Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Exceptional People Biography Book Club---for Exceptional People

About five years ago, in one of my “why can’t I find a good man” phases, I came across the Extraordinary Women series on PBS.  The episode was a biography on Coco Chanel, and what struck me, as I watched, was how she struggled finding a happy, lasting relationship.  Of course, she lived in the 1920s, when women were still defined as “Mrs. Husband,” so she couldn’t be successful without a husband.

I then remembered an autobiography I read years ago about Myrna Loy.  She’s most famous for being Mrs. Nora Charles, the wife of famous detective Nick Charles (played by William Powell) in The Thin Man movie series.  I had plucked it from the library at random, but now The Thin Man is one of my favorite movies.  However, what I remember most about her autobiography was that after four marriages and four divorces, she realized that she was happiest single.  Of course, it was a lot easier to be a single woman in the 1960s when you were a Hollywood legend, but it struck me that once again, a successful, smart, independent woman….didn’t need a husband.

So why on earth was I, a career focused, independent, self-sufficient woman in the 21st century, judging myself for not getting married and having kids?  Why did I think there was something wrong with me, instead of looking at the mirror and realizing that I was living the life that Coco Chanel and Myrna Loy and Grandma Westphal wished they could have lived?  I mean, Coco Chanel and Myrna Loy were exceptional, successful women.  Maybe my husband struggles were more a reflection of my exceptionalism instead of my failure.

Of course, it would take another bad relationship for me to truly accept that about myself, but hey, we’re all human.  And I’m GenX, the girls who were taught they could be astronauts and politicians, but also were expected to find the time to date, get married, have children, go to yoga, join a book club…..

Oh, right, book club.  After this awakening, I decided that I needed to be reading more biographies of exceptional people, and last month, I went down to Chicago to meet Adam Rippon, the hilariously funny openly gay Olympic bronze medal winning figure skater turned YouTube talk show host.  If Adam isn’t exceptional, I don’t know anyone who is.  It was a book signing for his autobiography, Beautiful on the Outside, and I brought it with me to New York as a fun read. 

That's not a photo from NYC, but it's still a good book

Adam had said during the question and answer session that he picked moments of his life that were relatable to everyone, and there were several times where I’m thinking, “wait, that happened to me.”  Maybe not hopping a subway in France to buy a shirt at H&M during a competition, but definitely the multiple hour breakup conversation.

While reading Adam’s book, I decided to challenge myself to read a biography (preferably, an autobiography) every month.  Typically, biographies are written about people with exceptional lives, and often, these exceptional people weren’t successful fitting into societial norms.  Actresses and activists, heroes and nonconformists, they remind us that it is okay to be different, that being “different” might mean being extraordinary.  And maybe, help us find that exceptional voice inside ourselves, because we are all exceptional.

Which is why I’m starting the Exceptional People Biography Book Club for Exceptional People.  Every month, I’ll post on my Instagram a short review of the biography I’ve read.  I’m also very open to suggestions of good biographies and autobiographies.  Who has inspired you?  What story moved you so much that it changed your life?  Send me a comment, email, direct message or smoke signal, and let’s all discover how each one of us is truly exceptional!

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