Amy Cohen’s memoir, The Late Bloomer’s Revolution (Hyperion, 2007) is chock full of tales of woe and hilarity — losing a great job, a bad break-up, a bad face rash, bad dates, a dying mother, a distant father, worse dates, and the feeling of constantly having to prove that you’re okay, even though you don’t have what everyone else your age does. But Amy’s such a beautiful, funny, smart, young woman, it’s difficult to believe she didn’t make it all up.
Amy was a producer and writer for Spin City and Caroline in the City, wrote a dating column for the New York Observer, was a dating correspondent for the cable show New York Central, and she recently sold the movie rights to The Late Bloomer’s Revolution. Before you can say “Candace Bushnell,” Sarah Jessica Parker is set to star. In the following brief interview, I tried to get Amy to talk about some serious — even if a bit tangential — topics that her book got me thinking about again. She succumbed, but still managed to be funny.
Roy Christopher: Having gone through several crises all at the same time, don’t you feel like you learned something about yourself that people who never had those life-questioning events lack?
Amy Cohen: Such a good question. I think there’s no doubt that people who have endured crises feel they know more than other people, but I’m not sure it’s true.
I definitely feel like a different person than I was before all those things happened and I’m smarter than I was, but I’m careful to remind myself you’re not necessarily wiser than everyone else because you’ve endured more pain. David Sedaris had a great quote about this in his essay, “The Learning Curve.” He talks about a student who thought that because her “pain was significant,” her writing was significant as well, which wasn’t the case.
Actually last summer when I was publicizing my book, I saw Ishmael Beah (the former child soldier who wrote A Long Way Gone) in Union Square giving an interview, and I thought, “Jesus, what do I have to say that compares to a former child soldier in Africa?” That’s where the competition comes in. Like “could I know as much as him, because, true, I’ve had my fair share of break-ups and skin rashes and endured the death of my mother, but I haven’t lugged a machete through the bush.” Which led me to ask, did he learn more because his pain was so much more extreme? I think it’s a very slippery area.
I know plenty of people who’ve been through horrible things and learned nothing, so I think the real trick comes from not only enduring pain but taking that next step and learning something from it. The wisdom comes from a lot of soul searching and hard work.
RC: Realizing that this isn’t actually the point of your book, what makes one an adult in our culture? What’s your take? Is Western Culture devoid of rites of passage for adulthood?
AC: Apparently you weren’t invited to my Bat Mitzvah. (You didn’t miss anything, by the way. Just a lot of bleached chopped liver and a Jewish Bandleader who was a cross between Elvis and Don Ho.)
I don’t think Western Culture is devoid of rites of passage at all, in fact, I think just the opposite. We don’t limit it to Bar Mitzvahs or Communions any more. I think part of that has to do with people not being as religious, but also with our whole idea of what it means to come into your own. To become adults.
As I said in my book, I don’t really think I started becoming an adult until my Mother got sick when I was thirty-one. Not exactly a rite of passage I could have predicted.
I also think there’s a difference between rites of passage and becoming an adult. I don’t think we have a strong sense of what it means to be an adult in our culture, so it’s hard to say what makes someone an adult.
In terms of rites of passage, the arena has been opened up. For some people telling their parents they’re gay is a considered a tremendous, life changing rite of passage. Even Pop Culture is jumping on the ever changing Rites of passage. Everything from City Slickers, where Billy Crystal becomes a new man as a result of a week long cattle drive, to the episode of Sex and The City where Carrie suggests at a certain age a single woman should be celebrated (and given gifts and a registry) for remaining single.
I guess what I’m saying is, rites of passage and becoming an adult are two very different things. So much for my Bat Mitzvah.
RC: Does everyone really want the same thing?
AC: I think we’d have to ask Everyone that.