Help Yourself

I buy books about writing like other people buy self-help books. They inspire me for a few weeks, get me back to the writing and make me feel like I can finish and publish a novel some day. My latest find, however, is an actual self-help book, written by one of my favorite writers and someone who I consider an authority on self-help because he has had a shit storm of a life and lived to tell. Or perhaps more accurately, told to live.

Augusten Burroughs of Running with Scissors, Dry and a host of other hilarious, gut wrenching memoirs is one of my many literary heroes. His latest, This is How, offers kick butt advice on just about everything that ails you. If you can’t find yourself in this book you are either an alien or a Stepford wife. I’m going to reread this book until the pages are thin and stained beyond recognition with coffee and greasy Frito thumbprints. I’m thinking if I read this book for one hour a week it will save me a fortune in therapy bills and I can stay home in my pajamas.

OK, so maybe this book won’t transform me overnight, and maybe it won’t be the answer to my existential crisis of late, but it gets me thinking about things I am uncomfortable with like failure and shame and grief. And it gives me hope. Not Hallmark hope or Obama hope and not even as Emily Dickinson said, the thing with feathers. It’s a small hope. Smooth like a stone that’s been dashed by a thousand waves. Surprisingly strong, like a baby’s grasp around your pinky. There in the morning when you hit the alarm and stagger into another day. There at night when you drift in and out of dreams like a stranger. There when a friend calls out of the blue and saves you from loneliness.

But maybe none of this floats your boat. Instead, you can always go get Jane Fonda‘s latest self-help book, Prime Time. I cracked it open in the bookstore and randomly landed on a page where Jane was interviewing an eighty-something man in an assisted living facility. The topic: sex. Yup. Apparently this man, Norm or Bob or whoever, was crushing on another octogenarian in the home and finally got up the nerve to ask her out. After a few dates in the dining hall they went up to her room and got busy. Jane says, isn’t skin on skin great Norm (or Bob or Fred or whoever). Sex isn’t just about penetration, right Norm, wink wink. I swear she said this (ok I added the winks). Really Jane? This excerpt did not make me want to purchase your book. In fact, it kind of scared me. I always thought I’d like going into a nursing home. Bus trips to the mall, bingo with the high school volunteers, yoga sitting in a chair. But I really don’t want to wind up in bed with the likes of Norm or Norma or whoever and have them spill their guts to Jane Fonda. Can’t say I recommend this one but Fifty Shades of Grey is being made into a movie so what the hell do I know.

Maybe you’ve read a self-help book that changed your life. Or a book on writing that inspired you to new heights. Don’t hold out on us. Tell all.



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4 responses to “Help Yourself

  1. WSW

    If traditional self help books aren’t working, why not amble on down to the library or your local book store and take a squint at the tripe that’s making it into print these days? Rage can be a very effective motivator. Plus you’ll realize that other people’s standards are really, really low. I have found this to be particularly effective in dealing with the I’ll-never-be-James-Joyce-so-why-do-I-bother paralysis. For what it’s worth.

  2. I have a shelf-full of writing books, and honestly the one I love the most — good advice and fun to read — is “How to Become A Famous Writer Before You’re Dead.” By Ariel Gore, I think. The woman knows what she’s talking about, and she’s darn funny along the way.

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