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Wish I Could Be There: Notes From a Phobic…
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Wish I Could Be There: Notes From a Phobic Life (original 2007; edition 2007)

by Allen Shawn

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190662,147 (3.33)11
Member:BookMad.net
Title:Wish I Could Be There: Notes From a Phobic Life
Authors:Allen Shawn
Info:Viking Adult (2007), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:Science

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Wish I Could Be There: Notes From a Phobic Life by Allen Shawn (2007)

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Personal and scientific view of agarophobia and other phobias. Could add to content of the Center Cannot Hold.
  ammurphy | Nov 9, 2010 |
An odd, interesting little book about being agoraphobic. He tells about his family - both of his parents had phobias - talks some about what science knows about phobias, and describes how he lives with his phobias. I think of myself as agoraphobic because I find reasons not to go places, but I rarely have the somatic symptoms he does: difficulty breathing, blacking out, digestive problems. It's sobering to read his descriptions of his life. Despite it all he's a successful composer and teacher, but he lives his life within narrow confines. I appreciated his willingness to talk about it. ( )
  piemouth | Jun 10, 2010 |
A wonderful, gracefully written book, on several levels.

First, even if you think you know what agoraphobia is, this book will probably tell you something more. I can see why many people probably think Allen Shawn has a mild version because he is able to drive (only not so far), teach at university, perform on occasion and visit his hometown of New York (as long as he doesn't drive through tunnels, take the subway, etc., etc.). He has two children, though he's now divorced. (Though he doesn't say, I believe he was married to NYer writer Jamaica Kincaid.)

So the catch-all "agoraphobia" is a constellation of phobias, as probably are most others. He explains it all very well--the theories, the symptoms, the legacies of the pre-human brain, the environmental reinforcers. He's such a graceful writer--rather maddening since he's a composer and pianist by profession. I used to write about behavioral science, and so often found myself just totting up possible causes or falling into the on the one hand or the other.

The book will also be of great interest because his father was William Shawn, the renowned editor of The New Yorker for so many years.

The father had many, more, of the same behaviors. He never traveled in a plane; after a honeymoon sojourn in Europe, he returned to New York and never got much farther, by train, than his hometown of Chicago. This is a man who never took a walk by himself, had to sit at the end of a row in a theater, needed always to have people around, who seemed to have a fear of nature. That's interesting in itself and points to the genetic inheritance.

But you can also see how the family dynamics may have upped the chances that Allen would inherit the fears, even if his brother, actor Wallace Shawn, did not. (As for Allen's twin sister, who seems to be autistic ... whew! who knows?)

To repeat myself, the writer gets this across so well without leaning too far in one direction or another. There were subjects that were off-topic in his father's presence: blood, disease, bodily functions. (How, in heaven's name did he edit articles on such matters?).

When Allen and his sister were toddlers, their father began a decades-long affair with the writer Lillian Roth (tho she's never named). Although Allen didn't learn about it until age 30, obviously it affected how his mother and father behaved. William even had a separate home phone just for Lillian's calls. (William always kept both women apprised of his location; how did that work?). The subtly detailed descriptions of his father actually become novelistic--just so well observed.

He says we all have some phobias, neuroses, or exaggerated fears. I was glad to see that he pointed out that mine, a fainting feeling, is common linked to the sight of blood and gore (well, actually, a mere description might do it.) Hmmm, how did that ever serve a positive function like the fight-or-flight reaction? ( )
  Periodista | Oct 2, 2009 |
Mildly interesting but mostly dry and overwrought. This book is a disorganized-feeling, poetic musing on human nature and neurology by a non-neurologist with an inflated vocabulary. ( )
  lucidtheory | Sep 15, 2009 |
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Epigraph
Natural selection is the guiding agent of
evolution, but it is not an all-seeing and all-wise
pilot. It adapts, as best it can, a living species to
the environments prevailing in a given place at
a given time, but it cannot know the future.
--Theodosius Dobzhansky, Evolution

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars - on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
--Robert Frost, "Desert Places"
Dedication
For Wall and for Mary
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I am driving down a dirt road in the woods to a friend's house.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670038423, Hardcover)

A droll, inquisitive, and poignant memoir of agoraphobia from a member of one of New York’s premier literary families

Allen Shawn is afraid of heights, water, fields, parking lots, tunnels, and unknown roads. He avoids taking subways, using elevators, or crossing bridges. In short, he is afraid of both closed and open spaces and of any form of isolation. Yet this is a memoir of enormous bravery.

Shawn grew up in a lively but mysterious world. He is the son of the famous, longtime New Yorker editor William Shawn and brother to the brilliant playwright and actor Wallace Shawn. His twin sister is autistic, and when they were eight years old, she was put in a home. Though it was kept from him until he was in his thirties, his father led a double life that introduced strict taboos to his household. Shawn examines these influences, his father’s and mother’s phobias, and his own struggle with agoraphobia with generosity, wit, and insight, attempting to decipher the psychological and biological puzzles that have plagued him for so long.

Interwoven with both Freudian psychology and cutting-edge brain research, Shawn has written a profound examination of familial love and the universal struggle to face our demons.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:01 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Allen Shawn is afraid of heights, water, fields, parking lots, tunnels, and unknown roads. He avoids subways, elevators, and bridges. He is afraid of both closed and open spaces and of any form of isolation--yet this is a memoir of enormous bravery. He is the son of New Yorker editor William Shawn and brother to playwright/actor Wallace Shawn. His twin sister is autistic. His father led a double life that introduced strict taboos to his household. Shawn examines these influences, his father's and mother's phobias, and his own struggle with agoraphobia with generosity, wit, and insight, interwoven with both Freudian psychology and cutting-edge brain research, attempting to decipher the psychological and biological puzzles that have plagued him for so long.--From publisher description."--From source other than the Library of Congress… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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