Roz Chast is a long-time staff cartoonist for The New Yorker. Her cartoons have also been published in many other magazines including Scientific American, the Harvard Business Review, Redbook, and Mother Jones. Her books include a comprehensive compilation of her favorite cartoons called Theories of Everything: Selected, Collected, and Health-Inspected Cartoons of Roz Chast, 1978-2006, a popular childrens book created with Steve Martin called, The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z, and her latest book “Too Busy Marco”. Roz lives in Connecticut with her human family and two birds, Eli and Marco.
Q (Meg Pokrass): I heard you (a few years ago) speaking at San Francisco at City Arts & Lectures about your interest in old fashioned, forgotten, and outdated objects. Can you tell us why this is something you notice?
I think my interest in outdated things probably has a lot to do with my parents. They were both born in 1912, which made them a lot older than my friends’ parents when I was growing up. They were both children of immigrants and grew up with very little money. Both of them graduated from college into the Depression. They were very anti-buying new stuff, for ethical, emotional, and economic reasons. So growing up, I was surrounded by outdated, worn-out furniture, household appliances, lamps, clothing, etc. For instance, they had a rotary phone, one of those really heavy ones, until 2003 when I moved them up to an old-age home up here.
Also, if you would talk a bit about your interest in outdated words?
Language-wise, I’d have to give my parents credit or blame for this as well. My father was a teacher, and my mother was an assistant principal. They used old-fashioned words, and if they used an expression, it was from another era. “I think we’d better call a halt,” or “I’m going to blow my top!” Things like that, that you don’t hear so much anymore.
In your work, normal things become odd in the noticing… This is one of the quirks that draws me immediately. Do you rely on your memory?
That, and I take notes. I don’t carry a tape recorder.
Your well-loved painted eggs (which are magnificent)… how did they come to be?
I got obsessed with Pysanky several years ago. I had someone teach me the traditional technique and bought some supplies on the Internet. I made several dozen eggs, sold quite a few, then the fever passed. Then the fever returned about a year or two ago. I made a few dozen more, sold a lot. Then the fever went away again. It’s a mystery.
Where can they be viewed now?
Different places at different times. I’ve shown them at the Julie Saul Gallery in NYC a couple of times, and also at the Westport Arts Center in Westport CT.
Can you offer me an example of human behavior which strikes you as odd to you? Something I may not have thought about? I’m thinking about your hysterical essay in The New Yorker about public banana consumption…
I think in general I can’t believe how unselfconscious people are in public, from chomping away on a banana or smelly sandwich on the train to talking really loudly into their cell phones about their cousin’s infection or whatever.
Why does it bother you?
It’s just gross.
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday — and over the holidays, every Saturday — Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” will be out in February from Press 53. She blogs at http://megpokrass.com.