Self-help books tell you how to live. I can't do that. I've got a diet built on raw watercress, strawberry ice cream, oolong tea, and Chinese noodle-bar soups of ambiguous stock. I don't own three black skirts, only two. I can't drive a car. By the time this book is published, I will buy an ironing board, stop using a blue straw beach bag as an attache case, and finally cut my credit card in two. Let me be the first to admit that we teach what we need to learn. I wrote this book not because I'm spiffingly together and pregnant with worldly wisdom, but because I want to be more relaxed, organized, and socially useful. Actually, I just want to get to yoga once a week and remember to floss.
The nagging feeling of always being a little behind becomes a life state. It's often the petty details that clog the wheels of your chariot: a broken sandal strap, an old debt you can't shift, a receipt you can't find the night before filing your taxes, the belief that you look hideous in jeans, or a forgotten birthday. Gradually little glitches start to sculpt your world and, more insidiously still, your delicate sense of self.
When your life is messy it's easy to feel that the hand of destiny is shuffling you to the back of the class, doomed to the dunce's corner with the pencil suckers and the self-tattooed delinquents. And the frenzied pace of the way we live does nothing to allay our own (perceived) inadequacies. How does any woman get ahead when the stakes are so high? Beating beneath the skin of our lives is an unwritten, but very blatant, timetable. It is a timetable for study, for work, for shopping, for saving and planning and love and babies and gym and e-mails and housework and loans and eye-wrinkle creams and relatives and divorce and patching up and affairs and vitamin supplements and car registration and Christmas dinners and all the damn rest. Given what's expected of us, life starts to feel like a succession of high jumps with new aspirations slapped down in front of us before we've cleared the first.
As a result, most of us are just coping, barely scraping by with enough time to commune with ourselves let alone make a deep connection with other people. No wonder we "forget" to have kids or learn a language or join an organization we admire; we also "forget" to take pride in small victories or take proper stock of our milestones or even just to breathe. Hopefully this book can help you regain a sense of balance and give you the strength and spark to repair and replenish the parts of your life that are so often overlooked-your spirit, your self-esteem, your secret life and hidden talents, your dreams, your financial independence, your creative soul.
Given a limited time frame and very limited experience in some areas (I'm not a mother, a runner, or much of a saver), I've done my best to address some basic life skills and employed several "experts" on the subjects I wasn't fit to tackle. My role models were girlfriends with guts. Kristyna, who would rather hand-cement a driveway than watch daytime TV. Emma, who taught herself how to replace a car engine, in heels. Kate, who drove across the United States alone (without a radio!). Karen, who commutes two hours a day to teach the kids of immigrant families. Tina, who sings her sons to sleep with a ukelele. Jessica, who donated the royalties from her bestseller to a charity she loves. Margaret, who thinks nothing of organizing major environmental rallies at age seventy plus. I'm moved by women who approach life with that rare mix of independent thought, constructive action, common sense, and madness.
The spirit that animates this outlook is more a matter of discipline than magic. It takes a lot of willpower to make changes to your life, to stick to a goal and be true to your ideals. Sometimes it even feels a little boring. I know, because I'm a lazy dreamer. This book was born, essentially, out of sloth. Inertia drove me to act. An inability to stick to a relaxation program, manage money, or even keep simple promises led to incredible frustration. To escape from the valley of the flakes I found simple answers to complex life problems. I stopped saying yes when I meant no, I tried to get up earlier, I established routines, and, even if I broke them, I attempted to make every day count-be it shifting debt or shaking my rump.
Living with a flaming sense of purpose doesn't apply to everything, of course. Hair, bosses, and love remain unpredictable. Especially love. Applying a five-year plan to relationships or trying to force romance like a bulb out of hard earth is a waste of precious energy. And there's so much misinformation out there when it comes to relationships. Most of it is thinly disguised propaganda urging women to be decorative, toe the line, and marry (rich). Most of it tells us to put our passion and sacred fire into looking happier, younger, and dumber than we are to attract the love who will make us whole. Sheesh! That's precisely the reason why marriage and weddings have been omitted from this book. I hate to burst the bubble, but the aim of getting order into your life isn't to snare a husband. The aim is to be fulfilled and focused, to be enough in your own right, and to learn when to get out of your own way in order to get on with it. If this book can rouse you to sew on a loose button, paint your kitchen violet, open a savings account, call up a long-lost friend, help start a community garden, or even just clean your room-I'll be happy.