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A happy childhood can be good reading, too



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Beth Lisick never really thought of herself as just an ordinary suburban girl caught up in extraordinary, life-on-the-fringe circumstances.

But that's the angle Lisick's book publisher took to describe her memoir, "Everybody Into the Pool" (Regan Books, $23.95, 227 pages).

Hey, it's better than lumping the book in with the rest of the "chick lit" pile, right?

Lisick, who will read from "Everybody" and other selected works tonight at Luna's Cafe, laughs at the notion.

"Well, they did use some pink" on the book jacket, Lisick says on the phone from her San Francisco home.

OAS_AD('Button20'); True, but the point here is that it's just not that easy to figure Lisick out.

The 36-year-old writer is a mother. But she's also a rock musician and a comedian who once toured the country as the only straight girl in a lesbian poetry troupe. And, yes, Lisick was her high school's freshman homecoming princess.

As an adult, she once lived illegally in a warehouse and, as recently as last year, was not above dressing like a banana to make a buck.

Such juxtapositions, she admits, made for something of a hard sell for her publishers at Regan.

"A lot of the female editors really liked the book, but they couldn't convince the male editors on how to (sell) me," Lisick says.

It was difficult, says Lisick, for editors to think about marketing this "weird artist" who loved telling stories about her youth in the suburbs without rancor or even much irony.

They needn't have worried. Released in July, "Everybody Into the Pool" earned critical kudos - including a spot on Entertainment Weekly's "Must List" - and comparisons to the likes of David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell.

Lisick's book is a collection of precisely narrated essays mined from her childhood and adult life.

There's the story detailing when Lisick, the night after she was crowned homecoming princess, self-assuredly rejected advances from the school's cutest boy. There's the time a hungover and disheveled Lisick, fresh out of college, dashed from a one-night stand to attend a friend's mother's annual holiday gift exchange. Or the not-so-heartwarming tale of the first time Lisick visits her future husband's Mission District warehouse, only to find an environment shared with raccoons and putrid sewer pipes.

The tone is lightly funny, sardonic and often sweet, displaying genuine love and affection for her family and friends.

And, although the stories are meaty and revealing, Lisick, who also hosts San Francisco's monthly Porchlight storytelling series, wrote them largely devoid of any navel-gazing or overly chewy moral center.

"I just set out to write funny, entertaining stories," Lisick says. She says it was important to not try to dress up her life as anything other than what it really was - even if that meant admitting she had a happy adolescence.

"A lot of people (say) they hated high school, but for whatever reason, I didn't," Lisick says.

If anything, she adds, she really hasn't changed much since her days growing up in Silicon Valley.

"I did all those things - I was a jock, a homecoming princess," she says. "But I was also the same person I am now."

That person, says Lisick pal Tara Jepson, is someone never afraid to "go all out" in every pursuit.

"Beth is always willing to be gross and ugly and terrible in everything she does," says Jepson, who performs comedy with Lisick. The pair's recent stage endeavors include an act dressing up as "Carole" and "Mitzi" - "lady comedians" who happen to be in a relationship. The routine involves bad '70s-era clothes, awful wigs and funny but often cringe-inducing jokes.

Even motherhood hasn't changed Lisick's humor, Jepson says. At least not much.

"She's maybe less flaky - more disciplined," Jepson says. "(But) it hasn't made her into a mush ball or changed what she'll do on stage - she's still willing to be gross."

For Lisick, motherhood represented a crucial intersection for her comedy and writing.

The final essay in "Everybody Into the Pool" is an account of the months following the birth of Lisick's son, now 3 1/2, and the struggle to hone her maternal instinct:

"Thankfully his baby acne had mostly disappeared - except for intense eruptions on each of his cheeks that made him look like he'd been dusted with theatrical rouge," Lisick writes in "Little Bundle of Entropy."

"His tiny microfleece booties, a gift from someone who'd been convinced we were having a girl, were hot pink. He was not a pretty sight, and to make matters worse, neither was I. We should have been on a bus-shelter advertisement for birth control."

Becoming a parent did change her, Lisick says, although she initially resisted the idea.

"I wanted it to be a moot point," she says. "I think I was sensitive to everything I'd heard about the way my life would become (and) it took me a long time to admit that becoming a mother had changed me."

Now, she says, her son has affected her view on everything from politics and relationships to her career.

Next up on Lisick's world-domination agenda is a humorous self-help book for which the author visited, among others, an image consultant and a home organizer. She's also working on a young-adult novel and plans to finish (and hopes to sell) a "Laverne & Shirley"-style sitcom script with Jepson.

Whatever she does now, Lisick says, writing and performing are no longer a lark.

"Being a mother has made me focus - whereas before I was content to experiment and never used to think about furthering my career," she says. "It's kind of funny because now that's all I think about it."

To see more of the Sacramento Bee, or to subscribe, go to http://www.sacbee.com

Copyright 2004 Sacramento Bee. All Rights Reserved.

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