Dr. Wayne Dyer, king of the self-help writers, helped himself to a pool chair and asserted his right to bask happily in the healthy, life-affirming Florida sunshine.
His interviewer sat in the shade. Each to his own psychic symbolism.
Wayne ("always deal with people on a first name basis unless they make it clear that they need to be addressed in some other way" - "Pulling Your Own Strings") was dressed informally, in a blue bathing suit and a blond mustache. He looked relentlessly happy, healthy, confident and dynamic, not to mention inner-directed and self-actualizing. Also tan.
He disdained to define his career. "I don't believe in the word career." he said. "I don't want to encourage people to have careers. I want to encourage people to be creatively alive and if they're tired of doing something, not to be afraid to take the risk to try something else."
It worked for him. He used to be a therapist with a practice in New York and he also taught graduate school at St. John's University there. He got tired of preaching only to his practice. So he quit. Now he's a lecturer, a TV talk show guest, a celebrity, a book-plugger, a sunbather and a writer.
He writes books that tell people they can quit being neurotic if they want to. Apparently this is something a lot of people need to hear because his first book. "Your Erroneous Zones," was on the best-seller list for two year (and is now No. 12 on the paperback list.) His second, "Pulling Your Own Strings," leaped onto it immediately after being published a few months ago, and sits comfortably at No. 4. Estimates are, he says, that he's been read now by between 20 and 22 million people. Mass therapy.
What is it with us, queries the voice from the shade mindful that the self-help genre has been swelling to alarming proportions of late), that we need all this self-help advice?
Wayne thinks his sales reflect a healthy, not unhealthy attitude. "I don't think it means that we Americans are a group of neurotic people," he says. "We are basically people who say, 'Look, I can grow. I can learn something from this.'"
The English, on the other hand, do not have this positive attitude, Wayne says. They do not buy his books. It's that stiff-upper-lip routine. They simply won't admit they're crazy. Of course, neurosis is rampant everywhere. "I think we are basically a neurotic culture and always have been." he says. "I think we are a neurotic specis."
Okay, we're neurotic, agrees Deep Shade. Now why are the neurotics buying so many of these two particular self-help books? Because the books are sensible, says Wayne. And because there's no psychology in them. "If you boil it all away, you're really just looking at basic common sense. I see myself as a merchant of common sense."
The "merchant" part is also an important factor, Wayne agrees. When "Your Erroneous Zone" was published, he did not play the role of the passively hopeful author. He went out and made himself a best-seller. He willed it into reality.
"It was thought of as just another book by the publisher," he said. "They didn't have much of a budget for it and they didn't have any media plans for it at all." Wayne did. He bought up 4,500 copies himself - virtually the entire first printing - for about $18,000. He loaded them into a van and roamed the country, hawking his wares on the mouth-hungry radio and TV shows of small-city and big-town America.
Unironically, this is exactly the sort of action-taking that "Your Erroneous Zones" insists is possible, indeed necessary, in life. (The title phrase refers to the various forms of self-destructive behavior people like to cultivate.) Love yourself, it demands of the frazzled, whimpering curs who crawl to it begging for transformation. Take charge of your life! Be confident! Quit worrying about what others will think! Get out there and do what you've always wanted to do! No excuses! No procrastinating! Do it! Now!
"I really decided," says Wayne, "and this is something I always believed - if you want something to work, you've got to go out there and do it yourself." All resistance crumbled before his invincible self-confidence. Once the book penetrated the best-seller list, the network talk shows, which had been loath to chance the unknown self-helper, surrendered. Wayne wowed 'em. He was the born guest: 17 shots on the "Tonight" show alone.
"There aren't many good guests in this country," he says, "who are interesting and excited in what they're doing, and funny." Self-confidence and self-reliance, then, you can see, are major themes not only of his books, but also of his life. Right from the start. "I had a big advantage," he says with a straight face. "I lived in an orphanage for 10 years."
He was born in Detroit 38 years ago and soon afterward, his father abandoned his mother. Wayne and an older brother were put in an orphanage. He lived happily there and in foster homes for 10 years until his mother remarried and he returned to her home. "No question," he says. "Every kid there was happy. I mean it wasn't a horrible place."
"Aren't these the very kinds of childhood trauma that tend to produce adult neurotics?" asks the shady voice. "Yeah," says Wayne, "if you look back on it and say, 'wasn't that terrible? Look what my mother did to me,' you come up with a cop-out for why you're unhappy.Most people look around and come up with reasons for why they're unhappy instead of putting the responsibility on themselves. They want to blame mama."
Wayne won't blame papa either. "I traced him down in 1972 and found he was buried in Biloxi, Miss. It was very sad because I didn't have a chance to ever find out what motivated him. But he wasn't bad because of what he did. In just saying, "Look, I can't handle this and I'm not a good father," who's to say that isn't the strongest thing, the most courageous thing a man can do in his life?"
Wayne's brother, however, did not emerge so anxiety-free. "You know, those kind of circumstances tend to turn people into goats or sheep," he says. "And some people just give up on themselves. Although he's tough now and he's really pulling himself out of it. He had troubles when he was 18 or 19, a lot of drinking."
Wayne had troubles, too, but not from being down on himself. He was a natural rebel, an independent. "I was a disturbing element all the way through school and got kicked out a lot," he says. "I would fight the rules. Nothing particularly terrible. Not having a locker pass. Holding hands with my girl friends in the hall. Wearing a hat. Throwing fircrackers in the men's room."
After school, he went into the Navy for four years and continued defying rules. He was once hauled up before the commanding officer on Guam for writing a letter to a newspaper protesting a policy that prohibited Guam civilians working for the government from shopping in U.S. Navy stores.
The rebelliousness goes naturally with the self-reliance and ultimately surfaces in print in "Pulling Your Own Strings," which tells people to break free from the manipulation of other people and institutions. "I've done it all my life." Wayne says, "I've challenged everything." Wherever he went, he says, he got a thick file.
After the Navy, Wayne got his bearings and went right through seven years of college, ending with a Ph.D. He became a high school teacher, of English and social studies. It wasn't what he wanted. He wanted freedom. Freedom to Wayne meant not working for anyone else. No imposed schedules. That's why he went on to the master's degree in counseling. "It wasn't motivated by any altruistic need to help people or anything like that, I was already doing that. I just liked the idea of being able to close my door." Then he looked around and saw who had it better: the professors who taught two days a week and had the rest of the time on their own. So he got his Ph.D., applied for and became a professor of counseling at St. John's. That wasn't hard. "I've always gotten every job I interviewed for."
His file got thick at St. John's too. They wanted him to serve on committees. He hates committees. They wanted him to wear ties. He doesn't want to wear ties. Wayne started a private counseling practice at home. He doesn't believe in lengthy analysis. "I believe in: 'Let's get to it: let's not analyze it. If you don't like what's going on in your life, do something about it.'"
After a time, Wayne did this himself. He felt a dire waning of interest in the school and in the practice. "I didn't find it stimulating any more to sit there and talk to depressed people all day long. It begins to rob off on you after a while."
So he quit the practice. He changed his life with his book on changing your life. He also left New York. He moved to a high-rise apartment condominium across the street from the beach in this haven for retirees and other refugees from the North. Why? "I like being in the sun and ocean. And I don't want to pay the taxes you have to pay in a place like New York. It's totally outrageous. If I stayed there, I'd pay 80 or 90 percent of my income in taxes."
Even with all the freedom he's won, even after eliminating his useless anger ("I serves no purpose" - YEZ). Dr. Wayne Dyer still has some erroneous zones of his own to work on, he admits. For one thing, he takes on too much. Pushes himself and doesn't say, "No" enough. Not out of a drive to succeed, he says, but out of a sense of obligation and mission. "Because what I really want to do is change the world. And I really believe I am doing it. I think I can leave this world a much better place."
The problem with that, he says, is "I think I do it at the expense of other things that are really important in my life. Family and love and things like that. I don't think I get myself enough love. Or enough opportunities to be loved. I cut off relationships with people almost before they get started."
Wayne is married, but in an unconventional style. He and his wife don't live together. She lives in New York, where she teaches deaf children. "She comes down here sometime in the summers and we meet on weekends in places and things like that," he says. "I don't advocate it for anyone but me. But I honestly don't want to live with my wife all the time." Wayne says he's very private and he can't have someone in the freedom. So he lives alone. This is his second marriage. The first ended in divorce but produced a daughter, now 11 who stays with Wayne during the summer.
"I don't know about marriage and me," he says, "whether I even belong married. I question it a lot. But . . . it works out fine. I have complete freedom to run my life my way."
Which he does. He's working on more books, one of which will explain how to raise children neurosis-free. Also, he's lecturing. Not that he needs the money. He thinks he's a millionaire - but he'll have to check with his accountant to be sure. It's that sense of mission. TV is fun, but he doesn't want to become Dr. Joyce Brothers - no "Hollywood Squares" for Wayne. (Applause means little to the inner-directed man.) He's also helping to organize a marathon run against world hunger, he says.
He runs and swims himself, by the way. He's in fine health. In fact, he never gets sick. Doesn't believe in it. "I don't think sick," he says. "When I feel a sniffle coming on, or whatever, I just says, 'I'm not interested in this; I'm not gonnta talk about it. I'm not gonna focus on it.' And it goes away in no time."
He wants to do the same for you. If you put your mind to it, you can do almost anything. That's the word Wayne Dyer is bringing his vast new clientele. Wayne helps those who help themselves. Some critics call the message simplistic. Wayne says 20 million people can't be wrong. "I really think we've evolved over billions of years into something that's perfect." he says. "If we just let our body be what it wants to be, it'll never be over-weight. And it can run forever. See, I can long-distance swim for miles. Miles and miles and miles. I just trained myself to do that. I couldn't do that two years ago."