There are much more eloquent reviews of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please out there, and all of them published upon the book’s release months ago. But I finally got to finish Yes Please (albeit reading it guilt-riddenly surreptitiously when I should have been doing other things), and I think the wisdom she imparts is both comforting and worth revisiting.
We’re a few days post Christmas gluttony and a few days shy of purportedly turning over new leaves as we castigate ourselves for what we have or haven’t done and steel ourselves that next year we will do better. So Poehler’s book, which encourages us to acknowledge and embrace our human flaws and foibles, is just the reading salve many of us need (right now and in perpetuity).
I mean, she warmed the cockles of my heart and beyond with a preface entitled ‘writing is hard’. As someone who’s currently grappling with the hardest writing of her life, and who foresees a good year of that grappling laid out before her before she can even hope to submit her thesis and hope even more to obtain a pass mark, this literally almost made me weep.
You see, despite her on-screen effortlessness, Poehler works—and has to work—for her wins. And she doesn’t mind lifting the veil to make the rest of us feel better about things. Her opening line echoes my own sentiment: ‘I like hard work and I don’t like pretending things are perfect.’
She goes on to say she enjoys writing, but this book has nearly done her in: She found it inordinately difficult to get thoughts on the page, suffered terrible anxiety about the quality of the work she was about to release into the world, and even cried because she lost her laptop at one stage, with some 50 or more pages not backed up.
If that didn’t endear me (someone who has is similar things—hello catastrophic, unbacked-up hard drive failure two weeks before my confirmation document was due) to her, nothing would. Also, she was and is insanely busy, juggling a demanding career and family life. ‘Everyone lies about writing,’ she writes:
No one tells you the truth about writing a book. Authors pretend their stories were always shiny and perfect and just waiting to be written. The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not.
And: ‘Writing a book is awful. It’s lonely […] During this process I have written my editors emails with subject headings such as “How Dare You” and “This Is Never Going to Work” and “Why Are You Trying to Kill Me?” […] Honestly, I have moments when I don’t even care if anyone reads this book. I just want to finish it.’ And: ‘I wrote it ugly and in pieces.’
But enough of my therapy.
Poehler’s book contains gems for even those of us who aren’t attempting to forge careers as writers and who aren’t undertaking crazy loads of study. It’s wise and self-deprecating and her way of looking at the world and subsequently expressing it is off-the-wall impressive.
Mostly, it just provides fantastic insight into the life of a woman who’s wickedly smart, funny, flawed, and willing to own and discuss it all. I smiled when I read that she was nicknamed ‘Tweety Bird’ by her parents as a baby because she was tiny, had big eyes, and was bald until she was two. She also wasn’t and still isn’t a good sleeper and apparently used to stare rather creepily at her parents from her crib in the dead of the night.
I like that Poehler compares a career to a bad boyfriend—it won’t take care of you, will flirt with others, and will wreck your other relationships. You need to not want it too much in order to make it work for you. Creativity, on the other hand, is the yin to the career yang (or yang to its yin—I always get the two mixed up).
I like that she’s honest about the winding path she’s had to career success (and that she notes that that road never ends—you never reach the summit). I didn’t know, for example, that Parks and Recreation was almost cancelled a bunch of times.
I like her advice that ‘if you can surf your life rather than plant your feet, you will be happier’. I also like her admission slash accusation that her phone—‘a battery-charged rectangle of disappointment and possibility’—(and the interwebs and social media by proxy) does not want her to be productive.
I like that she’s not only written this book, but taken her positive, supportive, it’s-ok-to-be-human message online. I follow Smart Girls only peripherally, but in summary, it’s corner of the interwebs that gives real, practical advice and encouragement for girls growing up in a fakeness-obsessed world.
Maybe I’m feeling sentimental because we’re approaching the end of the year and I’m stressed about deadlines and workload and ever making it through either. Maybe I just really admire Poehler and think the world could do with more strong, sassy, talented, multi-tasking women like her.
Either way, Yes Please is a book I think you could give to just about anyone and they’ll be able to glean life-lesson gold from it. And, even though she found writing this book excruciatingly difficult, would I like to see another book from Poehler at some stage? Yes please.