Self-Help Books

smalllastlecturecoverIt never fails: When I’m unsteady in life I buy a self-help book. It comes over me, this desire to read the words of someone else, hopefully someone wise, hopefully someone whose words get me thinking about my life in a new way, or at least optimistically.

So, the other day I bought a little book called The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I haven’t started it yet. In fact, it’s sitting on the dining table. It looks inviting. Knowing it’s there soothes me.

A strange coping mechanism, I guess. But then, I don’t have religion to fall back on. I don’t have a therapist (though my friends are wonderful stand-ins for that) either.

I do have the writing. I’ve noticed over the past few weeks that sinking into the writing wipes everything else out of my mind. I’ve been working hard, in fact. Could writing be my religion?

Hmm…Was that a sacrilegious thought? Or  blasphemous? And what’s the difference between those two words?

If, as I believe, there are as many ways to find faith or succour or simply steadiness as there are people on Earth, then why not fall back on writing? Now that I’m thinking about this, I realize that I stopped looking for a system of belief when I got serious about my writing. Whatever it was I’d been looking for my whole life, I’d found.

Comforting, that.

Still, like I was saying, in times of excess turmoil, I like a self-help book too. And I’ve got some doozies on my shelves, I’ll tell you that much! It’s kind of funny, actually. And, it may be weird, but then, context is everything. I hail from lapsed Catholic stock, and my parents’ stock was VERY Catholic. My parents moved from the Midwest and eventually settled in one of the most liberal, swinging areas of the United States. This was the 1960s. Dad wore Berkenstocks instead of ties. Mom took ceramics classes and baked her cookies with wheat germ, whole wheat flour, and brown sugar. She was a health-food nut before it became the rage. I detested her healthy pancakes and always tried to finagle a sleepover at my friend Kathy’s house so that I could indulge in Bisquick pancakes.

I remember the big leather-bound Bible on the bookshelves. It was red with gold leaf and a section of pretty pictures. (I still remember the burning bush, but I couldn’t tell you the story behind it.)  It was just another book, squeezed in between Jung’s Man and his Symbols and Dad’s Arquitectural Digest magazines. I guess that says it all about our heathen ways.

Anyhow, what I going to say is that my parents were amongst the original New Agers, before New Agers became a thing and got a bad rap for rubbing crystals. (My parents weren’t of that ilk.) My parents like a good self-help book, so I suppose this is where my predilection for them comes from. It’s my brand of comfort the way Sunday service is for others.

To each his own, right? What are your comfort coping mechanisms in hard times?

It Is What It Is

Sunshine picture for a sunnier perspective:


I’ll admit, I’m still unsettled by last week’s setback. My energy’s low. I want to take lots of walks, which is a sure sign that I’m melancholic. It’s not about the agent mishap. Not really. That was a trigger for other thoughts. The bigger thoughts about my life, the writing, what’s going to become of me, and so on. You probably know how that goes — pretty common, I’d guess.

However, one thing about me: I have a knack for stepping outside myself at the same time I’m falling into mini-funks. The detachment doesn’t diminish the funks, only allows me to see them for what they are: transitory.

Can anyone else relate to this?

So, yes, I’m in a mini-funk. I see the funk. I accept the funk. And the funk is what it is. Over the next week or two I’ll probably be doing a lot of thinking (not always beneficial!).


Meanwhile, though distracted and unmotivated, I’m working anyhow. I’m reading through the manuscript that I’d worked on with Erstwhile Agent, trying not to dwell on all the ways the first 25 pages I’d changed per her suggestions (to speed up the beginning) don’t feel right.

Meanwhile, two quotes I’m liking at the moment. I wrote this one out large on several sheets of paper and taped it to the wall beside my bed:

I’m a great believer in luck, and I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it. (Thomas Jefferson)

This quote reminds me to quit with all the thinking already!

Our “original mind” includes everything within itself. It is alwasy rich and sufficient within itself. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything. It is open to everything. (Shunryu Suzuki-roshi)

Bummed Versus Philosophical

Bummed Lisa: Dal-burned rain, go away!


This is the Lisa who yesterday:

~ Pulled a Debbie Downer on three hapless people (fellow dogwalker, barista, deli chef), telling them my tale of woe. (They were sympathetic, which did help.)

~ Didn’t ingest anything until 3:00 p.m. and then ordered Starbucks’ most decadent holiday mocha (I don’t even like Starbucks) and the most decadent sandwich at the nearby gourmet deli.

~ Sat in the car staring off into space for so long the dog curled up and fell asleep.

~ Watched television all night (“Ghost Whisper,” “The Mentalist,” and “The Starter Wife”).


Philosophical Lisa: See pretty lights; I like pretty lights.


This is the Lisa who yesterday:

~ Went on a 90-minute dogwalk and condoled with a woman who’d recently lost her husband to Lou Gehrig’s Disease (using Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act).

~ Found herself thinking (and believing) things like: This is for the best and there’s a better agent out there for me. All will be well.

~ Who felt a mental eff-you finger toward obstacles in general: Oh, yeah, well take that!

My Father’s Lesson

cannonbeach11Yes, I’m procrastinating.

I submit a sunshine picture because two days of constant rain and gray ended — for now. Today brings blue — actual blue! — sky, sunlight reflecting through fluffed clouds, and aspen leaves lit-up gold. I’ll get the dog out for a real walk because her excess energy led her into the litter box — and out came the kitty rocas (crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, as my friend Bruce likes to say) all over the carpet. Nice waking up to that. Gag. What is it with dogs and poop?


I’m about to start the task I mentioned yesterday. I feel fine (not so sick). Why do I resist settling down to story-development work? It challenges me in a way I don’t like, perhaps because it’s such an organized act. First drafts, revisions: okay; but this? Anyone out there who can relate?

I’d let the task go except that the few times I’ve thought before writing (hehe) proved helpful. In the end, it’s a skill I need to practise. That’s what it comes down to…Have got to keep practising and improving on all writing fronts, even the fronts I don’t prefer (to put it nicely).

This reminds me of my father (and here I go, procrastinating further — what a shock). He owned restaurants. During college breaks I worked at one of them. It got so that he let me call in the payroll every other week, which was a heinous job. In fact, much of my father’s day was spent at tasks that appeared deathly dull, even painful at times.

So I asked him, “How can you stand doing all this stuff?”

He said, “Even the best jobs come with the parts we don’t like. We do them because there’s a bigger picture. That’s the way it is.”

(My father was a pragmatic man.)

That was a huge learning lesson for me. One of the best. In one casual moment, I learned that we gotta suck it up sometimes, even when we love what we do. I remember him when I’m trying to settle down to writing tasks that don’t thrill me. Like now!

Persevering Like the Tortoise

This week I had occasion to remember a man who’s my role model for perseverance. I was glad he popped up because I’d forgotten he was my role model. Truth is, he’s an ex-boyfriend. Back in the 90’s we lived together with his son. Our break-up was the most amicable in the history of man.

In fact, this was a week of memories what with Tanya Parker Mills (previous post) reminding me of fun times at writing workshops and old childhood and adolescent pals contacting me through Facebook (trippy!). I probably shouldn’t have been surprised to see J-‘s (the ex-boyfriend’s) pottery highlighted in an ad for the local art scene while flipping through a foodie magazine.

Hey, I said aloud (probably to the dog), that could only be J-‘s wondrous pottery.

Hey, I further said as I noticed the credits, J-‘s got himself a real business name now.

Hm…I wondered…Yes! The man some might call a Luddite has a website!

And his pottery won Best in Show! And his art was spotlighted on a local morning show!

And that’s when I remembered that he’s the poster-man for perseverance. He’s the tortoise. He’s the artist who doesn’t follow trends. He’s the artist who hones his craft, pleases himself, and holds steady within his core. He’s the artist who follows his instincts. He’s the artist who says, this isn’t working; time to try such-and-such a new way. He’s the artist who keeps improving.

Now that I think about it, he’s a cross between the tortoise and the Energizer bunny (not the hare, never the hare). He’s the Energizer tortoise: he just keeps going. Better yet, he’s the Energizer tortoise who wears a Timex: takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

In any case, yeah, he’s a role model for perseverance.

My Wise Friend

I have a friend. He’s kinda wise. Every once in awhile he leaves supportive comments on this blog. Yesterday we emailed a few rounds back-and-forth.

He wrote this:

Also, I just have to say after catching up on reading your blog posts: hang in there. Yes, you want to get published and you want this to be your career, but this is also about the journey getting there. I have complete confidence that your perseverance will be rewarded. Like I’ve said before, this is the first big test.

In response to my reponse that in the day-to-day, the journey isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be (come on, let’s be honest; true, isn’t it?), he wrote this:

It’s kind of like climbing a mountain. A lot of the steps along the way are painful and not what you’d call fun, but occasionally you turn around and say, “wow, look how far I’ve come!”

He’s right, of course.