Comedian and author Annabelle Gurwitch has a habit of turning the negative into positive -- or, at the very least, a lucrative book deal. When Woody Allen fired her from the cast of his off-Broadway New York production, Writers Block, in 2003, she created Fired, a collection of essays about getting canned from Tim Allen, Felicity Huffman, and David Cross to name a few. When her 50th birthday was fast approaching, she penned I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50 a comedic call to action for the middle-aged that has made the New York Times bestseller list.
Her penchant for performing caught the attention of Tania Katan, the entertainer at the helm of SMoCA's Lit Lounge series and the second annual The Most of Lit Lounge event held on Thursday, June 26 at the Virginia G. Piper Theater at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
"I saw the article on her when her new book came out and I realized, 'Oh my gosh, I've performed with Annabelle in Los Angeles! I'll just e-mail her and see if she wants to do Lit Lounge'," Katan says. "And she said yes."
Gurwitch, 52, joins seven women (Beth Lapides, Sonya Renee Taylor, and Kim Porter among them) sharing stories of humiliations, triumphs, and secrets covering a variety of topics. We called Gurwitch at her Los Angeles home to discuss what she has in store for Scottsdale and how she really feels about being "over the hill."
The topic that's on your mind a lot and that you're speaking about a lot lately is aging, because of the book. When you were my age, 24, what did 50 sound like to you in the distant, distant future? Fifty sounded like post-death, first of all. I couldn't have even imagined it. We live in a youth oriented culture [and] in a way with us living longer, culturally we haven't caught up to our biology. There's really no template for aging in our society anymore -- we're living twice as long as we lived even a hundred years ago.
Now we're into this completely unknown territory where people like me -- who had kids later -- here I am in my 50s, I've still got a kid at home whereas my mother and grandmother were both grandmothers by the time they were my age. I'm going through menopause; my kid's going through puberty. I still need to work, retirement is further off than ever before. We don't know what we're supposed to be doing, how we're supposed to look... there's really no template. It's a generation of really confused people.
What I'm trying to do in my book is reflect upon that and find a road to travel that seems reasonable. Suzanne Somers [actress and author of books with titles like I'm Too Young for This! and The Sexy Years: Discover the Hormone Connection: The Secret to Fabulous Sex, Great Health, and Vitality for Women and Men] is someone, and no disrespect to her, she's a lovely, wonderful person I'm sure. From all accounts it seems like she spends most of the day injecting things into her vagina. [laughs] Who can afford to do that? I'm not going to adopt some crazy raw food diet because that's what ovens were invented for. I'm writing to reflect this anxiety. Someone said to me, "Is this a journey from anxiety to acceptance?" I said, "Oh god no! It's a journey from anxiety to greater anxiety."
When did you first know that you were 50? Not age-wise, not because of your birthday and the calendar -- but was there a particular moment when you knew? Each chapter in this book is motivated by a realization of, "Oh, things have changed." For instance, the first time you get "ma'am"ed. The first time it happened I looked around like, who is he talking to? The first time I went to a concert with my son and realized that they weren't singing to me, that I wasn't the target audience. But also that I wasn't interested in flirting with the lead singer, I wanted to take him home and pack him nutritious snacks for the road.
The AARP [formerly the American Association of Retired Persons] also, oh they track you down. They don't let you forget. You're 49 and suddenly it's like the AARP is a branch of the NSA. Oh, they find you, they're so clever. You look in the mirror one day and you really begin to see your mother's face, and that's a little shocking. These moments are like these moments of passage and they took me by surprise.
Is there something positive you've gleaned for this experience with aging? No. [laughs] I had to just say that. The truth is there are some things that I found interesting, and the biggest thing is that there are opportunities. Middle age is an "opportunity moment" where you see people have this realization of an expiration date. It is a call to action. It's a big moment where people get divorced and start over or reinvent themselves in terms of career. That is what I like to call "the opportunity of 50." I believe it's a good thing to embrace the age -- I, of course, announce my age to everyone now -- because if you don't, if you're stuck in the paradigm of "50 is the new 40" then you miss this opportunity to really reflect and say, "Hey! Who knows how much time I have left?" It's a landmark age. It's half a century, for god's sakes!
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When you perform at The Most of Lit Lounge, will you be reading from the book and telling some of those same stories? I'm really excited because I've done quite a bit of touring with this book and you sort of fall into a pattern, but I'm going to be performing this story that's the last chapter in the book, it's called "Saves," and I haven't read it at all in public. It's about connecting with my teenaged son and I'm saving it for Scottsdale.
It's not easy to travel, but there's something about meeting your peers on the road at places outside your own home, it's just the most meaningful thing I'm doing. There's a Skype book club I'm doing out of The Learned Owl Book Shop in Hudson, Ohio, and a woman told me she wanted to needlepoint something she read in my book, which was a dialogue between my husband and I about being married a long time. My husband said, "I thought there'd be more sex," and I said, "I thought there'd be more money." She said she wanted to do a pillow to keep on her bed, tell her husband where her mood was at, one side saying, "I thought there'd be more sex" and the other side would say, "I thought there'd be more money." I love hearing this from a reader in Ohio! That's why you're writing. You're writing to connect.
Gurwitch performs at The Most of Lit Lounge at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 26, at the Virginia G. Piper Theater at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 East Second Street. Tickets are available for $15 at both the SMoCA and www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org websites. Discounted admission for museum members ($13) is available by calling 480-499-8587.