Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life

Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life

by Allen Shawn


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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, Shawn explores the many ways we all become who we are, whether through upbringing, genes, or our own choices, creating "an eloquent meditation upon the mysteries of personality and family"* and the struggle to face one's demons.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143113072
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/29/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 7.72(w) x 10.88(h) x 0.51(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Allen Shawn is the author of the critically acclaimed Wish I Could Be There and Arnold Schoenberg's Journey. He is a composer and pianist, and has written for the Atlantic Monthly, the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times Magazine, and other publications. He lives in Vermont and is on the faculty of Bennington College.

Table of Contents

Foreword     ix
Introduction     xv
Demons on My Back     1
Father     26
Links in a Chain     45
Contemplating the Brain     54
Fear     75
Childhood     93
On the Road     116
Conditioning     136
Tigers in the Mind     150
Change and Trauma     176
Agoraphobia     192
Alone/Not Alone     223
Epilogue     245
Acknowledgments     253
Selected Readings     255
Index     261

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A harrowing, essential book about the force of fear gone wild in one person's mind and body."
-Chicago Tribune

"Remarkable. A brave, eccentric, and utterly compelling book that's as revelatory and candid as anything ever written by Joan Didion, and as humane and scientifically fascinating as any one of Oliver Sacks's case studies."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times*

"A vividly written combination of memoir and scientific inquiry."
-The New Yorker

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Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was dying to read this, based on the reviews, but was a little disappointed with the dryness of his writing, especially in the research sections (of which there were too many!). I guess the distancing goes along with the phobias. Highly interesting, nevertheless, especially if you skim the research parts.
piemouth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Periodista on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.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 to 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.) Though how did that ever serve a positive function like the fight-or-flight reaction?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Maximillian More than 1 year ago
This bok is a memoir with lots of psychology and scientific inquiry mixed in. The author certainly does have phobias, but he has had a full life and has been creative and fulfilled.