Friday, June 20, 2008

Read The Panic Years

I'm a late bloomer and proud and happy about it. I married late in life, and had my beloved son late in life, and because I had so many wild and reckless years before hand, I've never had to look back and wonder if I missed anything. (Believe me, I didn't).

But, there's a trend now for people to marry young (I don't get it. Don't they want to be traveling and having adventures?), and with that trend comes a great deal of new angst. First time out author Doree Lewak, wrote a book about it, The Panic Years, which was so sharply written and so laugh-out-loud funny, that I wanted to do a q and a with her.

What gave you the idea to write The Panic Years, a very funny book by the way?

The expression goes, Write what you know. And that was certainly true for conceptualizing this book. In my early 20’s – at a time when I should have been enjoying a carefree dating life – I felt myself getting gripped by the Panic, yet I found it so hard to disentangle myself from its evil clutches. I would obsess, I’d self-destruct, then I’d obsess some more. Friends suddenly became bitter enemies once they flashed their haughty new engagement bling. I’d submit fake announcements in my college alumni newsletter, thinking I was proving something to everyone else, when I was really trying to prove something to myself. I finally woke up to the fact that this attitude was incredibly counter-productive, self-defeating and quite unattractive to boot. Now, as a reformed panicker, I want to take the de facto wisdom I’ve gained and help a new generation of panickers control the Panic before it controls them.

2. I laughed at your bio, which says you live panic free in Manhattan. That's pretty hard to do--how do you manage?

Well, I can say I’m panic-free regarding a marriage timetable, which isn’t to say there isn’t an ocean of issues to panic about in Manhattan. The city is almost a panic vacuum by design; there are always other people unapologetically showboating what you don’t have – and that’s kind of the point. The key, I think, to protecting your sanity is making yourself impervious to the scorecard of others. They have nothing to do with you or your life, and the only achievements that matter are your own.

3. OK, this is the part that unnerved me, which is really is generational. The title talks about being "on the wrong side of 25" which made me gulp a bit. I thought women were marrying much later now--like in their 40s. (They're certainly having babies later.) Why do you feel there is still all that pressure on women to marry this young? And is a lot of the pressure put on by the women themselves? Also, coming from an older generation, I grew up hearing that marriage was NOT the brass ring, that we should go out and have adventures and careers and friends and that to be single was not a punishment or a sentence. Why do you think your generation returned to this idea of marriage as the be-all and end-all?

I realize that it might sound anachronistic, but I still posit that even with all of the progress we’ve made over the decades, women may be breaking glass ceilings professionally, but they’re still crashing personally – and it’s because they’re missing what they consider the most important sphere in life: marriage. Despite the statistics that would indicate that marriage numbers are on the decline, my own research has pointed ot the notion that marriage is still one of those ideals that will stand the test of time.

I’ve seen 18 year-olds panic and I see 45-year olds panic – the Panic knows no bounds – and it certainly transcends time and age. But this question touched on an important point: where and what is the origin of this panic-fueled phenomenon that continues to plague America’s singles population? Of the scores of women I interviewed for the book, many of the same women who claim they want to get married so badly are the ones who actually have a hard time articulating the reasons they want to marry.

A large swath of these panic-stricken women actually fail to assess just why they’re so consumed with the idea of marriage; the concept has simply been so ingrained and such a part of the social conditioning that there’s a real lack of self-awareness in terms of personal wants and needs. Failing to be in tune with our own goals certainly fuels many cultural myths, including that of a female marrying by 30 or else she’s a veritable failure.

4. So where do you see yourself in five years? And what are you working on now?

I’m a full-time writer who can’t imagine working in any other realm. I hope to continue working in various journalistic outlets – and hopefully spreading my wings as a writer and person. While writing “The Panic Years” was so gratifying and important to me, I wouldn’t have written it if it weren’t so close to the bone. Readers certainly know when an author is passionate about her topic, or simply going through the motions, and I think that in order for any literary product to fly, the voice really must ring true. So any future project I tackle is one that I know will touch me in a real way.

5. What questions didn't I ask that you wish I had?

One topic that I think really lends itself to the whole “Panic Years” discussion is that of “having it all” in life. I’ve been asked about how realistic it is to “have it all”– and I think the language of the question itself is so telling.

While I do think that we – women, men, singles, panickers, non-panickers, etc. – can ‘have it all’, it’s essential to define what “having it all” really means. When we use that kind of loaded language, we’re almost setting ourselves up for inevitable disappointment; it suggests that what we have today will not be good enough tomorrow. With that kind of fate we’re sealing for ourselves, we almost ensure that we’ll never be fully happy because we’ll always want, covet, desire more, instead of appreciating what we have today and saying, That’s good enough. We needn’t surrender the idea of "having it all" in life. If we're determined to actualize it, we can "have it all"; but in order to achieve that, we may have to move the goalposts first. It's only when we redefine "having it all" can you first start to tackle it in a real way.


Michele said...

I'm going to share this with my cousin. Thanks for the review!

Cindy said...

This one sounds like a must read!