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Getting Along by Lawrence J. Cohen - A bi-weekly column in The Boston Globe

2/13/2003 - Advice to live by

Ever since I wrote an advice book for parents, I have established a Sunday ritual where I race downstairs, grab the newspapers, and rush to the back of The New York Times Book Review to see if ''Playful Parenting'' will appear magically on the bestseller list in the ''advice, how-to, and miscellaneous'' category.

I suppose this habit is akin to those people who read the obituaries every morning to make sure they are not listed, before they can breathe a sigh of relief and get started with their day.

Of course, I know the book won't be there. I'm not being pessimistic, it's just that the bestseller lists are actually calculated three weeks in advance of their publication in the paper. That way, bookstores can make sure to stock up on the books that will appear on the list. As a courtesy, the newspaper notifies publishers and authors that their book will appear on the list. (No such call for me so far, which doesn't stop me from checking the list just in case they forgot to call.)

In the absence of any real mystery as to whether my book will be on the bestseller list this week, I have decided to use the ''advice'' list for its original purpose: advice. I decided to base my life on the topics covered by the week's bestselling how-to books. There are 11 books on the list (because of a tie for fifth place).

From now on I am going to spend 64 percent of my time on my diet (mainly cutting out glucose and carbohydrates and following a variety of foolproof exercise programs, as suggested by seven of the 11 books), 18 percent of my time on spiritual enlightenment and the meaning of life (two books), and 9 percent each on expecting a baby and making sure that baby will be super-rich once he or she grows up.

Ah, I feel better already - except for missing all those carbs, and for the sore muscles from all that exercise, and for wondering about where that baby is going to come from, since we're not actually expecting one. I'm also wondering how that mysterious baby is going to get rich. All that wondering makes me want to sit on the couch and eat a cookie. Oops.

So far, I admit, I am slipping. I wish there had been a self-help book on the list about getting one's column to the editor on time. I am having to bend the rules a little and act as if typing on the keyboard is one of my various exercise programs. Maybe praying for a clever way to finish this essay could be a step in my spiritual enlightenment.

Unfortunately, since my daughter gets her exercise in physical education class at school, she isn't too interested in any of my seven workout regimens, so finding time for parenthood is definitely a problem. If only there were a book or two about parenting on that bestseller list (hint, hint).

My wife isn't too thrilled with the turn my conversational style has taken since I made this decision on how to live my life. ''Pass the salt'' is out, for obvious reasons, so here's a sampling of my dinner table conversation: ''Do I look like Suzanne Somers yet? I mean right now this moment, since that is the only thing that matters in life, except of course for having a deep purpose to my life, which of course I do, and it is eliminating all carbohydrates and glucose from my diet. What? You want pasta? Maybe if we were doing one of last year's lists. This list is all protein. You really want pasta? It must be a craving. I read about that in the book on what to expect during pregnancy. You're not pregnant? Then I am going to have to adjust the formulas I worked out for me to become a rich dad and not a poor dad. I'll get right on that as soon as I finish my eight-minute transformation of fat into muscle.''

If someone writes a book about how to manage your relationship while on multiple diets and spiritual paths, I hope it gets on the bestseller list.

I think maybe next week I'll base my life on the paperback fiction list instead. Now that I'm in such excellent physical and spiritual shape, I'm ready to devote my life to being a deeply romantic law professor on the run from supernatural bad guys in the South, solving a few murder mysteries while engaging in soulful conversations with three generations of hard-working rural women, then waking up with amnesia in New York, only to discover that I am actually an accident-prone marine biologist based on a character in a Virginia Woolf novel. See if anyone complains about my boring conversation then!

Larry Cohen
phone: 617-713-0568

email: larjack@playfulparenting.com

Larry Cohen
1680A Beacon Street | Brookline, MA 02445 | Tel/Fax: 617-713-0568

email: larjack@playfulparenting.com