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Life, Actually: Beth Lisick Examines the Cult of Personality

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It’s easy to mistake Beth Lisick for a journalist: She’s written a New York Times best-selling memoir (Everybody Into the Pool), helps run an insanely popular storytelling series (Porchlight) and sidelines as a giant banana for a friend’s fruit-delivery business—in part for the stories the gig inspires. She’s happy to set you straight, though. “I know a lot of journalists, and I feel like a loser because I’m not one of them—I’m not as serious or something,” she says. We’ll back her on the “not like other journalists” part, because after reading Lisick’s witty, introspective odyssey Helping Me Help Myself, we can see that it takes a special kind of person to dissect the self-help scene. With one foot in the skeptics’ camp and a tentative toe in Tribe Believer, Lisick gets self-actual with everyone from Mars/Venus expert John Gray to Effective Habit master Stephen R. Covey to no-intro-necessary Richard Simmons. In doing so, she offers up a must-read for anyone who’s ever been curious about—or allergic to—the culture of good-enough-smart-enough.

Q: What was the biggest challenge about this project?
A: [The genre is] such an easy thing to make fun of. There’s so much of me that’s stuck in these adolescent perceptions of things. Like, “Self-help is for losers!” 

Q: Let’s free-associate about some of the experts you met.
A: Richard Simmons: butt cheeks. John Gray: megalomania. Stephen Covey: power grandpa—full of wisdom. Suze Orman: personality disorder. Deepak Chopra: a trickster. Sylvia Browne: good crazy.

Q: Care to expand on a few—Chopra, Browne, and Simmons?
A: I think [Chopra] is trying to play it off like he’s this enlightened person and he’s got something you want—but won’t give it to you. [Psychic] Sylvia Browne was a rock star—like, “God I hope there’s heroin on the other side.” She and Richard Simmons have built a business of being who they really are. Especially Richard—it’s so weird: He’s not out, but he’s so gay. It reminds me of when Michael Stipe “came out” and seemed surprised that people didn’t know all along. There’s something interesting about not saying it because everybody wants you to. But I think [some of Simmons’ fans] don’t want to know.

Q: How about you “out” the unnamed comedian you meet in the book who gives you the brush-off. Who is he?
A: It’s Brian Posehn [The Sarah Silverman Program]. He’s such a jerk! [He had] that L.A. defensive thing—like, “I did a rewrite for this script, but of course I don’t get credit.” He was all jaded and bunched up.

Q: You admit to kissing someone on the Simmons cruise, but don’t follow up. 
A: I didn’t tell [my husband] for a while. I tried to write the scene where we talk about it, but I just wasn’t up to it. Maybe in a few years I’ll be able to.

Q: What’s your position on The Secret?
A: The thing that totally stuck with me is that one of the guys is like, “I use it for parking all the time. I just visualize a parking space.” The idea that people have suffered hardship because they haven’t been thinking positive thoughts—it’s a pretty horrible one.

Q: Did writing the book change your perspective? 
A: I was always trying to see how something related to the project. Because I was looking for signs, they [came] full force. I would walk into the liquor store, and there would be some guy buying a forty who would be like, “You know what? Haters—they live in a haters’ world. But if you’re a lover, you live in a lovers’ world. Think about it: It’s the same world.” And [I’d think], Oh, my God—he’s right!

By Melissa Goldstein

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