What an opportunity to electronically say hello to Powells.com readers the same week I start the "on the road" portion of my book tour! Thanks to all of those responsible who work in the public relations, marketing, and viral web infiltration sectors for this gift. Also, I feel like I have to say this even though it's boring: I have never blogged before. I am going to try and not get hung up on sounding smart or funny because it's not working so well so far. The previous four sentences took me 10 minutes to write and I just don't have the time in my incredibly demanding and important schedule to be very meticulous or professional right now. Like I usually am. There are airports to sit around in and Emergen-Cs to dissolve into overpriced bottles of water. A guy in a basement is awaiting my arrival for his podcast. So, like magical beer guts in the bowling alley of our collective unconscious, let's let it all hang out here. (See? That may have gotten better if I had an hour. Or I would have deleted it.) Enough with that self-conscious crap. Onward.
The best part about having this book out has been hearing other peoples' stories about their experiences with self-help, self-improvement, and self-actualization. Just an hour ago, at a bar here in New York, an aspiring cinematographer let me in on his latest attempt to master time management. He pulled the book out of his backpack to show me and everything. He was gung ho, but a lot of people feel pretty sheepish talking about self-help. That's what is so super interesting to me. Everyone knows that it is a multibillion dollar industry, and the idea of personal success is essentially the American dream, and yet... it can be so deeply embarrassing to talk about. Even though I spent a whole year trying to immerse myself in that culture, I am still fascinated by why it can be so uncomfortable. When someone tells me they are in therapy, I think, "That is so great that you are getting help," but when someone tells me they have a life coach, my first reaction is, "Don't you have anything better to spend your money on?" We are fascinated by improvement and reinvention, but simultaneously turned off by the "striver" mentality. We're saying You go, girl! but Stay down here with the rest of us losers! at the same time. At least that's what the cynic in me thinks. I guess a more positive way to think of it is that perhaps people seek professional help in order to "become who they really are." That's fine, of course, but as soon as it's couched in lingo like "Make your life a masterpiece!", I start to feel something. I think it's the low groan of my sphincter tightening.
Another fun thing about this past week is that a lot of the radio shows I've been on have also hosted many of the self-help gurus whose seminars I attended and books I read. It's been great to get some first-hand stories about these folks. Cynthia Brian, the host of a show called Be the Star You Are in Moraga, CA, is the co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul. Ronn Owens of KGO, the ABC affiliate in San Francisco, told a funny little story about when Deepak Chopra was supposed to go on his show to promote one of his books about never getting sick. Turns out Deepak had to cancel at the last minute... because he was sick. (Cymbal crash!)
Of course no one expects a doctor to never get sick, but it did touch on the very real human emotion of wanting to take down somebody who is giving you advice on how to live your life. When I went on Talk of the Nation (where Neal Conan didn't seem to believe that I had visualized being on is show as part of an exercise in Jack Canfield's book The Success Principles) a caller had a story about the hypocrisy he witnessed seeing a bestselling relationship guru cheat on his wife. It's a tough business. We want inspiration, but we need it to be palatable. I guess that explains why there are so many of these modern gurus spinning out ideas from Thoreau and Emerson and Franklin. Lots of different flavors available to appeal to lots of different types of people.
Oops. It got late. I will send another message from New York before I go to bed tomorrow.