9 May 2023
On Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies
Tara Schuster is a Comedy Central Exec and author of (now) two books: Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies and Glow in the F*cking Dark. I admit I had no idea who she was when I saw this book at a boutique bookstore in Santa Fe while my friend, Jillian, was browsing. I just liked that the cover had the F-bomb on it, so I picked it up and purchased it without even scrutinizing over the author. Schuster was born in 1994 (I think?) to a household full of material wealth and devoid of emotional wealth.
You’ll like Schuster instantly as you crack this book. Her tone is conversational and she employs all the tools on her keyboard to express herself—her frustrations, her emotions, her personality. Sometimes, the all-caps could be a bit much for me, but she employed them sparingly and with clear purpose, so it worked.
The book is supposed to entail a list of rituals to “fix your life.” These entail sections for mind rituals (to heal your thoughts), body rituals, and relationship rituals (control what treatment you accept from others).
On most counts, I agreed with Schuster, but there were areas of development (rituals) I found underrepresented and at least one that I thought was overrepresented. Schuster talks about the army of therapists she’s seen in life, beginning sometime in elementary/middle school. Nevertheless, there is no chapter dedicated to therapy in the mind rituals section. Why is this? As someone who recommends therapy to anyone who will listen to me, I felt like this was a missed opportunity for Schuster. In what ways has therapy helped her? What types of therapist were best for her? Which was her best therapist over the years, and what made that person the best for her? My guess is that she has a lot of insight here but never shared it.
Then, Schuster talks about medication twice, in ways I found contradictory. First, she writes “don’t self-medicate” in the mind rituals, but then later “use the tools you need” in the body rituals, where she talks about taking clonazepam whenever she gets too anxious. Okay. I get it. Taking doctor-prescribed clonazepam when you need it isn’t technically “self-medicating.” It’s not quite quite the same as smoking pot on the daily to “take the edge off” or downing a whole bottle of wine to passively cope with an annoying life situation. Nevertheless it feels like a slippery slope. Clonazepam is a highly-addictive, easily abused depressant that can be dangerous for those with depression or those who might consume alcohol while on the drug. I hate that Schuster recommends it in her book; at the same time, I see why she did. It is a tool she’s needed to manage her acute situational anxiety. It’s just that she makes it sound like some cure-all. I get it. Anxiety meds helped me sleep and “return to myself” (199) too. Nevertheless, it’s the suggestion of this drug’s use with the omission of therapy discussion that bothers me.
Which brings me to this point: where is the discussion of healing the inner child via therapy? Where’s the nod to Gabor Maté’s The Myth of Normal? Sure, Schuster talks about reconnecting with “that neglected little girl at my core” (12), and sure she unpacks all of her upbringing here via journaling; nevertheless, it would have been nice if she suggested that a person should do this reparenting via therapy. She freely admits in an endnote on page xxvi of the introduction that the “reparenting” she discusses in the book is her own slap-dash version of that—not the specific therapeutic practice—and I wondered why she did not recommend the therapeutic practice itself? I think, at some point, she does mention that insisting everyone have a therapist is ableist. Maybe that’s true. But we should still recommend it wherever it is possible. In a lot of cases, where a person cannot afford a therapist, there are options available for payment, compensation, or free services. All that said, I am staring down a long wait time to get my daughter in with our current therapist/provider. I know there are fewer providers out there than there is need. Still, I wanted Schuster to recommend it.
Now, to all of the good. Schuster got it totally right, per my view, in her chapters encouraging physical activity and discouraging self-medicating. She’s not at all wrong when she says that physical activity is as good as medication. It is. I’d take her discouraging of the thing-we-run-to-when-we-want-to-escape a touch further: I’d say that drinking alcohol is not worth it at all. We’re fed a ton of misleading marketing about booze; it does nothing healthy for us. Indeed, it serves up physical, mental, and relational issues.
Schuster reminds us to be grateful for our blessings but takes that a step further: she says to send Thank You cards even for the slightest things. She’s found, and quite rightly so, that thanking other people for their roles in her life makes her feel good. I’ve found that to be true too. I’ve sent my fair share of Thank You cards…although of late I’ve fallen off the wagon as I’m shuddering through finding myself. I will get back to it—starting with my instructors from this most recent semester.
The chapter that I’ve returned to, over and over again, is “Who Even Are You?: Chart Your Own Course.” In this chapter, Schuster talks about listing where her self-esteem comes from. I did this exercise in the margins of the book as I read it. She asks what things make us feel “calm and optimistic and like I am enough” (71). For her, those things are writing, exercise, and friends. My list was a little longer: 1. Writing 2. Friends 3. Running 4. Reading 5. Helping others see themselves (often via writing). Then, she talks about her core principles: gratitude, authenticity, enjoyment, integrity, awareness/presence, and kindness. I’ve not yet considered these for myself…and should. Finally, Schuster writes “Things About Myself I Want to Be True”: 1. Generous, kind, grounded 2. She knew and spoke with great people, great minds 3. Stylish, chic, kinda French. I haven’t sorted this one out yet either…I guess I’m not too worried how others perceive me—and not at all convinced I should be. Nevertheless, I keep coming back to that first list: what gives me self-esteem/purpose. Those things are not changeable. They have existed in that order for as long as I can remember. I just need to work on the other lists…
Brené Brown talks about not taking criticism from anyone who isn’t already in the ring duking it out. Schuster devotes an entire chapter to avoiding people who will criticize you for no good reason: “Hype Men, Road Warriors, and Those You Must Avoid: Know Your Team.” This is a critical chapter, for me, because I’d not yet clearly delineated these people in my life. Schuster recommends we organize our people into three groups: Hype Men (those who hype us without question), Road Warriors (those with the right background who can gently give us sound advice/criticism), and Absolutely Nots (those who either do not support or will manifestly tear us down). When I did compile these lists for myself, it startled me to find where some of my closest people landed (here’s a spoiler: it wasn’t the first two categories). I was being decidedly unwise with where I brought my ideas, my wins, and my losses. Making these lists (and probably putting them somewhere I can look at them regularly) is going to make my process of sharing more effective. Do I want blind faith? Do I want constructive feedback? I know where to go, now.
Schuster’s “Don’t Cheap Out on Yourself” chapter was a windfall for me. I talked about this at length in therapy, today. My mother, the one person who was supposed to teach me how to express my needs, take up space, and take care of myself, never knew how to do this for herself. The youngest, fourth-born to my grandmother, who lost her own mother young, survived the great depression, and was offloaded by her father to an aunt (where she was treated like a second-class citizen), I suspect that my mother was taught by example and necessity to fend for herself rather viciously. On one hand, nobody taught her to value her body or needs (she speaks so horrifyingly about her lady parts it makes me nauseous), and on the other hand, she learned that to fulfill those needs, she must take—without asking, defensively, confrontationally—before someone else tries to take from her. Mom operates from a place of scarcity. She always has, per my memory. So this is what I learned: don’t have needs, but if you do have needs, take care of them yourself in such a way that nobody can prevent it. It’s unfair of me to myself to say that’s turned me into an utter pushover; it’s also untrue. I likewise take what I need and protect it viciously—only perhaps to a lesser degree than mom, because I was taught to have fewer and fewer needs. So, mostly a pushover. 22 years of marriage during which I never expressed my needs or had the spine to hold/maintain my own space means that now I’m in the position to finally begin asking for what I need—and my therapist is insisting I must learn how to do so without defensiveness or confrontation. That’s 22 years of piled-up needs I am now attempting to accommodate all at once, and it’s utterly overwhelming because it’s also 22 years of my husband not realizing that I have needs to be accommodated. As I am learning my husband must unlearn. And I hate to admit that I am the problem. But I am. It’s daunting.
Nevertheless, if I don’t stop “cheaping out on myself,” as Schuster puts it, I will only continue to foster resentment with my husband and children. If this life is to be continued, things must change. Schuster is right, no matter how much I wish she weren’t. No matter how much I wish there were an easy button…the work must begin with me. I should’ve been buying myself the f*cking lilies from the get-go, but as Schuster also writes, I must “Start Where You Are.” She writes, “There are no big breaks. There are only a series of tiny, little breaks. The key is to work your hardest and do your best at every little break” (4). Eat the elephant one bite at a time, as my husband always says. This is Mel Robbins’ concept of manifestation. If you haven’t yet been introduced to Mel Robbins’ manifestation, get on it. What are you waiting for? And I can do manifestation…I can do that. One need at a time. One non-confrontational, non-defensive space-holding moment at a time. My husband will learn. My children will learn. I will get there.
Schuster’s “Lady Harem” (218) chapter made me sad. I realized that I don’t have a lady harem here in Albuquerque. Maybe I never did since Abilene. I want to blame all of our moving for my not having friends here…but to be more fair to myself, I do have a lady harem, when I need one. They just aren’t physically readily accessible to me. But when the shit hits the fan, I do know whom to call, and they have showed up for me, over and over again, in so many ways. What I learned from Schuster is that I should reconnect with them all…if not physically, then at least by phone, text, email, etc. That’s fair, and I will. I *need* them.
One sentiment that is present throughout the book that left an impression on me was Schuster’s freedom to be happy outside of romance. I don’t know much of anything about Schuster’s love life today. I can’t tell you if she’s married. But what I love so much about this book is that Schuster is at liberty to find joy in her life whether or not that life entails romance. Yes, she was in romantic relationships throughout different eras (of her life, of the book), but she did not derive her identity, her self-esteem, her purpose from those relationships. I said this to a friend the other day, and I think it’s true: Schuster is her own shape and that shape takes up a certain space. She requires that her romantic partner will accept that shape, fit with that shape, and never ask her to change that shape (I mean, to a certain degree—we all know that committed relationships require compromise). What’s more: Schuster has light and life of her own—even when alone. She makes the everyday a beautiful ritual such that romance is not such a humongous part of her identity. I’ve never been that or done that or lived that—and I want that. I want to work for money that is my own. I want to have a schedule that is my own. I want to take myself on dates. I want space where I can exist uninterrupted, to think and to write. Where does such a desire come from? I don’t know! Maybe it comes from a place where I know that I’ve never had it before…I married straight out of college and haven’t ever existed outside of a romantic relationship (or mothering relationship). There’s so much value and pride and hope in this idea of self-ness, comfortability with being alone, operating alone, holding worth—alone. Can it be attained while still in relationship? I don’t know. But imma try, and I’m going to teach this to my daughter now, while she’s still just 16, before she makes a lifelong commitment to someone else.