Saying “Yes”

This post is about beans. Really, it is. Just not about cooking beans, or eating them. Instead it’s about the dream aspect. Except, as an aside, I did eat some beans last night, at Ed’s Potsticker House, where they’re served in small bowls, waiting on the table when you first arrive, a snack. Unfortunately, though, I can’t tell you what those beans, which were glazed with some deliciousness, tasted like. Starving, talking to the people around me, I reached for what I thought was a piece of lotus root. I should have looked more carefully. What I saw was not lotus root. It was star anise. The spice. Which I realized only when I actually bit into and chewed it. My first bite therefore kind’ve overpowered the subtle flavors of, well, everything else. Not smart. But funny. And awesome.

The fact that I actually bit into the star anise in a mistaken belief that it was food is awesome because it was so completely ridiculous. The reason I’m writing about it, however, is to celebrate my recognition and appreciation of the ridiculousness in the moment.

What does all of this have to do with beans, you ask? Or saying “Yes”? Everything.

Six months ago, had I mistaken the star anise for food and therefore temporarily destroyed my sense of taste just before what was expected to be a marvelous feast with friends, an event that I’d been looking forward to for days, I would have beaten myself up, embarrassed and angry and sad. I would also have recognized the humor, of course, but it would have been tainted. Last night, however, I didn’t have to sort through any complicated barriers to get to enjoyment.

The difference, I believe, is that six months ago a dear friend and I started taking improv classes. Everyone who knew me well was shocked, as I was universally considered to be, as one person put it, the very last person on earth one could imagine taking–or doing–improv. I’m a planner. An analyzer. An over thinker. I make lists and ponder and agonize, plotting out my life years in advance in a series of short and long term goals. Of course few if any of these plans have ever worked out exactly as anticipated, but that does not stop me from trying.

My original plan for improv was to take a single class, both as a diversion from grief over my failed marriage and also as a tool to overcome my terror of oral argument. I had no interest in performing. In fact, the thought was absolutely horrifying. But at the time I was in the process of drafting a cert petition that actually had a chance of being granted, and figured that I needed to do whatever I could to prepare myself for a possible appearance in front of Justice Scalia.

To some extent, the plan worked. I discovered a whole new world within Chicago, one that had nothing whatsoever to do with the life I led with my then-husband. Diversion. And, while my cert petition was denied and therefore I don’t have to worry about arguing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court anytime soon (or, probably, ever), I have grown more comfortable with oral argument. I’m no longer so afraid.

The part of the plan that didn’t work, or, rather, worked out much differently than what I expected, was that improv changed my life.

When I started Level A, I had been practicing yoga for about 15 years. The entire point of yoga as I understand it is to stop thinking, to be in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has called “Flow.” ( In all my years of yoga I’ve rarely experienced Flow. Yet I found it in my first night of improv. And since then I’ve found myself connecting more deeply in my yoga practice.

This past week was the first class of Level D, my fourth term of improv. I don’t know whether I’ll keep going after this, whether I have any desire to perform. The idea still terrifies me. Yet this past week also reminded me of how short life is. Two people I know, one a colleague, one a very close friend of several of my close friends, died. Neither reached the age of 50. Life is short. It must be lived, fear and all. Which is why I signed up for a free workshop tonight,  with Sirens, an all-female improv group. ( After the workshop, we, the students, will open for Sirens. Eeeeeek! I’m petrified. But I’m saying yes.

I can’t claim to have found flow in every improv class. In fact, much of the time I’ve been actively miserable. It’s terrifying to be so exposed, doing and saying things without time to think. Yet I keep going. Because I feel myself growing and stretching, learning that the more I risk failure, the greater the reward. Which brings me to my point. I decided to write about this today after reading an article ( about Tina Fey’s secret to success: say “Yes.”

“There are limits of reason to this idea of saying yes to everything, but when I meet someone whose first instinct is ‘No, how can we do that? That doesn’t seem possible,’ I’m always kind of taken aback. Almost anyone would say, ‘It’s Friday at two in the morning. We don’t have an opening political sketch. We can’t do it.’ Yeah, of course you can. There’s no choice. And even if you abandon one idea for another one, saying yes allows you to move forward.”

The article resonated with me because, like Tina Fey, learning to say “yes” has changed my life, has made me less afraid to move forward even when I have absolutely no idea of where I’m going. I still plan, because that’s what I do. But I now do so without rigidity, knowing (or at least trying to remember) that I can’t control the outcome, that things may not turn out as anticipated.

As I wrote in my very first post, on January 1, “[t]his is the year I’m embracing the possibility of failure, trying new things, overcoming my fear of change.” So I started this blog. Which is pretty cool. I don’t know whether it will actually result in a cookbook, as per my plan. But regardless of what happens, I’m enjoying the process. Because, really, that’s what it’s all about.

14 comments on “Saying “Yes”

  1. Caroline says:

    I don’t think words could be more beautiful than they are in this post. Very inspiring, my friend.

  2. I’m not sure if my first attempt at commenting worked, so I’ll try again. If it’s repeated, I am sorry. However, it simply cannot go unspoken that the words in this post are beautiful. And life-giving. Very, very, inspiring, my friend.

  3. This is beautiful 🙂

  4. Mom says:

    Darling, you are so eloquent in your openness of yourself to us. I am in awe of you and your writing.

  5. Leslie says:

    Wow, nice writing, Debbie. This really gave me a lot to think about. You are so brave to do improv–I think it’s awesome. I know I need to be braver too.

  6. Anna Trull says:

    You go girl!!!

  7. beautiful ,i have to say that here, because i cannot get most like buttons to click.

  8. Brian says:

    ““This is the year I’m embracing the possibility of failure.”

    I once watched an interview with the woman who created Spanx (don’t ask). I honestly remember only two things about the entire interview:

    1) It was with the woman who invented Spanx, and
    2) She said that when she was a kid, her father asked her every night at the dinner table, “So, what did you fail at today”?

    Take the mystique away from failure, and you have a list of things you’ve attempted. Attempt a bunch of things, and every now and then you get to have a party celebrating your success.

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