In February of 1973, Nancy Weber put an ad in the Village Voice offering to trade places with another woman, a stranger, for a month. In hopes of better understanding what was fixed and final in each person—and what was invented, and therefore might be reinvented—they would use each other’s names, live in each other’s homes, love each other’s loves, and do each other’s work. After interviewing many of the fascinating women who answered the ad, Weber—single (with a longtime lover) and straight—chose a polyamorous, bisexual, married psychologist and academic, the pseudonymous Micki Wrangler. They spent five months getting ready for their adventure—cajoling their nearest and dearest into participating, exchanging thousands of details, and swapping deep secrets. But, instead of a month, their wild ride lasted only a week. Wrangler was having a rough time (and Weber too good a time, maybe) so they decided to call things off. Wanting The Life Swap to convey more than her own experience, Weber invited Wrangler and ten others to enrich the book with their uncensored reports. Publicity for the book included stints on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and To Tell the Truth. The book achieved a kind of cult status, in part because it’s a relic of 1970s sexual openness (cruelly destroyed by HIV/AIDS) and belief in the right of self-invention. Recent critics have credited the book with inspiring life swap reality TV shows and several popular novels and films.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Nancy Weber’s diverse body of fiction includes The Playgroup , a psychological suspense novel with a medical twist; the slipstream novel Brokenhearted ; the metafiction Ad Parnassum ; the young adult mini-series Two Turtledoves; and eight romances written under her pseudonym, Jennifer Rose. Her nonfiction book The Life Swap , published in the seventies, recounts her experience exchanging lives—trading habits and jobs and even lovers—with a stranger. Weber has written for the stage as well, adapting the lyrics for the American version of composer Alexander Zhurbin’s Seagull: The Musical. Weber earned a toque blanche at the French Culinary Institute and ran a catering business, Between Books She Cooks, for a decade. She plays chess, badly, and drinks Irish whiskey.
Read an Excerpt
The Life Swap
A True Story
By Nancy Weber
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2006 Nancy Weber
All rights reserved.
I didn't dream up the ad; it dreamed up me. Marched into my mind without warning and took the whole joint over, sparing none.
LET'S SWAP LIVES. Woman writer, 31, will exchange her joyful, productive existence with yours for a month. I offer small Village apartment with fireplace & courtyard; size 8 wardrobe starring St. Laurent and Levi-Strauss; 1,000-plus books, fine paintings, Bach, tennis racquet; sterling friends & loving lovers, not all of whom are married. I'll do your work, adore your family, see your shrink, whatever, wherever. Why? I want to know if people can get out of their skins. References, lawyers, all safeguards both ways.
The ad laughed away my attempts at exorcism. It would not become a novel or be talked away in bars. The imperative grew plain: I had to live the bastard out or be its prisoner forever.
On a Monday morning shot through with New York winter light, I walked to The Village Voice and placed the ad. Came home and spent the two days until it appeared trying to figure out why it had chosen me to write the check that would bring it to life.
I looked at things I'd written and tootled through my memory and lined up glimmerings and dreams and fears, and the realization came: Everything had conspired to make this choosing happen. Sweet, such realizations. I started making notes on blue paper for myself and anyone else who might care.
My mother's mother, a woman we all wildly adored, became completely senile in her seventies. She no longer recognized children or grandchildren, no longer made coherent sentences, had no sense of time or world. But something survived. Some special Rosalie essence went on existing even when she was cut off from everything familiar. It was a spectacular mix of kindness and warmth and dignity: her character. Everyone noticed it, even nurses, strangers. Something survived the death of her consciousness. So the urge was born in me to find the essential character in everyone I loved, in myself, to know what would survive the most severe dislocation, even perhaps the death of the body.
This discovery of the soul when I was twenty-five in no way disturbed my dearest belief that each of us has at hand all the components of personality, to do with what he will. Nothing could have disturbed this belief. If it isn't our right and our gravest obligation to invent ourselves, reinvent ourselves, can we be said to exist at all? To be a single personality, fixed and final, would be to render ourselves unable to love all those we might love, serve everything we consider worthy, honor the magnificent contradictariness of life.
My great friend George Warneke, a psychologist, insisted that I attend an encounter session last year. Several hours after we began, George asked a woman named Rhea to choose someone to play her in a role-switching event. She'd spent a lot of energy attacking me (I was "charming" and therefore "dishonest"), confessing that she was jealous of me (a matter of ten years and twenty pounds), and otherwise creating a hostile air between us. I was the one she chose. I stood in the middle of the group with someone named Arthur and responded as I felt Rhea would have to his gestures of anger, abandonment, need. Afterward she said, and the group concurred, that I had exactly done what she would have done. I'd known little about her, really seen only that resentment of me. But her face, body, walk, clothes, the way she smoked cigarettes, did or didn't sit close to people — these were clues enough to spark a light trance in which I felt a range of feelings as foreign as could be, as real as could be. Her possessiveness. Her fear. Her forgiveness. I realized when the exercise was over that my notion of self-invention had never gone near as deep as it could have, had never concerned itself with the emotions that manifest themselves in personality, in style.
The two seemingly opposing impulses — to find my essential character; to come up with all the different personalities that could live with it — fused in the idea of swapping lives with another woman.
I'm convinced that if I could be Rhea after knowing her not at all intimately for two hours, I will to an infinitely greater extent be able to be another woman when I'm in her contextual place, getting the responses she gets from the people in her life, obeying her metabolism, wearing her clothes and perfume, drinking what she drinks, doing her work. And I believe in so doing I'll find emotions, impulses, tastes that belong to me, too. Maybe something as small as a liking for coffee ice cream, something as big as a talent for monogamy. I'll also find out some things I'm not, never can be; I'll find the walls I've been too blind or cocky to see. Very important, I'll also be discovering things about this woman that she doesn't know and that she'll now be able to work consciously to amplify or destroy. And she, back in my life, will be making the same discoveries for herself, for me.
Wednesday I woke up giddy, was at the newsstand at nine. The Voice hadn't come. I walked up Sixth Avenue to Balducci's, the most seductive market in New York. Mo was tenderly arranging the fat first asparagus of the year. "How's the novel selling?" he asked, as he always did. "Not well enough to buy asparagus in February," I said, bought some anyway.
"Now if I do a nonfiction book about swapping lives, she thought ...," I thought as I walked back to the newsstand. I'd been sneaking around corners to avoid running into that thought. Did I want to do a book? Shouldn't this be pure adventure? But how could I resist sharing all the magic I would find? What gave me the right to resist it?
The Voice was there now, crisply piled. I bought a copy. Superstition forbade buying two copies or reading it on the street. I walked back through my courtyard and up to my apartment, sat down in the corner of the couch that no one is allowed to sit in but me, opened the paper to the public notices. And there it was. No smudges, no typos. My poem, with a box number attached.
I read it a dozen times. Was I really going to go through with this madness? I looked around my apartment, at the New England tea table my brother, Nick, had built, at my no-kitchen kitchen, at the yellow snowdrifts Trigger Mike had sent because The New York Times Magazine had commissioned another cover, at the painting I had to go through a windshield to buy and it was worth it: Gabriele Münter's oil of a white house against the cobalt mountains of Murnau. It all looked too good to leave. It all looked too good not to share.
I put blue paper in the typewriter.
Do we own our lives, or do they own us? The beauty of being cast free from all we've come to think of as us, finding out how talented we are at surviving on the wild seas, seeing how freedom becomes us! I'm the ironic person to want to reach the bare place, try on a new clutter. I'm grounded in details, a fascist about small things. Must always have yellow fresh flowers in my apartment, drink Irish whiskey in a goblet just so, have worn Shalimar perfume for fifteen years. I have my ways; oh, do I have my ways. Love them. And love the thought of taking a vacation from them, thumbing my nose at them, finding out how they get along with somebody else, coming home to them with different eyes.
I have such death fears, such a pervasive longing for immortality. Is this intentional schizophrenia I have in mind simply a trick to extend life sideways, the only direction we control for now?
I know little about women, love few women. Yet I'm prepared utterly to trust whoever enters into this madness with me, suspend all notions of competition. I don't know why I feel that way, but I do. Who do I want it to be? A mother; a courtesan. Anyone but a writer with a sweetly chaotic single life and a lousy second serve.
I'm thirty-one. I've lived in this apartment for ten years to the month. In this life for ten years. I'm on the verge of a leap — I can feel it, and it's time: I'm beginning to repeat myself, in love, in my work, in the dailiness I so cherish, even in my fantasies. (My metaphorical trips to Geneva as a spy are becoming as dull as any commute.) Maybe the leap is into marriage, or at least into some focusing of affection, and motherhood. I think I hope that's what it is. Not to renounce what's been or run from it; to make sense out of it in a way that repetition cannot. But how can I make the leap until I know what I'm leaping from? I never take photographs; my journals are fragmented; no one but Nick grasps and shares everything I'm about — and his grasping, sharing are circumscribed by his being a man and my brother. Probably the most important thing the woman I swap with will do is certify for me, for my children, for the world, that my life for the past ten years has been the life I meant it to be.
Would Trigger Mike want to make the leap with me? Did I want him to? How would the gods vote? I called the Algonquin, his February hotel.
"My girl!" he said in his nice morning voice.
"Sweetheart! Go buy The Voice this minute — they centered all the lines, it looks terrific."
"Sure it looks terrific. You're a genius, kid. She just better have your legs."
"She will. She'll have everything. She'll be the most extraordinary woman in the world."
"Yes, honey, good-bye, I'll talk to you later."
The most important thing is for my swapee to be someone who can keep my people happy. Do I really want that? Yes. Prettier than me would be good; smarter, funnier. It's got to be a great experience for everyone involved, or it isn't fair. (I'm not worried about her people. I know I'm good at making others happy when they let me.) And I don't want anyone suspecting my motives, thinking I did this thing only so everyone'll be relieved when I get back. I want them to be glad, but I really don't want to be missed while I'm away.
If it's someone who doesn't get headaches, will she get mine? Will I have her allergies? If they're caused by the lives we live rather than by some absolute chemistry, why not?
Is there someone out there who'll be better at being me than I am? How indispensable are we to our own lives?
Things to think about: financial arrangements (the month should cost us both the same), legal stuff. Start making lists for her, things she should know about me, about my people, all the details.
If she does big drugs, will I do big drugs? Will this finally be the time to take acid? I suppose we should draw the line at doing things that might have drastic aftereffects, but maybe becoming someone else for a month alters chromosomes, too.
There were two letters and a postcard on Friday. The people at The Voice looked excited. I ran all the way home, threw myself into my corner of the couch, tore open the envelope with the Staten Island postmark.
Oh God, no phone number on the letter or in Information. I sent a telegram asking her to call tout de suite. Staten Island — her next-door neighbor was probably a cop, how terrific. Her taste in stationery was less than terrific; becoming a printer's daughter for a month would be good for her. Miss Weybright of New Brighton. Oh, yes. Would I have any trouble being nineteen? My knees had started to go, but Trigger Mike was always telling me that I looked eighteen, and my brother insisted that I had the mentality of fourteen; sure, I could pull it off. I was more worried about the cats, but if Berry didn't mind the smell, I wouldn't mind the smell when I was Berry, LET'S SWAP NOSES. What time would she get the telegram? Should I have sent a Dollygram?
I looked at the rest of my mail.
I sent answers in my head.
Rainbow, I love you; you're crazier than me.
Woman writer, 36, you're infuriating.
Why didn't you give me your address so I
could tell you that I tried imagining
this thing, tried writing a novel, and came away
feeling like the world's biggest cheater?
Life is only as interesting as life, you
dummy; the greatest thing about imagination
is that it gives us glimpses of what we can
do with the real stuff. If you don't
understand that, you're using your profession
to cheat life and yourself.
Woman writer, 31
Trigger Mike called to tell me to meet him at Gallagher's at seven. I said okay. George Warneke called to say it was high time we did a book on tantric yoga. I agreed. Magda Jepson, whom I think of as my blood sister, called to giggle. I giggled back. All I could think about was Berry.
And then. At six thirty-two. As I was standing in front of the mirror hating my hair.
"Hello, is Nancy there?"
"This is Nancy."
"This is Berry."
"Hi! I loved your letter."
"I loved your ad — you must be a far-out lady."
"I don't know, not so far out. What kind of artist are you?"
"I'm kind of into an erotic trip these days. A lot of pen-and-ink stuff."
"I'd love to see something."
"They have some drawings over at the Pleasure Chest near Sheridan Square. I think they'll be up another couple of days."
"Great. I'll stop over on my way uptown right now. I'd love that, being a painter. My mother's a terrific painter. I have lots of her things here; her self-portrait's looking at me very peculiarly at the moment. Do you think you could do some of my writing? Magazine articles, maybe some fiction?"
"I could try."
"Well, listen, let's meet. You sound really nice. Do you come into the Village much?"
"I'm coming in tomorrow."
"Perfect. How about around six at the Lion's Head? Hey, have you discussed it with your lover? What does he think about it?"
"Not he. She."
"I have to admit I hadn't thought of that. I'm pretty heterosexual."
"I hadn't thought of that."
"How would you feel about being lovers with my men?"
"Well, gosh, I don't know, it would be interesting as hell, I suppose I'm bisexual, maybe just sexual, we all are; I don't know. Let me have your phone number. I have to think it over a little."
Oh, Berry, I wasn't cool at all. I went to see your drawings; they were beautiful and full of Persephone desires, and they scared the hell out of me. "Not he. She" was an easy laugh I played all over town. I never called you back. I told myself it was because I hadn't conceived of the swap as a primarily sexual adventure and didn't want it to become one. True enough, but I still should have called you back.
There were three letters on Saturday, all from men.
Dear Joyful productive thirty-one-year-old woman in search of something, Hi.
You are not alone anyway.
Are you really in search of karmic exchange ... i.e., do you really want to get out of your head ... or is it just your skin you want to give up along with your St. Laurent — Levis.
I guess it depends on how into your fantasy you are but If it's truly change in the fullest sense that you seek, why do it ALONE or is that part of the trip the trip the trip meaning why take care of a husband and friends who could never really get into what you are looking for (could they?) when in fact you could take care of me. And I could dig you ... and you could dig me digging you and have that whole other look at yourself ... and I promise that I would let you see me from the first moment.
(if you have stopped understanding ... stop reading ... this ain't for you)
Anyhow (I know you're still reading because if you were together enough to put this letter down at that point you would understand it and if you weren't you'd still be here out of curiosity) I'd be interested to know if you were slightly defensive at this point since I still haven't said a thing other than Hi I mean, isn't that what it's all about?
(so you put an ad in the VV ... what do you expect ... coherence?)
What I'm suggesting is that rather than take my wife's place and live with me why not just come directly ... my wife split two years ago ... and she probably would have spilled things on your clothes anyway.
But don't bring all your bullshit ... take $100 and come over and we'll go buy the clothes you need (my life-style is casual) and join me on my scene ... but I can't tell you what my scene is because a guy's scene is the same as a chick's looks and it's heads we're talking about and my head is right out here for you to dig ... the same way that yours is in your ad but I'm not unattractive so if you're into it let's do it I mean no bullshit with coffee, tea, and introductions gutty like call me move in and when the time comes leave Mel Green 119 Wooster Street NYC 966-XXXX
Excerpted from The Life Swap by Nancy Weber. Copyright © 2006 Nancy Weber. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Word from Trigger Mike,
Ted Holzman: dear nancy,
Notes from an Overground Mother,
Sig Lewis: Oh, Pooey,
Francine Berman Rosen: Micki's Meeting / Meeting Nancy,
Cassie Davidson: Life Shop,
Aaron Tyman: Nancy Plays Micki,
Letter from Dan(ny),
Audrey Evert: Paddy Irish and Gallo Red,
Nick's Journals 6/12 & 6/15,