Chapter 1: You're Probably Wondering Why I Invited You Here
I'm not supposed to be writing this book.
Which means you're not supposed to be reading it, so quick, put it down and go find something else to do. Take a walk, get some fresh air.
Okay, get back here.
I'm not supposed to be writing this or any other book because I'm supposed to be a basket case by now. I'm sup-posed to be totally defeated and deflated by circumstance and fate. I'm supposed to be a sad situationmentally, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and any other way you can think of. A walking tragedy. The person about whom you say, "There but for the grace of God . . ."
At any rate, I'm not supposed to have anything remotely useful or helpful or worthwhile to share with you. I'm certainly not supposed to be in any position to teach you a thing or two.
And yet, here we are, you and me.
I'm not exactly sure why you're here. I'm not exactly sure why I'm here, to be honest with you. Except that through no fault of my own, I have learned quite a lot about life and what it can put you through. Now, I know that we've all learned a lot about life, but believe me, some of us have picked up more than others. As I say, it's not because I really wanted to learn so much. There have been a few lessons I could have lived without. But I learned them all the same. And then I learned a few things more. What did I learn?
I learned that we can withstand a lot of pain and loss and not just survive it but rise above it. I learned that no matter how sad you are today, happiness and laughter and even joy are still distinct possibilities for tomorrow, or if not tomorrow, the day after that. And Ilearned that you and I have in our power the ability to get all that and more. Everything important is in our control. Everything necessary is ours to decide. It's work. But it's all there, waiting for us to make up our minds.
Okay, I hear you saying, Ms. Big Shot, tell me how. I can't. It's different for everybody. I don't have your directions. I can't draw your map. Look, I couldn't draw my mapit took me a while to find my way. It was a hell of a journey too, a lot of starts and stops and wrong turns and backing up and doing it over. A lot of wondering if I was headed in the right direction. A lot of wondering if there was a right direction.
But there was. And there is. And if I could find it, believe me, you can find it. I can even help you, if you'll let me.
One night not long ago I actually had dinner with Deepak Chopra.
"Tell me, Deepak," I said, "what's the most important thing you have to teach people?"
"We are the tinkers of our taughts," he said.
"We are the tinkers of our taughts," I repeated. "What the hell is that?"
He said it again.
Even when I finally figured out what he was saying, I knew it wasn't going to work for me. Deepak Chopra is a brilliant man who sells millions and millions of books and has millions and millions of followers. But nobody wants to hear a chunky Jew from Queens saying, "We are the tinkers of our taughts." Life doesn't work that way.
But I also have a message for people. It's fairly simple. I tell them that no matter what horrible thing has happened, life still offers you humor if you want it. I say that regardless of how low you feel today, someday you'll find something that will make you laugh your head off. I guarantee that you'll sing and dance once more. I promise that if you will only make a small effort, you will rediscover happiness.
Sounds like complete and utter bull, right?
It does. I know it. It sounds like bull, and yet people believe me. Sophisticated, intelligent adults, many of them with impressive educations and astronomical net worths, sit in a room and listen. Despite what they know of the world and what it can be like, they take my stories away with them. And if the word of these people can be trusted, sometimes I actually even help.
Why do these people listen to me? Maybe it starts with how I make their acquaintance. In my weekly lecture at Canyon Ranch, the fancy spa in Arizona, the first few minutes are devoted to a video clip showing the brilliant comic actor Mike Myerswho just happens to be my loving and devoted son-in-lawdoing one of his most celebrated skits, the Coffee Talk Lady from Saturday Night Livethe character who just happens to have been inspired one hundred percent by me.
That breaks the ice. That lets everybody know they're in for a couple of hours of fun and merriment.
Then, once everybody in the room is laughing and giddy and relaxed, I give them a few biographical details from the real Linda Richman. Right between the eyes.
I start by telling them how my father was killed by a truck when I was eight years old. My mother, who had been severely depressed all her life, went into a tailspin with that. The first thing she did was decide not to tell me that my father was dead. Instead, she created a conspiracy of silence within the family. I was informed that my dear, loving dad had just "gone away," never to return home. Imagine the good things that might do to a little girl's psyche. My father's death left my mother totally unable to care properly for me and my older sister. At age nineteen I escaped my lot in life, or so I thought, by getting married, to a lawyer. It started out blissfullywe said we wanted a family soon, and I was pregnant within three months. And then, in short order, my mother was institutionalized and began receiving electroshock treatments, and I discovered that instead of a knight in shining armor, I'd married a gambling addict.
I dealt with all that by escaping into a form of behavioral insanityI gradually turned into an agoraphobic and stayed inside our apartment for eleven, count 'em, eleven years. I got over that too, but still the bluebird of happiness didn't nest in my bouffant hairdo. My husband's gambling habit finally overtook him, costing us our home, car, furniture, and everything else of value. We divorced, and I would have been literally homeless if not for the kindness of family and friends. And then things finally got better, right?
Well, for a while they did. But a year after the divorce my twenty-nine-year-old son was killed in a car accident.
That little tale gets everybody's attention in a hurry, let me tell you. That stops the chuckling. Not that I really want to kill the cheery mood in the room. It just happens. And anyway, most of the people who come to my lectures do so because they are in some pain of their own.
I am an expert in surviving pain with a smile on your face at least some of the time. And that's the main reason people believe me. I'm not coming at them with nine Ph.Ds. I'm not a mystic or a swami. I was put here on this earth to be a teacher, I firmly believe, but one who teaches from the heart. I had to experience things first before I could tell people how to deal with them. I had to know great loss before I could talk about how to go on living after it. It couldn't come to me from a book, and, take it from me, I've tried it that way. I've read every book on spirituality and the soul that I can find. It all helps. But for somebody like me, the useful answers aren't up in the clouds.
People relate to me because I am like them. Whether they're from Nebraska or Queens or Los Angeles, it doesn't matter. They've all suffered. I stand up there as naked as can be and tell them all the terrible stuff that's happened to me and all the crazy, desperate things I've done in response. And then all the things I've done to bring myself back from the abyss and restore the joy.
It's one thing to hear your $150-an-hour (excuse me, fifty minutes) shrink say that if you do this, this, and this, you'll laugh again. It's another, I think, to hear it from me. But we'll see, right? We have a whole book ahead of us here. Come on, let's get going...