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Stressed for Success

movie
Mark Fellman

High Anxiety: Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino take a most excellent adventure.

Anxiety expert crashes Romy and Michele's party

By David Templeton


Writer David Templeton specializes in taking interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This week he sends author-therapist Robert Gerzon to see the sweetly goofy Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.

ACCORDING TO CERTAIN records at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, Robert Gerzon--graduating class of 1963--has been deceased for well over 30 years. This may explain why he's never been invited to any high school reunions.

"It's the best reason I've ever heard for not attending your reunion," he admits. Gerzon is speaking, not from the grave but from Concord, Mass., where he's very much alive, writing and building a therapy practice specializing in anxiety issues. It was only five years ago that he discovered his untimely death.

"I got this list back in the mail," he explains, "and my name was way at the end, and I was listed as deceased. It was very funny, but also a little disturbing. "

And speaking of reunions, what's with all these movies and plays about high school reunions? Now there are two movies: Grosse Pointe Blank--about a hit man attending his 10-year reunion as therapy--and the unexpectedly wise and sweet Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, the story of two underemployed, not-very-bright friends (Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow) who decide to attend their high school posing as successful businesswomen.

I asked Gerzon, whose accessible new book, Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety (Macmillan, 1997), will be released this month, to go see Romy and Michele, a film he'd been planning to avoid. Having seen the film, I felt Romy and friend could benefit from a good therapist.

"This is something that people go and talk to their therapists about," he says, having confessed his pleasant surprise at the film's good-natured sensitivity to the potential trauma of facing a roomful of fellow alumni.

"When people go to their high school reunions they think about those basic questions. 'Who am I? What am I doing with my life? Am I good enough?' This whole thing of 'What are these people going to think of me?'

"We think it should be easy, but for some of us the reunion is a very anxious time."

In his book, Gerzon separates anxiety, an "amorphous and ill-defined phenomenon," into three specific flavors: "Toxic Anxiety" is worry, insomnia, butterflies in the stomach, which, if unresolved, can develop into obsessive-compulsive disorders and phobias. "Natural Anxiety" is "the good kind--intelligent anxiety that helps us plan for the future." "Sacred Anxiety" is all the big-ticket stuff--existential, spiritual anxiety, anxiety about life, those 'Who am I?' issues.

So which type are Romy and Michele struggling with?

"Like most people," he suggests, "they're experiencing a mixture of all three. I do believe that Sacred Anxiety underlies all our other anxieties because it is the most fundamental. Romy and Michele were certainly dealing with that--the 'what am I worth?' stuff--but they had also clearly been enmeshed in [Toxic Anxiety] since high school, a time whenToxic Anxiety sort of runs the show.

"The movie illustrates how hard it is to sit down and really think about our lives. That's what Romy and Michele were avoiding. But this big event just plunged them right into it.

"The reunion became a wonderful therapeutic moment," Gerzon continues. "They took away the power that these people had had all their lives, and by so doing things started to change for them."

Gerzon won't be facing another reunion until, let's see, 2003. Is he planning to attend that one?

"I'm probably ready--at the age of 51--to go to a high school reunion," he jests. "Of course, everyone will be surprised I'm still alive. Maybe I can claim some sort of divine status," he chuckles.

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From the May 15-21, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent

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