I faked it til I made it…for the most part.
Last season, Kimmy Schmidt strolled out of a bunker and into our hearts with her relentless optimism, friendly-as-hell attitude and unbreakable spirit.
Me, on the other hand, I’m working with a different set of skills. I’m a little less silver-lining, a little more antisocial and a lot more prone to giving up when shit gets the least bit rocky.
So, as a challenge to my usual grouchiness and discomfort around humans, I decided to live a week in Kimmy’s sparkly light-up sneakers.
A little background on me…
I’m a natural-born grump. My mom calls me Grinch when it’s not Christmas. My sister regularly compares me to Oscar the Grouch. I like to think of myself as a lovable curmudgeon, but it’s just as likely that I’m a whiny brat with a bad ‘tude. Maybe I’m so grumpy because strangers make me anxious and most people are strangers. I would rather jump out of a moving car than engage in small talk. In my experience, only about 10% of people are worth talking to for any length of time.
Suffice it to say I’m not an optimist. My friend Jess puts it like this: If I find a parking space 15 blocks away from my destination, I will take it because I’m convinced there won’t be any closer spots. So, this week, I will try to keep the faith that people are good, and that I have the power to find a parking space right. in. front.
I’m swearing off eye rolls and snap judgements. I’m pledging to be sociable, even when I’d rather hide under my couch. I’m vowing to be upbeat, even when I feel the spirit of Grumpy Cat descending upon me. Here goes nothing.
Monday: Anna rides the train.
7:30 a.m. No snooze button. Gotta greet the day with a big ole grin, in true Kimmy style. After all, I’ve made it this far without ever being held against my will by an apocalyptic cult leader.
Morning commute: My positive Kimmy vibes must be working their magic, à la “The Secret.” My rush hour bus arrives perfectly on time and I even manage to snag a seat. I am unstoppable.
The bus is a hotbed of unpleasant people. I try hard to suppress my judgey, non-Kimmy thoughts but a few slip through:
“Ugh, that guy has the worst laugh I’ve ever heard.” “If that lady sneezes one more time, I swear to God I will trip her on her way out.” “Who does that toddler think he is?”
At the end of the day, I head out to catch the 5:30 train. Normally I keep my head down and weasel in with the flood of commuters before the doors close. Today, I keep my elbows to myself and let a woman board before me. I get shut out and miss the train. No big swig—I wait 8 minutes and catch the next one. +2 Kimmy points for being nice to a stranger. +1 for not complaining about it. -1 for excessive self-congratulation.
Tuesday: Anna goes to the DMV.
By Tuesday, I feel like the only woman alive to have ever worn magenta pants. I get several long stares on the train. Today, I take on a challenge that I have been steadily avoiding for two years—a challenge that makes my anxiety spike to near-toxic levels. Today, I take on…the DMV.
I get lost inside a building that looks strikingly like a prison. I’m walking around in circles, glued to my phone, dressed as a candy-colored child. Finally, I find the DMV—it’s in the basement, of course.
But the line is short! My worry has been for naught! Positivity will prevail! At the first desk, I present all of the necessary documents in a neat stack. They accept one proof of residence but reject the other. No fear! I have backup! They reject all of those. I feel the darkness creeping in.
If this were any other day, I would say “fuck it” and wait another two years. But Kimmy wouldn’t give up. In the first episode alone, she gets fired from her job twice and wins it back by just continuing to show up. So I go back to the list of acceptable documents. Surely, there must be something I can access here that will pass their test.
Not only is Kimmy positive, she’s also resourceful. She once made a scarf out of her own hair.
Okay, okay—a pay stub. I can do that, I have a computer. But it’s about to die. There’s an outlet hiding in a dark corner, behind a sign that reads, “No one in this area.” I crawl over like a sneaky little mole woman and plug in long enough to access my company’s hip payroll system, which is very cute but kind of hard to understand. I return to the desk in a huff, with a tangle of chargers slung around my neck like a stethoscope. I’m sweating through my yellow cardigan and smiling through the fear of rejection. The lady at the desk accepts my pay stub! I thank her for her patience and she gives me a fast pass to the next desk. I want to kiss her, or help her produce a musical or something!
I shuffle through three more circles of DMV hell with all of my most important documents—passport, social security card, bank statement, ID—hanging loosely out of my pockets. Sure, I look like a total mess, but I do my best to feel like I’m crushing it. After all, I’m still moving through the lines, however slowly. Kimmy says you can get through anything by taking it 10 seconds at a time.
These pink pants have given me permission to be someone less cranky than myself.
In line for the photo, a woman asks me how her hair looks and I give her two enthusiastic thumbs up. I didn’t know my thumbs would be so enthusiastic until they were already in the air. But today I’m not embarrassed by my show of emotion; I stand by my thumbs! Pretty soon, I’m out of there with license in hand, feeling accomplished. I finally did something I had been avoiding for YEARS. I’m on top of the world! I pick up donuts for my coworkers so they can share in my glee.
Wednesday: Anna takes it easy.
I’m pretty proud of myself for braving the DMV yesterday, so I take a break from any extreme Kimmy challenges (plus, my horoscope told me to chill). I do walk by a construction site to see if I can try out my sunny good vibes on any catcallers. But there are no catcalls, just a bunch of guys doing their job. The nicest thing I do all day is indulge an Uber driver in small talk about his frat-boy rap career. I consider this a victory.
Thursday: Anna talks to strangers.
If I’m going to do this right and really push the limits of my positivity, then I’m going to have to talk to people I don’t know. And like it. (But if anyone tries to chat about the weird weather we’ve been having lately, I swear to God.) So I head to the one place in Chicago that is certain to be clogged with happy, selfie-snapping tourists: THE BEAN.
Normally, I don’t go anywhere near the Bean unless my mom is in town. And even she doesn’t like it that much.
But today, I’m Kimmy and I’m psyched to help out some tourists in need. First, I offer to take a photo of a father and son visiting from India. In turn, they offer to take mine. I put on my best happy face and ham it up. There’s a lady from San Diego on a business trip and a young couple taking some kind of gymnastics photos. I even get in on a selfie with some day-drinking Scandanavians. Our interactions are brief but upbeat. This isn’t so bad!
Finally, I muster the courage to strike up an actual two-way conversation. I see two girls who look young and cool struggling to get their faces in the same frame. We start talking and I find out that they’re on their first date! Suddenly I’m all smiley and chatty. They’re so genuinely welcoming that I don’t feel the usual small-talk pressure to be polite or ask the right questions. I’m just myself. They tell me how they met over a year ago in Texas and stayed in touch long distance. I feel so lucky that my day as an extrovert coincided with their first real date. I mean, what are the chances that three kewl chix with common interests would cross paths at a major tourist site in one of the largest cities in America? Probably a lot better than I thought. We part ways with a real-life group hug. I wish them luck on their budding relationship and they wish me luck talking to strangers. I feel all abuzz with happy vibes.
I feel like the world is (at least 20%) full of nice, cool people just waiting to be met!
Waiting for the train, I put away my phone and listen to the smooth jazz guitarist on the platform. I don’t hate it. I notice the pregnant woman sitting next to me is writing what seems to be a note to her unborn child about her day. She mentions the jazz guitarist. She’s observing me and I’m observing her. It feels kind of nice to just notice things.
Friday: Anna goes to SoulCycle.
Today already feels like the most challenging day to be cheery. One crap night of sleep and suddenly all the warm fuzziness of yesterday has burned off like fog. And now I’m taking a SoulCycle class. For those of you who don’t pay $30 an hour to ride a bicycle that goes nowhere, here’s the deal: SoulCycle is a fitness establishment with a creepy emphasis on your “soul” and “journey.” In the episode “Kimmy Rides A Bike!” our leading lady gets swept up into the culty positivity and self-love of “SpiritCycle,” which turns out to be led by a pimply guy on a toilet.
I’m not psyched, but I go in with a can-do attitude. I like the lighting (candles) and the music (Missy Elliot). I’ve been known to get into some yoga mom bullshit (I like that place that reads Taoist poetry while we stretch), so I figure this won’t be a big leap. But omg. SoulCycle is for real. The class is full of the skinniest ripped ladies I’ve ever seen, and a few dudes who could be bouncers at a biker bar.
I have fun with the first song or two. I’m feeling strong and healthy and pretty good about myself for keeping pace with all these grunters. But then my heart starts to beat really fast (I’m told this is one goal of exercise). Pretty soon, I feel like I’ve gotten too stoned and I’m starting to freak out. I remember something that happened to my friend last summer–not a particularly fit dude, he went to a spinning class with some coworkers and pushed himself super hard. The next day he was peeing brown and his muscles were so sore he couldn’t move. He had rhabdomyolysis, a condition caused by overexertion, in which your muscle tissue starts to break down. If not treated quickly, it can lead to kidney failure. Surely this will happen to me.
I spend the next 40 minutes of class trying not to have a panic attack.
The teacher keeps telling me to smile and I just want to punch her in her dumb pretty face. Not only is she pedaling nonstop while dancing and giggling, she’s also making lots of winky sexual comments pointed at the dudes: “Now we tap it back. Nice and slow. That’s how I like it…sometimes, hehehe.” Ugggh. My eyes are rolling so hard I could pass out. (I know eye rolling was on my no-no list, but at this point my body has taken over and I’ve regressed to my most primal self.)
I leave the class fucking exhausted but glad I didn’t die. In the end, I feel fine about kind of hating SoulCycle. It’s all about taking time for yourself and connecting with your inner journey or whatever, which I think I do enough of alone in my apartment.
What I learned:
At the beginning of this experiment, I guessed my final headline would be something along the lines of “I tried to be as positive as Kimmy Schmidt and it was fucking impossible.” But it wasn’t. In fact, I think I did a pretty good job. I mean, I don’t think I’ll ever reach Kimmy’s level of unwavering optimism, but that’s okay. She’s a fictional character.
I’m proud of myself for getting out of my ingrained thought patterns and trying on someone else’s rose-colored glasses. I’m proud of myself for trying. For committing. For giving less of a shit about how I come off and more of a shit about other people. It didn’t come naturally, or all at once, but, like waiting in line at the DMV, patience, persistance, and trust paid off.
I learned that showing kindness to others opens you up to noticing more of the kind things people do for you. I feel a little better about the state of humanity than I did at the beginning of the week. And I’m genuinely convinced that there are more than a handful of people out there who could get me—like, in a real way—if I just gave them the chance.
I also learned that SoulCycle is the worst. In retrospect, I see how my judgement of the instructor and feelings of death anxiety kept me from enjoying the class to the fullest. But some things take longer than a week to overcome. By Friday, I was happy to be done with being Kimmy and psyched to go back to being (a slightly more balanced version of) myself. By Friday, I felt like this: