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Lighten Up: Let Your Inner Child Have a Night Off : Books: Barbara Graham thinks the self-help society should relax. Hence her satirical look at New Age culture, 'Women Who Run With Poodles.'

July 17, 1994|MONA GABLE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Let's see now.

You've gotten in touch with your shadow, but it keeps abandoning you.

You've reclaimed your inner child, but your inner mom is still nagging you.

You've done so many past lives workshops you don't know whether you're Anne Boleyn or Eleanor Roosevelt or Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Before you start shrieking your truth, is it possible you've been overdoing the self-help thing? That your quest to become whole has become, well . . . an addiction? Consider these warning signs from Barbara Graham's book, "Women Who Run With the Poodles," published in June by Avon:

1. You think shopping is a disease.

2. You've fallen head over heels in love with yourself and think you make the cutest couple.

3. Most of the time you feel like a she-criminal for being too fat, short, smart for your own good, stupid, tall, beautiful, ugly for words. (Fill in the blank.)

4. You're sure happiness is just a Sex-for-One, Ecstatic-Shaman or Hugging-Your-Inner-Werewolf workshop away.

"There's nothing you can do that's OK anymore," says Graham, a 46-year-old playwright and writer from New York, whose essays and articles have appeared in magazines from Self to New Age Journal. "Everything is a disease. You've got to exercise; you've got to go to yoga; you've got to have a low-fat diet. You have to go to a weekend workshop. Everybody's running around telling us what's wrong with us."

"Poodles" is a satirical look at what Graham calls "the New-Age psychoculture." For women who have had enough, Graham offers her own brand of self-help in chapters such as "Reclaiming Your Sacred Inner Bitch" and "Killing the Inner Nazi."

Here's a sample question from Graham's little quiz to see who's in charge:

When Mel Gibson got married, did you A) feel really bummed and rejected because you knew that if only you had visualized yourself married to Mel, today you would be the much-envied Mrs. G? B) think the reason he didn't marry any of your friends either is because they're lousy at visualizing too? C) consider that one reason Mel married the woman he did was because he had actually met her?

If you answered anything but C you've got a problem.

"Poodles" has been excerpted in People and reviewed in Entertainment Weekly, and Graham has been appearing on dozens of morning radio and TV talk shows. With an initial first run of nearly 40,000 copies, the book is expected to go into a second printing soon.

She has done most of the things she parodies in her book--yoga, dream workshops, growth workshops. She's always been interested in self-exploration and the spiritual.

"I'm so much a product of the '60s," the former hippie says. "I feel I was one of those people searching for the cosmic big bang of healing. Then one day I realized there was no big bang of healing."

Graham, in Los Angeles on a national book tour, is sitting in a posh suite at the Beverly Prescott Hotel. Dressed in a pale green T-shirt, khaki slacks and very expensive Joan and David suede flats, her short hair cut stylishly, she looks nothing like her previous counterculture self. Pinned to her jacket lapel is a poodle decorated with tiny rhinestones, made by a cousin for her book tour.

So why poodles and not, say, Persian cats? She offers this explanation: "Poodles are descended from wolves, but they progress. They know the importance of a good haircut."

"Poodles" was channeled by Ethel, a lounge singer in Atlantis 50,000 years ago, she goes on. "When I finished a chapter, I never knew what I was going to write next. My only explanation is Ethel."

What drove Graham over the edge into clarity and the book was a workshop, she says. In the winter of '93, on a story assignment for Self, Graham attended a past lives workshop.

"It was like a scene out of Marat/de Sade. There were 26 people, and we split into pairs, and we're all supposed to relive a death. There's all these people lying on the floor, screaming and wailing. On one side this woman is being gang-raped by a pack of 15th-Century infidels. Then across the room a man is vomiting into a white plastic grocery bag. I was in medieval England, about to be hung.

"The woman who's leading me is much more caught up in my story than I am. And she's supposed to be leading me but she's weeping hysterically."

In the end, the guide was so overcome by emotion she had to be relieved by an assistant. "It was ludicrous," Graham says.

*

Graham came up with her title while joking with an editor from HarperCollins San Francisco, home to many New-Age authors, about Clarissa Pinkola Estes' best-selling 1992 book, "Women Who Run With the Wolves." Graham didn't have a book in mind, but when the editor asked Graham to submit a proposal, she did, and the book was signed.

According to one source at the publisher, when Estes learned about the title of Graham's book, she put in an angry call to Tom Grady, HarperCollins San Francisco's publisher.

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