Life Stories #60: Scott Stossel

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Life Stories: Scott Stossel
photo: Michael Lionstar

This episode of Life Stories is a slight deviation from the usual format of talking to memoir writers about their lives and the art of writing memoir, in that Scott Stossel’s My Age of Anxiety isn’t, strictly speaking a memoir. But one of the first things we discuss is how, once Stossel started telling people that he was writing a medical and cultural history of the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders framed by his own experiences, they became much more intrigued by the topic. And the finished book is thoroughly suffused with Stossel’s life story, as he lays bare his worst phobias, the effect that they’ve had on his life, and the ways that he and his therapists have sought to bring them under control over the decades.

We met just a few days after Michael Bay’s walk-off in the middle of a trade show presentation when the teleprompter went off track—to Stossel, it sounded like a nightmare he’s lived through before, when his anxiety gets so amped up he just have to leave. The fear associated with public speaking is so great that, as he writes, he has to begin bracing himself hours ahead of time with a regimen of pills and scotch or vodka—not, he concedes, a solution he’d recommend to anyone, but one that enables him to function. Recently, though, he contemplated a change:

“My plan all along has been to do my pre-game regimen, as it were, to make sure I’m appropriately medicated. But, given the topic of the book, at some point I probably oughta try doing it, in effect, pharmacologically naked… to not take anti-anxiety medications, not take a shot of alcohol beforehand. With the thing being, maybe I’ll manage it just fine, and that would be great for me, and people may then wonder, ‘Wait, you don’t seem that anxious,’ which is what they say all the time, or maybe I’ll have a visible manifestation of my anxiety, in which case what I hope I’ll be able to do is say, ‘Well, at least you’re getting your money’s worth, ’cause you can see, this is what it’s like.’”

Listen to Life Stories #60: Scott Stossel (MP3 file); or download this file by right-clicking (Mac users, option-click). Or subscribe to Life Stories in iTunes, where you can catch up with earlier episodes and be alerted whenever a new one is released. (And if you are an iTunes subscriber, please consider rating and reviewing the podcast!)

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26 January 2014 | life stories |

Read This: Orfeo

Richard Powers, OrfeoI’m writing the occasional book review and literary feature for The Daily Beast now, and this weekend they published “The Bioterrorist Who Loved Mahler,” where I look at the new Richard Powers novel, Orfeo.

I’ve been a fan of Powers for nearly two decades, since my discovery of Galatea 2.2 coincided with my initial fascination with the new-fangled Internet back in the mid-’90s, and I’ve written other articles about why his previous novel Generosity, as well as several of the novels before that, ought to be classified as science fiction. I feel the same way about Orfeo to some extent, although it’s also (I think) utterly within the realm of scientific plausibility based on contemporary technology. So maybe an apt comparison might be the most recent novels of William Gibson, although—even with a man-on-the-run premise—Powers is distinctly less action-oriented, more overtly geared towards immersive contemplative sequences.

This was a fun review to write: I got to namecheck Milton Babbitt and Philip K. Dick, and how often does that opportunity present itself naturally, right?

25 January 2014 | read this |

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