FINDING YOUR INNER MOOSE: IDA LECLAIR’S GUIDE TO LIVIN’ THE GOOD LIFE by Susan Poulin, September 2012, Islandport Press, 256 pages, paperback, $16.95.
Ida LeClair isn’t a real person, but she is a true character. And as a recently minted “Certified Maine Life Guide,” she offers practical ways to live a healthier and happier life in “Finding Your Inner Moose: Ida LeClair’s Guide to Livin’ the Good Life,” which first hit bookstores in late September.
On the other hand, Maine native Susan Poulin, the actual author of the humorous self-help book, is a real person. She lives in Eliot with her husband and collaborator, Gordon Carlisle, and is best known for her theatrical work.
In a sense, Ida is Poulin’s alter ego, but that’s not all there is to it.
Ida was initially meant for the stage. Poulin created the character in 1996 after competing in a Yankee Yarns Contest in Keene, N.H.
“I was the only woman in the finals of that contest, and I was thinking this really doesn’t reflect a large part of Maine, the part I grew up in,” said Poulin, who grew up in Jackman and Westbrook and studied theater at the University of Southern Maine.
In creating Ida, Poulin sought to pay tribute to the strong Maine women she knew while growing up, the women who taught her humor and good old-fashioned common sense.
Ida lives in Mahoosic Mills, a fictional small town in western Maine, with her husband, Charlie, and little dog, Scamp. When she’s not busy writing blog posts, she works as a cashier at the A&P grocery and moonlights doing books for Smitty’s Hardware and Mahoosic Mills Mainely Maine store.
Poulin’s first performance as Ida was in 1997. Since then, the character, with her Maine accent and Franco-American background, has developed five stage shows.
“The humor comes not from [Ida’s] frugality, but maybe more her life observations,” Poulin said. “And because I come from a theater background, I’m very interested as a writer, and a performer and storyteller, in relationships and community. Mahoosic Mills fascinates me. I wanted to show that Maine is more than just a coast. It’s a big state with lots of different regions.”
For the past three and a half years, Ida — well, Poulin technically — has been a blogger, and she hasn’t gone a week without posting. An Ida book just seemed the natural next step, though it’s completely separate material from the blog.
In “Finding Your Inner Moose: Ida LeClair’s Guide to Livin’ the Good Life,” each chapter focuses on a simple aspect of life, though the titles might need some deciphering. The chapter entitled “How Many Points in Cabbage Soup?” could have been called “Diet and Exercise.” And the section “Feng Shui-ing the Double-Wide” is all about creating a comfortable home. And “What Did I Do Wrong to Deserve This Turkey Gobbler Neck?” is clearly about aging gracefully.
“[Ida] doesn’t believe you should be working at your life all the time, but she really thinks you should be living your life,” Poulin said. “There’s a whole chapter on ‘fun’ in the book.”
A lot of Ida’s fun comes from frequent adventures with her friends Celeste, Rita, Betty, Dot and Shirley. They call themselves “The Women Who Run with the Moose” (it’s a long story), hence the name of the book, “Finding Your Inner Moose.”
“You know what would make me really happy?” said Poulin. “If you take away one good, practical thing for your life and a few chuckles along the way.”