Book Review: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please Amy PoehlerAmy Poehler is pretty high on the list of women I admire. For years, I think dating back to Baby Mama, my BFF Emily and I have jokingly likened ourselves to Amy and Tina Fey. We are not nearly as funny or successful (give us time?) but I am a brunette with glasses and she is a blond and we are best friends. (Side note: Emily, are you still technically a blond? To me, you will always be, in-part, blond and ten years-old.)

Anyway, what I admire about Poehler’s comedy is the way she can be sharp and hilarious while still remaining upbeat. Her humor isn’t cruel. She is so smart and also bonkers. It’s a great energy and the balance between incisive and positive or constructive is something I try to achieve in my own work. Amy is the bomb.

So I was surprised when I wasn’t immediately taken with her new book, Yes Please. In my opinion, the book starts off overly self-deprecatingly, rambly, and with fits and starts. There’s a big trend in writing right now in which writers constantly interrupt their own sentences or stories with asides. If you know me in real life, you know that that is how I actually think and speak and tell stories a lot of the time (Sorry!). So I understand the style and I understand that it is supposed to make the writing sound more conversational and that it is supposed to be charming. And often I think it is. But also I think it should be used sparingly, because it can be confusing or come off as an obvious ploy to make the reader like you more. The book starts out this way.

But then the tone of the book hits its stride and it’s wonderful. The writing started to show the charm and warmth and wisdom I’ve come to associate with Poehler’s work, especially the bits associated with Smart Girls at the Party. Because she is so successful and thoughtful, but also a comedian who relishes in the inappropriate and vulnerable, it was a wonderful and enlightening read. Amy Poehler always seems so fearless to me, and I really appreciated reading about how she cultivated that feeling and how she deals with the “demons” that try to hold her back. This is super corny, but like with Fey’s Bossy Pants, I put the book down feeling motivated to chase my own dreams. “Bitches get shit done.” Books like Poehler’s are kind of big right now in publishing and I’ve read most of them (Fey, Poehler, Kaling…). I think it’s an important trend, though. I value what these women have to teach me as a woman starting her career and interested in starting a family and dreaming of having public impact. I think the best part about these books from women in comedy, as opposed to other industries (cough: Lean In), is that they are often less cautious about their own images (or at least they seem to be). They are honest about the shit they deal with without taking themselves too seriously. I’m a fan.

–Related: How Female Comedians Went from Self-Hating to the Self-Help Shelf

Ultimately, what I really love about the book is the way that Poehler writes about herself and the people in her life with such tenderness and the way that she speaks to the process of growing into and loving oneself. Yes Please is broken up into three sections: “Say Whatever You Want”, “Do Whatever You Like”, and “Be Whoever You Are.” That advice is pretty banal and vague. Inside those sections, however, are chapters that tell stories about forgiveness, aging, motherhood, friendship, love, and work, that deal with how hard it is to know yourself, let alone be or love yourself. It’s not preachy or overly simplified and, like Poehler’s comedy so often does, it feels honest and generous and sometimes rather hyper.

There are also some genuinely beautiful parts. For example, in one chapter, “Sorry Sorry Sorry,” Poehler tells the story of a skit she did on SNL that hurt the innocent person it mocked and how it took her five years to apologize. Inside the chapter are honest reflections about the situation and how our heads get in our way when we screw up and need to apologize. The story is also just moving and beautifully told.

Then there are just beautiful sentences. In a chapter about giving birth to her first son, Poehler writes about finding out on-set at SNL that her OBGYN died the day before her baby was due. She started sobbing and Jon Hamm (of course) made her laugh. She writes:

“Going from crying to laughing that fast and hard happens maybe five times in your life and that extreme right turn is the reason why we are alive, and I believe it extends our life by many years.”

The book is full of little nuggets like that and they are the best part of the whole thing.

But, if you read Yes Please, you will also get to see: Amy Poheler’s kindergarten report card, a note to her son Archie from Hillary Clinton on the occasion of his birth, her excellent sex advice, what she thinks of her Parks and Recreation castmates, and much, much more. Yes Please is a heavy, glossy book, but a quick read (even at 300+ pages) that I anticipate I’ll pull out every once in a while for a pick-me-up or a reminder to “treat [my] career like a bad boyfriend.” I recommend. And, as the back cover points out, it would be a great holiday gift.

Full disclosure: I received a promotional copy of this book from the publisher via the Birchbox Book Club. My review was not solicited nor compensated. But free book, heck yes please!

Stumbling into Resources, My Matryoshka Problem

Right now, I’m up to my eyes in research, as I mentioned before. I keep getting to a point where I’ve synthesized a lot of historical and critical work, but get roadblocked in making my argument by difficulty finding other resources. I’m going to start with a request–above the fold–and then get more into this saga.

I am currently seeking letters written between students at American Indian boarding schools and their parents or other people not associated with the school administrations. I’m working on a chapter about gender in the boarding schools and, while I have a mountain of research on the history of the schools, as well access to the student records archived by Carlisle, I desperately want to get my hands on students’ letters. The files at Carlisle include correspondence between students and the school, but, although those letters can be interesting, I don’t think they can really be taken as students writing about their experiences at the school. I’m going to keep looking, but if you happen to have seen something like this in a book or archive somewhere, I would love to know that.

Anyway, one of the best pieces I ever received in grad school was to follow the questions that I was interested in and to create my archive of texts and artifacts around those questions. Taking that advice from my awesome advisor has shaped the last few years of my academic life and has led me to the dissertation that I’m working on now–a dissertation that I love and will hopefully be proud of. Also, a dissertation that keeps surprising and frustrating me. One of those surprises is that to answer the questions I’m interested in, I have to educate myself all over again about new historical moments and fields of inquiry. For example–and primarily–I don’t like to read autobiographies, yet that’s all I’m reading right now. Between life writing and interviews by young Jewish immigrant women and theory about autobiography, I’m consumed with reading that I would never, ever choose for fun. But it’s fascinating because it is necessary to answer the questions I am interested in about how girls made sense of citizenship during a period of intense Americanization and changes around gender norms in the home and the economy. It seems like once a day I’m having a moment in which I think both “I love this!” and “How on earth did I end up here?!” I’m enjoying it, even if I am also getting tripped up by the way my sources act like Matryoshka dolls. Each source just leads me to another source I need in order to proceed.

Fellow writers, how did you go about forming your archive? Are you surprised by where you’ve ended up in your dissertation or other project? How do you draw the line and say, “This is enough research, already!”?

NaDissWriMo

Hi, there. Long time, no see. You may have heard about National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, an annual November event in which people commit to writing a rough draft of a novel–or ~50,000 words–in one month. I’m kind of stuck in the mud with my dissertation, so I’ve decided that I’m going to write that much during November, just for my dissertation. I’m committing to writing 1,500 words a day for my dissertation. It might not be great. I might not keep it all. But I want to get in the habit of writing seriously every day. I’d like to keep that going, too.

Sometimes research doesn't work out...

Sometimes research doesn’t work out…

I have a tendency to bury myself in research and then get stuck there because I’ve drowned out my own thoughts and my own argument. In addition to that issue, there’s been a couple of anxiety flare-ups, and my fiancé (did I mention I got engaged in August?) and I have been planning our wedding (way in advance because we wanted to nail down our big ticket items while he was actually on this side of the country). I’m not behind by any means, but I’d like to start seeing more results for all my effort. Basically, I’m hoping that this sprint will get me in good writing habits and help me cut through the blocks I’ve set up in my writing process. More focus, more writing, more happiness. Yay!

At the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum

I’d also like to note that while Julio was here, we drove to Chicago and saw the Hull-House Museum. I found it not only helpful for my dissertation, but really inspiring. It got my creative juices flowing and I’m hoping that, as I make progress on the dissertation, some of the ideas I had can also bear fruit.

As I’m cranking out writing during this month, I’m also planning to get back in the habit of blogging here about my research and related subjects and events as they pop up.

Readers, how do you keep up good habits? Do you have particular practices that help with your writing or productivity? How do you balance creativity and analysis? (I find that hard sometimes.)

Happy Day of the Girl!

day of the girlIt’s the UN’s 3rd Annual Day of the Girl! In light of Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize, I’m guessing there will be even more press coverage and think pieces than usual, which in some ways is great. But I think it’s worth making note of the way these stories are framed and pushing back against rhetoric that depicts girls’ education as just an economic investment or panders to people’s emotions or draws on the idea that “she could be your mother/sister/daughter.” Is this mission to educate girls–to educate all children–about expanding opportunities and striving for gender parity or is it just about a feel-good neoliberal agenda?

Today at Ph.D.s and Pigtails Facebook Page I’m working to share the stories of girl activists and historical girls, trying to highlight that there’s a long history of girls advocating for themselves and their communities, as well as a long history of girls being denied the right to equal education. Please join me over there! (And please do share stories if you have them, too!)

You can also check out these documentaries on Netflix:
It’s a Girl: http://goo.gl/m9WM0t
Girl Rising: http://goo.gl/kQY3da
The World Before Her: http://goo.gl/lyGajv
Dark Girls: http://goo.gl/J4FfJd
Half the Sky: http://goo.gl/0FjUz3
Whore’s Glory: http://goo.gl/f2aWKi

Bring Back Our Girls and “the Politics of Pity”

http://blog.pixlee.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/BringBackOurGirls.jpgIn the early morning of April 16, 2014, over 270 schoolgirls were abducted from their school in Chibok, Nigeria by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, whose name translates to “Western education is a sin” in the local language. The abduction was not the first time the group kidnapped girls and women, particularly for pursuing their educations. The scale of the abduction, however, as well as the passionate response of the girls’ parents and communities, captured worldwide media attention. At a rally following the abduction, the girls’ communities put pressure on the government to do more to find them, holding signs that read “Bring Back Our Girls.” The slogan was quickly picked up by international organizations, including Girl Rising and Girl Up, as a Twitter hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls, aiming to draw media attention to the story and put pressure on the United States government to help as well. Momentum quickly grew as over one-million tweets featured the hashtag and dozens of think pieces were written debating the efficacy of hashtag activism. I think the real issue, however, is the use of the word “our” and the implications of images of sad-eyed white women replacing the original image of Nigerian mothers demanding that the government bring back their girls. Although the campaign is incredibly effective at bringing attention to the abduction and to on-going issues around girls’ education globally, I worry about the longevity of this concern (i.e. was it just trendy?), as well as the neo-colonial implications of the media coverage. In short, while I think attention to these problems is a great thing, I also wonder if a lot of this attention didn’t serve to make privileged Westerners feel good about themselves rather than to actually address the underlying problems that allow such gendered violence to happen continually. I don’t want to criticize anyone specifically, so much as open a space to reconsider the implications of human rights campaigns such as #BringBackOurGirls and how unchecked privilege can undermine good intentions.

Some Feminist Theory Background

Let’s begin with some feminist theory. In Feminism Without Borders, Chandra Talpade Mohanty argues for a feminist solidarity as a political and ethical goal, rather than “vague assumptions of sisterhood or images of complete identification with the other” (3). She also likens transnational feminist communities to imagined communities, “‘imagined’ not because it is not ‘real’ but because it suggests potential alliances and collaborations across divisive boundaries, and ‘community’ because in spite of internal hierarchies within Third World contexts, it nevertheless suggests a significant, deep commitment to what Benedict Anderson, in referring to the nation, calls ‘horizontal comradeship.’” (46) In other words, rather than relying on reductionist or essentialist ideas of what constitutes a woman, solidarity in transnational feminism is derived from the members of the community imagining commonality amongst themselves and investing in the good of the community over and against actual political and economic inequalities that may exist between members of the community. Continue reading

My Essential Gilmore Girls Episodes

You may have heard by now that Gilmore Girls is set to debut on Netflix October 1st. Like many, many young women who came of age in the early-aughts, Gilmore Girls is a beloved part of my young life. My best friend and I had Gilmore Nights on the regular and I remember one of my college roommates and I yelling at the TV together during those last, rocky seasons. I don’t want to even try ranking the series’ episodes by excellence or cultural relevance. It’s too daunting and, I think, too dependent on where a person is in his or her life. I know that I’ve seen the series in its entirety countless times, and the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve sided with Emily over Lorelai. My thoughts on Rory’s boyfriends have changed, too. It’s all as nuanced as it is over-caffeinated. So, instead, I present this list of the episodes that have meant the most to me over the last decade or so of Gilmore fandom.

From this list, it’s clear that Season 4 is my favorite, although I have a lot of affection for Season 1 too. There are also tons of individual moments that I cherish, from makeshift ice rinks to 80s themed sleepovers. And Sookie drunk on Thanksgiving. And all the coffee. And where did all the anvils go?

Anyway, In chronological order:

http://media3.giphy.com/media/lDUB8HxeasOqI/200_s.gif1. “The Deer Hunters” Season 1, Episode 4

I have anxiety and when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, this episode comes to mind without fail. While a lot of Season 1 was particularly relatable when I was a teenager (I particularly loved “The Breakup Pts 1 & 2″), this episode still speaks to me as an adult. Rory has just transferred to Chilton and is overwhelmed by catching up mid-semester and adapting to new social and academic pressures. After she gets a D on a paper (I would feel like dying too), her English grade hangs on her performance on an enormous Shakespeare test. As she frantically drives to the exam after oversleeping, a deer runs into the side of her car. What a metaphor. I regularly pull this one out when I’m attempting an all-nighter to catch up on things like research or grading. Even better than the whole deer incident is the conversation between Rory and Lorelai about pressure and achievement. And Luke is right. If you are driven to the point of throwing pencils, you should get pie.

http://images.tvrage.com/screencaps/19/3683/69729.jpg2. “That Damn Donna Reed” Season 1, Episode 14

As a teenager trying to figure out feminism, this episode was important to me because of the way Rory moves from writing-off Donna Reed as a lobotomized housewife to researching her life and discovering what a mover and a shaker she was in the industry. I think it’s a more academic example of the Lorelais’ general approach of considering the whole of women’s lives and situations. This is a pretty cute, nostalgic episode that I just have a lot of affection for. And that lime jello and Cool Whip dessert is good. I made it for a pre-wedding Gilmore Night with my BFF, Emily.

3. “Red Light on the Wedding Night” Season 2, Episode 3

This episode has really stuck with me because of Lorelai’s bachelorette party. I’m somewhere between Lorelai’s romantic side and Emily’s pragmatic side, so I’ve long had this fear of marrying the wrong person. I’d get really committed and then balk. What if I find my soulmate years from now, and I’m stuck? It’s not a great quality, but I’m engaged now to someone who I feel confident that I can love forever, so maybe it worked out. Anyway, for her bachelorette party, Lorelai and company go to a drag club and Emily talks wistfully about the feelings she had in the days before her wedding, sending Lorelai into enough of a tailspin that she calls off her wedding. It’s a fun and really lovely scene, but it haunted me for years.

4. “Take the Deviled Eggs…” Season 3, Episode 6

This episode is great just because of its beginning and end. First, it opens with the hilarious scene about the different names Lorelai’s given to companies, resulting in duplicate catalogs mailed to the likes of “Squeegee Beckenheim.” It ends with Lorelai and Rory devil egging Jess’s car. When a certain guy blew me off, he lived in the same complex as Emily. We spent many Gilmore Nights talking about devil egging his car. We never did it, but we talked about it so much that it feels like we did.

http://i69.photobucket.com/albums/i46/BlueyMcPhluey/new%20main/GilmoreGirls-3x17-ATaleOfPoesAndFir.png4: “A Tale of Poes and Fire” Season 3, Episode 17

Like the Bracebridge Dinner episode of Season 2 (episode 10), this episode stands on its own really well in its absurdity and how it brings the town together.  In the episode, Rory decides she’s going to Yale, but, more importantly, we get dueling Poe impersonators and Kirk’s topical t-shirt business, which gave us the gem “Faux Poes Foes.”

5. “Those are Strings, Pinocchio” Season 3, Episode 22

This is Rory’s graduation from Chilton, which is memorable mostly for the gorgeous speech she gave about books and her mother. I think it clearly encapsulates what was so wonderful about the relationship up to that point and Rory as a character in general. The episode was also meaningful to me as I was getting ready to graduate. Plus, at our graduation, Emily and I stuck our tongues out at each other Gilmore-style.

http://static.tumblr.com/bzpsjxw/ri6m5smop/hug.gif6. “Ballrooms & Biscotti” and “The Lorelais’ First Day at Yale” Season 4, Episodes 1-2

I watch these episodes whenever I’m feeling homesick or am approaching a big change. In the first episode, the girls come back from backpacking around Europe to find that they have a few days instead of two weeks to get ready for Rory to go to Yale. And Emily holds Rory hostage watching ballroom dancing tapes. Because, why not? In the second, they move Rory into school and Lorelai ends up staying the night, orchestrating a big party to sample the local delivery places. My dog is named Rory, and the scene in which Lorelai and Rory howl back at the boys’ dorm is the only time she’s ever noticed the show. Anyway, the frantic energy and fresh start of these episodes helps get me braced and even amped up for change.

http://wwwcdn.channel5.com/assets/images/000/034/410/large_size_GG416-2427_9fb04deb_640x360.jpg?13522819827. “The Reigning Lorelai” Season 4, Episode 16

This episode pairs with “The Deer Hunters.” It’s a great episode for when I’m feeling anxious, because it falls after a series of episodes in which each Gilmore girl has been breaking down. But, in this episode as they’re pulling it together, Emily is hilariously melting down in the most brassy manner, after Richard’s mother passes, and she finds a note in which Lorelai-the-elder implored Richard not to marry her. It’s a good episode for when I feel like a mess, but want to pull it together, like Emily would.

8. “Girls in Bikinis, Boys Doin’ the Twist” Season 4, Episode 17

I’m not much of a partier, so in college, I loved this episode. In it, Rory and Paris decide to go to Florida for Spring Break and spend the beginning of it in the hotel eating pizza and watching Mythology. They test out the hardcore Spring Break lifestyle, but end up accepting that it’s just not for them. It’s a really fun and cute episode and Rory eating Mac’n’cheese to cure her first hangover came in handy when I finally did start drinking.

9. “Tick, Tick, Tick, Boom!” Season 4, Episode 18

This episode is essential because of Kirk’s subplot about the Easter Egg Hunt. Kirk is easily one of my favorite parts of the show and this plot is possibly his best. Aside from the independent movie. Or his terrifying dance. Or when he revealed how much money he’d saved by working all those jobs. Who am I kidding, the show should be called Kirk.

10. “Lorelai’s First Cotillion” Season 7, Episode 3

The last few seasons were pretty hit and miss and didn’t have the charm that the first four, maybe five, did. I love this episode, however, because of how Lorelai reacts to her mother. First, the question of whether Lorelai has based most of her life on doing the opposite of what Emily would want is significant. Also, however, that Lorelai can see her mother working with the girls for Cotillion and see how Michel admires her is a step toward healing that relationship. I love that Lorelai goes to the Cotillion and has fun. It’s just one of many episodes focused on Emily and Lorelai (including the great “Like Mother Like Daughter” and “‘There’s the Rub”), but it’s possibly the most mature.

See Also:

Gilmore Girls Drinking Games and Gilmore Girls BINGO

What is your favorite Gilmore Girls episode? Why?

The Sister-Sister Book Club: Reading, Guidance, and Freedom

When I was young, I was a voracious and pretty mature reader. By mature, I mean I wanted to read above my reading level and, probably, my emotional level. My parents basically much let me read whatever I wanted. There was something so exhilarating about that. I felt free to explore, and when I read things that were too mature for me, which happened accidentally and often, it both helped me grow intellectually and emotionally, and felt like a scintillating secret. When I was 16, I had a job that required a half hour commute each way, so I started checking out audiobooks from the library. I popped in Lady Chatterly’s Lover and was surprised by all the information about the obscenity trial in the introduction. I had never heard of any of this scandal before and, for whatever reason, I was pretty shocked. I still vividly remember bringing it up at the dinner table. The response went something like this:

Mom: You know people had sex in the 1920s, right?

Dad: Should she be reading this?

Mom: It’s a bit late for that, Charly.

Mom was such a badass. I don’t know if she meant it that way, but it felt so good to have my mom allow for and accept my intellectual freedom. I felt like an adult. Lady Chatterly was both profoundly uncomfortable and beautiful for me. It’s still one of my most meaningful experiences with a book. Occasionally, there were teachers who were surprised by some of the texts I had already read and hinted at them being inappropriate for a younger reader. Mom felt kind of threatened by those reactions, but I always held firm that her letting me read what I wanted to was one of the most important experiences of my young life. I still think that. And I know that the background to that decision was that I could talk to her about anything that I wanted to.

Now, I have a little book club with my 10 year-old sister. 10 is a far cry from 16, but I’m starting to think more about what a commitment of trust and acceptance it takes to let someone read whatever they want. So far, Marissa and I have read three books together. The first was The Hunger Games. I was hesitant about the level of violence, but Mom said yes, so we read it. Marissa picked up on the themes about class and rebellion and had both great answers to my questions and pretty good questions herself. Part of our conversation focused on the difference between prejudice and oppression. As I explained oppression, Marissa’s face fell. Her eyes welled with tears. I felt like I was bursting some sort of bubble. I asked her what she was upset about and she responded, “I hate oppression!” and pounded her little fist on the kitchen island. I love this kid. Since then, we’ve read The Giver, and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. Next up is Tallstar’s Revenge, a huge novel about cat warriors that I’m only reading out of love.

My sister is hitting pueberty and she has a lot of questions about her body, about the world, about getting older. Since to her I’m in a nebulous category between child and adult, a lot of those questions get directed to me. I don’t lie to her and I don’t deflect, but I’m aware that my answers have consequences for how she thinks about things and what she repeats to other kids. It feels like a lot of pressure sometimes. While we haven’t read anything all that mature yet, each time I pick a book I haven’t read, I have a moment when I hesitate, wondering what tough questions the book could raise and how I will answer them. It makes me really think about how much monitoring children’s reading material is about protecting them and how much is about protecting adults from uncomfortable questions.

So, thank you, Mom!