Everything we learned about Shonda Rhimes from her book, 'Year of Yes'

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Shonda Rhimes Talks About Her 'Year of Yes'

Shonda Rhimes's Year of Yes, available today, is less a memoir than it is a self-help book. For one year, one of the most powerful showrunners on television said yes to everything. She said yes to commencement speeches, yes to accepting more help, and — you guessed it — yes to herself. She spent more time with the people she loved, shed 127 pounds, and learned how to be a happier person. In this way, Year of Yes is not a burn book. It is not a ribald tale spilling hot industry tea. There are no VH1 behind-the-scenes moments explaining how Isaiah Washington was fired from Grey's Anatomy or what went down with Columbus Short on Scandal. There are no "What if?" casting scenarios. Instead, there are small, charmingly odd, inspirational stories, like how she reacted to the Red Wedding scene in Game of Thrones to how writing Cristina Yang was writing the woman she hoped to become. Quite simply, it's a book about how she learned to take care of herself, and how you might be able to as well. Welcome your new life coach, Shonda Rhimes.

Olivia Pope gets her red-wine-drinking habits from Rhimes.
Even when she was riding high with Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, she writes that she was "miserable." "Truly, deeply unhappy." As such, she had one thing she turned to at the end of the day. "And at the end of every day, as a reward, I poured myself a glass of red wine. Red wine was the only joy in Shondaland."

Rhimes felt the pressure of being a black, female showrunner, or what she calls an F.O.D. — a "First Only Different."
"When you are an F.O.D.," she writes, "you are saddled with that burden of extra responsibility — whether you want it or not." She felt the pressure when she dodged questions about diversity or race. "You can't be raised black in America and not know," she writes. "This wasn't just my shot. It was ours." And then she referenced that pivotal moment when we meet Olivia Pope's father on Scandal:

I was doing a thing that the suits had said could not be done on TV. And America was proving them wrong by watching. We were literally changing the face of television. I was not about to make a mistake now. You don't get second chances.
Not when you're an F.O.D.
Second chances are for future generations. That is what you are building when you are an F.O.D. Second chances.
As Papa Pope told his daughter Olivia: "You have to be twice as good to get half as much ..."
I didn't want half. I wanted it all. And so I worked four times as hard.

She met Toni Morrison and all she wanted to talk about was Grey's Anatomy.
Her first big "yes" was accepting the role as the commencement speaker at Dartmouth, her alma mater. She closed by telling the graduates that she once wanted to be Toni Morrison. But that when she actually had dinner with Toni Morrison, "all she wanted to talk about was Grey's Anatomy."

She remembers nothing about getting interviewed by Oprah.
"Here is what I remember about being interviewed by Oprah. A white-hot flashing light behind my eyes. A strange numbness in my limbs. A high-pitched buzzing sound in my head. So, y'know ... nothing. NOTHING."

She constructed her first Shondaland in the pantry.
She calls herself an introverted, "unusual" kid who was more content to play in her own imagination than out in the world. One of the things she liked to do was play in the pantry for hours with cans.

The world I created inside the small closet filled with canned goods and cereal was serious; these days I would describe it as a winter-is-coming-where-are-my-dragons kind of solo play date but this was not HBO. This was the suburbs in the 1970s ... My three-year-old imagination made a world of its own. The big cans of yams ruled over the peas and green beans while the tiny citizens of Tomato Paste Land planned a revolution designed to overthrow the government. There were hearings and failed assassination attempts and resignations. Every once in a while, my mom would open the pantry door, flooding my world with light. She'd politely tell me she needed vegetables for dinner. The canned judiciary would sentence a can of corn to death for treason and I'd deliver the guilty party into the hands of the executioner.

And that, everyone, describes everything that's happened in Scandal.

She ran around the room when she watched the Red Wedding scene of Game of Thrones.
One of her favorite shows is Game of Thrones. And the Red Wedding? Whew. "I literally run around the room. I do that sometimes. When I get overly excited, I run around the room. I did it during the Red Wedding scene of Game of Thrones. I did it when they picked up the pilot for Grey's Anatomy to series."

She wants to make it clear that she gets help at home.
She writes a great deal about her nanny Jenny McCarthy (no, not that lady), whom she describes as "the SEAL Team Six of nannies." "I've read a lot of books written by and about working women and I'm struck by the fact no one ever seems to want to talk about having help at home," she writes. "Which I think is not so helpful to the women who don't have help at home." So she's declaring it proudly: She has a nanny and she loves her.

Cristina Yang on Grey's Anatomy was the woman she aspired to be.
It wasn't just you who loved Cristina Yang. Shonda Rhimes loves Cristina Yang fiercely and passionately. She isn't simply a character for Rhimes, but a woman who could be what she felt she wasn't. Ending her story was one of the hardest things she had to do. "I am going to miss Cristina Yang so much that my heart hurts," she writes. "I'm not sure how I'm going to cope." She elaborates:

This Cristina that [Sandra Oh and I] made was a revelation. She was never silenced. Never small. Never too insecure to make good on her natural gifts. The Cristina of our collective dreams is larger than life and sure of her genius. And, as drawn by us, while often afraid, our Cristina was able to overcome her fears through sheer strength of will. She made bold choices. She felt fearless even when she was terrified ...

The fictional person Sandra and I made is beautiful and intimidating. Put Cristina up against any real person and there is no contest. No one else stands a chance. It's unfair and awful. And not at all a way to measure a real human being.
And yet. Who the hell cares?
She is the goal. She is freedom.
And that, of course, is why I created her. And I think why Sandra created her. For me, she was not just what I imagined. She was what I needed.

In the acknowledgments, Rhimes returns to Cristina Yang. She remembers a conversation she had with Oh when she told her she wrote this book so that she could learn to speak up for herself. Oh asks, "What did you do with something if you were too afraid to say it before your Year of Yes?" Rhimes replies, "YOU said it for me."

Sometimes you have to say No to say Yes.
Speaking of Oh, she was not the network's first choice to play Cristina Yang in Grey's Anatomy. Rhimes writes that they wanted to cast "some actor" as Cristina who everyone thought was great. "I honestly can't remember who the actor was ... everyone thought she was great." (See what we mean about the lack of gossip?) But she felt in her gut that the actor wasn't right for the part, so she said No, in what she was her "first" professional and "favorite" No. Then she found Sandra Oh, and the rest was magic.

See Rhimes throughout her career:

Shonda Rhimes
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Everything we learned about Shonda Rhimes from her book, 'Year of Yes'
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: Producer Shonda Rhimes attends ABC's TGIT premiere event on September 26, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
Creator/Executive Producer Shonda Rhimes speaks onstage during the "Greyâs Anatomy,â âScandal,â and âHow to Get Away with Murder" panel at the Disney/ABC Summer TCA Tour held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Tuesday, August 4, 2015 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 21: Producer Shonda Rhimes (L) and actress Kerry Washington attend the 26th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 21, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.(Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 19: Producer Shonda Rhimes attends the 8th annual ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood luncheon at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on February 19, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Producer Shonda Rhimes attends the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 22, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
CENTURY CITY, CA - FEBRUARY 14: Actor Scott Foley (L) and honoree Shonda Rhimes pose during the 2015 Writers Guild Awards L.A. Ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on February 14, 2015 in Century City, California.(Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 13: (L-R) Actress Lena Dunham, ELLE, Editor-in-Chief, Robbie Myers and writer/producer Shonda Rhimes attend ELLE's Annual Women in Television Celebration on January 13, 2015 at Sunset Tower in West Hollywood, California. Presented by Hearts on Fire and Olay. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for ELLE)
CAMBRIDGE, MA - SEPTEMBER 30: Shonda Rhimes receives the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal at Harvard University's Sanders Theatre on September 30, 2014 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)
EDGARTOWN, MA - AUGUST 19: (L-R) Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Shonda Rhimes attend the Root 100 2014 List Release Reception on August 19, 2014 in Edgartown, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images for The Root)
GOOD MORNING AMERICA - Robin Roberts gets a behind-the-scenes look at 'Shondaland' - Shonda Rhimes and her stable of hit series for ABC Television, which will air on GOOD MORNING AMERICA, starting Thursday, Sept. 18 (7-9am, ET). (Photo by Todd Wawrychuk/ABC via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 11: Writer/producer Shonda Rhimes (L) with actress Kerry Washington, Lucy Award for Excellence in Television recipient, attend Women In Film 2014 Crystal + Lucy Awards presented by MaxMara, BMW, Perrier-Jouet and South Coast Plaza held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on June 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Women In Film / MaxMara)
CENTURY CITY, CA - JANUARY 25: Producer Betsy Beers (L) and writer/producer Shonda Rhimes accept the Diversity Award onstage at the 66th Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on January 25, 2014 in Century City, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Actor Tony Goldwyn and Producer Shonda Rhimes attend the International Cinematographers Guild (IATSE Local 600) Presents The 51st Annual Publicists Awards Luncheon at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on February 28, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 02: Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers at The Academy Of Television Arts & Sciences 'Welcome To ShondaLand: An Evening With Shonda Rhimes & Friends' held at The Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre on April 2, 2012 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/WireImage)
Television producer and writer Shonda Rhimes, addresses the audience after receiving the W.E.B. Du Bois medal during ceremonies, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass. The Du Bois Medal is Harvard's highest honor in the field of African and African American Studies. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Actor, talk show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, center left, and television producer and writer Shonda Rhimes, right, embrace on stage during the W.E.B. Du Bois medal award ceremonies, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass. The Du Bois Medal is Harvard's highest honor in the field of African and African American Studies. Winfrey and Rhimes both received the medal. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
From left, Tony Goldwyn, Kerry Washington and Shonda Rhimes pose backstage at the 44th Annual NAACP Image Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 18: Director/Producer Shonda Rhimes receives the Elenor Roosevelt Award at the 10th Annual Global Women's Rights Awards at Pacific Design Center on May 18, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/WireImage)

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