LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Author Annabelle Gurwitch is funny and optimistic about coping with her many struggles. NPR's Mandalit del Barco talked to the Los Angeles actress-turned-writer about her new book, "You're Leaving When? Adventures In Downward Mobility."
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: As her witty new memoir opens, Annabelle Gurwitch finds herself divorced after a 22-year marriage, an empty-nester with no retirement plan. She loses her union-sponsored health insurance, so her payments balloon from $600 a year to 1,200 a month. Her parents have died. Then the pandemic hit. And her cat dies.
ANNABELLE GURWITCH: It was the worst of times. It was the worst of times.
DEL BARCO: She now scoffs at the opening lines of her book.
GURWITCH: Actually, lady, I said to myself, (laughter) what - you had no idea how much worse it could get.
DEL BARCO: After writing her book, Gurwitch quarantined last summer with her child Ezra, who had boomeranged home after college. They went for a COVID-19 test together because Annabelle had a bit of a cough. She wasn't worried since she exercises every day and doesn't smoke. But the doctor took an X-ray. Then he informed her over her car's speakerphone that she has stage 4 lung cancer.
GURWITCH: Lung cancer - what? It's a silent killer. So yes, COVID has saved my life. It's just this crazy irony that because of this pandemic, I found out that I have this life-threatening disease. When I say this, by the way, it still sounds like I'm talking about someone else.
DEL BARCO: Dealing with that through humor could be Gurwitch's next book. The former actress and TV host has written other comical memoirs about her marriage, about getting fired, about getting older. In this new book, she talks about inching toward 60 with an uncertain financial future. She realized her life was not going to look anything like Diane Keaton's fabulous character in the movie "Something's Gotta Give."
GURWITCH: My goodness. She's a middle-aged woman. She just happens to be the most successful playwright on Broadway. And she lives in a house at the Hamptons. This is when I actually started thinking about this book. You know, this is not the future that a lot of us thought in midlife. I mean, honestly, I never thought I'd have that kind of lavish future but just the stability.
DEL BARCO: She found that like a lot of people her age, on the cusp between baby boomers and Generation X, she was not prepared for retirement. To help pay the mortgage, Gurwitch decided to take in boarders. She rented out a room in her home.
GURWITCH: I think of myself as an acquired taste. You know, like, I'm not for everybody. So the idea of having roommates, you know (laughter), like at - you know, my 50s, I just - you know, I always had this image, like landlady, cigarette hanging out of her mouth. She's in a blousy house dress and stockings falling down and - you know?
The crazy thing is I do have a story in the book about my first tenant, a French gentleman. He taught me that ennui is just another word for, you're a bummer to be around. However (laughter), aside from that guy, I've had the best experiences bringing people into my life, sharing my home.
DEL BARCO: That includes an endearing young couple she met through a program for homeless at-risk youth, also their pet bunny. In addition, Gurwitch writes about parenting her nonbinary child who's in recovery from addiction.
GURWITCH: There have been so many experience that have come with downward mobility. And I'm not saying financial insecurity is good or desirable, but there are silver linings.
DEL BARCO: Actress Andie MacDowell says she admires her friend Annabelle Gurwitch's sense of humor.
ANDIE MACDOWELL: She's original. And I think her writing is very endearing and funny and charming.
DEL BARCO: These days, Gurwitch says her health is stable. She's taking gene-targeted medication and getting regular scans. She recently filmed a role in a Jake Gyllenhaal movie. She continues to host a virtual writers room. And she co-hosts a weekly podcast that celebrates small triumphs.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DEL BARCO: In the latest episode of "Tiny Victories," one caller said she lost a button on her jacket.
(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "TINY VICTORIES")
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I sewed that button back on.
DEL BARCO: To cope with her new reality...
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DEL BARCO: ...Gurwitch is comforted by a pair of kittens.
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DEL BARCO: And with friends online, she's taken up the ukulele.
GURWITCH: (Singing) You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
DEL BARCO: Annabelle Gurwitch is reinventing herself and finding her own tiny victories every day.
Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.
GURWITCH: (Singing) Please don't take my sunshine away.
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