Titans and sex goddesses: on Tim Ferriss and Helen Gurley Brown

January 14, 2017 at 9:30 pm | Posted in Anti-ageing, depression, health, Living creatively, nutrition | Leave a comment
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What do you have for breakfast? This is one of the questions that Tim Ferriss asks those he interviews in his Tools of Titans: the tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers (Vermilion, 2016). Protein shakes are popular with many of these titans.

Tim Ferriss (See www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog ) is the best-selling American author of The Four-Hour Working Week: escape 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich (Crown, 2007) and other books and podcasts.

Tools of Titans is ‘a compendium of recipes for high performance’. Some of these ‘recipes’ are intriguing and some sensible. Some of them I do already and some I can’t wait to try.

But wait – too much testosterone!

Before I expand on some of these tips to improve one’s life, I want to complain about the gender imbalance in the book. I’m attracted to the energy of testosterone as much as the next (heterosexual) woman but enough is enough. Of the 115 titans the author has interviewed, 101 are male and 14 female.

Could someone split hairs and argue that the original titans were male or mostly male? No. He couldn’t: the original titans from the Greek myth were the children of Uranus and Geia and they numbered six sons and six daughters. The Concise Oxford tells us that they were ‘each of a gigantic race … of superhuman size, strength, intellect …’ (Concise OED, 5th ed, p. 1,360).

It’s fascinating to read about the wise habits and profound insights of all these amazing intellects and creative giants Tim Ferriss interviews, but how much more fascinating the book would be if we could also learn from the nearly 50 female titans he left out? It reminded me of Australian Ben Naparstek’s In Conversation: Encounters with great writers (Scribe, 2009) where he interviews ‘39 great writers’ – only 5 of whom are female. When I looked on the inside back cover at his author photo I thought, that’s what happens when you send a 12-year-old boy out to do a job like that.

There is no excuse for such blatant sexist bias in this day and age. In my book Creative Lives (NLA, 2009), about 22 writers and artists whose diaries, papers and letters are in the National Library of Australia’s Manuscripts Collection, I made sure I wrote about 11 men and 11 women.

Getting from despair to hope

The sexism aside, Tim Ferriss’ latest book has plenty to recommend it. The author asks people such as Paul Coelho, Seth Goden and Robert Rodriguez: ‘What are some of the choices you’ve made that have made you who you are?’ And their answers cover aspects of life such as health and staying young, career, relationships and the spiritual side.

Interviews are interspersed with the author’s discourses on particular topics, such as suicide. The author makes himself vulnerable here (good to see that one of the few females he interviewed was Brené Brown, famous for her TED Talk on allowing ourselves to be vulnerable ( www.ted.com/speakers/brene_brown ).

Chances are, either you or someone you know will at some stage find circumstances so overwhelming that perspective flies out the window and you’re trapped in a dark hole where suicide can seem like an option, and perhaps the only option. This section is an important part of the book. The author is to be commended for opening himself to the extent required for communicating his own relevant experience. That can’t have been easy.

In the chapter ‘Jar of Awesome’ Ferriss pre-empts potential criticism, as we see in the quotation below, at just the right moment because I was feeling a little nauseous when I came upon it and not just because of the bad grammar. (‘Awesome’ is an adjective; what is required in the phrase is a noun.) Tim explains the purpose of what should be called a ‘Jar of Awesomeness’.

He advises us to note down anything positive that happens to us in the day and put the note in a labelled jar. He writes: ‘The Jar of Awesome has had a tremendous impact on my quality of life. It sounds ridiculous to admit and my 20-year-old self would probably vomit, but – man – it works.’ (p. 570)

Am I going to do it? No. Not even with a jar labelled in the correct grammar would I do this. But I have to admit that the principle is a good one. We should be grateful for the positive things that happen. If we don’t take the time to reflect on them at the end of every day (which I do) we do forget them. And when we reflect and remember – by whatever method works for us – there is no question that we feel a renewed appreciation for the positive things in our lives. This feeling accumulates every day. And it’s free.

Slowing down the ageing process

Will I be following some of the other advice in Tim Ferriss’ book? Yes. I’ll try meditating and drinking protein shakes and plunging repeatedly from a sauna into an ice bath in an effort to slow down the ageing process, sure! Ageing has caught up with me to the point where, after a lifetime of never going to a doctor except for contraception, I seem to be undergoing an unending series of minor health issues that often involve handsome young medical professionals sticking lots of needles into my body, for example, in my right palm to relieve my ‘Viking disease’. And don’t get me started on the orthodontist’s enthusiastic activities with needles in my mouth!

On the cosmetic level of ageing, although compelled to admit that I’m practically up to the primer and spack-filler stage of makeup, I still try to get away with an absolute minimum and mainly spend my efforts on the deeper level of a healthy diet and doing a lot of cycling, swimming and dancing.

It might be not much effort compared with the heroic anti-ageing attempts of American writer and entrepreneur Helen Gurley Brown but it seems to work for me. Helen Gurley Brown (1922-2012) was author of Sex and the Single Girl, which caused a sensation when it was published, in 1962. She edited Cosmopolitan for 32 years. The two biographies published recently about her, one by Brooke Hauser, Enter Helen and one by Gerri Hirshey, Not Pretty Enough, tell us that Helen Gurley Brown had breast augmentation surgery when she was 73.

Normally I disapprove of this sort of thing, on feminist grounds, but there’s something admirable about the persistence and stamina of an approach like hers; clearly here was a woman who would never give up.

And what are you eating for breakfast these days?

If Tim Ferriss had asked her what she ate for breakfast, I know what she would have said. In her 1993 book The Late Show, on beauty advice for women ‘of a certain age’ I recall the following deadpan exchange between her and an actress of the time – it might have been Joanne Woodward – when both of these slender women were at the advancing age when they put on weight the minute they looked at food.

Helen Gurley Brown: ‘And what are you eating for breakfast these days, Joanne?’

Joanne Woodward: ‘Black tea with a slice of lemon, and a teaspoon of wheatgerm. – You?’

I forget Helen’s reply but it was some similar hot, black beverage and a morsel of something with a comically small number of calories. Tim Ferriss could have advised her and Joanne Woodward about protein shakes and the vital importance of good fats like coconut oil.

But this opens the door to a new topic, on which there are countless blogs and indeed whole books to read. For now, you need only read the label on the protein powders at your local health food shop to make sure there’s no sugar in it. Put some in a blender with coconut milk and blueberries and blend a breakfast that will slow down the ageing process and improve your life.

Or you could read Tim Ferriss’ The Four-Hour Body: An uncommon guide to rapid fat-loss, incredible sex and becoming superhuman (2010) but I haven’t read that one of his yet so I can’t vouch for its quality.

Or you can quickly google Sarah Wilson on www.sarahwilson.com/tag/breakfast for the how’s and why’s of high quality breakfasts that will sustain you and keep you looking and feeling great.



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