Weekend Reading: Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Adam and I spent Thanksgiving weekend with his family in northern Michigan this year. On Saturday, the two of us went for a walk around downtown Petoskey after being challenged to leave the house at least once that day. It was sunny but stinging cold, and we stopped in a bookstore to warm up even though we’d recently placed a moratorium on book purchases since we had so many to finish. However, I ended it to buy Shonda Rhimes’s memoir Year of Yes, which I’d been hearing about everywhere.

Rhimes received invitations every day to do things like speak at conferences, attend fundraisers, and appear on TV but always said no. She was an introvert and she was also shy, a workaholic who used writing her TV shows as an excuse not to do anything else. And then, with some help from her sister over their own Thanksgiving weekend two years ago, she realized it had made her miserable.

That January, Rhimes began her year of saying yes to anything that scared her. She said yes to giving the commencement speech at her alma mater (Dartmouth), to working less and playing with her kids more, to losing weight and becoming healthier. The ‘yeses’ become more difficult as the book goes on. The second-to-last chapter, “Yes to Who I Am,” was my favorite. In a carefully crafted essay, Rhimes explains why she’s never wanted to get married and the exultation that came from admitting to herself and her boyfriend that she needed – and wanted – to put writing first.

Year of Yes Shonda Rhimes

Luckily you can’t see the crumbs on my keyboard

It made me think of the episode in Grey’s Anatomy where Cristina and Meredith have a conversation about whether they would choose surgery over a romantic relationship after Cristina offers her boyfriend Owen to Teddy, an excellent cardiothoracic surgeon who used to love him, in an effort to keep Teddy from leaving the hospital (and no longer sharing her knowledge with the residents). It’s a no-brainer for Cristina, and eventually Meredith admits that she would also choose surgery. (While Year of Yes is not the gossipy book about working on the set of Grey’s Anatomy I may have hoped for, you’ll notice several of Rhimes’s struggles play out on the show.)  In the end, it was the reason Rhimes felt she had to have these difficult conversations — because she wanted to do things her own way — that I found more interesting than how she plucked up the courage to start them.

I’ve never felt pressure to conform to any particular tradition, probably because I grew up a full two decades after Rhimes. But something in me is grateful for the people behind characters like Cristina Yang, who are unapologetically their weird, ambitious selves.

This book may make you want to watch all twelve seasons of Grey’s Anatomy in a row.  When you reach episode 12 of season 6 (the one I mentioned earlier), it really is an interesting work to consider.  And so was Year of Yes.

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