An essayist and Emmy-winning literary talk show host muses on the ups and downs of her life as a daughter, mother, career woman, and wife.
Philpott (Penguins with People Problems, 2015), who hosts A Word on Words on Nashville Public Television, opens this collection of inviting autobiographical essays with a meditation on the titular phrase. Her son devised it as a bored 6-year-old playing in her home office, but she later saw the words as perfectly capturing “that universal adult experience: the identity crisis.” In the appealing essays that follow, Philpott explores episodes from her life when she experienced identity shifts, both large and small, that forced some form of personal “recalibration.” She begins by examining how the perfectionism that followed her from a childhood defined by good grades and a desire to please came up against the adult realization that humans are “limited by the bounds of what we understand to be right.” In “Good Job,” Philpott details her first post-college/early-career awakening. As the author clearly demonstrates, the rewards toward which she had been taught to run “like a mouse on a wheel” simply did not exist. Yet her tendency to impose an ideal version of reality onto her actual experiences continued, as she admits in “The Expat Concept.” When her husband’s job took him to Dublin, for example, she put more time into creating the perfect wardrobe and envisioning glamorous photo-ops than “into figuring out how we would eat.” It was only during a major midlife crisis that the author came face to face with the fact that the perfect existence she insisted on creating—despite all she knew about letting go of personal and social expectations—had left her feeling like a depressed “human traffic jam.” Warm, candid, and wise, Philpott’s book is both an extended reflection on the pressures of being female and a survivor’s tale about finding contentment by looking within and learning to be herself.
Delightfully bighearted reading.