Non­fic­tion

You’re Leav­ing When?: Adven­tures in Down­ward Mobility

September 1, 2020

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.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Annabelle Gurwitch

  1. 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?

  2. 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?

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

  5. 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?

  6. 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?

  7. 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?

  8. 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?

  9. 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?

  10. 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?

  11. 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?

  12. 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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