He's an 80s teen heartthrob who turned to travel writing — and now soul searching. A few years ago, Andrew McCarthy decided to confront the fears that had followed him his whole life. As he prepared to marry the women he loved, he headed out around the world to find the part inside of himself that just kept saying "no" to everything good in his life.
McCarthy spoke with weekends on All Things Considered guest host Celeste Headlee about his new memoir, The Longest Way Home.
On being famous young
"I got successful in a certain way, and famous in a certain way, in my early twenties when my personality was still being formed. You know, so it became very much a part of who I was to become as a man. I had really no awareness of myself, so as I grew and developed it was implanted on me. I have often said I wouldn't waste success on anyone under 30. To me it was a very mixed blessing, you know, it was a wondrous, untethered time, but it was also something that filled me with ambivalence."
On his perception of American fear of travel
"I think America is an extraordinary place, but I think America is incredibly fearful, and I think the main thing that travel does is obliterate fear. It did in my life, it does in many people's lives. I'm not talking about vacation, I am talking about going and interacting with the world. That Mark Twain line, 'Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness,' is absolutely true in my opinion.
"I think that if we traveled we would be less fearful, and discover that the guy with the towel around his head probably isn't trying to kill me ... So my soapbox is really changing the world one trip at a time. I do believe that very strongly. I think Americans don't travel primarily because of fear. They will often say it is finances, and maybe that is true to some degree, but I think it's fear that stops us."
On letting go of fear through travel
"I find answers to my questions when I travel. Some people go to therapy, some people sit around and have coffee when their buddies. I find answers by traveling. I am illuminated to myself when I go. I'd always had this ambivalence toward many important things in my life. To my early success as an actor — I really wanted this and yet I really pulled away to a real degree.
"The same thing with certain intimacies I've had with people. I really want them, and yet I pull away. I think it has prevented me in a very real and substantial way, in a deep way, of making the kind of progress in my life I'd like to make. I found myself about to enter into this relationship and I said, enough of this.
"I was so excited to be finally getting married. We finally decided after four years, yes, let's get married — and the next day I was leaving on a trip for a magazine down to Patagonia. So I was sad to be going, but at the same instant I was so excited to be leaving, and I said, 'What is that, that paradox? How can I live with these two disparate qualities in myself? I need to solve that. I know I am going to get married. I am going to show up on the day, I am going to all the right things, but emotionally, I would really like to get there. I'd try and bring home a better version of myself."
On dancing at his wedding
"My wife has given me the gift of learning how to love, you know ... It was a joyous moment, you know. It was sort of a culmination to me ... of the book, and of myself ... because I am not a dancer. My wife loves to dance, and is always trying to drag me dancing, and I am very self-conscious and drawn back, and I felt so at ease and so free and so fully inhabiting myself that it was a great relief and a joy. So, again, it was a metaphorical moment as well as a literal one of just sort, wow, I am wide-open here, come and hurt me, come and love me ... That's progress for me."
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