Annabelle Gurwitch on why 50 is the new 50
When Annabelle Gurwitch turned 50, she struggled to navigate her way through a stagnant marriage, the extensive list of anti-aging products offered at the beauty counter and solicitations from the AARP. In her new collection of humorous essays, “I See You Made An Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50” (Blue Rider Press, 256 pp., $25.95), the actress, comedian and writer examines the experiences that come with aging, whether falling in lust with the guy working at the Apple Genius bar, watching a best friend struggle with pancreatic cancer or a growing sense of invisibility — “an alternate universe, one that exists in exactly the same space-time, but is unseen by those who are younger.”
The author of two previous books (“Fired!,” which became a Showtime documentary, and “I Say Tomato, You Say Shut Up,” co-written with husband Jeff Kahn and now a play), Gurwitch spoke to us by phone about her coming-of-middle-age story.
What made you want to write this book about being 50?
I feel like I’m in this generation of people who are saying, “If 40 is the new 30, then 50 is the new 40.” Well, that’s just not true! You’re not fooling anyone…. The truth is, I think 50 is the new 50. We don’t really know what that’s supposed to look like anymore. In the book, I drop some comparisons to my own mother and my grandmother. At 50, my grandmother was a grandmother, and she was already in declining health. At 50, I have a teenager at home.
We are expected to live longer at this age. Many of us will not be retiring at 62 or 65, if ever. So we have a really different life ahead of us.
You include stories that carry emotional weight — such as your close friend Robin experiencing pancreatic cancer. How do you strike a balance between humor and heaviness?
My goal as a writer is to try to find that mixture that captures the tone of desperation — the desperate search for humor. The funny thing is, you don’t have to make this stuff up.… I literally had to shake my friend awake and say, “Don’t die yet. I don’t know your computer password.” And as it’s happening, I’m thinking: This is really funny. It’s that type of dark comedy I strive to capture in my writing.
This year’s Oscars brought a lot of attention to Hollywood’s older women who have had work done, including Liza Minnelli, Kim Novak, Goldie Hawn. Is there a way to age in that world while avoiding judgment and criticism?
What’s so difficult for women is that as many websites and terrible comments as you see about women with plastic surgery, you will find as many websites and as much criticism for women who look old. It’s not just Hollywood driving this — Hollywood is just an exaggeration of our culture in general.
Hollywood is a business and the investment is in the youth because that’s where you’re going to get the most return.... I do have hope that we will see more women who look my age on-screen, big and little. That being said, I think that anyone who looks to celebrities as a model of how to age is making a huge mistake.
The title phrase “I see you made an effort” comes up repeatedly in the book — for example, when you go on commercial auditions and when you’re working on your marriage.
I think this is one of those age-related things that I hadn’t expected. The effort that one has to make at a certain age is so unbelievable. I read things that tell me: As a woman of this age, I’m supposed to be doing at least one half-an-hour exercise a day, and not only one kind of exercise but I’m supposed to marry aerobics and core building. And then I have to take this supplement and take this medication. And then I have to keep earning money because I can never retire. It’s hard to get up in the morning!
That title was actually said to me by my Beverly Hills hairdresser. I remember thinking that I looked fantastic — that this was as good as it gets — when I walked in to see him. And he said, “I see you made an effort.”
Elist is a writer in Los Angeles.
Festival of Books
What: Memoir: Live (and Laugh) Through This panel with Anna David, Annabelle Gurwitch, Pamela Ribon and Lilibet Snellings
When: 10:30 a.m. April 13
More info: latimes.com/festivalofbooks
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