Beth Lisick awoke one recent New Year's Day and announced the resolution she intended to pursue. Except hers was a truly pathetic goal:...
Beth Lisick awoke one recent New Year’s Day and announced the resolution she intended to pursue. Except hers was a truly pathetic goal: Learn how to do the splits on both sides. Right leg out front; then the left.
But Lisick, ever her harshest critic, knew she couldn’t settle for such a lowly goal. And so she zeroed in on fixing herself and her life, even if that meant swallowing her pride and/or her shame and, especially, her skepticism of popular self-help gurus like Stephen Covey, Deepak Chopra and John Gray.
“In my stable, modest family the entire idea of self-help was an embarrassing topic, like sex or Hitler,” she writes. “Self-help was meant for the addicted and abused and neurotic, right? And those stray hippie navel-gazers with too much time on their hands.” Lisick, nonetheless, opts to spend the next year embracing the advice of experts to improve her parenting, organization, creativity, finances, spirituality, even her beanpole physique. She chronicles all of it in her wildly funny new book, “Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone” (William Morrow, 2008; $24.95).
From attending sessions titled “Mars/Venus Makeover: Get Your Mojo Working!” — and concluding she’s way more Martian than Venusian — to crushing on Richard Simmons’ butt cheeks during a weeklong Cruise to Lose, Lisick’s offbeat adventure is written in prose that’s a cross between David Sedaris and Susan Orlean.
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Berkeley, Calif.-based Lisick, 39, has written three previous books (collections of witty, absurd short stories). She has also worked as a night-life columnist, spoken-word artist, rock musician and poet. She’s wife and mother (husband Eli and young son Gus make some memorable appearances in the book), impassioned baker, book-club moderator and co-organizer of a monthly San Francisco storytelling series.
But some of her steadiest income has come from donning a banana costume and some Easy Spirit shoes and handing out fruit on behalf of a friend’s company.
I spoke to the now-improved moonlighting banana earlier this week, reached in New York City while on an author’s tour.
Q: After a year of self-help, is life really better?
A: The whole family has been wearing the same clothes for the last 24 hours because we’re staying at a friend’s place in Brooklyn and I locked myself out! [Laughs.] But now I’ve got it super-together.
Q: What else has changed? Do you exercise more? Are you a lot tidier? (In one of the book’s funniest passages she admits she actually stores shoes in a wine rack).
A: I did end up joining the Y. From Richard [Simmons] I realized you can exercise and have fun.
That check I wrote out to myself [for $1 million; a goal-setting exercise] I’ve still kept. I think, Maybe it’s voodoo if I throw it out.
Jack Canfield [“Chicken Soup for the Soul”] gave me “The Secret” video and I’ve watched it. I’ve tried to implement it to get parking spaces. I’ll say it works 50 percent of the time.
Q: And all of this wanting to improve yourself starts with just wanting to do the splits?
A: That truly was the only goal I had for myself. I said to Eli, I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution. And that’s when it hit me that it [the splits] was sort of pathetic. That there were really things I could go and improve.
Q: Reading your book, though, sort of stressed me out. I kept thinking about all the things I needed to fix.
A: I know! I really liked doing the practical advice, the things I could see right away. It was just like, wow, there really is a better way to store stuff.
Q: Like leaving the shoes out of the wine rack.
A: When you’re writing about your own life there are things you don’t hold back on. Because it’s so absurd. It’s so dumb and you can’t make that stuff up.
Q: You either hung out with or lived and breathed the advice of 10 experts. Who spoke to you?
A: I really liked “Seven Habits” [“The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey]. That’s a book title I wouldn’t ever have been able to say out loud. And it’s a great book. I can’t believe I’m saying that! I never would have thought that.
But it’s very practical and not new-agey, not touchy-feely. It’s about developing a strong character and being a good person and a life with purpose. It’s great philosophy.
And I really liked Deepak Chopra and I didn’t expect to.
Q: What were you expecting?
A: I had written him off as spirituality lite, this guy trying to teach us Eastern philosophy. But then I thought, I don’t know much about Eastern philosophy. I was being sort of a snob about it and not associating this man as someone who had written 30 books.
And I was reading him when the accidents happened and that really affected me, being in a vulnerable place at that moment when death was really real. [A car crash killed a friend’s child; then in a separate incident, a car plowed into Lisick’s, totaling it.] And his ideas about the nature of consciousness and how your real self continues on … that was a very comforting thought.
Q: Lots of gurus but no turning to Dr. Phil.
A: No, I don’t like him. John Gray [“Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”] has sold way more books and he’s the relationship person. Even though I found John Gray [his ideas] so difficult that maybe I would have been better off with Dr. Phil.
[Lisick can’t get past Gray’s thesis that men are like this and women are like that and she writes how his book reads like “a fairly decent piece of satire.”]
Q: Word association. Suze Orman [“The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom: Practical and Spiritual Advice So You Can Stop Worrying”]:
Q: Jack “Chicken Soup for the Soul” Canfield:
A: Oh God. Um, foxy dad.
Q: Richard Simmons:
A: Halo! (Lisick writes that he has big round hair, is always at the center of things and how he has a signature exercise move called an “angel.”)
Q: So have you now adopted all this new self-help vocabulary?
A: I did! I speak about my life’s purposes and my personal mission statement. Those are things I thought I’d never say outside of some comedy monologue. I still have a hard time with some of the language though. I’ll never be able to watch a Tony Robbins infomercial and think, Yes! He’s right! Make your life a masterpiece!
Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916