Television showrunner Shonda Rhimes, creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and Scandal,” set herself a challenge: to say yes to life — to everything, really, for an entire year. “It was one of the most amazing decisions I’ve ever made,” said Rhimes in a press release. “It was also a little insane, a lot terrifying and sometimes wildly embarrassing.” She’s put it all down in a book, due out this November from Simon & Schuster.
I did the exact same thing when I was 24. I was coming off a second nervous breakdown and had just been fired from yet another job. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to do with my life (who does at 24?) On a whim, I packed up and moved from L.A. to San Francisco, looking for a fresh start and a new identity. On that drive up north I distinctly remember deciding that I would “say yes to the Universe,” yes to every opportunity that came my way. I was worried that I was saying no to sex, drugs, performing and ambition solely because I was afraid. Was I really not interested in these things — or was I just scared? I decided I’d figure out who I was by figuring out who I wasn’t.
It was, to say the very least, an interesting year.
When I arrived in San Francisco, I’d slept with only two people a handful of times and had never done any drugs aside from occasionally smoking pot. I was obsessed with purity. I was over-educated and under-employed. I was a trustafarian who’d dabbled in acting classes and held a few salesgirl jobs at overpriced boutiques. You may already know that San Francisco is a Mecca for progressive sexuality, music and drugs. “Creative expression,” (a lack of talent or training being no barrier) is encouraged, for everyone, along with anti-capitalism, at least in the Haight where it’s probably still cool to pan-handle, even if you have a college degree.
Within a week of landing there, I had a job…as a dishwasher. “Do they know you’ve washed about 10 dishes in your life?” my father asked. Then I took a job as a waitress at an Ethiopian restaurant where I amused customers in the hope they’d overlook my laziness and klutziness and still tip me decently. After that, I worked for a quadriplegic man. I’d taken the interview under the mistaken notion that he was looking for a “video assistant” (as per the vague ad I answered); he actually needed a nursemaid. And despite my lack of training (my only previous interaction with feces had been with my cat’s), he liked me and asked me to take the job. For seven months I bathed, manually evacuated, exercised, dressed and cooked him. The Beverly Hills princess as caretaker? That job was, to this day, the most transformative experience of my life.
I also performed. A big trend in San Francisco and other big cities at the time were “spoken word” performances, so I wrote poems and drank and got on stage with a bunch of loaded, tattooed exhibitionists and we created art, man. We told the truth, brother. As the tortured daughter of a writer, I was actually pretty good at the whole poetry slam thing. Other people would just get naked on stage with a guitar and howl. But I was being nothing if not my new, fearless, answering-in-the-affirmative, yes-saying self.
I had the probably inevitable experiences with threesomes and Ecstasy, mushrooms and kissing girls, and found out that I am definitely, 100% not gay, nor do I take kindly to hallucinogens.
Then somebody offered me some pinkish powder to help me get through my waitressing shift. I was a little hesitant, but I remembered my “Say yes!” vow and snorted two big lines. It was speed. For the next seven months I did it all day, everyday. I read Kerouac and Ginsberg and got my lip pierced and wore Birkenstocks. I quickly also got kicked out of my apartment, fired from all my jobs and then moved into a squat house with gutter punks and other speed freaks in lower Haight, which at that time was populated solely by projects, homeless junkies, dive bars and the odd punk rock bookshop. In no time, I was completely strung out and even running drugs for a female meth dealer — all in the name of saying “yes.” It was a nightmare, but I quickly reframed it as my “Hunter S. Thompson meets Quentin Tarantino” period.
Then, somewhere between three and six months into this episode (I’m not really sure) I crashed and burned so hard that my parents had to come and take me back to Los Angeles. Looking back, it was a fascinating and colorful time in my life that I wouldn’t undo. But these days, I’m very careful not to use my self-destructive tendencies and thrill-seeking as an excuse to “Say yes!” Of course, yes can mean many different things to different people. But to me, an unqualified yes always recalls yesterday.