Go Read ‘Living Oprah’

It’s 10:30pm and I just finished Living Oprah by Robyn Okrant.  I picked it up right around the new year.  I had a couple hours to myself, the first in a while and I found myself, of course, at the bookstore attempting to convince myself not to buy anything.  I failed.

And then I failed even more when I spotted Robyn’s book.  I knew it’d be coming out.  I’ve been reading her blog on and off since she started her social experiment.  I was actually privy enough to be on her big email list announcing her new experiment.  At the time, I thought to myself “what a fun idea” and “how nice to hear from Robyn, even by way of a mass email, because I really liked her and was always a little bit sad I wasn’t brave enough to get to be more than just a colleague.”

I feel lame writing that.  Because now that she has graced a dozen or so TV talk shows, radio talk shows, newspapers, and magazines,I feel like I have to tell everyone how I personally know her.  Like I can finally claim I know someone famous.  This is a big deal.  In a weird way.  I think I’m the only person in professional show biz who doesn’t actually know anyone famous.  I can’t even claim I’ve met a famous person.  But, I “knew Robyn back when.”  Although, she probably wouldn’t claim to be famous; I’m going to say she is, just for kicks.

Anyways, I was at the bookstore preparing to go pay too much money for my armload of guilty pleasures (one of which I’m currently sitting on so that I am at the proper height for my keyboard. go figure.) when I spotted her book.  And, it wasn’t just sitting anywhere.  It was on the second table as soon as you walk in the door, smack dab in the middle of the “New Year, New You” section.  There she was, smiling up at me.

And now I’ve read her book.  It was really good.  As an objective reader, I can honestly say that if you like autobiographies and clever writing, you’ll enjoy this book.  You’ll probably like it even more if you’re a woman.

As a biased reader, I can honestly say that I loved this book.  I loved it because I knew Robyn before this all began.  I knew her when she had frizzy hair that framed her entire head with a life of its own and it looked singular and gorgeous even when it was messy.  She’d come off the Chicago street lugging that weird awkward yellow bag that she’d detached from the back of her bike.  Her cheeks were always red from cycling, her eyes shone.  She has a booming, raspy, deep, dare-I-say, sexy voice.  The kind of voice I’ve always wanted because it is far more expressive than my tiny child-like soprano that gets tight and giggly at the most inopportune times.

She was a power house already.  She oozed confidence and made me feel inferior in my inability to crack out witty comments.  She seemed to know far more than me about pretty much everything.  And the day I got pulled aside from rehearsal to “have a talk” about how I wasn’t really improving (we were doing an improv spoof) I turned bright red and almost cried because I wanted to succeed at this thing that terrified me more than anything.  And she spoke to me with her deep action-taking voice while I shrunk into my chair.

I didn’t get fired.  But she did push me in unexpected ways, like making us run the entire 1 hour show (okay, maybe it wasn’t the whole show but it certainly felt like it) and told me I had to be in every single scene no matter what.  And still make sense.  Oh, and talk.

This improv show…she created it, and it’s the show that changed the course of my entire acting career.  I showed up to audition for a spoof of Lord of the Rings. I had some improv experience, enough to know I was pretty good at carrying a character but not so good a quick, witty comments.  I felt confident at the auditions; I’d done my research.  I assumed we’d be creating the script from improv in rehearsals and was ecstatic to get cast.  The only woman in a cast of men, most of whom had a helluvalot more improv experience than I.  We were, after all, in Chicago, the boarding school for modern improv.

And then I showed up and discovered that, actually, the entire show would be improv.  All the time.  Every night.  I think I froze and forgot to breath for an entire minute.

I don’t get nervous before I perform.  But opening night of this show, I thought I was going to puke backstage.

And here she is, smiling up at me from the center of a prominent display in Barnes ‘n Noble.  A women I have admired since I met her.

And then I got to read about her year.  And I understood with personal clarity the theatre life she described, the references to improv shows, her very tall and quiet husband, and her friend Scott.  I know Scott too.  And I learned things about her that I never knew since we were never really friends.  She, of course, had no reason to tell me these things.  So I read them in her book.  And came to realize that, yet again, here is a woman I found entirely intimidating who is, in fact, just as human as I.

She has her pains, her loves, her fears, her shames.  And, maybe, if I’d stepped back–or stepped in—or did something to recognize that she was just like me–maybe I could have been her friend.

This is significant for me because I’m currently very good friends with another beautiful woman who I met in college but was never brave enough to truly befriend until school ended.  She was just so smart; I felt stupid whenever I listened to her because I didn’t know what she was talking about and didn’t want to admit it by asking.  As we grew closer after college, I discovered that she, like Robyn, is just like me.  She has her insecurities, her ego, her shame, her loves, her hates.

As it turns out:

It is not for me to judge myself in the eyes of others.

Interestingly enough, this is pretty much what Robyn discovered during her social experiment.  If we spend all our time trying to live the life that others tell us, we’re too busy to be us.  And we’re too busy trying to predict what others think of us.  Our bodies, our brains, our successes, our failures.

I’d rather just be me.  Just like Robyn would rather just be herself.  Okay, well, let’s be honest, she got a book deal and national exposure.  This may have started out as a personal experiment, but it’s much bigger.  I wonder if anyone reading her book who doesn’t know any part of Robyn’s life will be as impacted.  I’ll foist it on my mom and see what she says.

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