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Author Annabelle Gurwitch Talks Gut-Punching Midlife Moments

Why she goes where many women fear to tread.

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“There are times in our lives when the story we tell ourselves about who we are no longer matches up to the story we’re actually living. At fifty-five, I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. So many of the daily activities that defined my identity — my life as a daughter, wife, and mother — had fallen away.”

In her sixth book, You’re Leaving When? Adventures in Downward Mobility, Annabelle Gurwitch goes where many women fear to tread, sharing hilarious, gut-punching midlife moments with her signature wit and honesty. Taboo topics — loss of identity, sex, divorce, financial fears, finding your teen’s drug stash! — are laid bare and you’re drawn to her like the woman at a cocktail party who blurts out exactly what you’re thinking, but are too afraid to say.

What inspired you to write this book?

“At a certain age, and this is sort of what this book reflects on, you arrive at a point where you're saying ‘Maybe I'm not becoming anything anymore. Maybe I just I am this person.’ 

Like, ‘Oh, I had a picture that I'd be this person by now, but I’m not,’ and then really asking yourself, ‘Am I going to let that make me unhappy?' To me, it’s about adapting to a self that you didn't have a big enough imagination for. It's about becoming more accepting of who you actually are and not striving.”

The stories you share are hilarious, but also touch on the isolation we feel when we’re not living up to who we think we should be. Where does that come from?

“I saw the toll it took on my mother to feel embarrassed about our family's precarious finances during my childhood, her worry over our status and that people would judge us. It kept her from confiding in her friends, it separated her, and made her feel less than, and I carry some of that with me, as well, and that was before the advent of social media — it's such a trap to not only compare ourselves to others and not feel we measure up, it's also a trap to feel we have to constantly present ourselves as some kind of aspirational image of what living our ‘best lives ever’ looks like. I wanted to take that on by writing about and embracing my life in all its imperfection.”

How do we break that cycle and connect?

“We just have to agree to let it go. I hope that my revealing things is permission for other women to have the same kind of openness. I want to challenge our ideas of where we can find humor and what we find when we confront our real selves.”

“I always poke fun when someone mentions the word ‘radical,’ I'm sure that someone is teaching a course in ‘radical Swiffering’ in my neighborhood, but radical acceptance is what I'm going for.” 


I Thought There’d Be Coasting

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. 

My friend Sasha and I are meeting up for an impromptu lunch. Sasha proposed a casual Mediterranean café on the east side of Los Angeles. It’s not an expensive eatery, but I’m on my recently instituted austerity budget, so I scarf down a few handfuls of almonds on the ride over and order a small side of pickled radishes. Sasha gets a lamb kabob salad and had I known she was picking up the check I would have ordered that too. Drizzled with creamy tahini dressing, it looks and smells delicious. When she invites me to tuck into it, I accept with an amount of enthusiasm that startles both of us. “Thank you,” I gush as though I hadn’t eaten in weeks, which is not true. If anything, I’ve been stress eating; it’s just that lately even small gestures of kindness seem as precious as winning the lottery.

Sasha and I have only been in sporadic touch over the last few eventful few years, and as we catch up she tells me that she has just enrolled her family in Medi-Cal, our state-sponsored low-income health insurance plan. I’m stunned. She always seems so . . . so . . . downright jaunty, at least on social media. But no, we’re in similar straits, like ducks, madly paddling just below the surface. 

For more, pick up You’re Leaving When? Adventures in Downward Mobility.