Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes, 2015


“Always dancing. Always in the sun. Yes.” Shonda Rhimes  Image © Alyssa Yerga-Woolwine


Spoiler Alert

Moving forward with the 2018 Reading Challenge , I’ve chosen Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes for the Celebrity Memoir challenge.

Rhimes, Queen of Shondaland and Thursday Nights writes about a life-changing choice she made spurred on by her older sister’s off-handed criticism: “You never say yes to anything.” Outraged and indignant, Rhimes attempts to defend her choices. Months later she must admit to herself that her comfort zone is a place where she exists but doesn’t live. Despite her successes in work (three intelligent much-loved television shows) and family (three intelligent much-loved daughters) she’s coasting along, actively avoiding challenging situations. To change this, for one year she forces herself to say yes to any opportunity she would normally say no to.

My initial response was “Yeah, right.” Dartmouth grad, USC post-grad, production company running Shonda Rhimes has problems?

There are “yeah, right”able moments that some will find hard to relate to (she’s got a glam team at the ready for special events) but they are outnumbered by the very human moments she shares with readers.

Like many people with fervid imaginations, it was easier for her to be by herself, in herself than deal with the messy frustrating and maddening world of real human beings. During her year of yes, she accepted invitations she would have turned down. Invitations that included giving speeches, attending parties and stepping in front of the camera more often.

She struggles with motherhood vs. career, two lofty goals that are often at odds with each other.  Her year of yes enforced what most women already know deep down. You can have it all, just not simultaneously.

She eventually overcomes the guilt she feels for not wanting to ever marry and revels in the liberating insight. “I really think that I am this happy because I realized that I really don’t want the fairy tale.”

She also talks about weight and what it means to say yes to health. She’s honest about the lure of food as therapy: it isn’t the best way to deal with negative emotions but it’s effective. She talks candidly about the feminist conflict of balancing the quest for health with caring about appearance.  “The feminist in me didn’t want to have the discussion with myself….It felt as though I was judging myself on how I looked. It felt…traitorous to care.”

Fans (or even someone slightly familiar with) of Rhimes’ melodramas might be surprised by the conversational and often hilarious tone. There’s no intensity or urgency, no deep subtext filled dialogue. It’s just Shonda talking about her Year of Yes in a fun, accessible way.

These are the things that still linger in my mind:

I find it endearing that instead of being the Cristina Yang of her own life, she was more like April Kepner, frazzled and unsure.

During her year of yes, Rhimes agreed to always say yes when her kids asked her to play. To her surprise, she found that they only wanted about fifteen minutes of her time before they were off to do other things.

Her nanny’s name is Jenny McCarthy (not the entertainer). She refers to her throughout the book as Jenny McCarthy. Not Jenny or Jen. Jenny McCarthy.

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