Now that the eve of my book release is upon me (T minus five days), I can’t help but think about it in terms of Helen’s experience with Sex and the Single Girl in 1962. Sex and the Single Girl, when it came out, shocked the nation. It was filled with sex and tips that defied the conventional thinking at the time. The New Yorker summarized it as promoting “self-sufficiency and ambition, emphasizing careers that lend women a patina of glamour…above all, it is a how-to manual for constructing a life that would look enviable.”
Even though I don’t entirely agree with that assessment, it’s interesting for me to consider the overall message for Falling For Me in terms of it. Because, in many ways, I feel like my book is the opposite.
In fact, what brought me to the point where I was willing to essentially abandon what I knew and take on something as outlandish as following an advice book from the 60s is that I was bottoming out on how self-sufficient I’d gotten. I’d realized that in getting my life together, I’d almost gotten it too together, that I’d entirely forgotten, if in fact I ever knew, how to lean on other people—to allow men to open doors for me or help me carry my bags and to admit that, in many ways, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’d bottomed out on ambition as well—on that seemingly insatiable desire I’d had ever since I’d gotten sober to have an exciting career, a quest which I suddenly saw had stopped me from building as full a life as I wanted.
Taking on Project Helen forced me to learn to cook and to care about what my apartment looked like and spend both money and effort making it into the coziest space I could—not because it would impress some man I had over, but so that it could impress and comfort me. And all of Helen’s suggestions for self improvement and constant reminders in her book about how single women simply have the time to add more to their lives than married mothers goaded me into examining why it is I never took on any hobbies or activities. This in turn forced me to face the fact that I had essentially developed into someone who was so terrified of trying anything new that I didn’t think I’d excel at that I’d kept my life quite small indeed.
While reading—and taking on—Sex and the Single Girl, I studied French, learned ceramics, took up rollerblading and traveled by myself to Seville, Spain—a place where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language. And since finishing the book, it’s like the fear that once loomed so large has been stripped away: in the past year, I’ve moved back to LA, traveled by myself to Indonesia, taken up tennis, started biking over to my local Farmer’s Market on Sundays, taken a “summer comfort food” cooking class, bought a barbecue and started cooking the foods that I learned in that class on it, and begun growing basic, thyme, and other herbs on my windowsill. These things may sound small to people and yet in my world, in the not-so-distant past, they wouldn’t have been possible. And there was no hurdle to jump over to bring all of this into my life—I just took these activities on because I felt like it: the inner voice that used to burden me with thoughts about how I was never going to be good at this or get into that so why bother trying has been silenced. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to be participating in a storytelling event. Storytelling?!
But more importantly, my focus has switched from creating a life that looks enviable—that’s made up of the right career, the right boyfriend, the right friends, the right Facebook photos, the right Twitter updates—to one I actually love. I have no idea how my life looks—to women who manage to balance thriving careers with husbands and babies, it may not look like much—but it finally feels right to me. I’ve finally let go of worrying about what everyone else thinks and where it is I’m Supposed To Be. I am where I am and I finally get that it’s not just okay but absolutely perfect. And, in so many ways, I have Helen Gurley Brown to thank.