Yes Please by Amy Poehler will be my second read of 2019. It is technically a re-read, but it’s been nearly four years. At this point, it’s basically brand new.
3.82 stars on Goodreads
80% on Litsy
GreenLight: Fond memories of the warm fuzzies while reading. Excited to focus on the creative aspects and tips, not just my insane, fan-girl obsession with Amy.
I don’t remember specific details from this book, so I’m excited to go in with a virtually blank slate. What I do remember is that this book made me want to be a better friend and a harder worker. I think the way Amy talks about her friends and how much she loves her job(s) made me want to be that way too. This really pumped me up to be a better person. I don’t know if that was ever her intention, and in a way perhaps it’s better if it wasn’t. She’s inherently that amazing. That’s what I choose to believe. Her very essence makes you want to be better.
I am obsessed with Parks and Rec; I will forever say, “Lit-chrally” in my Chris Traeger voice. That’s all the background I had before my first read though; Amy is Leslie Knope. I never watched SNL nor was I into improve. I knew Tina Fey only from Baby Mama and Mean Girls. The Seth Meyers chapter made me tear up, but I don’t even remember who else she brings up Yes Please. Going in a second time, I hope to pick up on more of her life and career in general, but mostly I am looking forward to combing for creative nuggets.
I don’t act, obviously but inspiration can come from anywhere. I’ve already been inspired by this book once before. I am going in with clear eyes and an open heart, saying, “Yes, please!” to whatever I can learn in its pages.
Post Read Update:
Green Light Rating: Five out of five green lights.
Reading Yes Please for the second time and as my second creative book of the year was both helpful and not helpful in terms of teaching me my sought-after secrets of artistry. It was helpful, because Amy showed me the kind of artist I want to be: unrelentingly passionate. She’s in it for the love of it; you can tell. There’s a generosity and extreme love for acting, writing, and the people she gets to work with that radiates from the pages. I truly mean radiates; my face was glowing the entire read. I knew the book was this specific kind of lovely; basically, all I remembered from reading the first time was how constantly teary-eyed I was. I again teared up when she talks about her co-workers, I teared up again and even more when they talked about her. Seth Meyers writes a chapter and the creator of Parks and Recreation writes another. Both overflow with love as these men describe working with Amy. This is the kind of awe and inspiration her creative joy instills in people. I don’t know that anyone would ever write a chapter for my book. That’s not actually a goal I have, nor one she had, I’m sure. Still that’s the kind of atmosphere she’s cultivated. Walking away from this the first time, I knew I needed to work harder, treat my friends better, and have a clearer focus for my craft. Those truths were solidified even deeper in my soul this time. Let me tell you, this refresher course was dearly needed. I know what I need to be now. However, back to unhelpful – this book was decidedly super unhelpful, because she didn’t exactly teach me how to be that way. Of course, I sort of knew that going in. This is a memoir, not an advice column. Warm, fuzzy feelings infuse the stories; any actual tips or advice for writing and performing are absent. (My warm, fuzzy feelings below.)
I don’t know that you can really teach work ethic though. You can tell people what you do to keep on track, how many hours you work, how little you sleep. Each person must make the sacrifices on their own though, and everyone’s sacrifices will be different. This was the perfect book to read after Big Magic, though. I got all the practical tips from Big Magic and then I got Amy seemingly putting those tips into practice in Yes Please. Liz talked about work ethic, the daily grind of doing the art thing, not needing specific permission to create, and especially not complaining. Amy did all that. This whole book, even the parts about her divorce were steeped in love, grace, and the admiration art’s capabilities that only people who reeeeally love it have.
One of the first ideas that most resonated with me aside from the simple facts that you must work hard, not give up, and never suffer fools, was Amy’s view on pudding. *Lemony Snicket voice: Pudding in this instance may refer to the popular dessert which comes in flavors like vanilla or chocolate. It more likely refers to awards that Amy could have been up for like Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. No one ever wants the pudding (awards) until you’re up for the pudding (awards). This daily struggle of wanting and not wanting pudding is mine. Big Magic addressed it, Yes Please addressed it, this is an inherent issue with creativity. You make for yourself first, for the world second, for the awards third. Until you’re up for an award, then the rest is forgotten if you’re not careful. Liz Gilbert’s view was simply: If you love the thing, you’ll do it anyway. Without the praise and the acclaim, you are still doing your thing all the time. That’s enough for a creative life. That’s totally true; until it’s not. I’m not up for any awards, certainly not, but I struggle with the blog being true art. I’m not writing a book, I’m not making something beautiful. I’m just writing about other people’s words. Nothing is original here. That doesn’t mean it’s not important and valid though. It certainly is to me and maybe even to other people who love books like I do. Most people do not love books like I do, so I do not garner much attention or acclaim. Attention is not something I crave until I get that attention one day and then get crickets the next. That’s jarring! All of a sudden, I miss the pudding. Logically, I don’t even want the damn pudding; I just want to read and talk about books. Sometimes I lose sight of that though. Amy got around this during award season by playing pranks with other actors who were up for the same awards. One year, she had all the actresses in her category pretend to win before a winner was called. As each nominee was announced, they stood up, screamed with delight, and one by one went on stage as if they’d already won. Before the winner was actually revealed, they were all on stage together, holding hands, ready to support whoever won for real. This prevented all nominees from sitting in the audience waiting to win or lose. Instead Amy orchestrated an elaborate skit to play out and change the focus to something she already loved – the skits, the performance, the high of her craft. Not the high of winning.
I get around my pudding obsession by focusing on the craft too. I bury my head and I read more, write more, and plan more. Sometimes, I read a whole book before getting back to focus on me. I take time in another’s work and focus on my genuine love of words. A good portion of my time ignoring the pudding also goes into promoting. I have many creative friends which I mentioned in a previous post are all part of a support group. We constantly build each other up and talk about skills we admire in other group members. Which brings me to the next big lesson from this book. The collective nature of creativity.
Sometimes it is solitary, for sure. You must do your art alone in the quiet moments you can find; spend time focusing on your soul growing. Oftentimes, it’s a group effort though. Maybe this gets brought up so often in Yes Please because of the improv background and acting in general. Actors need other actors. Exceptions to this rule are, monologues and Tom Hanks in Castaway. Acting is inherently a team activity. Even writing though can be not particularly singular; you have drafts readers, you have editors, you have publishers. Furthermore, chefs have sous chefs, you’ve got ballet, the symphony, bands. Tons of art is not one person, one outcome. When I’m planning for group or promoting group, I’m taking the focus and the stress off me and my creativity. We’re all in this together and sometimes it’s just better to make the world better by promoting someone else who is doing good work and not trying to save the world with my art alone.
No one is ever alone. There’s a chapter when Amy leaves Chicago with a group of friends. They wander elsewhere to chase another art scene and jump into something new. Sounds scary, until she ends with this: “My choice was easy to make, though, because I was moving back east near my family and had wisely learned to do whatever Besser told me to do. Also, Ian and Walsh and Matt were the funniest people I knew, and Ian had once punched a drunk guy wearing a sombrero who yelled gross stuff at me from across the street. I felt protected. It’s easier to be brave when you’re not alone.”
It is way easier to be brave when you’re part of the collective heartbeat of a community who are all putting art into the blank spaces of life. When I can’t create, I enjoy others’ art, I plan, and promote. When I don’t get enough attention, I try to reset by not even thinking of the attention, but the art. When I do create, I know I have a dozen other girls ready to love it. Seth Meyers said at SNL, Amy was the first to laugh and laughed the loudest, especially for new people and especially if something wasn’t super funny. She loved improv and art and being around her coworkers so much that she’d support however she could. She’d give the best lines away, she’d laugh loudly to make sure there was no silence. She worked hard for herself and especially for others. When acting, you’re all up there together; if someone is floundering, everyone is floundering. You have to have each other’s backs. Outside of acting, you still need to have other’s backs. Ultimately the more art the better. If it’s not mine, I’m happy to read a great book and appreciate that. If I can’t do it, I’m happy I have friends who can. There are days when I’m so down and low that I’m not getting attention and praise, the proverbial pudding. There are other days where I have zero cares and I am happy to talk four hours into the void because I love books so damn much. Either way, I want Amy’s attitude. I think I just need to say, “Yes, please” to creativity in general. Mine, Amy’s, support group’s, photography, painting, poetry, improv.
It’s always been about the art. More art. All the art. Yes, Please.