions from Barbarella and her partner and husband, David. Barbarella produced and hosted Art Pulse TV, which recently won a regional Emmy Award. She has been a frequent guest on this program, talking about everything from plays, art exhibits, to the occasional fig Festival. Her book is called Diary of a Diva, Behind the Lipstick. Barbarella, welcome.
BARBARELLA FOKOS: It's a pleasure, thank you for having me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You searched through about 500 of your Diary of a Diva columns to find the fifty that you included in this book. What kinds of stories made the grade?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: First of all, it was insane. Ten years and 500 columns, it was a weird time machine. Anything that was really funny, well, emotional, honest, or insightful.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If people are not familiar with your column which has been in the San Diego Reader for ten years, for people who are not familiar with the material, how would you describe it?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: I would say it's a memoir, it's funny and poignant, pretty much everything from my first panic attack, from buying my first home and losing my first home, getting married and eloping, family problems, family fun, my own embarrassments, getting attacked by a squirrel, exploring other countries, it's all out there.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the blurbs that your book refers to is the Glasshouse that you and David live in, because your columns are so personal, is that ever a problem?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: Not for me, for David even, because if there's something I was going to be embarrassed of, I shouldn't have done in the first place, that's what he likes to say. He's irritatingly zen about everything. Sometimes for friends and family it has been, where they do not understand why I would share something that might be unflattering.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Can you say that conversation with us? How do you smooth that over?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: I say this happened, this is my truth, this is something that happened, and the only way I can relate to other people is to share my humanity. It's my story and I share it. If it's someone else's story I try not to share it, but if it happened to me, even if it is something stupid that I didn't what David got drunk and toward the toilet paper holder off of the wall one night, you know, silly, funny things.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Which never actually happened.
BARBARELLA FOKOS: If anything, my family likes to say she is exaggerating, and if anything, it's understated, the wacky family stories, it is even crazier than that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Could you read one of the stories to us?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: I would love to. This is a story called Chat Locker, a play on the movie Hurt Locker, because for me going to the grocery store can be as dangerous and scary as navigating a minefield, and this is what happened when I spotted an old coworker that I do not want to talk to. It was during my CIA-esque scoping of the store, Operation Surgical Strike, that I detected her profile, half hidden by a wisp of hair, and the matching profile of the little girl in her card, the kid was the clincher. Like a clairvoyant, I saw the potential conversation unfold before me in a vision: ìwow, Rose, is that you? No way, how have you been?" Listen to superficial answer, nod and smile, must acknowledge the child. If she yours? That's what I thought. She looks just like you. Force enthusiasm of the kids cuteness, then engage the kid directly, make a crazy exaggerated grin, and hope she smiles back, because if she cries at the freaky face, you're obligated to stick around until she has been soothed into silence. Then, eyes back to the mother. What is her name? Oh, that is a beautiful name. She would ask me what I have been up to, and I would have to decide what to share. Not much would be with a vague, but anything positive or negative can be perceived as bragging or complaining. I would focus on working, having fun, same old same old, she would ask if I had kids, and I would have to select a mother friendly explanation of why I don't. Something like "they are great, just not for me." The whole time I would be worrying about our respective perishables, calculating how much time each item would survive without refrigeration. She would say we should hang out, and I think why? But I say totally, and so on. Time would crawl.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Who has not had that experience?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: Smalltalk is super awkward, and would never ends gracefully. You say goodbye and see them in the next aisle, so you have to be aware of each other. A lot of my book is about mild neuroses.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And a shared neuroses with many people, I imagine. You have also added things to be stories, stories from behind the stories, isn't that right?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: Yes, that's what I think is unique about this, most people who write memoirs, there are significant other is a character in the stories, but David, mine who has been written about for ten years, he gets his chance for rebuttal he has his own voice, and throughout the book, anytime a little cool pops up and I'm talking behind the scenes and a camera for David, because he is a photographer, and 20% of it is new. The one reads like a book, it's not mismatched.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Does the substance of any of his commentary surprise you?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: It did, there are things that he never even said to me, David is a quiet man and I know him well, but there is a section where he was basically talking about my neuroses and when I talked about going on medication for depression, and his insights, they are things I did not realize he got onto, and some of it is heartbreaking. In the editing of this book, we both cried.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As you mentioned, you are obviously a gifted comedy writer, however, many of the stories are personal and about personal struggles, depression, or losing your home, is writing a catharsis for you in a way? Actually talking about the things that are the primary stressors in your life, does it help to write?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: It does, and when people ask me why can you talk about such personal things, it is specifically because they are upsetting that I can, because the act of writing about them separates me from the emotion, and putting it into words and communicating, it definitely is, and I look at it as a separate being. It is almost like I am hurting myself of the emotion of whatever I'm writing about.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm interested in what kind of reaction you get from readers when you post a column like that, like dealing with depression, sadness over losing a home, some very serious topics that are going on with you.
BARBARELLA FOKOS: It's interesting, the letters and emails I get from readers, they are very personal, people show their stories, and they so because I shared mine they feel open, and I don't about a lot of people more because of that. I inspired some people to get treatment when they are having mental issues, and that was hugely rewarding. They are very personal letters, instead of asking about me or commenting about my stuff, they were out their hearts to me, so I try to respond to all of them.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So you're a conduit for that? You start the conversation.
BARBARELLA FOKOS: I don't know, I guess, yeah.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you about the other side of Barbarella, the arts and culture maven. What do you think makes San Diego's art scene interesting to cover?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: It's growing and changing at a phenomenal pace, you never know what is going to pop up where, or from what other region around the world someone here will be inspired, so that I think is exciting, because there's so much happening.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You and David one an Emmy last month for Art Pulse. Tell us what Art Pulse was.
BARBARELLA FOKOS: There was a nonprofit organization in town, they were doing a lot of programs, and Art Pulse TV, we showcased behind-the-scenes artists and everything are related in San Diego, to showcase the arts.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What was that like for you to win the Emmy?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: David's dates to the Emmys with my mother and all of my sisters, and I did write a column about that, it's not in the book, but it was surreal. The entire drive home, looking at each other and saying how did that happen? It was surreal, it was the first TV show we've ever done.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Was it fun, or was it nightmarish? I don't mean the topics were nightmares, I mean was it terribly stressful?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: It was stressful but also exciting, which is a good combination, but you need to have a better balance, I was sick of the night ever been, because we were doing nineteen shows and twenty-two weeks, a half-hour everything from conception to making to editing, the pace was frenetic.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This Emmy-winning show is not going to go on for a second season, so it will not make you physically ill with the pace, but is there enough attention given to arts in San Diego? Some of our biggest institutions have been struggling, the Opera, there does not seem to be support where it is needed at crucial times.
BARBARELLA FOKOS: I think there's a mistrust of people, there have been a lot of scandals in San Diego, and I think the lack of support has to do with the mistrust of the people who would give their funds to the people who should receive the funds who seem to be mismanaging it, that mistrust these people cynical and not wanting to supported on a governmental or a donation level, and the most successful hope that we have is for honest and hard-working grassroots organizations to have crowd sourced. There is some government money, Dave Roberts is great about that, supporting the arts, but you know the Balboa Park thing, we constantly see it being mismanaged. There's a love-hate relationship with it. I have a love-hate relationship with it. I love the artists, I am not so happy about some of the money and the way it is handled by certain organizations.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You have always been funny, open, down-to-earth, why do you call yourself a diva? What is that come from?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: I did not come up with that name, my sister, when I got my column ten years ago, I needed to come up with a name. I had Barbarella Bared, Barbarella Unplugged, really bad names but had no alliteration. One of them, Diary of a Diva, my sister Heather through that in the pot, and I threw that in their really just a buffer. That is one that they liked, maybe because there's an aspect of me that is a bit high maintenance. I wrote a column about Martha's Vineyard called Roughing It, because for me, it's the closest I ever came to camping, being where there are bugs and so far from a Lancome counter. There's a bit of diva in there, but I am self maintained, I maintain my high maintenance, and David, he manages my high maintenance. His commentaries my favorite thing.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What sort of response have you gotten so far from your book?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: It has been overwhelmingly positive, which I was shocked that, you are a writer, you he euros of a lot of the time. On Amazon, I have thirteen reviews so far, some of them from people I do not know, never read it, and they are all five stars. I'm ecstatic, they seem to be liking it, I hope they continue.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There is a special book launch party for Diary of a Diva, behind the lipstick, tell us about that and tell us about the special stamp that you brought in.
BARBARELLA FOKOS: I had a customized stamp made from my lips, I kissed the paper and made a video online, so that during signings I could sign and stamp with my lips, everyone gets a kiss. On Tuesday, at 6 o'clock at Solari in Liberty Station, we're going to have a party, there's going be food, drink, and I will be there signing books and kiss stamping them. You can see the video, the making of the kiss stamping, at SDReader.com/diva, and then you can see that.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How long did this take you to do this?
BARBARELLA FOKOS: Not counting the ten years writing? Honestly, probably three intensive months.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is good.
BARBARELLA FOKOS: Three months, David writing his parts, and he was sucked into it, he did not want to, but I've always wanted to have him do a guest column, everyone wants to know what he thinks. He in the preface describes how he got sucked into writing it, sitting with me and my editor, and we had a brilliant idea to make him right.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's Tuesday, August 26, the book launch for Diary of a Diva, if you want to find out more about it you can find out at SDReader.com/diva.