So, I’ve heard through the grapevine that Tina Fey (@nottinafey) is here in town filming a movie. For those who don’t know – and why would you? – New Mexico is the site for a LOT of films. We’re relatively close to Los Angeles, have a variety of landscapes and there’s this whole infrastructure here set up to support movie-making. Word gets around that infrastructure and…
Now I know Tina is in town. And I want to stalk her and make her be my friend.
I mean, it’s not like I haven’t done this before. Carolyn Crane and Anne Calhoun used to be authors that I admired from afar, until I stalked them and made them be my friends. Now they’re among my closest friends? Why couldn’t this work with Tina? She’s my go-to choice when interviewers ask me what celebrity I’d like to have a meal with. I think Tina and I would have a lot to talk about – similar senses of humor and life perspectives. We’re both authors. I even used to write essays very like hers in Bossypants! We are practically soulmates. Remember in Notting Hill when Hugh Grant’s sister (played by the hysterical Emma Chambers) confides to Julia Roberts that she’s always suspected, from watching her in movies, that they’d be best friends?
I mulled this question on Twitter – as I do, you know – and received a number of suggestions for how to go about this. One was to don an outfit like the one from Mean Girls above and casually run into her. Which could work. However, the overwhelming suggestions were for me to simply tweet her, say hi and that I’d love to meet. One gal, who is now one of my favorite people ever, thought I could totally pull this off because, as she said, “After all, you’re famous, too!”
Tell it to Tina, okay?
So this is my love letter to her. Perhaps inadvisably titled, but she’s got a spine of steel, right? And it’s accurate. Honest and straightforward, like me. No more neurotic than the average writer, which isn’t saying much, I know.
But seriously, Tina, lunch? Coffee? Cocktails? Come out to the house if you’d like a break and to take in the views! Or I can come to you. I know all the best bars.
Your New Best Friend,
Last Friday I posted about something I learned about writing from reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants. I extracted so many great nuggets of wisdom from that book, I just have to share (at least) one more.
Amy Poehler was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers’ room, waiting for the Wednesday read-through to start. There were always a lot of noisy “comedy bits” going on in that room. Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can’t remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and “unladylike.”
Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”
Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit. (I should make it clear that Jimmy and Amy are very good friends and there was never any real beef between them. Insert penis joke here.)
With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.
I was so happy. Weirdly, I remember thinking, “My friend is here! My friend is here!” Even though things had been going great for me at the show, with Amy there, I felt less alone.
(Fey, Tina (2011-04-05). Bossypants (Kindle Locations 1436-1441). Reagan Arthur Books. Kindle Edition.)
That chapter is subtitled “One in a series of love letters to Amy Poehler.” Now, I’ve long loved Amy Poehler’s comedy, too, but this made me adore her just that much more.
I think this makes a good mantra for writers. I’m going to take an extra step and say particularly for female writers. I know the guys suffer much of the same stuff we do – the critics, the rejections, the uncertainty. But I really do believe that, as females, we are strongly programmed by society to be likable. Women who are judged unlikable (Hillary Clinton, for example) are excoriated for it – a judgment that overshadows their other accomplishments. We learn very early that we are meant to be pretty, polite and affectionate. We might enjoy being those things, but feeling the pressure to be that – with little room for anything else – can really get to you over time.
Especially when you’re an artist. It’s hard (maybe impossible?) to make good art when you’re worried about people liking it. You might have to think about that stuff when it comes to marketing, but there’s no place for it when you’re creating. And, I think, it’s really hard for women to get away from that consideration.
So, this is a liberating thing.
Say it with me, kids.
I don’t fucking care if you like it!
I knew you could.
As every reader delights in, I received several books for Christmas – along with gift cards for even More Books. Two that I specifically asked for (via my wishlist) were Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects. On Christmas Eve, my aunt, who wasn’t with us, IM’d my mom to ask if I’d received the Kindle book she’d sent. My mom said she didn’t know, but that she’d gotten me a paper copy of Sharp Objects for my stocking, that my aunt had better not have gotten the same book and what was it? My aunt said “Bossypants!” and my mom was all offended that her sister called her that. My mom didn’t figure out until Christmas morning that this was not a sisterly insult, accurate though it may be, but the title of the Kindle book, which I did, indeed, receive.
Hysterical, I think.
That said, I really enjoyed Bossypants. I admire Tina Fey so much. In fact, I should put her on that list of people interviewers always ask for about which living people I’d like to have dinner with. Right now I’m picturing Tina Fey, Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman at my table.
Too bad they’ll make me look like a blithering idiot.
At any rate, Tina Fey is a sharp, witty and insightful writer. They book is more a collection of essays that all bring insight into how she developed the career she has today. I think people in any field, male or female would be interested, but she has so much to offer females in creative professions – regardless of the medium – that I’d almost call it a must read.
I plan to be quoting various tidbits from it in the future.
But the part that really stood out for me at this moment, that I typed into messenger for one of my writing buddies as soon as I got home, was about her show 30 Rock.
Now, I love 30 Rock. You all know I don’t watch much TV, but I’ve watched as much of 30 Rock as I can (via Netflix). Like Tina, it’s funny, sharp, insightful and full of sly jokes. I would call it one of the best shows on TV, except that I’m so not an arbiter of such things. At any rate, she said this about it:
We weren’t trying to make a low-rated critical darling that snarled in the face of conventionality. We were trying to make Home Improvement and we did it wrong. You know those scientists who were developing a blood-pressure medicine and they accidentally invented Viagra? We were trying to make Viagra and we ended up with blood-pressure medicine. No matter how many times we tried to course-correct the show to make it more accessible – slow the dialogue down, tell fewer stories per episode, stop putting people in blackface – the show would end up careening off the rails again. In my limited experience, shows are like children. You can teach them manners and dress them in little sailor suits, but in the end, they’re going to be who they’re going to be.
And wow – did that hit home for me, as a writer.
It did for my writing buddy too. She and I even had a mission going for a while called “Project Mainstream,” where we each tried to develop a really mainstream, conventional idea for a book, that would be, well, Home Improvement. Project Mainstream did not go well. She’s doing better than I am, however. But we realized several things about ourselves in this effort.
1. She and I make the worst possible coaches for each other in this. We both take stories careening off the rails. Every. Damn. Time.
2. I’m miserable at trying to do this, because every time she’d point out that some plot element wasn’t mainstream, I’d start snarling in the face of conventionality.
3. In our heart of hearts, neither of us *really* wants this. We couldn’t bear dressing our kids in little sailor suits and we don’t fundamentally give a flip about manners. Before long, we were stripped down with them in the mud puddle, making castles.
When I sent her this snippet from Bossypants, her immediate response was, “But isn’t 30 Rock a really successful show?” Which is an interesting point, too. I would certainly have said so. In the world of television though, the ratings barely get them by. She says they had 5 million viewers in the first season. At its height, Friends was getting 25 million viewers per episode.
This is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish from the writing world, no doubt. For contrast, Twilight has sold 100 million copies, all told – equivalent to four episodes of Friends. Hunger Games had an initial print run of 200,000 copies and has sold in the neighborhood of 800,000 copies now. In ten years, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods has sold 1 million copies in 22 languages worldwide.
See what I mean?
I’ve heard the unofficial number of 15,000 copies sold to be considered a successful book in NYC.
It all calls up the question of what we consider to be a successful effort. Tina Fey set out to make Home Improvement. With Project Mainstream, my writing buddy and I were shooting for something similar. Maybe not Twilight, but Hunger Games would be nice. Hell, we’d be delighted with much less.
But in our heart of hearts? It’s castles in the mud that make us the happiest.