Book Article

Beth Lisick

The author of ''Helping Me Help Myself'' talks about tackling the self-help franchise

Beth Lisick's keys to self-improvement

In her high-spirited 2005 memoir, Everybody Into the Pool, Beth Lisick described touring with the rowdy lesbian performance troupe Sister Spit, shacking up in a grungy San Francisco warehouse, and doggedly trying, and failing, to discover her inner bisexual. Now the sketch comedian and former garage-band backup singer has a new performance-art project: Helping Me Help Myself, a witty, disarmingly earnest account of the year she spent test-driving renowned self-help franchises.

Lisick is not the typical consumer of self-help advice. ''I'm a really happy person and I always have been,'' says the 39-year-old, almost apologetically, as she digs into a slab of chocolate cake at an Oakland café(She is also naturally skinny.) But couldn't things be even better? As she wonders in the book's introduction, ''What if I could just look at everything in my life that was bugging me...and systematically fix it all?''

Her subsequent adventures include an attempt to manage her chaotic finances Suze Orman-style and a maddening round with Julia Cameron's touchy-feely The Artist's Way. (''She suggests I write and mail an encouraging letter to myself,'' Lisick writes. ''But I can't imagine wasting the [41] cents.'') Along with the duds, however, come some sweet surprises. To kick off a fitness program, Lisick takes a ''Cruise to Lose'' with Richard Simmons, whom she genuinely loved (''He totally has charisma''). And Lisick, who performed at Lilith Fair in the 1990s, may be the world's most unlikely fan of Stephen Covey, the conservative 75-year-old Mormon author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. ''Seven Habits is really good!'' says Lisick, who's now married to recording engineer Eli Crews and has a 5-year-old son named Gus. ''If there could be only one self-help book, this would be it.'' Warming to the subject, she cites her favorite example of a highly effective person — McSweeney's founder Dave Eggers. ''He's the epitome of Seven Habits,'' she says. ''He gets s--- done. He's conscientious, he thinks big. He would probably feel it's the cheesiest thing, but that's the kind of person books like that tell you how to be.''

This doesn't mean that you need to listen. Metamorphosis isn't necessarily possible, Lisick concludes, or even desirable. When I ask her to sign my copy of her book, she scrawls her ethos on the title page: ''You're perfect, don't change!''

Originally posted Jan 10, 2008 Published in issue #974 Jan 18, 2008 Order article reprints