Just say ‘yes’: A so­cial ex­per­i­ment

Was it worth the bother? Af­fir­ma­tive

The Buffalo News - - LIFE & ARTS - By Henry Al­ford

It is the hall­mark of most adults, as we lurch zom­bielike into middle age, in­creas­ingly to be­come dis­tilled ver­sions of our­selves. What once bur­geoned or flour­ished now crys­tal­lizes or self-em­balms. In the last year, I started do­ing needle­point while drink­ing a gin and tonic; cur­rently noth­ing holds my in­ter­est like “The Great Bri­tish Bak­ing Show” and its ex­pli­ca­tions of self-sauc­ing pud­dings. My friends call me Dan­ger.

Un­til Thanks­giv­ing 2013, Shonda Rhimes, the cre­ator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scan­dal” and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of “How to Get Away With Mur­der,” was in a sim­i­lar rut. But at that hol­i­day meal, Rhimes’ sis­ter told her, “You never say yes to any­thing.” This prompted Rhimes – a worka­holic, 43-yearold sin­gle mother of three whose stage fright had her turn­ing down many re­quests for pub­lic ap­pear­ances – to spend a year say­ing yes to new op­por­tu­ni­ties. By the end of her mem­oir, “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Per­son,” Rhimes had lost more than 100 pounds, given the com­mence­ment speech at Dart­mouth, ap­peared on “Jimmy Kim­mel Live,” stopped

work­ing on the week­ends and cho­sen the writ­ing life over a mar­riage pro­posal.

Ea­ger, as I would tell a friend, “to get a lit­tle Shonda in my life,” I re­cently spent a month em­u­lat­ing Rhimes. I started by mak­ing a list of ac­tiv­i­ties that I as­pired to but that, as “The Year of Yes” put it, were “scary” or took me “out of my com­fort zone.” I won­dered, will I, like the “Grey’s Anatomy” char­ac­ter Cristina Yang, learn to “dance it out” or, like the “Scan­dal” hero­ine, Olivia Pope, learn to “stand in the sun” – or will I ded­i­cate the rest of my life to tuck­ing my Smith & Hawken gar­den­ing clogs into my PBS tote bag?

Two items on my list were phys­i­cal chal­lenges. I was right to be scared of them. For my shoul­der sore­ness, I wanted to try an in­ver­sion ta­ble. At La Casa Spa & Well­ness Cen­ter on 20th Street, I paid $60 to lie for 20 min­utes on what looked like the world’s most elab­o­rate iron­ing board and tip my­self up­side down so that, un­su­per­vised and with­out straps or a belt, I was hang­ing from the tops of my feet for 90 sec­onds at a crack. I gained new ad­mi­ra­tion for Bruce Wayne’s metatarsals. The next day, my shoul­ders seemed un­changed, but my legs were a lake of fire. Would I re­turn? As Rhimes would say, “Girl, please.”

It was equally dis­rup­tive to my cara­pace, but far more fun and cos­mic, to at­tend a bu­toh class in mid­town with my friend Camilla. A jud­der­ing, trance­like form of dance that emerged from post­war Ja­pan (you may have seen it in Madonna’s video of “Noth­ing Re­ally Mat­ters”), bu­toh has you con­cen­trate all your weight and grav­ity into one part of your body such that the rest of your body twitches and flaps. Camilla told me that some years ago she mar­veled at a fel­low bu­toh class­mate’s danc­ing, “but it turned out she was hav­ing an epilep­tic fit.” I loved the teacher (a thin, in­tense French­woman named Van­ge­line), as well as an ex­er­cise in which we pre­tended to have no faces. But the next day: lake of fire No. 2.

Were there yeses that I was un­able to com­plete? Uh-huh. They tended to be chal­lenges that were thrown at me rather than those I’d de­vised. Leav­ing for my of­fice one morn­ing, I wanted to but did not kiss my boyfriend good­bye in front of the work­men who were fix­ing our win­dows. I de­cided that any re­sul­tant so­cial awk­ward­ness would fall on Greg rather than on me, which didn’t seem fair.

That said, the yes pos­si­bil­i­ties that were fate-de­rived rather than me-de­rived in­cluded my sweet­est and my most com­pli­cated ac­com­plish­ments. For Thanks­giv­ing, Greg and I went up to south­ern Con­necti­cut, to the home of my brother, Fred, and his wife, Jo­ce­lyn. An hour or so af­ter the meal, my mu­si­cob­sessed brother thrust a gui­tar into my hand and en­cour­aged me to play and sing in front of the other guests, who were do­ing the dishes. I’ve done this about nine times in my life; I play and sing with a 45 to 75 per­cent mas­tery of any given song, which can scare the horses. But sud­denly, Fred and I were war­bling and pluck­ing out Irv­ing Ber­lin’s “What’ll I Do” and Loudon Wain­wright III’s “Swim­ming Song.” I’d for­got­ten how good it feels to talk to my brother in his lin­gua franca.

An hour later, Fred asked me if I would like to in­herit the hulk­ing ma­hogany side­board that has been in my fam­ily for three gen­er­a­tions when he and my sis­ter-in-law sell their house some­time in the next year. The one that won’t fit in my apart­ment; the one that has a bro­ken leg and that no one else in the fam­ily wants; the one that will in­cur ei­ther a $700-a- year stor­age fee or a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with a friend who will take it as a ne­go­tiable permaloan. Yes?

In the end, I’m pleased by the re­sults. The phys­i­cal pain from the in­ver­sion ta­ble and bu­toh quickly lapsed. I’ve in­her­ited a fam­ily heir­loom (Yes!), rekin­dled with my brother and made a friend. (Camilla and I chat­ted up a bu­toh class­mate, with whom I’ve since dined.) All in all, fairly tight.

New York Times

In­spired by the mem­oir “Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes, the writer Henry Al­ford spent a month try­ing new things.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.