Yes Please

I have a very low tolerance for complaining. I used to be a big complainer, and still complain about things occasionally because I’m a human. But I reached a point a few years ago when the complaints of people who, generally speaking, Have It Good, had reached a completely intolerable level. I don’t claim to know everyone well, nor do I think people are without problems, but I feel like I’ve been exposed to enough complaints from people who should learn to deal that I’m extremely sensitive to them now. I also think complaining is an art that should be honed carefully, and a luxury that should be indulged very lightly in friendships. (I realize the irony here; I’m complaining about complaining. Stay with me.)

My good friend warned me in advance that Amy Poehler does a lot of complaining in her book about how difficult it is to write a book. I’m very grateful for this warning, because it did prepare me, but I still felt bombarded by it. I love Amy Poehler, but after reading the first umpteen pages of Yes Please, I don’t like her as much as I used to. She spends so much time filling space complaining, and then apologizes for how ungrateful it sounds, and then continues to complain anyway, that I almost stopped reading. I did continue, and I’m glad I did, because she doles out really solid advice, but as a twentysomething female who looks up to Amy and her comedy cohorts, it’s really fucking disheartening to see someone this great semi-squander a great opportunity. She could have said no to the book (which she mentions). She could have waited on the book. Worse, she doesn’t even seem that proud of what she made, because she knows she could have done better. It’s a bizarre example to set, especially because she seems like the kind of person that’s very honest with herself. The honesty happened too late in the book process. By the time she realized she couldn’t do it, she was in the hole. I admire the honesty, but I would have strongly preferred hearing her honesty post-book in interviews. Instead, we hear it in the book AND in the interviews.

With the exception of the massively sour lead-in, I really related to Amy here. She is honest, and doesn’t give a flying fuck about admitting pain or imperfection. She has found a way of deflecting it, of not letting it downgrade her in her own eyes or anyone else’s, and that’s an incredibly rare, admirable trait. Of her childhood, she spoke frankly of her lack of struggle: “When you have a comfortable and loving middle-class family, sometimes you yearn for a dance on the edge” (p. 123). She had nothing to complain about then, so she manufactured drama and excitement. She wanted the attention. I never experienced this as a kid — I stayed pretty quiet — but as I got older I did feel the pressure from the cushion all around me. Amy goes on to say, “I would read terrible stories to punish myself for my lucky life” (p. 130), which explains perfectly why most of us are fascinated with the dysfunctional, especially when we don’t have it.

Her perspective as she’s gotten older is so spot-on, too: “I think we should stop asking people in their twenties what they ‘want to do’ and start asking them what they don’t want to do” (p. 12). Yes, and how! The louder we say statements like this, the less pressure we’ll put on ourselves to conform to the lingering archaic aspects of society. (Whoa, where’d that soap box come from? I’ll step off.) We expect so much of each other at certain stages in life, and we fail to account for failure. Failure or idleness isn’t a bad thing. It’s just part of it. I also liked, “Getting older also helps you develop X-ray vision. The strange thing is that the moment people start looking at you less is when you start being able to see through people more” (p. 100). She’s letting us in on the secrets here; just because you’re not the center of attention, doesn’t mean your radar isn’t on.

Another favorite passage was “Reasons We Cry in an Airplane,” particularly these reasons (p. 133):
3. We feel lonely, which is different than being alone.
4. We are missing someone or have just left someone.
6. We feel like time is suspended and therefore we can feel real emotion without consequence.

It’s funny, but more than that, it’s true. Airplanes are our glass cases of emotion, dammit.

I wanted to hear more about her Upright Citizens Brigade days, but the best tidbit she gave was “Matt [Besser] was the first of many men I’ve been attracted to because they know how to play women” (p. 111). She really glossed over this part of her life, maybe because it has already been documented elsewhere, or maybe because it seemed like too daunting a task. Either way, I’m massively disappointed. This is the part of her life that shaped her comedy, that drew her to audiences, that established her as a lady in a world of men. I’d already heard the stories about cleaning toilets and handing out flyers, but I wanted more. She shared a lot from her SNL days, and a good deal from her Parks and Rec days, but UCB is where it all started. Bummer.

I’ll end with a few other pieces of her advice, because she’s really good at giving it. And I’ll listen to it. And I’ll watch her comedy, because she’s brilliant and effervescent. But… I’ll still be conflicted for awhile. Sorry, Amy.

p. 71 // “Your brain is not your friend when you need to apologize.”
p. 225 // “Remember, your career is a bad boyfriend. It likes you when you don’t depend on it. It will reward you every time you don’t act needy.”
p. 280 // “If you can surf your life rather than plant your feet, you will be happier.”

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