I am not what one might call an average Shonda Rhimes fan. I tried to sit through one episode of Scandal. Couldn’t do it. I’ve had enough scandal in my own life to last me two lifetimes. I’ve never seen Grey’s anatomy nor do I watch How to Get Away with Murder. I am, however, fascinated with Rhimes as a writer who created an entire world of her own: Shondaland. I mean, who is this woman who is creating prime time hit after hit? Despite my disinterest in her TV shows I couldn’t wait to read her memoir, Year of Yes, came out, which details her battle to overcome anxiety and fear that she masked with eating and drinking.
Avoiding most Hollywood events, Rhimes often said no or drank to work up the nerve to speak publicly. When her sister asked if Rhimes would join her on an outing, Rhimes said no to which her sister replied, “You never say yes to anything.” Rhimes decided she would say yes for one whole year to those things that scare her. Primarily, however, saying yes meant saying yes to her authentic self, saying yes to her child who wants to play for 15 minutes when she’s rushing out the door; yes, to losing the weight, but keeping her red wine and chocolate in the diet; yes, to not apologizing for her success; yes to being open about not wanting to get married; yes to shedding relationship and friends who she had outgrown; yes to being vulnerable; and yes to giving the commencement speech at her alma mater, Dartmouth, sans alcohol; saying yes to feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
Despite the subtle prescription for saying yes, reading the book is like talking to a clever, successful, comical girlfriend who is just like us. Something about Rhimes is familiar. Year of Yes reads like intimate girl-talk. I literally laughed out loud and talked back to the book (Yaaaaaassss). Rhimes is a great model for how to include humor in stories of pain and growing. Like the time she ate her birthday cake for breakfast. The entire cake. “And I do not feel bad about it. The cake is everything to me. I want to have this cake’s babies,” she confessed. Or the time she accidently flung a chicken bone across an upscale Hollywood cocktail party and pretended it wasn’t hers. Not only are her stories raw, but the writing is unconventional and that only adds to the appeal. Some may scoff and complain about inadequate editing, but Year of Yes has a welcoming, casual, rhythm to it. Rhimes invites us in to take a seat at her table while she peels back the layers of how not saying yes to what she wanted caused health problems and insecurities of a seemingly successful adult.