Tish Cohen take on Agoraphobia in book Town House

I was born in Toronto and, shortly after swallowing a poisonous mushroom under the playground slide and having my stomach pumped, we moved to Montreal where I attended a tiny, dark French nursery school each day. My classmate, Guy, and I bonded over a French storybook about a family of hungry kittens in a park.

As these cats were wiser than I, they ignored the lure of the mushroom and stole a can of sardines from a picnic basket. Only, having no opposable thumbs, they couldn’t work the can opener. It was during these scenes, mimicking the frustrated kittens, that Guy taught me how to swear in French—a skill I’m thankful for to this day. I don’t remember the name of this book, but I’ll never forget the story or the illustrations or the fun we had creating our own, edgier, version of the tale.

A couple of years later, when I was about six or seven, I remember sitting in my sister’s closet and staring at a particularly good likeness of Snoopy I’d drawn and knowing I was meant to not only quit ripping off other artists’ work or one day face litigation, but to develop characters of my own and write a novel. Right then and there, amongst her sneakers. I knew it right down to my toes. I knew it so strongly that I was deeply ashamed of myself when I thought, “I could never do that,” crawled out and went off to play. I’m ashamed still.

Later, after my parents split and I’d moved with my father to attend high school in California, I wrote a story about an overweight weasel named Otto who did everything in his power to win the heart of the town beauty, but wound up falling for a fleshy little weaselette with no eyelashes. My English teacher told me to stay after class and said I should consider writing and illustrating children’s books. I was thrilled to my core, but once again, thought “I could never do that.”

My first son was born in Toronto in 1992, my second three years later, and I began to write and illustrate children’s stories that I first read to my boys, then submitted to publishers. No one bit. I sold a few pieces to national newspapers, but gave up on the idea of writing a novel. I could never do that.

Tish’s Career

My career took me from media buyer at an ad agency to decorative painter to art gallery manager to illustrator to proofreader and, finally editor. It was in this job that I truly fell in love with “playing with words.” I worked as an editor for a few years, eventually creating an office tabloid called “The Tattler,” which featured co-workers and superiors in scandals I had great fun inventing. My coworkers loved it. My superiors did not.

One day, when I was feeling mopey about the zigzagged direction my career had taken, I happened upon this Anais Nin quote on Oprah’s website. “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I walked into my office and began writing my first adult manuscript.

Well, that manuscript is packed away forever in the basement and I still don’t trust mushrooms, but I know two important things; swearing sounds way cooler in French and, although I didn’t write it in my sister’s closet, I managed to squeak out that novel after all.

Tish’s New Novel “Town House”

About Town House…

Jack Madigan is, by many accounts, blessed. Thanks to his legendary rockstar father, he lives an enviable existence in a once-glorious, but now crumbling, Boston town house with his teenage son, Harlan. There’s just one problem: Jack is agoraphobic. While living on his dad’s dwindling royalties hasn’t been easy, Jack and Harlan have bumbled along just fine. Until the money runs out…and so does Jack’s luck.

Suddenly, the bank is foreclosing, Jack’s ex is threatening to take Harlan to California, and Lucinda, the little waif next door, won’t stay out of his kitchen. Or his life. The harder Jack tries to keep Lucinda out, the harder she pushes her way in — to his house and, eventually, his heart. Things look up when the real estate agent, Dorrie Allsop, arrives so green she still has the price tag dangling from her Heritage Estates blazer. But even Dorrie’s overworked tongue can’t hide the house’s potential and, ultimately, a solid offer thrusts Jack towards the paralyzing reality that he no longer has a home.

To save his sanity, Jack must do the impossible and outwit the real estate agent, win back his house and keep his son at home. Town House is a sweet and serious look at one man’s struggle to survive within the walls of his own fears. And it’s through the very people he tries so hard to push out of his life that he finds a way to break down those walls and, eventually, step outside.

You can buy Tish’s book direct from Amazon by clicking here:

An essay about my own anxiety as it relates to the novel: The Town House Turtle

In some ways, my agoraphobic Town House protagonist, Jack Madigan, and I could not be more different. He’s the son of a rock star and a groupie. I’m the daughter of a medical laboratory owner and an artist. He’s passive aggressive with his therapist. I couldn’t appreciate mine more. He lives in my favorite neighborhood on earth – Beacon Hill in Boston – in a four-storey century town home with a groaning dumbwaiter and 12-foot ceilings on a street with cobblestone sidewalks. Sigh. I don’t.

Where we really get similar is, sadly, in our panic attacks. Jack’s started much earlier than mine – he was in his early twenties. Of course, he grew up in dodgier circumstances – living on the back of a tour bus, napping in a splintered Coke crate backstage while his Ozzie Osborne-like father bit “the soft bits” off a snapping turtle onstage in front of a roaring crowd. (Animal lovers, fear not. The turtle wins.)

Perhaps because my father had no interest in turtles–or because I spent very little time, comparatively, on the school bus–my own panic attacks didn’t start until I had kids and, for the first time in my life, was petrified of my own mortality. These tiny babies depended on me for life itself – could my body really be trusted? What if some body part or other just stopped working?

The panicky episodes came and went, vanishing for a few years then bubbling up again at inopportune times, such as when I was in the passing lane on the highway or atop a dressage horse in front of spectators. Like Jack, each and every time, I was convinced the panic attacks were going to kill me. Unlike Jack, I never experienced dizziness. Nor did I lock myself indoors. My every instinct recommended it, but with two young boys came a life that pulled me outside, day after day.

I’ve said before that I’m an agoraphobe waiting to happen. That hide-in-my-shell instinct is always simmering just below the surface. But maybe because I know where it lives, or maybe because my NY therapist is so bloody good, or maybe because I’m getting stubborn, I, like the turtle in Town House, am winning this one.

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