If you haven’t been keeping up with my procedural schedule (and I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t), I just went through a series of procedures called intercostal radiofrequency ablation. Each procedure requires 2 diagnostic blocks in which lidocaine is injected into the intercostal nerves (meaning those between your ribs) to test the procedure’s anticipated efficacy. If that works twice, they move you onto the real deal in which they take very long, hot needles and put them under your ribs, then burn off the nerve. The nerve essentially freaks out and increases your pain as it dies off over a period of 2-3 weeks, and after 4-5 weeks you are finally healed from the procedural pain. I did the whole cycle (on a combined 7 ribs) twice since my last post. I am a person who has had a 24 hour pain condition for almost 3 years, and I have never experienced pain or hell like that from these injections. (Hence a long, long gap in posts.)
So thank goodness that my mother, who so often knows me better than myself, wanted me to have something funny to read after my first ablation procedure and wisely bought me Mindy Kaling’s sophomore book, Why Not Me? I touched on my love of Mindy Kaling while reviewing B.J. Novak’s collection of short stories, but let me reiterate it here. Her show is one of the single best on television. While I can’t believe anyone could be so socially deaf as to cancel it, I couldn’t be happier with the freedom the show has found in its first year on Hulu. I liked her first book, and while it has made it through every single move I’ve made, boxed up time and again, I wavered on whether or not I truly loved it. Let me clear that up for you on this one: I LOVE THIS BOOK. And reading Mindy Kaling’s words right now, at this point in time, changed my life.
While Kaling told some personal stories in her first book, I always felt like she was holding a little back. Yes, she was vulnerable in sharing stories about her weight in Hollywood and photo shoots, but it almost felt as though she was telling just enough; I could feel the effort behind finding her voice. In Why Not Me? it’s clear Kaling has come into her own. She’s comfortable in her own skin and any fear of what other people think has melted away. Her snippets about meeting the President and dating feel like the rare honest glimpse into a celebrity’s heart (or, really, anyone’s heart).
In fact, the entirety of the book feels like a look inside Kaling’s unapologetic peace with who she is. She begins the book with satirical advice, showing her growth and boldness as a comedian through her willingness in book #2 to take a comedic risk in the opening without looking back. We are able to learn about her work ethic and kissing style, some of the many examples of Kaling’s acknowledgement of what she has earned and how hilarious the story can sometimes be of how she earned it.
Really, it’s all great. I honestly can’t say enough good things about it. And I LAUGHED; I laughed for days. But that’s not the reason I chose this as my first review now that I’ve come up for air and found that these procedures worked (I’m not pain free; but I’m vastly pain improved). It’s not the reason I wanted hers to be the book out of dozens I read while in recovery that I recommended to anyone and everyone (though particularly women experiencing any kind of struggle). And it’s not the reason that I wanted to ensure that I got this review in before the end of the year.
No. The reason for that is that this book did something that so rarely happens with any book, fiction or nonfiction: it changed my way of thinking, and in doing so it changed my life.
Mindy’s confidence and storytelling style alone would be enough to change a person’s perspective, really. It’s funny that while she focuses so much more on a wild amount of success that many will never attain in this book than in her previous one, it is in her current book that I find her completely relatable – someone I understand and someone whom I see in myself. Someone who sometimes just wants be home in time to watch Weekend Update on Saturday nights. And who is even comfortable about the fact that some aspects of her personality are wildly neurotic.
But in her last chapter there’s a bang. A moment. I cried. The chapter starts like this:
“One evening last year, I was on-stage at a Q&A in Manhattan hosted by a magazine to discuss my life and career … I was very tired. I had filmed a full week on the show, traveled on a red-eye from Los Angeles, done press all day, and arrived at the theater. It would be the last hurdle before I could go back to my hotel, take off my pants, and eat a room-service club sandwich while I watched syndicated reruns of The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon’s sweet bazinga would lull me to sleep, as is always my preference. At the end of the interview, the moderator opened the floor to the audience. I noticed that the small group of people who lined up to ask me questions looked very different from the majority of the crowd. They were mostly women of color. After a few people went, a young Indian girl stepped forward to take the microphone. She looked about fifteen, and not only out of place in that crowd but also a little young to be asking a question in front of such a big audience. I think she felt it, too, becauseI could see from the stage that she was shaking. After a moment of nervous silence, she asked, ‘Mindy, where do you get your confidence? Because I feel like I used to have it when I was younger but now I don’t.’ Context is so important. If this question had been asked by a white man, I might actually have been offended, because the subtext of it would have been completely different … But this wasn’t coming from a white man. This was coming from a vulnerable young girl who thought that maybe, when I was her age, I too faced similar obstacles. All she wanted was guidance, or maybe a little empathy. My answer was not very good. My tiredness betrayed me, and I think I said something like: ‘wow, I don’t know. I think it’s from my parents always telling me I could do anything. I wish I had a better answer for you.’ “
And then Kaling uses the rest of her final chapter to respond to that one girl, who represents so many females overcoming societal obstacles, and she spends eight more pages giving a heartfelt, uplifting, and real answer that at the end makes you ask, “You know, why NOT me?”
Even with this pain condition, I don’t have a car here in the Bay Area; I rode a bike. I did yoga for thirty minutes every morning. I wrote book reviews of free books at least every couple of weeks. But after these intensive procedures the last couple of months, no bike riding, no yoga, no blogging….lots of TV. SO MUCH TV. So much couch. So much food.
But luckily, reading this book at the beginning of it all permanently implanted Kaling’s voice in my head. I forced myself to go on a trip between the two major procedures, briefly, to turn 30. And was wildly rewarded! A good friend of mine from high school took me to see Nancy Pearl, a very famous west coast book blogger who gave her 2015 book recommendations (of which my friend bought me 3), as well as a book art exhibit. I spent some time in a beautiful town with my cousin and former boss turned friend. And after each procedure, I took my pain pills, diligently got the rest I needed and focused on what was still in front of me.
Instead of wallowing during all of my TV watching, I planned. I thought about using this year to get my health together and how it was the right thing to do. I thought about looking for new work, and where I would want to go with my career. I thought about a job offer that I currently have waiting in the wings and my sincere desire to move into the world of publishing, one way or another. I turned to a publicist at Penguin for advice who agreed to assist me. I thought about how I can change my life, and how I’m going to start doing it. I made a loose plan and left room in it for plenty of mistakes.
Getting down to it, my point is this. Going through a painful recovery like this over a period of months could have easily caused severe depression and isolation. And there are many, many books that could have made me laugh for a few days. But I think there are few that could have given me the courage to be optimistic during this time of my life, to just put one foot in front of the other each day, to make a plan and believe that somehow, some way I will get there. I can achieve it.
Because why not me?