Annabelle Gurwitch & Jerry Stahl: Surviving the indignities of age with humor and honesty
Aging is a pain in the… granny panties, “so serious you have to make a comedy out of it,” author Annabelle Gurwitch told an appreciative, standing-room-only crowd April 17, at the Crawford Family Forum.
Gurwitch, 52, and her friend and fellow author Jerry Stahl, 59, shared 90 minutes of wry anecdotes and observations about aging, and the need to combat its inevitable indignities with humor and honesty.
“I wrote a book once, a comedy about (the Nazi physician) Joseph Mengele called ‘Pain Killers’,” Stahl said. “I interviewed a Holocaust survivor and said, ‘How do you feel about this?’ and she said, “You know, if you don’t laugh, they win.’ So I think, if you don’t laugh, you’ll just walk around massively humiliated.”
Most of the evening revolved around Gurwitch and her new book, “I See You Made An Effort: Compliments, Indignities and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50,” whose cover features a large shiny pair of frilly pink underpants—aka granny panties.
“Granny panties—a place I’ve never been…yet,” deadpanned Stahl, who fed Gurwitch questions, praise and different perspectives throughout the evening.
For instance, when Gurwitch told a story about her “menopausal brain” printing up more than 200 business cards with the email address spelled incorrectly, Stahl was unconvinced.
“I did stuff like that my whole life, and I can’t blame menopause,” Stahl said.
Yes, Gurwitch replied, but the worst part was that even if she had printed the cards correctly, she still couldn’t use the email address because she can’t unlock her Gmail accounts. “Why do I still know all the lyrics to (the 1972 Jethro Tull album) 'Thick as a Brick', but I can’t remember the password to Annabelle Gurwitch on Gmail?"
Stahl: “I think you’re handling age the wrong way. You know, Tennessee Williams was perpetually caught lying about his age, and he said, ‘Yeah, but I don’t count the four years I worked in a shoe store,’ so I deduct the 15 years I was on heroin and now I’m pushing 50 again.
“‘Make a new mistake,” that’s my motto,” he said. “I never had a chance to have a baby at 59 before, so when I had it, I went for it, and it’s a great thing.”
Gurwitch (dryly): “It’s so funny you can do that, at 59,” she said. “I’m just saying it takes an effort to age in this youth-oriented culture. You can begin to feel marginalized and invisible, and in the employment world, there’s nothing harder than being fired and being marginalized. We’re all reinventing ourselves, but how many reinventions can you do at this age?”
Sample a few more memorable quotes below or watch the archive video for the complete show:
On whether menopause helps her write:
“It helps in nothing. There’s no up side….well, except the Tampax budget that I can now spend on anti-depressants…Yeah.”
On the pitfalls of furniture:
“I’ve aged out of my own furniture because when you’re younger and you collect antique furniture, it’s cool and eccentric, but then you get to a certain age, and you’re just an old broad with old furniture. I’m hoping to make enough money to one day get furniture with elegant lines, like this building (the Crawford Family Forum theater.)”
On the increase in suicide rates for middle-aged people:
“Suicide usually happens to people when they’re young or very elderly, so they don’t know why it’s going up with middle-aged people. Well, ask me why; it’s because we’re in the sandwich generation… My son is driving me insane and we had to sell my parents’ house last year and we’re trying to stay employed and viable, and it’s just a really difficult time for people, to be hitting this age. Previous generations were going through these benchmarks at different times; by the time my mother was 50, she was a grandmother; she didn’t have teenagers in the house driving her crazy. At my house, it’s the clash of the hormones.”
On hot flashes:
“My mother never talked to me about (hot flashes) so I had no preparation whatsoever. It was like that electric feeling that used to be like lust, a total and complete sensation, like being electrocuted, but then there’s the sweating….”
Advice to women who get hot flashes during a date:
You have to just embrace it…Either completely disrobe, if the time is right and it’s that kind of a date, or otherwise, carry a fan, a very attractive fan…, because I don’t think there’s any way you can get around it.”
On why her mother didn’t talk about menopause:
“Because so many things weren’t talked about then. At this age, my friendships are more important to me than I realized before, but I know my mother did not have friends. She went through this alone, like so many others from her generation. They just took to their bedrooms…I know even in my 20s, my mother went into her bedroom, ‘resting.’ I’m just too angry for resting. I want to get this out in the open.”
By Jeanette Marantos
Annabelle Gurwitch is an actress and author of You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up with her husband Jeff Kahn, and the Fired! book and documentary. She co-hosted Dinner and a Movie on TBS for six years, anchored the award winning HBO series Not Necessarily the News, and appeared on TV shows including Dexter, Boston Legal, Seinfeld, Oprah, Real Time with Bill Maher, and The Today Show. She has performed at UCB, The Geffen Playhouse and The Moth Mainstage as well as having a long career in unheated off-off-nowhere-near-Broadway theatres. She was a regular commentator on NPR for numerous years and humorist for TheNation.com; her essays appear in three humor anthologies, Los Angeles Magazine, LA Times, More, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire.
Jerry Stahl: author, journalist, and screenwriter who has written six books, including the memoir Permanent Midnight. His latest novel, Happy Mutant Baby Pills, was published in November of last year. @somejerrystahl
Jerry Stahl’s books include the novels Pain Killers, I, Fatty and Bad Sex On Speed. Former Culture Columnist for Details, his widely anthologized writing has appeared in Esquire, The New York Times, Playboy, The Rumpus, and The Believer. Most recently, Stahl edited the anthology, The Heroin Chronicles and co-wrote the HBO film Hemingway & Gellhorn with Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman.
(Author Jerry Stahl at Book Soup, Mark Mainz/Getty Images and Happy Mutant Baby Pills by Jerry Stahl, published by William Morrow)