Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t think Shonda Rhimes is something special? She has got it all going on, creating TV characters (in a time frame that would cripple most of us) for several shows that reflect the best and worst of ourselves. She is a genuinely interesting personality. So it was something of a shock to discover she is an introvert who would much rather stay home reading and writing in her PJs than get out there and take her place on stage.

But of course Rhimes is an introvert. How else could she find all those voices in her head, both in time and creativity? But the introvert part meant that Rhimes was refusing some “best time of your life” invitations to do things where she would be feted, admired, and all that, but she could also find people to admire. She decided, for one year, to say “yes” to invites that she would ordinarily eschew.

She was in a good position to do it. Though it complicated some aspects of her life, she had the family and financial resources to make up any shortfall. It was fascinating when she discovered her children are extroverts, and nothing like herself. She does that humble-brag thing, where she says something like “three hot-as-fire TV shows, three children, sleeping, eating, working, writing has been kicking my ass lately.” Yeah, girl. I bet. Harumpf.

But Rhimes is no humble-brag. Not very long after that she tells us about her struggles to do things that she isn’t as good at as TV shows and imagination, like living consciously, victoriously, really. Here she is, the most successful woman any of us can imagine, with a fun job with fun people in a fun city, and she is pulling in and shutting down, feeling old, getting fat. Good lord, what does that to us?

It’s like a disease. But I get it. It is easier, sometimes, to live in one’s imagination. I do it, too. Not even writing books, me, just reading them. One can do it in a balanced way, or in an unbalanced way. Rhimes is here to tell you (and you don’t have to listen, but then, well, good luck out there) how it feels to recognize and slowly heal that sickness. It might be a little like, “Hi, my name is Jennie, and I am an introvert,” but again, there are healthy ways to be and unhealthy ways, and most of us know instinctively which is which. When it gets bad enough, you might want a little Shonda to brighten your day. She’s funny, she’s smart, and she’s been there.

We certainly get a look into the way Rhimes speaks, and thinks, if we didn’t already get plenty of that through her characters. (We knew she liked red wine, for instance.) She answers for us things she really shouldn’t have to answer—like deciding not to get married. Maybe it helped her to write that part down, at least so she has some ready answers the next time someone comes to her with what she calls “Big Questions.”

Speaking of which, one of the more fascinating parts of this book for me was her response to “Why is diversity so important?” I would never have thought to ask that question, and that is sort of the way she answers it:
" of the dumbest questions on the face of the earth, right up there with 'Why do people need food and air?' and 'Why should women be feminists?'

…I really hate the word diversity. It suggests something…other. As if it is something…special. Or rare.


As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV.

I have a different word: NORMALIZING.

I’m normalizing TV.

I’m making TV look the way the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal WAY more than 50 percent of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary. I am making the world of television look NORMAL.

…The goal is that everyone should get to turn on the TV and see someone who looks like them and loves like them. And just as important, everyone should turn on the TV and see someone who doesn’t look like them and love like them. Because perhaps then they will learn from them.”
There is only one thing that confuses me about this memoir: is introvert now “bad” and extrovert now “good”? Rhimes spent a year
“trying to be as cocky and immodest and brazen as I can. I’m trying to take up as much space as I need to take up. To not make myself smaller in order to make someone else feel better. I’m allowing myself to shamelessly and comfortably be the loudest voice in the room.”
I guess that is not quite clear to me. So this is the goal? To take up more space, to impose one’s will? I understand being happy in the world. I understand not backing down from who you are. I’m not sure why that has to drown out others. But I’m glad Rhimes feels better at the end of it. As long as she isn’t just making that up for our benefit.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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