A friend gave me a copy of Tina Fey’s Bossypants. It wasn’t something that would have attracted my attention otherwise – I don’t watch her TV show or Saturday Night Live, did see a few clips of her as Sara Palin, but really, though I was sure it was good for a few laughs, I didn’t think I’d find the book very relatable to me. The book is about her struggles as a woman in a male-dominated industry. I’ve already been there done that and fled the corporate tower. It is also about learning to be an effective boss. Again, the advice comes a bit late for me. She covers balancing work and motherhood, one game I left and the other I never entered. And of course the book is about the rarefied air of a comedienne’s life. Probably some interesting anecdotes and jokes, but trust me, I won’t be needing advice on that career choice. I’m not funny except sometimes in a punny, wry way. Really.
I have a theory that it takes two talents to tell a good joke: Comedic timing and the ability to remember the joke and the punchline. Blessed are they that have both. Woe to them (and everyone around them) who has one of these talents but not the other – don't we all have the uncle or person on our cocktail circuit who fits this category. I, too, am blessed. I have neither talent. I don’t even have a cocktail circuit.
Then I was stuck in bed and figured a few laughs wouldn’t hurt (actually they did- try not to laugh if your ribs are sore. Or breathe.) and picked up Tina’s (yes, we’re on first name basis now, though I haven’t accepted her facebook friend request) book. It really is a good read. Even removed from every aspect of her life, I found some of the things she says applicable to anyone’s anylife. And yes, it is funny.
Her chapter on how to deal with assholes particularly jumped out at me. We all have those in our lives or can apply her advice to situational assholery. Which is what I did. I was reading that section at a time when I had been beating my head against a brick wall that wasn’t going to move out of my way. Tina’s advice: harken (she probably didn’t say “harken” but you get the idea) back to your Sesame Street days. The show had a song to teach kids about prepositions, filmed with toddlers crawling around a construction site (always safe, clean fun) going under, over, around and through various pieces of equipment and pieces of building. Sometimes you are going to find an asshole (or brick wall) blocking your path. You’re not likely going to change the person or knock down the wall, so Tina says to figure out a way to get past the asshole and move on. For some reason, this tidbit has stuck with me. I’ve chanted it to myself on several occasions – we did just have holiday time with families after all. Tense situation: Can’t change it. Go over, under, around or through. Drunk or handsy relative: Slapping the crap out of him would be quite satisfying but will cause an uproar, so just go over, under, around or through.
So now here comes the writing part – you knew I’d get here eventually. When I finally crawled out of bed and back to the computer, my brain was still peanut butter. I was trying to write but kept bumping up against scenes or words (seriously, who forgets the word “bench”?) And lo and behold, the chant managed to slog through the peanut butter – it makes the acronym “AUTO” if your own brain can’t even remember the chant. Instead of stopping and beating my head against a particular metaphorical brick wall, I just moved on. To another scene, another word. Forget the excuse of writer’s block; just keep circumnavigating those bumps. I mark my bumps with [brackets], sometimes empty, sometimes with a clue (that of course I later will not be able to decipher) about what I was working toward, because they are easy to search for in a Word document. You can use whatever works for you, just keep going under around, over or through. And read Tina’s book. It really is quite entertaining.
Amy Bourret is the author of Mothers and Other Liars, a Target stores Breakout Book. She is still slogging through the peanut butter of her next novel and laughing at other people's jokes.