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These experiences were all traumatic for Smith, but they also led him to focus on his writing. By dint of being afraid to get another desk job, Smith moved to New York, where he toiled to win back Joanna and penned his first book, published in 2008, “Muses, Madmen, and Prophets,”addressing his late father’s auditory hallucinations. He also published nonfiction in such august publications as Slate, New York magazine and The New York Times.
As Wetter put it, some people “use their anxiety as a way to achieve.”
So has writing proved therapeutic? Not quite. Producing the memoir “was a fabulous experience. It was the first time in my life that I ever experienced deep joy in writing,” Smith said. “I threw myself back into narrative and back into humor, which I fell out of when I got into journalism.” Still, he said, churning out the memoir did not help shush his anxiety’s simian screech.
Has he come across any answers? “Discipline can bend your temperament,” he said of his commitment to psychotherapy. And apparently, so can maturity. Recalling his earlier flight from romance, he added, “I no longer confuse my doubts and fears with love for my wife.”
Smith says he hopes that his memoir will end up helping others. At a recent Jewish Book Council reading for “Monkey Mind,” attendees approached him not to talk about the book, but rather to discuss their own kids’ anxiety and how to ease it. Smith said he told them to be compassionate but not to coddle the kids too much.
Does he get the same kind of response at non-Jewish events? Or are Jews, Woody Allen aside, not really more anxious than others?
He stops to consider this. “I’ve also had that experience with parents who aren’t Jewish,” he said. “I wish I knew the statistics about this. Are Jewish people more ‘therapized’? I would imagine they are. But they’re certainly comfortable talking about this.”
“Everything’s fair game for discussion [among Jews]. And I love that,” he said, ending on an uncharacteristically upbeat note.
Susan Comninos is a frequent contributor to both the Forward and the Christian Science Monitor.