In the past eight years, Annabelle Gurwitch has turned her first two books into a documentary and a play. Now, the humourist, actress and author has come out with a third. In I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge of 50, Gurwitch navigates the trials and tribulations of aging through a collection of funny, honest and eye-opening essays. Here, she sits down with Chatelaine to discuss matters of life, love and learning how to fail.
Q: Why did you decide to write this book?
A: It kind of happened by accident; I didn’t mean to write a book about turning 50. I was writing a series of essays, and after I had a couple of them I realized they were creating a portrait of a certain age. Many of us, who are at the tail-end of the baby boomers, have parents who are in declining health and at the same time, because we had kids later, had a son at home. Trying to manage all of these things… I felt like this wasn’t just a story about my life — it was a generational moment.
Q: What has been the most surprising thing about turning 50?
A: I don’t think so much about what I’m doing as how I’m doing it now. I’ve definitely used this age as a call to action. I’m trying to consciously make every single moment better. I want to be that seize-the-day person, and that has surprised me because at 49 the idea of turning 50 filled me with dread (laughs).
Q: Have you found yourself acting any differently?
A: It’s true that I relate differently to things because I have 52 years of life experience behind me. In a way, I hope that I’m acting differently. I have a better sense of humour about myself and my failings now. One of the opportunities of turning 50 has been giving myself permission to suck at things. I am not as fearful of that, because I’ve failed at a lot of things already. I think that’s really healthy. It has increased the amount of joy in my life tremendously.
Q: What are your biggest fears about aging?
A: I don’t want to waste time. I have lost time — and I don’t mean that necessarily in terms of being productive in the world. I now make it a big point to foster my friendships with my girlfriends. That has become really important to me. That, and being part of a community.
Q: How do you keep love alive in your marriage?
A: It’s a challenge every day. We live in a culture where beginnings are exciting, endings are exciting in their own way, but there’s not a lot of value of ‘the middle’ anymore. I write about the value that I have seen in that middle, and of compassion and endurance. Compassion is everything.
Q: In the book, you say that you haven’t known what to wear for a few years now. Has that changed?
A: First of all, how you look physically is the least of the issues at 50. I want to make that clear. But I do write about it because at a certain point you’re just not sure what you’re comfortable in anymore. It takes a lot of effort at this age not just to get dressed, it’s everything — eating the right foods, taking the supplements, getting the right amount of exercise, remaining economically viable. It’s a lot of work. For me, it takes a lot of coffee. And vitamin D.
Q: You’re a comedic actress and writer. What do you think is so important about finding humour?
A: There was this moment that I write about in the book, where my gynecologist said “Stay…” and I thought he was going to say, “Stay hydrated?” “Stay happy?” “Stay healthy?” No, he said “Stay funny”. And I thought, “Yeah, that’s not a bad idea!” It’s what we do as humans to cope. If you’re not laughing, you’re crying. I make things bearable by finding the humour. It’s how I live in the world. It’s a great savior for me.
Q: The last chapter of your book is a collection of women’s thoughts at 4 a.m. Why 4 a.m.?
A: At 4 a.m. I’m wondering what city I’m in because I’m on a book tour. And I’m wondering if I can get a good espresso at 5 a.m. I find 4 a.m. to be a real time when people at this age have these funny and serious thoughts about life. If your readers want to be part of the 4 a.m. club, I’m collecting stories on my Facebook page.
Q: Your first book became a documentary. Your second book became a play. What’s next on the agenda?
A: What’s next is turning this book into a play and a film. I’m working on that right now, and I hope that by next year we’ll be talking about those!