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Paperback Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life Book

ISBN: 0143113070

ISBN13: 9780143113072

Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life

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Book Overview

In addition to being the son of famous New Yorker editor William Shawn and brother of the distinguished playwright and actor Wallace Shawn, Allen Shawn is agoraphobic-he is afraid of both public spaces and isolation. Wish I Could Be There gracefully captures both of these extraordinary realities, blending memoir and scientific inquiry in an utterly engrossing quest to understand the mysteries of the human mind. Droll, probing, and honest,...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Wish I Could Be There

I found this book to be excellent, mostly because I suffer from the same condition. I was looking for answers to my own experiences and found them in this book. It clarifies many of the same symptoms, thoughts and feelings, and gives one the feeling that this suffering is not mine alone. Thank you, Allen Shawn, for writing this book and making others feels a whole lot better. Connie Wilkins

An extraordinary insight into the phobic life

If you've ever been touched with even the mildest phobia, you'll understand the hell of Allen Shawn's inner life. Everything is frightening. Even the simplest decisions must be considered for the thousand different pathways that the mind can imagine arising. Nothing is simple: everything is complex. Even home is a dangerous place. Shawn's father was William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker for many years. Dad also had a mistress for the last 35 years, an arrangement his wife knew of and apparently accepted to some extent. The elder Shawn was well known for his phobias and eccentricities. Allen can't find a cure for his legion phobias, though it is apparent he has valiantly tried. In the process, he has learned just about everything there is to know about phobias. He mixes his expert knowledge with his own life experiences. It is a compelling tale and you can, unfortunately, fell all too well Shawn's pain at having to say so often "Wish I could be there". Shawn wants to be there, whether it's the performances at his children's school or of his own compositions, but he can't make it. His phobias keep him from getting from here to there. The person who has never experienced agortaphobia, anxiety or panic disorder may not be able to appreciate Shawn's experience and knowledge. For those who have even the mildest experience, Shawn's experiences touch home. Shawn, in a way, sums it all up in one line: "[t]he agoraphobic predicament seems to be that one cannot easily move forward in the world without knowing already what lies ahead". This is clearly a specialty book that will not appeal to everyone. But for those who have had a phobic experience, lived with or known someone who is phobic, it is interesting and worthwhile. Jerry

Inspirational book...

I felt very connected to this book by just reading the first 10 pages. I suffer panic/anxiety attacks, and have for many years. Reading this book I feel comforted and not alone in my demise. It is a wonderfully comforting book which tells you that you are not alone with your fears. Shawn, whose family history, like mine, is dysfunctional and full of catastrophes, speaks of useful human fears that can be turned into strengths, and of unnecessary fears. All my fears seem unnecessary to me, and they make me, make everyone, into something controlled from the outside, something almost no longer human when the fears take over, or when you see other people or every change of location only as a threat. There is a lot to learn from this book, and it calms your insides when you are told about it this way. I am very grateful for it, grateful too that I am not alone with my fears.

Confronting the Fears of a Fearful Life

It is a scary world out there, and we are rightly concerned to drive carefully, use our seatbelts, avoid dangerous neighborhoods after dark, and refrain from picking up snakes before herpetological identification. Some anxiety is good for us; the person who has no worries just isn't paying enough attention. Composer Allen Shawn, however, has more than his share. He gets terrified if he is in an enclosed space, and then he gets terrified if he is somewhere in the wide outdoors. He has trouble negotiating bridges and tunnels or driving on any unfamiliar road, and he cannot ride on a subway. When he tries such adventures, he has numerous physical symptoms. His breath gets short, his vision blanks out, he gets confused and agitated, his muscles get tight, and he has to try to get out of what his mind and body are telling him is his dangerous situation. "I'm working on this 'agorophobia' problem," he writes in _Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life_ (Viking), and part of his work was surely this volume itself. It is composed of his layman's research into the most recent science of phobias, as well as nods to the interpretations by Freud and others, but is best as a memoir concentrating on his family and upbringing, and the effects upon him of his own phobias and theirs. Shawn was the son of the famous editor of _The New Yorker_, William Shawn, and his wife Cecille who had been a reporter in Chicago, both of whom had phobias but of less degree than he has. The family kept quiet about its Jewish background and about the father's long term affair with another writer. They also said little about the author's twin sister Mary who was institutionalized at age eight and remains so, for mental retardation now diagnosed as autism. Shawn tries to understand this peculiar upbringing, full of love, concern, intellectualization, and concealment. "Would I have become agoraphobic without my mother's ... deeply conflicted response to my growth and independence? ... without a retarded twin sister who was sent away? Without our remarkable pileup of family secrets?" The questions mount, and of course the assistance they give in understanding is merely from being asked, since they can never be satisfactorily answered. Shawn piles up documentation of scientific thinking about fear. "The fear response is something admirable. Those of us who are subject to its misfiring shouldn't blame the response itself. Every single ingredient in it is the result of millennia of adaptations that helped us to survive." His descriptions of panic are indeed scary, but his intellectual understanding of it does not help: "I remain dumbfounded at how automatic, instantaneous, and severe my reactions are, not to mention how trivial the triggers can be." Shawn understands the condition in general, and the specifics of his own case, and such intellectualizations help, but they do not take the condition away. In a book full of literary allusions, he quotes Robert Bu

Thank you, Allen Shawn.

This very wise book does more than describe phobias and the phobic's world; it also clearly explains how all of us, as adults, are powerfully shaped by our childhoods and our upbringing, and how coming to terms with this takes many of us all of our adult life. It is in parts purely reportorial (as when Mr. Shawn describes for us what it is to be in the throes of panic attacks); part analysis of the history of anxiety and phobia (almost scholarly in the approach and persuasion); and part biography, as it is heavily detailed in his memories of childhood. My Shawn is at times like a novice pilot guiding a 767 with only two-thirds of the flight manual (as when he describes his own crippling phobias); at times the careful, understanding analyst with a difficult patient; at times simply the dutiful reporter given a perplexing assignment; and at times the careful historian. All in all, Mr Shawn approaches his own crippling phobias without even a suggestion of self-pity, often with the detachment of a good scientist, and always connects his own fears to the larger world: historically, culturally, and behaviorally. There is not a whit of solipsism here. I'd recommend this book for anyone who copes with any fear or fears they believe, in some respects, to be irrational; or to anyone who simply wants to better know what it is like to be all too human.
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