From the New York Times bestselling author of I See You Made an Effort, comes a timely and hilarious chronicle of downward mobility, financial and emotional. With signature “sharp wit” (NPR), Annabelle Gurwitch gives an irreverent and empathetic voice to a generation hurtling into their next chapter with no safety net and proves that our no-frills new normal doesn’t mean a deficit of humor. In these essays, Gurwitch embraces home sharing, welcoming a housing-insecure young couple and a bunny rabbit into her home. The mother of a college student in recovery who sheds the gender binary, she relearns to parent, one pronoun at a time. She wades into the dating pool in a Miss Havisham-inspired line of lingerie and flunks the magic of tidying up. You’re Leaving When? is for anybody who thought they had a semblance of security but wound up with a fragile economy and a blankie. Gurwitch offers stories of resilience, adaptability, low-rent redemption, and the kindness of strangers. Even in a muted Zoom.
You’re Leaving When?: Adventures in Downward Mobility
September 1, 2020
Courtesy of Annabelle Gurwitch
- The title of the book, “You’re Leaving When?” is a question that expresses both attachment and exasperation. Annabelle uses this specifically in relation to her child’s launch from the nest, although it also applies to other life events: divorce, the passing of her parents. What occasions in your life have elicited that kind of mixed, emotionally charged response?
- “There are times when the stories we tell ourselves about who we are in the world no longer match the stories we are living” is the opening line in “Spirited Away.” Have you experienced a dissonance between the self you present to the world and a private self? What would it take to bridge that gap?
- In the chapter “Stuffed,” Annabelle realizes the objects she’s inherited that she values the most aren’t necessarily those with any measurable monetary value, like her mother’s “insect pin.” Her mother’s brooch isn’t made of precious metal, nor is it an exotic species— it’s an ordinary housefly. What is something that you’ve inherited that holds an unexpectedly strong attachment?
- Annabelle writes that her “grandmother Rebecca always rolled in with her legendary meatballs, stuffed cabbages, and enough banana bread to feed a small army.” What traditions do you uphold that have been passed from l’dor v’dor, generation to generation, in your family? Are you doing so out of obligation or have you embraced these with enthusiasm? What traditions have you shunned?
- Annabelle took inspiration from the Jewish value of “welcoming the stranger” when she signed on to host an at risk housing insecure couple in her home. Are there values or moral and ethical codes you find instructive even if you’re not a practitioner of the faith from which they originate?
- In “If You Lived with Me You’d Be Home by Now,” Annabelle writes about confronting her “implicit otherizations” while hosting a couple experiencing homelessness. What is a situation in which you noticed yourself making “us” and “them” distinctions and how did that realization inform your actions moving forward?
- In interviews, Annabelle has spoken about her sister reminding her to remember the principle of Pirkei Avot: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it,” when her spirit flagged during her hosting experience. What kind of social justice activities are you or have you participated in? From what do you draw strength when you’re engaged in advancing large institutional and societal changes?
- “You’re doing all the right things, everything is going to work out,” is a phrase that Annabelle found herself repeating as a sort of mantra, even though she wasn’t sure who she was trying to convince, herself or her child, while he was wrestling with addiction. What phrase or aphorism have you leaned on when navigating familial and parenting challenges?
- In characterizing “the Calgon take me away generation” as being marketed “the bag, the bra, the brow, the bathcation that can change everything,” Annabelle admits to having gone on a quest to find “the pillow that was going to change everything.” What have you purchased (or longed for) that you were convinced had the power to change everything? How did that work out?
- While chronicling her acceptance and affirmation of her child’s nonbinary identification, Annabelle bumped up against the limits of her understanding of gender norms and questioned her ability to empathize with her child. What is a challenge you’ve faced or are facing as a parent, friend, or a family member that inspired deep reflection? What attributes have you called upon to shift your perspective?
- In author interviews, Annabelle often speaks of writing about economic fragility, sexual health, and not having an Instagrammable family, with the aim of lessening taboos. What subjects do you feel are taboo and deserve more discourse?
- For Annabelle, facing down her fear of “becoming Blanche Dubois…unmarried, financially insecure, beauty fading, unable to cope with her reduced circumstances, and — horror of horrors — dependent on the kindness of strangers,” sparked a reckoning and reinterpretation of Tennessee William’s “Streetcar Named Desire.” What fictional literary figure has loomed large as a cautionary tale for you? Can you envision a redemption for that character and their narrative?
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