The summer of 2011 was one of the most simultaneously difficult and fun summers of my life. It was one of the first times that I ever fully grasped how resilient true friendships can be. It was the first time that I ever did something difficult justbecause it was good for me even though it hurt. It was the first time I saw myself falling into love and realizing that “falling” is the absolute perfect word.
I was a few months out of a not-a-real-break-up* with someone that I wasn’t-dating** for the past four and a half years of my life. I was tender but I was recovering. *sure did wreck me like a real break up.
**Fell into that tragically, typical millennial thing where we decided we “didn’t need or want labels” as if that keeps you from really feeling anything. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. It just makes you feel like you’re not allowed to be as gutted as you are when it ends. Which is a really unhealthy place to land.
The thing is that the love that I have for Amy Poehler and Tina Fey is so much more than just, “Oh, they make me laugh!” But, closer to, “Oh, I’m going to use you as my spirit guides.” Don’t get me wrong. There are other powerful, brave, strong and hilarious women in the world with whom I would love to hang. Mindy, Lena, Hillary: call me. But I feel like if I ever happened upon Tina or Amy, I would undoubtedly interrupt their day, crawl into their lap (because they share a lap) and thank them uncontrollably.
Ryan gave me a copy of Bossypants for my birthday a few years ago and I think reading that is what started this spirit in me that I can be whoever I want to be. And not in an after school special kind of way, either. Like, in a real, tangible way that I didn’t know was possible. It’s the kind of thing that you can hear over and over again but won’t really stick until it slaps you in the face at the right moment when you’re wearing comfortable shoes and are just hungry enough to pay attention but not so hungry that you’re distracted and ravenous. It’s a delicate balance and we’re, frankly, lucky that we ever learn anything at all.
For starters, for me, it was this section in Bossypants (page 143-144):
Amy Poehler was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers’ room, waiting for the Wednesday read-through to start. There were always a lot of noisy “comedy bits” going on in that room. Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can’t remember what it was exactly, except that it was dirty and loud and “unladylike.” Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”
Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.
With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.
A few paragraphs later, Tina continues, “Ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this person in between me and what I want to do?’ If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way.”
I know a lot of Tina’s book is about being a successful working woman–because that’s what she is and it’s important to have a cohesive thesis throughout whatever you’re working on. But I think that in this situation, your “work” can be whatever you want it to be. Your work can be your job, sure. Your work can be an aggressive hobby. But I think what it boils down to is this: your work is becoming whatever kind of person it is that you want to become.
Okay, so I read that (and all the stuff before and after that and then opened it up to the first page and read it again. Yes.) and felt empowered to not settle for the life that I have just because it’s the one that I feel like happened to me. I imagined the woman that I want to be most in the world (surprise, it’s mostly a conglomeration of all of the beautiful qualities that I see in my friends). I want to be kind and patient. I want to be creative and I want to be a really good friend and I want to be honest. I want to see when I’m wrong and be confident when I am right. I want, to quote a line from Gillmore Girls, “to live my life so that when I read an in-depth biography of myself in later years, I will not puke.”
So I know who I want to be. And, surprise, surprise, it’s Amy Poehler that inspires me to know how to be that woman. When she helped to launch Smart Girls at the Party, she started a series called Ask Amy. This is undoubtedly aimed at much younger ladies than I but, admirably, it’s not dumbed down in any way whatsoever so a 29 year old me can watch it and not feel like I’m sneaking in kid stuff. And Amy dishes out legitimate advice that I wish I had when I was thirteen and advice that I know I’m going to continue needing to hear as I march through the rest of my life.
This one is my favorites. A girl writes in and explains to Amy that she has a really difficult time admitting when she’s wrong. She knows she’s wrong and everyone else does too, but she can’t bring herself to accept it and move past it. Amy’s technique is so kind and feeling–she’s a good example of what I want to be like. She explains that it can be so powerful to admit when you’re wrong because it’s “showing that you’re vulnerable and that you’re a supple person who can admit when they’ve made a mistake and can therefore be trusted.”
It seems to me that a lot of becoming the person that you want to be all boils down to two things. Honesty: being honest with yourself and with other people. And practice: practice being that woman. Practice being thoughtful and reliable and brave–recognize when you have not met the bar, administer some grace to yourself and practice again.
I’m working on me. I’m recognizing that my days are full to the brim with opportunities to choose. The choices that we make create us into the people that we will become and the good news is that we’re in charge.
I hope you have a really good day and if you’re in the mood for cupcakes, I’m just getting ready to frost them.