Monday, July 16, 2007

Interview: Amy Cohen, author of "The Late Bloomer's Revolution"

I am just tickled to introduce to you my first author interview here on Books and Beliefs. Last week I read The Late Bloomer's Revolution and thoroughly enjoyed it. Today, I'm delighted to share my interview with the author, Amy Cohen:

Sheyna: Amy, welcome to the blog, and thank you so much for including Books and Beliefs in your blog tour. Let's get right to the interview.

You write about such painful, traumatic experiences, such as your mother's death and the broken engagement, yet you write with such levity and humor. How do you feel about sharing your pain in such a funny way?

Amy: First, I’m so happy you thought the book was funny. I love hearing that, so thank you. I come from a funny family. I think it’s just the way we deal with things. It’s never something we even think about, it just is.

Like today I did this radio interview by phone and of all days, workers were drilling and hammering in the apartment below me, so I couldn’t hear anyone who called. So I asked my doorman if from 1:30 to 1:45, they could stop banging and drilling and he said yes. So at 1:30 I begin my interview, and then not only does the drilling get louder, my doorman starts ringing my buzzer – repeatedly. After it was over, I said, “Julio I said NOT to call or drill at 1:30,” and he said, “oh sorry. I got confused.” Was it a nightmare? Yes. Was it such a disaster it was funny too? Absolutely. I guess my feeling when things go wrong is always, “might as well laugh.”

I think the second part of the question for me is “how do you feel about sharing your pain?” Which was incredibly hard for me. Maybe the hardest part. For many drafts, I was very glib and jokey and you could tell I was hiding a lot. So I had to go back and then back again and yes, again and again, and rewrite. And in order to do it, I had to be really honest with myself. Was I afraid of saying I got depressed (yes, absolutely I was) but why? Was I afraid to talk about how insecure I feel sometimes (yes, again.) And so I asked myself why and what I was so afraid of. And it took a lot of work.

I think also when I was going through all my most painful times, I wished so much there was a book like mine. I’d read other memoirs that I loved, but couldn’t find one that captured the feelings I was having. So I’m happy to share.

Sheyna: I found that the parts I laughed hardest at (with?) were the situations I found most familiar (and there were many), yet I was engaged at 19 and married by 23. Can you comment on the universality of what you wrote about relationships and what it means to be a "late bloomer"?

Amy: I have to say, I am just thrilled people are using the word “universal” in reference to the book. I think part of the universality (love that word), is that the book deals with all kinds of relationships, not just between men and women. It’s about relationships with your parents, with yourself, and also with your idea of yourself (your job, the things you think define you and make you a success, and the ongoing issue of where you think you’re supposed to be in life.) Those are universal concerns.

I’ve gotten a bunch of letters from men and women of all ages and different backgrounds (which has been amazing). Letters that include a film-making bachelor in London; an older, widowed grandmother from New Jersey; and a lovely, young Palestinian Israeli woman who said that she felt the book had a very universal message about relationships and how complicated they are.

Who knew? I actually wasn’t expecting so many people to use the term “universal”, but as I said, I couldn’t be happier people feel that way.

Sheyna: You clearly write from a Jewish perspective. In what ways do you think your Jewishness had an impact on how you dealt with the situations you wrote about?

Amy: What a terrific, interesting question. First, I have to say my Mother must be smiling now, because she would love this question so much (she was a “career volunteer” for UJA and the Jewish Theological Seminary.)

The ways in which my Judaism influenced me and my writing are numerous.

My father’s mother, Grandma Flossie, was one of those Jewish grandmothers who was more afraid if something good happened, because then it could all be taken away and if you never knew how good things could be, you’d never know what you were missing, so better that they should never be good. I think that’s such a recipe for high neuroses – if things are bad, they’re bad. If things are good, they’re bad. That played a lot into the way I see and write about things.

I’m also reminded of the woman on my bike trip who said, “how many Jews do you think are on this trip?” which I think was her way of saying “who’s like us?” I think Jews so often have a sense of being included, but also being outsiders. That certainly plays into the way I think too. There we were up in the Canadian Wilderness with sturdy, Bison-eating, Nordic types and there was a sense of assimilation, but also not. I’m reminded of that great scene in Annie Hall when Alvy goes to visit Annie’s family in Wisconsin, and he just feels like an alien. He tells the family he’s been seeing an analyst for fifteen years, and says, “I’m making excellent progress. Pretty soon, when I lie down on his couch, I won’t have to wear the lobster bib,” and they look at him like he’s nuts.

I also got a strong sense of my Judaism from my mother who believed Judaism was about compassion. In terms of writing, I always have a great deal of compassion for my characters, especially ones who broke up with me just after I’d gotten fired.

Sheyna: Finding a lasting relationship is just as much an issue within the Jewish community than in the rest of American society, and maybe even more so for those who will only date other Jews. What would you suggest Jewish organizations, especially synagogues and JCCs, can do to create more opportunities for Jewish singles?

Amy: Well, since my brother and sister met their spouses THE SAME NIGHT at a Jewish Singles party thrown by a few of my mother’s friends, I always think that’s a good way to meet people. I have a lot of friends, too, who met on JDATE. MAKOR in Manhattan is terrific, too, because they have great, cool music and hip lectures and classes and a cute cafe. It’s an excellent model.

Sheyna: As I was reading The Late Bloomer's Revolution, I kept thinking it was kind of like a Jewish Bridget Jones' Diary, but your book is true. Have you heard this comparison before and what do you think about it?

Amy: I haven’t heard this comparison – although let me say I think it’s genius. I’ve heard “Jewish Sex and the City, but with family.”

I’ve also heard people call my book a “beach book,” and someone said, “How do you feel about that?” And I said, “Beach book. Gym book. Subway book. I don’t care. I’m just so happy people are reading it.” Kurt Vonnegut said, (and I’m completely paraphrasing him), “read a soup label. Read a gum wrapper. Just read.”

Sheyna: Based on your experience, what do you think is the greatest obstacle to singles finding happiness today? (Note that "happiness" does not necessarily mean "relationship" or marriage.")

Amy: Listening to friends who say you want it too much or not enough. Or that they need to “get out there,” or try online dating again even if you hated it, or go out with a friend’s mother’s ex-coworker’s son, who isn’t much of talker or a looker, but “you never know.”

The whole process is enervating. You have these nights where you’re sitting with a stranger and you have nothing to say and it feels like your life is seeping away. My advice is always to embrace the life you have – really embrace it – go on that trip to Thailand you wanted to take; sneak into a movie that’s almost sold out and get the best seat and never stop believing the life you want will happen, just not necessarily in the time you thought.

Sheyna: And because I just have to know, and wondered about it all through the book: how did the rash on your face finally resolve and what did you need to do to keep it away? (Really, I was ready to break out the champagne in anticipation of the chapter where you wrote about it disappearing and you being able to leave your apartment again!)

Amy: I love that you were going to break out the champagne. We’ll have to toast something else (like you getting married at twenty-three!) Actually the rash just slowly and I mean, sloe-hoe-hoe-holy went away. The doctors never knew what it was. And, not surprisingly, now I’m a lunatic about my skin.

Sheyna: Thank you so much, Amy, for sharing yourself in your book!

Amy: Sheyna,Thank you! It was a pleasure. What fantastic, thought provoking questions. Really, really just so great.
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