Helping Me Help Myself

Thursday, May 21, 2009
Today's book, "Grappling with her lifelong phobia of anything slick, cheesy, or remotely claiming to provide self-empowerment, Beth Lisick wakes up on New Year's Day 2006 with an unprecedented feeling. She is finally able to admit to herself that she's grown tired of embracing the same old set of nagging problems year after year. She has no savings account. Her house feels unorganized and chaotic. The last time she exercised regularly was as a member of her high school track team almost twenty years ago. Instead of turning to advice from the abundant pool of local life coaches, therapists, and healers readily available on her home turf of northern California, Beth confronts her fears head-on. She consults the multimillion-dollar-earning pros and national experts, not only reading their bestselling books but also attending their seminars and classes. In Chicago, she gets proactive with The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In Atlanta, she tries to get a handle on exactly why "women are from Venus," and in a highly comedic bout on the high seas of the Caribbean, she gamely sweats to the oldies on a week long Cruise to Lose with Richard Simmons. Throughout this yearlong experiment, Beth tries extremely hard to maintain her wry sense of humor and easygoing nature, even as she starts to fall prey to some of the experts' ideas, ideas she thought she'd spent her whole life rejecting. Beth doesn't think of herself as the typical self-help victim. But is she?"

I really enjoyed today's book. I would definitely recommend it - it was not only interesting but also funny. And, per my new rating standards, I would still consider it a good book if it was the only book I was reading this month.

The reason why I picked today's book was because I used to love reading self help books, so I thought it would be fun to sit back and have a good long laugh at the expense of the person I used to be. I have no idea why I used to read those books, because I never followed the advice in them, I was kind of hoping the changes would just happen to my life through osmosis. Then I finally had an honestly moment and realized that I'm too lazy to ever actually take the advice in the books so I should stop wasting my time reading advice books that I'm going to ignore anyway. And now I stick to ignoring advice from people I actually know. The author seems to take the same tack I used to, of reading the books and ignoring them - although she doesn't ignore them nearly as thoroughly as I did. She makes some half-hearted attempts at trying out the advice, but doesn't really stick with any of it long enough to find out if any of it would really work. So I guess that would be my one complaint about the book. I found the book amusing enough to be able to overlook that detail, but if you're a stickler for that kind of thing then this probably isn't the book for you.

I think the most entertaining chapter of the book was the one discussing John Gray's books (for those of you who didn't watch Oprah during her last 90's obsession with John Gray, he's the man who wrote Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus). I'm so glad the author of today's book included excerpts from his books, because I've always wondered what's in the Mars/Venus books (I also have always wondered what's in that book The Rules, but I think I would be too mortified to actually buy or check out those books). It turns out the book was pretty much the way I imagined it, a book filled with descriptions of stereotypical male and female behavior. And according to John Gray's definition of male behavior. . . I am a man. The most startling thing about this is that it doesn't surprise me at all. Let's look at the superficial evidence for a minute, I'm commitment-phobic, I refuse to ever stop and ask for directions when I'm lost, I'd rather carve out one of my organs with a butter knife than have to ever talk about how I feel about something, and when I watch TV I hold the remote in a death grip and I feel really uncomfortable with the idea of anyone else in the room having possession of the remote. The only thing that's saving me from being classified as a Martian (yes, that's really how John Gray refers to it) is that I hate sports and I've never even drank a cup of beer (that last part won't be amusing to anyone who didn't see the Saturday Night Live sketch of John Gray, but it never stops amusing me).

Later in the book the author discusses reading a parenting book called 1, 2, 3 Magic , which is a book I've actually read. I reached a point of desperation while working as a nanny, a point that came one day when the child I was taking care of (who had an unpleasant little habit of sneaking steak knives to his room) locked me out of the house. I decided that day to read every parenting book I could find to try to figure out what to do, which lead me to 1, 2, 3 Magic. Now I'm sure it's a lovely book that's been oh so helpful to many people, including those who gushed about the book on amazon and who may or may not be relatives of the author, but I didn't find their technique (which consisted of saying "That's one" then waiting five seconds before saying "That's two" and "That's three" and then escorting the child to timeout) all that effective when the child in question was lying on the pavement in the middle of the parking lot of restaurant in order to try to get run over by a car. That's right, he was actively trying to get run over. So thank you very much for the advice Dr. Phelan, but when cars are whizzing past the child I'm desperately trying to keep alive at 7 o'clock at night . . . in the middle of January. . . in an icy parking lot and the cars keep sliding and almost hitting him before swerving at the last minute, then I don't believe I'll be stopping to count to 3 while taking little breaks in between in order to give him a chance to realize the error of his ways. I think instead I'll be dragging the child to the car and threatening to take away every toy he owns if he so much as thinks about throwing himself back onto the pavement again. I think I'll also be going back to the child's home and telling his parents, "I'm never taking that child in public again." But I suppose you know best Dr. Phelan, after all you are the expert.

I came to the end of the book and flipped to the author's picture (which I like to wait to do until the very end of the book) and was quite startled. I spent the whole book picturing the author looking like Samantha Brown from the traveling channel only to discover that she looks nothing like that. And so you can properly understand my shock dear readers, I've found pictures of the two. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the travel channel, here's Samantha Brown:

And here's the author of today's book:

I don't know why I even bother wasting space in my imagination trying to figure out what people look like since they never end up looking the way I picture them.