When asked how he got into the fact-checking business when he started his career in journalism at The Atlantic, Daniel Smith said, “That’s the lowliest job they give a journalist.”
Smith, an American Jew, is now a writer and author of the NYT Bestseller Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety. He read from his book at an appearance last night at Sixth and I Synagogue in downtown Washington. He raised eyebrows by reading a passage about a threesome he had with two older women when he was 16 (he now appears to be in his mid-30s). Even worse: His mother was sitting in the audience as he read.
“I’m just glad we’re not reading this in the sanctuary,” he said. His mother has actually been present for readings from this particular part of the book before. Somehow that didn’t make it any less uncomfortable for us.
The threesome, Smith says, was the trigger for what has become his lifelong battle with clinical anxiety. In the book, he describes what happened as being “winked at” by “a vagina that looks like Andy Rooney.” Who wouldn’t be shocked?
Watching Smith on stage, you’d never know he suffers from any kind of illness. And you’d certainly never know he takes what he called “a carefully leveled dose of pharmaceuticals” to keep himself inline. He’s perfectly at ease. But he said that’s only because with public speaking “you have no choice” but to be “seized by the moment.” He said he’s “a mess” before actually getting on stage.
After the threesome scene, the some 40 people in the audience prodded Smith to read another excerpt. This one detailed his time in college, most of which was spent reading in the lower level of the school library. It’s where he discovered the author Philip Roth.
Smith said Roth’s fictional writings on Jewish-American life made him realize his anxiety wasn’t shameful. “It was a higher calling,” he said. “It was to be a writer. And I wanted in.”
During the Q&A, Smith confessed that today he’s not in love with his anxiety but he wouldn’t give it up. “It would be like giving up happiness,” he explained. “Or sadness.”