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Gimme a Hell, Yes (Day)!
Turning “ok, fine” into “abso-f’ing-lutely.”
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So there I was in front of a crowd of booksellers eating vegan wraps as I shoved the mic much too close to my mouth, wearing these tight d’Orsay flats that were falling apart at the silicone seams, wondering why anyone would want to spend their precious lunch hour listening to me talk. I was presenting my book in person for the very first time at an indie bookstore in the hip downtown area where I rarely travel, as a boring homebody whose idea of a good time is Krispy Kreme at 8 a.m. when the donuts are freshest. That day, I was sweaty and wracked with nerves.
Years ago, I swore off public speaking. I was sure that I’d prefer going in for a leisurely root canal extraction to standing on a stage in front of real, live humans. But the thing about having a book out is that you usually agree to whatever opportunity your publicity team graciously presents. It’s such an honor to even be asked. You want people to know about that thing you’ve been pouring your heart into for years. And it’s a joy to connect with potential readers. So yes, yes, yes, a thousand times over. Even if you worry you’re not a perfect fit. Even if you spent the last few years opting out of things that don’t come naturally to you. (Is there such a thing as being too boundaried? I think that was me.)
But the thing about saying yes is, more often than not, it leads to some really magical experiences. And experiences that once felt uncomfortable suddenly … don’t.
That day at the presentation, after my initial terror, I had an absolute blast. I followed the script for the most part, except for a brief fumble over the word “deteriorating” (why is English so hard?!). I got to meet the loveliest people and tell them what their work has meant to be over the years. I even signed my first book ever! And all this, because I said yes to something that, years ago, might have rattled me.
But the truth is, that initial discomfort came from being out of my “safe” zone, which has become a very, very small area these days. Call it a self-protective instinct, or a desire to keep things simple during a scary time, but I drew inward over the past few years. Only recently, I began to worry that I was shutting myself off to new friends and experiences, becoming an emotional (as well as physical) hermit. So when the publicity for my book ramped up, I decided that this would be my Season of Yes.
Coincidentally, over the weekend, our family watched that 2021 movie Yes Day, with Jennifer Garner and a young Jenna Ortega. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a family that agrees to allow their children to do anything (with certain common-sense regulations) for an entire day. The point is to shake them out of a routine, and bring them closer via wild hijinks and radical permissibility. The movie has the usual, satisfying arc—a wager, some fun and games, disaster, resolution—but it sparked something in my daughter. You could practically see her brain-gears whirring.
Unsurprisingly, she asked for her own Yes Day, which we granted as an end-of-school reward next month. Since then, she’s been hard at work on a list that involves going ice skating, eating at the local drive-in burger joint, and watching unspecified hours of Gabby’s Dollhouse. I mean, okay, easy enough. She’s six, and the extent of her imagination isn’t nearly as terrifying as I predicted.
I joked with her, “And then after your Yes Day, Daddy and I get one too, where you agree to do everything we ask without complaining!” A parent’s dream, indeed.
But it got me thinking: when was the last time I gave myself a yes day? What does that even look like? Sleeping in, certainly, with a ramble to a bookstore, a sushi dinner, a visit with a friend. Maybe watching a movie by myself. Maybe getting that massage I’ve been longing for. Dreamy.
But here’s the thing: my imagination isn’t flying toward outlandish possibilities. I can actually do all this—in one day, even. And I have the privilege of a family who would support this wholeheartedly. So … why the heck not?
Maybe it’s because saying yes to yourself often feels harder than saying yes to someone else. We worry that one yes leads to too many yesses; an overindulgence, an embarrassment of riches. Well, so what. One perfect, gleeful, un-boundaried day isn’t going to kill us. In fact, it may be the thing that saves us.
If I hadn’t said yes to my publicist on the day of my book presentation, I would have missed out on an experience that brought me closer to my readers. Maybe that one yes will someday lead to more open doors to new people, new cities that will continue to enrich my life. I worry so much about spiraling out of control, but what about the beautiful spiral that takes us to places we could have never imagined?
Of course, I won’t say yes to everything. That’s a surefire way to bounce yourself into people-pleasing hell. But the things that pique my interest, despite the fear? Yes and yes. The trick is knowing the difference between a good kind of fear, the sort that challenges you to grow, and the kind of fear that keeps you from becoming less of the person you want to be.
My quick questions for determining whether or not to say yes:
Will this give me joy?
Will it allow me the opportunity to evolve?
Will this add service to my community in a meaningful way? If so, will the potential benefit be worth the investment?
I hope wherever you are today (a Krispy Kreme, if you’re lucky), you can find something to say yes to. Not for other people, but for your wonderful, deserving self.
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung: Chung’s memoir deftly describes her experience as a transracial adoptee in a sheltered Oregon town. When she is pregnant with her first child, Chung decides to investigate some of the old family myths about her adoption and birth parents. What she discovers is a far more complicated story than she’s been told. This is an important work that describes the otherness many experience as People of Color, compounded by Chung’s upbringing in a white, “color-blind” household.
Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto: a funny and satisfying cozy mystery about Vera, an inquisitive and headstrong elder who owns a little-known tea shop in Chinatown. Vera has her usual routine, which she abides by to the letter, until the fateful day when she finds a dead body in her shop. She distrusts the police with the investigation and takes matters into her own hands, befriending her would-be suspects with characteristic bluntness and warmth.
Yellowface by R. F. Kuang: This fast-paced, thriller-esque literary novel peels back the curtain of the elite literary world in the most fascinating way. When little-known author June discovers her recently deceased friend Athena’s unpublished manuscript, June makes the decision to claim it for her own. The problem? Athena is a Chinese American author writing about Chinese people. June begins to blend her identity with Athena’s, raising crucial questions about storytelling, ownership, and appropriation.
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob: I was fortunate enough to interview Jacob for a beauty profile and had a chance to pick up this graphic memoir. It moved me so much! Here, Jacob discusses what it’s like to parent a mixed-race young boy in the Trump era. With beautiful honesty and compassion, she examines her past through clever, touching anecdotes that examine race and personhood. I laughed just as much as I teared up. In fact, I immediately asked my husband to read it, and we both had so much to discuss.
Horse by Geraldine Brooks: I wasn’t sure how interested I’d be in a book about horse racing partially set in antebellum Kentucky, but it was easy to become invested in this thoroughly researched, immersive novel. Told in several timelines, readers get taken on an epic journey that begins with a horse skeleton found in the attic of a history museum. We meet Jarret, an enslaved groom, and his horse Lexington, the greatest racehorse of the 19th century. We also get to know Jess and Theo, present-day researchers who are determined to discover more about Lexington’s past. I found myself thinking about scenes from this novel days afterward. It’s clear that Pulitzer Prize-winning Brooks is a master of her craft, no matter what topics she chooses to write about.
“What If You Weren’t Scared of Your Kid Being Fat?” (The Cut): Virginia Sole-Smith probes our cultural fatphobia, especially when it comes to children. An enlightening read.
“Hollywood’s writers are on strike. Here’s why that matters.” (Vox): Solidarity for WGA.
Raised bed gardening: I am a total novice, but picked up this book to help me. It’s been really pleasant to be out at dusk, watering and weeding. We’re growing lettuce, bell peppers, and basil (plus, marigolds, for something pretty). TBD on the success of this venture!
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