Monday, April 23, 2018

Books: If You're Looking For Answers, "Go Ask Ali"

Go Ask Ali: Half Baked Advice (and Free Lemonade)

By Ali Wentworth

Harper, An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, On Sale Tuesday, April 24; hardcover; 224 pages, $25.99

Comedian and actress Ali Wentworth channels her inner Dear Abby as she dispenses advice, tips, pointers, and judgments on a host of life's conundrums and sticky situations in her third collection of hilarious vignettes, Go Ask Ali: Half Baked Advice (and Free Lemonade).

Wentworth, whose other books include Ali in Wonderland and Happily Ali After, is the star of the comedy series Nightcap and starred on the classic comedy series In Living Color, with appearances on Seinfeld, The View, Morning Joe, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Wentworth provides an interesting worldview as he gives her insights on topics including her marriage, sex, parenting, gossip, friendship, beauty, and Instagram.

"I am not a truthsayer, therapist, or advice columnist," writes Wentworth. "I'm not even particularly sage. But I do know a thing or two about a thing or two. And I have lived those things or two (or three) an consequently fallen on my face, been hurt, been humiliated, and occasionally been enlightened.

"And for whatever reason, people tend to come to me for advice. (Probably because I act like I know more than I do or am married to a Rhodes scholar.) Sometimes it's helpful; often it falls on deaf ears. The most frequent response is "Stop, you're so annoying. (Even my kids sometimes say this.) But because I'm cheaper than a shrink and make the best chocolate chip cookie dough in the Western Hemisphere, they tend to come back for more. Sure, everybody has their own official guide to living an ethical life. You can abide by the Ten Commandments, the Torah, the Koran, Deepak Chopra, whatever works for you. But nowhere in those aforementioned doctrines will they advise you on whether or not to teach your teenage daughter how to put in a tampon. Believe me, I've checked them all.

"I have always found shared personal experience to be a valuable learning tool. And a very effective way to navigate life. I learn more about parenting and marriage from my girlfriends than from Google, my gynecologist, or Pope Francis. I know that Jesus suffered and there are tales to tell about that, but I like a more firsthand approach. And how to deal with extramarital affairs - well, the Dalai Lama won't return my texts. But I have women friends with real experience who can share some pretty daunting cautionary tales. And I have a few doozies based on my own exposure to life that I like to pass along.

"Now, don't get me wrong here, I'm not trying to start a cult or replace Megyn Kelly on daytime TV, I just think that there is a much bigger impact when someone you know shares his or her experience.  No doubt that's why the mom circles are so strong - it's the shared information. We do become a village raising our kids. It also humanizes us to be able to express our own fears, anxieties, and ignorance."

Wentworth, a Washington, D.C. native, lives in New York City, with her husband, Good Morning America anchor George Stephanopoulos, and their two daughters. A lot of Go Ask Ali is about their marriage, and she holds nothing back.

"The question has to be asked: When did a happy marriage become so taboo?" asks Wentworth. "Sitcoms depict married life as a bickering couple; he's usually heavy and not very attractive and she's usually too smart and beautiful for him. There's a lot of eye rolling. The couple begrudgingly puts up with each other and a laugh track. Switch to a cable drama: one of them has murdered the other. The bestselling books and music are always slanted toward heartbreak and relationships gone bad. And how would daytime talk shows survive if we couldn't troll for signs of infidelity or enforce paternity tests?

"It's embedded in our culture.

"The few couples with good marriages I know keep their happiness on the down low. We meet after dusk at nondescript, out-of-the-way joints. Sometimes Brooklyn, sometimes one of our own homes. We close the shades. We make sure nobody sees us holding hands, giggling, or, God forbid, embracing. Otherwise, we gather at one of our homes, where we have the freedom to express our love for our respective companion without ridicule or envy.

"So until things in our country change, I will have to become masterful at changing the subject and, in some cases, flat-out lying about the state of my union.

"And after one of my girlfriend lunches, I will do my usual - weep (with joy) in the back of the subway about the tenacity and fortitude of my marriage. We'll have family dinner, my husband and I will play Scrabble while the kids do their homework, later we'll make love and fall asleep in each other's arms. And swear to never tell another living soul.

"Except maybe you the reader. So if you do have a happy marriage or even an adequate one - KEEP IT TO YOURSELF!"

Wentworth has been compared to Nora Ephron for her incisive wit and observations, and Jerry Seinfeld has said, "Everything that comes out of Ali Wentworth's mouth is funny!"

In this part, from a chapter called "Insta-Slam, Wentworth writes of social media, "People always joke about the effects of social media - 'Oh my God, I'm addicted to Instagram' - well, guess what, you are. Every time you swipe, you're getting the same adrenaline rush as when you play the slot machines. Or stumble across Oreos dipped in dark chocolate at the grocery store. Listen, I hate Instagram. I have yet to find one redeeming thing about it. I thought maybe it would offer a simple way for my parents to keep up with the triumphs of their flourishing grandchildren. You know, give them bragging rights and screen savers. But it only opened the door to endless scrutiny: 'That ocean is freezing, are you sure they should be swimming this time of year?' 'The girls look very thin, are they eating?'

"My fourteen-year-old daughter forced an account upon me a few months ago, which is the source of endless frustration because I don't even know my own password and I keep accidentally posting things twice. Okay, I confess: I was so intrigued by my friend's posts of blooming gardens, homemade apricot chicken dishes, and selfies in front of the Caribbean sunset that I was happy to sign on. There was a voyeuristic quality I found enticing. You gotta keep up with the Joneses (and their friends and their friends and their friends). And soon I was following people I've never met! I didn't even know what city they lived in or their full names, but I knew they got a new puppy, liked competitive bike riding, and were overly invested (to a disturbing degree) in their Halloween costumes. My daughter signed me up to follow Victoria's Secret models (new icons to our youth), which does wonders for any middle-aged woman's ego. Nothing like walking the dogs in baggy sweatpants and a retinol face mask while you scroll through images of bikini-clad models doing yoga. Why am I wasting my time, time that could be used to clean out my kids' closets or get those cavities filled, on the idealization of COMPLETE STRANGERS!?! Because it's addictive? If more than a five hundred million photos are being uploaded every day, we all (as a culture) obviously need to communicate this way. Yet how disturbing it is that we allow our emotional well-being to be determined by how many followers we get. That is a dangerous, slippery slope. (By the way, if you're reading this, please follow me @TheRealAliWentworth. My whole worth depends on it.)

"The performed lives we see on Instagram are heavily curated. And not true. It's an opportunity to play 'Whose life is better?' and the stakes are high because this game can lead to isolation and despondency. What are we all trying to prove? We know it's a farce; they know they're posting a form of fiction....When was the last time you saw a post of someone in the throes of food poisoning or crying on the toilet? Or any sliver of authentic life? It's like being blasted with everyone's Christmas card fifty times a day.

"Before long, everything becomes an opportunity for a brilliant Insta and it doesn't even matter if you have acne, blemishes, or just don't like freckles - there's a filter for everything! There are apps like SkinneePix, which will shave off fifteen pounds, and DXP, which will make you look dreamy. With all the warm filters and aesthetic manipulation at your literal fingertips, you can just photoshop your life!"

Go Ask Ali is possibly the funniest book of the year, you won't be able to put it down, and you might even learn something too.

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