“Writing was… well, for me it was like sitting down at a piano for the first time and realizing that I always knew how to play.”
It’s not everyday your hero writes a book, so when mine did I couldn’t get to the book store quick enough. Shonda Rhimes is not just another showrunner producing content for the masses to enjoy week after week, she is the showrunner. Her shows have always changed the way we view sexuality and race, but her latest venture, “Year of Yes” will change the way you view yourself.
What drew millions to her characters was how effortlessly she projects our realities. She uses these beautifully flawed characters in her shows as vessels to say the things each and every one of us are too afraid to say. She does this while humbly expressing that she is not doing something groundbreaking, but rather projecting the world how it truthfully is. In “Year of Yes” Rhimes turns the tables a bit, rather than speak through her characters she expresses her frustration and fear with the realization that she is miserable, and tired of saying “no.” She offers wisdom from her own experiences that could apply to to anyone. A shy young man in college that is terrified to leave the comfort of his dorm room, seeking comfort in the grip of his X-Box controller rather than attend the club meeting he’s secretly been interested in. Or the married mother of two who is tired of living a life of soccer practice drop-off’s and school bake sale fundraisers, but instead want’s something more. Or even me, the shy and overly scared TV nerd who dreams of writing for television, like, actual real and wonderful television, but is too afraid to even think of doing it. Rhimes speaks to all of us. She does not just listen to the little voice in her head telling her to say “yes,” she hurls it off the pages and forces us to relate to it and to join her in this “yes” revolution.
Ask any GREY’S ANATOMY fan the scene that changed it all for them. They’ll tell you George O’Malley’s (T.R. Knight) death. Okay, too soon? Ask them again and they’ll say when Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) recited the iconic “Pick me. Choose me. Love me.” monologue. Yes, that was iconic but still not what I’m looking for. Ask them a third time, and if they’ve genuinely watched the show and watched these characters develop and blossom they will say the scene where Cristina (Sandra Oh) holds up the fish she caught and breaks down into an out of body life realization, mid-picture. In a way, that is the same message Rhimes’ book is spewing. If you have lost yourself for a bit and want to be the you that you have always dreamed of being, then open yourself up to the possibilities that come with saying, “yes.” Dr. Yang would have never gone fishing prior to that episode. She was in a dark and twisty place. She made the fist step by saying, “yes” and maybe not even realizing it at the time, she saved herself.
While that scene is one of the most memorable, Rhimes talks about yet another one. In fact, it is Oh’s last scene on the popular doctor drama. It is the iconic scene where Dr. Burke (Isaiah Washington) is offering Cristina his hospital. Rhimes compares this venture for Dr. Yang to getting her own chocolate factory, mentioning, “she has learned, as difficult as it is, how to be her own sun.” In a way, Rhimes became her own sun; she opened herself up to possibilities she never did before, jumping hurtles that once terrified her. She closes the chapter beautifully, almost finding a piece of herself in the brilliant doctor Yang, stating, “Yes does feel like the sun. Maybe I’m building my own damn chocolate factory.”
Rhimes accounts numerous occasions where she feared passing out, laughing till she snorts, and dying due to a number of random medical conditions she’s thought up because of her GREY’S background. You would never know this watching one of her shows or reading an interview with her, she is poised, intelligent, her shows are impeccably complex and executed very well. “Year of Yes” offers a look into a different Rhimes, a Rhimes we aren’t used to. A vulnerable and beautifully human side.
One section in particular stands out to me, chapter ten “Yes, Thank You.” Rhimes lists three ways the powerful women in the entertainment industry handled being praised. “Not a single woman in this room can handle being told she is awesome. What is wrong with us?” As a woman, I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. Rhimes mentions that she took door number two, which was ducking her head and looking embarrassed. As opposed to the other options which were, door one, shaking your head and looking away, and door number three, laughing and being embarrassed that you’re surrounded by all of these awesome women. I certainly can’t speak on behalf of all women, I can hardly speak on my own behalf, but women do this regularly, and it is horrifying. We belittle our own accomplishments and can not wrap our heads around the idea that maybe we are pretty incredible and capable of groundbreaking, earth shattering, things.
Everyone who has spoken to me for more than five minutes knows that I worship this woman, I have for years. I’ve written countless articles on her shows, analyzed her scripts, and cited her as one of my biggest influences on numerous internship/ college applications, but never have I been prouder or more delighted to call her one of my heroes than after I turned the last page of “Year of Yes.” From beginning to end I went on a journey I did not even know I signed up for. When I decided to major in television it was partly because television is the one thing I have always felt most passionate about. However, it is mainly because I feel as though if I can make even a fraction of the difference Ms. Rhimes has made, then I’d be more than satisfied with what I have contributed to this world. Ms. Rhimes has said that all she wanted to be when she grew up was Toni Morrison. Well, all I want to be when I grow up is Shonda Rhimes.
P.S. On behalf of everyone, thank you for creating a universe that we all can escape to and find solace in. I’m sure you would have made a magnificent librarian in Ohio, but I think you chose the right path.