Sunday, January 20, 2008


Formula for a successful book: take some guiding principle of your life and claim that it makes you skinny.

For example, there's Skinny Bitch, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for months, with the description "vegan diet advice from the modeling world." Nowhere on the book's flap copy will you find the word "vegan"--obviously the keywords Skinny Bitch trigger that vital panicky consumer impulse more than, say, Vegan Woman--but that's what the inside is about. The authors write at length about the evils of processed food and soda etc., but the main thrust of the book is that skinny=healthy and veganism=the best way to get skinny.

And now this: The Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size. That's right--"Use art to take off the pounds!" The guru here is none other than Julia Cameron, author of the insanely popular The Artist's Way.
I'm a creativity expert, not a diet expert. So why am I writing a book about weight loss? Because I have accidentally stumbled upon a weight-loss secret that works. For twenty-five years I've taught creative unblocking, a twelve-week process based on my book The Artist's Way...
I'm not sure I trust an author whose entire output consists of advice about how to productively tap into your creativity, yet who has not as far as I can tell ever herself written anything but these books. Does her creativity manifest itself solely as ways to find more creativity? Is she suffering an inner pyramid scheme? Nonetheless, seven zillion people swear by it. When I worked at the opera magazine, James the sweet receptionist was having personal revelations with that book every day at the front desk, which he would describe to me in a wondrous tone while I waited for the elevator.

I have never read The Artist's Way, which illustrates that a) my skepticism is shamelessly (-fully?) snobby and b) I have no right to be. (Yet.) But I do say with all sincerity: Dear James, despite my mistrust of the J. Cameron juggernaut, I hope you did find your artistic way, and I hope you got out of the strange bitter universe of thwarted aspirations that was Opera News. In fact, if you really want to make it big, you could write a book about how quitting your unfulfilling nonprofit arts job made you skinny. It certainly made me happier, but that's not an easy sell. What did make me really skinny--like 2-D, sternum-protrudingly skinny--was working seventy-hour weeks at an understaffed design magazine. ("What happened to you?" said my mom when I came home for a visit.) But no one wants to buy a book that recommends little sleep, a megalomaniacal boss with crappy taste, minimal salary, and subsisting on coffee + the Twizzlers stash in your desk drawer.

1 comment:

Hannah Mae said...

The Artist's Way is not so bad - in diet-book terms, it would tell you to eat vegetables and whole grains, dessert in moderation, take a nice walk after dinner, that kind of obvious but ultimately true thing. (A lot of well-meaning relatives give you copies of it when you have an art degree and no very specific life direction.) But the connection between The Artist's Way and dieting still totally baffles me (insert paste-eating joke here). I mean, at least veganism is about food to start out with, obnoxious as that "skinny bitch" business is....