Say Yes

As an author and a reader, I will admit that audiobooks make me feel like a dirty reader cheater, but so much more reading gets done that way so it can be worth the exception. Year of Yes was an audiobook that I was ecstatic to make the exception of not holding a paperback for. One, because it is written by my biggest creative role model of all time. Two, her vocabulary has the rhythm of Emerson and her tone of voice evokes the peace of a grandmother singing a lullaby. I could’ve picked up the paperback but I wanted to hear Shonda’s written words straight from the woman herself. For those unfamiliar, the Shonda Rhimes Empire consists of ABC’s entire Thursday night television line up. She is the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, The Catch and is the Executive Producer on How to Get Away with Murder. TV titan, adoring mother, exquisite showrunner and humble world dominator. The way most people want to be BeyoncĂ© is how I feel about Shonda Rhimes. If being myself wasn’t such a complicated privilege, she’s someone I wouldn’t mind trading places with. When I pushed play on Year of Yes: my year of saying yes to everything. I expected to listen in awe of all the behind the scenes details that make up the life of this woman who created characters that I consider to be close friends. I was in awe, her life is awesome but as Rhimes told her story, the wonderment I was in was accompanied by unexpected shock. As she told her story of how she’s come up with all these stories that have mirrored our real life stories, ones that so many people have intertwined into their own personal narratives, it was so surprising for me to discover that Shonda Rhimes did not always feel invincible.

In the beginning of her career, Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes felt very similar to Meredith Grey, a character of her own creation. In the early seasons, the Meredith we see is far from the the woman who’s starred in the now thirteen season medical drama. Fetus Meredith was a mess, an intriguing, smart, stammering mess who felt as though she had no clue what she was doing. Thank you Shonda, for writing a woman I can relate to and thank you for not leaving her unpolished, it let’s me know that there is hope. Year of Yes tells the tale of Shonda’s evolution in a heartwarming, inspiring, relatable way that is seamless. Out of respect for my creative role model as well as all writers and their work, I refuse to give too much away and ruin the book but I’d liked to discuss some highlights and what I personally gleaned. No one can tell the Shonda Rhimes story as well as she can anyway. 

I make stuff up for a living yes but really, I make stuff up for living.-Shonda Rhimes

Creativity is my life blood and writers like Shonda Rhimes get that. If you are desperate to know how she creates such riveting episodes every single week, her Master Class is the perfect place to learn about her process. I’m about a third of the way into the course and it is like crack for writers. Her book is a blend of the narratives she creates for all of us to watch and obsess over, delightfully intertwined through her own personal narrative. Shonda talks about how writing is literally what she was made to do. Like her character Cristina Yang, she is also ambivalent towards marriage. Although, Yang did become a wife at one point, nearly twice, it was never who she was or what she believed in. Cristina Yang is a surgeon who has little regard for anything in life apart from her craft. Shonda Rhimes feels the same way about writing. For those who watch her show Scandal, there was a time when she had her own Edison. A successful, kind, sweet man who was more than happy to just love her. The man Shonda loved was ideal for her, just as the Senator was ideal for her character Olivia Pope. Marriage however, was not. Women don’t depend on men the way they used to. Marriage can be viewed as a financially sound agreement and not exclusively a romantic pathway to love. Rhimes thought it could work the way once upon a time Grey’s Anatomy couple Burke and Yang thought it could work. They played their parts, she filled the role but it wasn’t her honest truth. A wife is not what Rhimes wanted to be. “I had a breakthrough” she said, “someone else got broken. So while I was busy having epiphanies, a horrible thing was happening to a perfectly wonderful human being. I may have been growing and changing but I was also taking someone’s dream and plan for the future and setting it on fire, that the price of my joy was someone else’s pain is something I’ll forgive myself for, one day.”-Rhimes, Year of Yes

Grey’s Anatomy cast members: Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey, Chandra Wilson and Sandra Oh.

I don’t share the same views on marriage as she does but I absolutely see where she is coming from. I believe marriage is a sacred privilege and wife is a title I’ll wear proudly someday. Even though our philosophies differ as far as the alter, I could not agree more that filling a role you were never meant to play painfully chips away pieces of you. Nothing in life is worth compromising who you are. Even if that something is impossibly kind and the only thing he wears better than a suit is his beard, never settle. Do not give away your pieces. The only time a move like that is worth considering is when there’s an opportunity to better yourself by trading up. In her TED talk Shonda explains where her well of energy goes.

Cristina Yang’s parting words to Meredith Grey.

Though we are both vicously dedicated to our passion with words, Shonda Rhimes is more of an introvert than I will ever be. I consider myself to be an outgoing introvert. I need to be around people and experience life so that I can justifiably write about it. One of the biggest moments in her year of saying yes to everything was when she gave a commencement speech at Dartmouth, her alma mater. It went viral and the things she shared were scary and incredible. What I enjoyed hearing most though, was how incredibly scared she was to do it. In a way, this speech was step one as far as her owning her awesomeness. Here is what woke me up:

“I think a lot of people dream and while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people; the really interesting, engaged, powerful people are busy doing.” She is absolutely right, as I’m sure just about any creative type can attest, us dreamers often fall short when it comes to the doing of the thing and that is why she said; “dreamers often end up living in the basement of relatives FYI.” Before Grey’s or even further back, prior to the movies she wrote, she was living in her sister’s basement wanting to exclusively be a novelist. She was dreaming. Dreaming is fantastic but it’s only part of the story. Shonda said; “dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen, it’s hard work that creates change.” 

Dreams are lovely but they are just dreams, fleeting, ephemeral, pretty.-Shonda Rhimes

What I love most about this book is the authenticity. I expected to be dazzled not just because I was listening to the personal story of one of my personal role models but also because of her massive level of success. I was right to think that. Her story was dazzling but it was also real, more real than I ever thought she would care to admit. In that I found great comfort. What a staggeringly beautiful thing to know that someone I look up to did not always think of herself as staggeringly beautiful. She is human, she is talented, she is evolving, just like every one of us. Year of Yes was such a pleasant ride, even when there was turbulence, the hope was that the plane wouldn’t land because whatever was in the atmosphere at this altitude was mesmerizing. The words of Shonda Rhimes keep you, the way flames at a bonfire lock your eyes and warm your skin. No wonder why Grey’s Anatomy is a perfect spectrum of every human emotion, telling story through characters we honestly know and adore. How amazing I find it that when Shondaland began, it’s founder felt like 2005 Meredith trying to keep pace in her Converse and now, we see a woman that bears a striking resemblance to Olivia Pope, professional fixer of the free world, boss lady and fashion icon. It took her awhile to find her footing. It took her years to own her awesomeness and then it took her even longer to celebrate it but now, she does. She has arrived. She is a badass. All because she said yes.

Shonda Rhimes’ creation Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington on Scandal.

Badassery {bad-ass-er-ee}

1. noun

The practice of knowing one’s own accomplishments and gifts, accepting one’s own accomplishments and gifts, and celebrating one’s own accomplishments and gifts.

2. noun

The practice of living life with swagger.

Swagger {swag-er}

1. noun or verb

A state of being that involves loving oneself, waking up like this, and not giving a crap what anyone else thinks about you. Term first coined by William Shakespeare.

Definitions by Shonda Rhimes from her novel.

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