Jan Baross: On Leaving Bakersfield

Every morning award-winning author Jan Baross wakes up, has a cup of tea, then spends hours writing. To her, this writing time is pure joy.

“Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to sit down at my desk and write,” Baross told me in a recent interview here in San Miguel de Allende, where she spends the winter months. “I could do it 24 hours a day if my back would stay upright! It’s so much fun to use your imagination.”

Jan Baross in her San Miguel apartment this week

In addition to her six published books, Baross, who is now eighty years old, has been a filmmaker, photographer, screenwriter, and artist. Her most recent book is the novel – or you might call it an embroidered memoir — Bye-Bye Bakersfield, published last year, based on her experience as a child growing up in the only Jewish family in “redneck” Bakersfield, California, in the 1950s.

“Creating things is what feeds me,” she told me. “When I write a good sentence, I get the biggest joy out of that. I go out into the day feeling filled up after I’ve written in the morning. And then that joy translates into sociability and enjoying being with other people. I like to amaze myself, especially now as I’m working on the sequel to Bye-Bye Bakersfield. All these memories – it’s like mining for gold!”

Here’s an example, in my view, of one of the gold nuggets to be found in Bye-Bye Bakersfield — from Chapter 1, July 1950:

“Death by Cossacks had propelled Daddy out of a Russian ghetto. Now his immigrant answer to our survival was to grab the first job offer he could find, which planted our Jew tent in the heart of redneck central, Bakersfield, California, a small outpost of primitive politics, hot flat aggressive agriculture, and a land swollen with oil.”

Bye-Bye Bakersfield is a collection of related stories, well told — many humorous, and largely focused on her sometimes fraught relationship with her strong and demanding mother.

“I started collecting these stories maybe twenty years ago,” Baross told me. “I didn’t want my mother to read them, because I didn’t want her to critique them or see how I’d portrayed her. So I knew that she would have to die before I got the collection published. She liked my first novel, Jose Builds a Woman, and thought it was brilliant. But this one is totally different.”

Baross’s mother died in 2019 at the age of 104.

“You know,” she said, “I have a little quote in the beginning of Bye-Bye Bakersfield where I look up at the sky and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ By the time she reached 104, I realized, if you can’t learn how to forgive your parents for being human beings, then you’re not even half-way grown up; you’ve just missed the boat. I feel really lucky to have had the parents that I did.”

When I asked Baross for her thoughts on the advantages of advanced age, she told me, “I once asked my aged mother that same question. I asked her, ‘Is there an upside to being so old?’ and she answered, ‘You bet! You no longer give a sh*t.’”

“And are you like her in that regard?” I asked.

“Well, I try to be,” she said. “Everything now is so fast and brief. I tell myself, ‘Just relax and try to enjoy whatever you’re doing.’ So that’s what I’m trying to do. What’s nice about this age, too, is that you forget so fast. I think there is a blessing in the forgetting.”

When I asked her about how she’d overcome obstacles in her life, she hesitated for a moment.

“I’ve never really been afraid,” she said. “I like a good challenge; it really gets all my juices going. That’s why I’ve tried everything – the painting, the photography, the filmmaking… I’ve just always gone ahead and done what I want. I’m fortunate in that I’ve always been supported. My husband supported me in anything I wanted to do, and my parents supported me too. I could do what I wanted most of my life, which is pretty nice.”

And what would her advice to younger women be?

“Not to be afraid to try! Or, if you’re afraid, try it anyway. That’s how I’ve lived my life – just keep trying stuff. If you just take that first step, sometimes it will propel you into the rest of it.”

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  • To learn more about Jan Baross,  please visit her website:  www.janbaross.com
  • To order Bye-Bye Bakersfield from Amazon, please go to:



20 thoughts on “Jan Baross: On Leaving Bakersfield”

  1. That’s the point of your blog, isn’t it, Bonnie. To let us hear from Wise Older Women. Old truly is mind over matter. She (and you) are proving that. xoxo ~ Be

  2. Thank you Bonnie, for posting this one. I identified a lot with Jan-which woman with a strong demanding mother wouldn’t? I think her book Bye-Bye Bakersfield would be fascinating and I’m adding it on my list to read.
    Being a mother is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. No one gives you a rule book and if you don’t want to be like your mother, you certainly miss out on having a role model. And yes, forgiveness is important.
    As for Jan writing every morning, after her cup of tea, it sounds to me like she has the best life!
    I often wonder why I never meet beautiful women with strong personalities. Thank goodness your blog allows me to learn about them.

  3. Gracias, la Bonnie! What an inspiring lady. Yes, I agree with Loula about the demanding mothers. I haven’t shown mine some of my books where the mother character appears depicted in a less than favorable light. Thankfully, in the most recent ones la madre has become quite nice! Maybe because the person behind the character has mellowed with time too 🙂

    1. De nada, querida Te! Yes, it’s difficult for me to relate to the “demanding mother” character because mine was always so mellow. (Her mother was very strict, so she decided to be easy-going with her kids.) But I’m so glad to know yours is mellowing now. 🙂

  4. “What’s nice about this age, too, is that you forget so fast. I think there is a blessing in the forgetting.”
    OMG, I laughed out loud when I read that! So true. Lovely interview that resonated with me so much — a reminder that forgiving our parents (and other human beings) is the work of adulthood – priceless.
    Thank you as always Bonnie (and Jan)!

  5. Thanks Bonnie for getting to the heart of Jan’s genius: lack of fear, joy of what one does and of course, a commitment to writing each and every day. When I first met Jan many years ago, she had just finished her magical realism opus, “Jose Builds a Woman.” That one deserves to be seen on the silver screen. It too, like “Bye, Bye Bakersfield’ shares a trip into the depths of Jan’s wry sense of humor.
    Again thanks for this article and for contributing your own talent as a fine writer to shine a spotlight on us (y)olders each and every week.

  6. Dear Bon,
    I admire the broad range of your guest’s creativity. I agree that fear will only hold you back. Jan Baross is an inspiration to us all.

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