Any Grey's Anatomy fan who picks up Shonda Rhimes' new memoir Year of Yes will immediately recognize the narrative voice. Much of the book sounds like it was plucked straight from the pages of a Grey's script, in particular from one of Meredith Grey's (Ellen Pompeo) voiceovers. Rhimes' familiar, conversational writing style makes the book a more accessible Lean In, a self-help book and personal journal all rolled into one.
But the biggest reveal about Year of Yes is that Rhimes - the creator and/or producer of shows including Grey's, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, and a one-woman brand who has total ownership over ABC's Thursday night lineup - is, deep down, a very insecure person. (Seriously!) Or at least she was. That claim may be met with skepticism, but in Rhimes' telling, she went from being an awkward teenager to an awkward professional writer, who suffered from such social anxiety and stage fright that she could barely handle the responsibilities that came with promoting her own shows.
Hence her titular Year of Yes: Spurred by a muttered remark from her older sister that she "never says yes to anything," Rhimes vows to spend 12 months saying "yes" to everything that will force her out of her comfort zone, be it an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, an invitation to deliver the commencement address at her alma mater Dartmouth College, uncomfortable conversations with friends, or even extra playtime with her children. (One thing she said "no" to? Food - and lost 127 pounds in the process.)
But before she turned over this new leaf, Rhimes had a different way of coping with difficult situations. She gave herself an alter ego, in the form of Grey's Anatomy character Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh). Those looking for juicy tidbits about the departures of Katherine Heigl and Patrick Dempsey (or, really, any behind-the-scenes gossip from any Shondaland shows) won't find it in Year of Yes, but Rhimes' devotion to the character of Cristina Yang is remarkable.
"During my darkest hours, my quietest saddest moments, my loneliest times, writing Cristina Yang fortified me," she writes. "I leaned into Cristina, wrote her more eloquently, colored her more brightly, drew outside her lines. Let her do and think and live in ways that voiced my dreams. She did not want to get married. She had a genius that she chased. She loved her work. I gave her a strident desire to not have children because while I adore children, I wanted to watch her fight that feminist battle and win."
Coincidentally, as Rhimes was starting to feel more comfortable with her newfound affirmative attitude, she had to say goodbye to Yang, whom she refers to as one of her Ride or Dies. ("I'm not insane," Rhimes adds. "I know she isn't real.")
When Oh announced that she would be leaving the show in mid-2014, at the end of Season 10, Rhimes recalls thinking: "I am going to miss Cristina Yang so much that my heart hurts. In the Year of Yes, this is one of the things that worries me the most. I'm not sure how I'm going to cope."
Rhimes admits that Meredith's "dark and twisty"-ness are derived from her own personality as well, but it's actually the character of Yang whom Rhimes calls "the walking validation of my dreams."
In the book's acknowledgements, Rhimes shares the conversation she had with Oh about writing the book, when the actress wondered what Rhimes did with things she was too afraid to say prior to her Year of Yes. "I stared at her a long beat," Rhimes writes. "'Sandra,' I said slowly. 'YOU said it for me.'"
Year of Yes is available Tuesday.