Aisha Tyler has made a name for herself in the entertainment world appearing on television’s Friends, CSI Miami, and HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm as well as in several films. Now she applies her on-target insight and brazen wit to tackling the old-fashioned mentalities that keep women from living their lives to the fullest. In Swerve, Aisha rejects the relationship/marriage imperative and puts authentic living first. This is no dry, self-help mumbo jumbo — Aisha dishes out hip, fun, and laugh-out-loud advice. Here's an excerpt:
The ideas expressed herein are entirely those of the author (except for the ones she will disavow later when she comes to her senses).
You may be piqued, upset, scandalized, offended, or even enraged by some of what you read here. When this happens, please remember that the author is trying, first and foremost, to be funny. Which is quite difficult to do without offending someone at some point. Also remember that she’s sorry, she doesn’t know what the hell she was thinking.
At several points in the book, I may repeat or contradict myself. You’ll get over it eventually.
It’s not a mathematical proof.
Any resemblance to actual people, either living or dead should, in retrospect, have been obscured more efficiently by the author. Names have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty, the hard of hearing, the perpetually drunk, the personally irresponsible, the morally corrupt, and the mentally unbalanced.
And to keep me from getting a beatdown.
Sex, Drugs, and Postmodern Chicks
I wish I was more clever.
Everybody has that list, that internal list of wishes, those top five (or ten, or fifteen, whatever, I’m not counting) things you wish you were more of. Smarter, taller, a better cook, a faster reader, more patient, able to speak Spanish instead of just putting the vowels o and e on the end of English words and hoping people understand you,1 a better singer, not such a chronic nose picker. Cleverness is number one on my wish list. I wish I was more clever.
Clever is not smart. Lots of smart people are not clever. Smart people can work out a math problem or expose and dissect the flaws within the Hegelian dialectic (I don’t really know what that means, but it sounds insanely thinky) or tell you who the president of Iceland is. All good things, yes, but not dazzling per se. Clever people, on the other hand, can figure out the safest way to get out of a car when it’s teetering on the brink of a cliff, and how to fix a camera with a paper clip, and how to pitch a tent in the wilderness using just a pocketknife, downed branches, and beetle dung. They make music and write poetry and wear culottes with clogs and somehow still look stunning. Clever people are cool without trying.
Damn them.When I had to name this book, I wanted a clever title, something that was funny and ironic and not too earnest. That is where the word postmodern comes in. In his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman offers two definitions of the word postmodern: a) “any art that is conscious of the fact that it is, in fact, art;” and b) “any art that is conscious of the fact that it is, in fact, product.” These are both very cool, clever things, all thinky and arty and, well... postmodern. I had originally intended the word postmodern to mean someone who is not of the baby boom generation, or the me generation, or the x generation — not caught up in a political movement or a cultural sea change or a generational nadir — just trying to live their life, find personal and political fulfillment in whatever way is meaningful to them. All of this while having a really, really good time. Because honestly, why did all those other generations go through all that marching and demonstrating and Kombucha tea drinking if not so that we can get what we want and have a kick-ass time doing it?
So, what about the Cocoa Puffs definitions? Does this book really qualify as postmodern? Do I? Honestly, I have no idea. Apparently I didn’t know what postmodern actually meant until I read Klosterman’s book (and I am woman enough to admit that). I thought it meant after modern. (I can be a rather literal thinker — thus my desire to be more clever.) The Microsoft Word dictionary defined it as “relating to art, architecture, literature, or thinking developed after and usually in reaction to modernism, returning to more classical or traditional elements and techniques.” Does that mean I should have typed it on an old Smith Corona typewriter? Or written the book longhand by the light of tallow candles? Or had it typeset by a letterpress printer? What classical elements and techniques are they talking about? And if I’m a postmodern girl, does my return to classical techniques mean I wear a corset under my Puma sweatsuit? Go back to wearing belted menstrual pads? Leave the house in plastic rollers and house shoes? This definition seemed weird, abstract, and more than a little irrelevant.
Klosterman’s definitions made more sense and seemed more applicable to the book, but I still wasn’t sure. So I went through and thought of all the things the book was trying to say, and what it wasn’t, and if any of that could be construed as postmodern. I take “any art that is conscious of the fact that it is, in fact, product” to mean any art that refuses to be earnest. Let’s see if I hit the mark.
All the things this book is not (and a few things that it is) This book is not a memoir or an autobiography. I don’t for a second pretend to think that I have lived a long enough or interesting enough life to start memorializing it on paper. I mean really — I’m just a kid, and have been bobbling around on this planet for only a minute or so.
While I’m sure I have done a few pretty ridiculous things, they’re nothing I’m comfortable enough with at this point to share with you. Some of them happened only yesterday. I’m still smarting from the embarrassment. The rest of it, while fascinating to me, probably wouldn’t even raise your eyebrow. I’m sure that at some point my life will make a very interesting, if scant, memoir. Probably not even a very scandalous one, although I did have a couple of emotionally wrenching days in the third grade that I’m sure will make for juicy reading. I need another fifty years or so to scratch up some really exciting stuff before I can start prattling on about my big ol’ important life. In the meantime, I’ll keep it to myself.
This book is not about casual sex. Although if that’s what you’re after, more power to you. Many great women fought and died (well, they didn’t die, but it does cut a more dramatic figure, doesn’t it?) for the sexual revolution. They burned their bras, for chrissake and, if you want to skank it up, be my whorey guest. But fergawdsakes use a condom. I am not an advocate of casual sex, although I am an advocate of women getting what they want. This is something guys believe in with great fervor, even when they don’t deserve it. Guys as a gender have one giant collective delusion of grandeur. No matter how lumpy and misshapen, no matter how few teeth or hair follicles, no matter what unholy smells emanate from their personage, they twirl the vision of themselves in bed with the Bud Light twins around in their heads like a giant mental jawbreaker, sucking feverishly on a fantasy that is never to be. It’s a ridiculous way to live and, at the same time, quite poetically tragic. It has a strange beauty to it.
We, the more rational sex, will have none of it. We are practical, we are conservative, we settle. There’s no sexy twin jawbreaker for us to suck on, oh no. We allow ourselves a nice healthy Fig Newton, or perhaps one of those awful oblong confections made of sesame seeds that your best friend’s hippie mom always tried to convince you was real candy when you knew deep down it was a mind-control device. But you gnawed on it anyway, because far be it from you to say no to a generous offer, no matter how distasteful. And that is how we think, we girls. “This is the best I can do! Better make the best of it!” we chirp gaily. “I can handle the insensitivity, the paucity of regular phone calls, the emotional distance, the laziness in bed, the mysterious late nights, the even more mysterious cold sores. It’s good for me! It’ll make me strong! I’m going to love those cold sores right off his face!” That is our collective delusion, our great big oblong piece of sesame candy. Guys aspire, we concede. I, for one, think it’s about high time for that to end. So while I don’t think you should run out and jump every guy with a full set of teeth and a car that runs, if you did, I wouldn’t judge you. I’m not about judgment. You do you.
Wait a minute. I’m thinking, and I guess this book is about sex, on some level. I mean, there is some stuff about sex in here. People like that sort of thing. People like sex. Sex sells. It seems to be doing quite a job for lite beer right now, not to mention rap videos. I understand it may even sell some books. So there is some sex stuff in here. (If you’ve already lost patience with this part of the book, go on, you perv, flip ahead. But if you’re looking for diagrams or blurry amateur photography, you will be dismayed, my friend.) You got to give the people what they want, and since people tend to want money, power, and sex, there’s some stuff about sex in here. Sorry, I don’t have anything about how to get money and power. If I knew how to do that, a ghostwriter would be writing this right now, chained to my desk with a crust of moldy bread and a bowl of milk to sop it in, rather than me, pounding away here on my seventeenth cup of coffee, wishing to high heaven I had thought of an easier way to spend my summer.
This is not a self-help book, either. I don’t have any steps, or exercises, or encounters, or affirmations, or recipes, or points, or any of that crap. If that stuff has worked for you in the past, rock on. I am incredibly lazy when it comes to things like journals and points, and invariably have lapsed out of every system, program, experience, or seminar I have ever taken part in. I have dozens of unfinished diaries, half-assembled models, instruments I haven’t learned, languages I’m barely proficient in, trips I haven’t taken. It’s okay. I’ve made peace with the fact that I may never alphabetize my CDs, or turn that plastic crate of snapshots into a beautifully assembled silk-covered album. I’m actually starting to see my divine disarray, my consistent inconsistency, as a gift, as my own little quirky way of being. You always hear about great people having peculiarities, habits, and rituals that seem strange but are the key to their success. Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s got Buddhism and strange facial hair. Martha Stewart sleeps four hours a night and eviscerates her underlings (thus proving my theory that she’s a vampire). Tiger Woods has a lucky shirt (although, let’s be frank, that guy doesn’t need much luck). I am luckily lackadaisical.
And I’m okay with that. You should be, too. Eek, I just sounded all self-helpy!
Ahem. As I was saying, this book is not a self-help book, mainly because I am not an expert on anything (except maybe pancakes and Saturday morning cartoons). I could say that I was an expert, make up some degree or life-changing experience that would give me the authority to tell you all the ways in which you are wrong, and I am right, about how you should live your life. I could compose a bunch of homey sayings like “If that man was a wheel, he wouldn’t roll to the corner!” Or, “You can’t get honey out of a beehive without going to the emergency room for anaphylactic shock.” Or, like my daddy used to say, “Stop hogging the potatoes.” But I won’t, because I’m not an expert, I don’t pretend to be one, and homey sayings make my head hurt. It’s not that I don’t think self-help books help people, or that they are all a bunch of hooey. It’s just that I think a lot of them are hooey. Really high-priced hooey, with audio tapes and weekend retreats and frozen-food programs and murky homeopathic liquids and strange healing technicians who seem to have gotten their training from the back of a wheat-grass juice box. Keep this between us, but I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of that stuff is designed to make you… spend money. It’s just a theory of mine. That being said, thanks so much for spending money on this book. The accompanying frozen-food program and homeopathic weekend retreat will be coming to a civic center near you very soon. Just follow the scent of wheat-grass juice.
So. That’s it. No affirmations, no diet tips, no tearful confessions, some stuff about sex, and quite a few curse words. If that’s not refusing to be earnest, I don’t know what is. I guess I could blow off writing the book, but then I’d have to give the advance back, and I don’t think they’d take a used PlayStation 2, an empty beer ball, and a half-empty box of Krispy Kremes.
A confederacy of one dunce
Through the roughshod process of elimination I finally figured out what the hell I was trying to do. I was completely clear on what the philosophical thrust of the book would be. It made perfect sense in my head. The problem was, I couldn’t explain it to anyone else.
At lunch with my publicist
Publicist: So, what’s the book going to be about?
Me: Um, well ... it’s kind of a book about women ... and guys ... and sex.
Publicist gakks on her Cobb salad. (Note: gakking is a lot like choking, only louder and more life-threatening)
Publicist (turning purple): What?
Me: Calm down! It’s not a how-to book!
On the phone with my manager
Me: More like a philosophical book about how I see the world, and women, and guys, and sex and stuff.
Manager (yawning): That sounds fascinating, but I don’t know how you’re going to have the time to devote to write a philosophy book. How long are those things, anyway, like a thousand pages?
At a bar with my middle-school best friend (male)
Me: It’s just going to be like, a really funny book, with stories, and some advice, and kind of my whole perspective on dudes and dating and sex and stuff.
Best Friend (droplet of beer dangling pendulously from lip): So ... is it going to be dirty?
On the phone with my mother
Mom: You always were such a good writer. I have no doubt it’s going to be a great book.
What’s it about?
Me (long pause): Um ... I can’t describe it.
Mom: Well, you’re screwed, honey.
I struggled like this for months.
Part of the problem was that I couldn’t find any other book out there to compare it to, because as far as I knew, there wasn’t any book out there like it (leave it to me to try to be
goddamn different all the time). I wanted to do something different but, apparently, what I wanted to do was so different I couldn’t articulate it to anyone else. I was getting worried and a little frustrated that I couldn’t sum up my own book in a few words. I was also starting to sound slightly stupid in social situations.
At a party
Hollywood-suit-type guy: So, I understand you’re writing a book.
Long, juicily awkward silence.
Hollywood-suit-type guy: Yeah, so I’m going to hit the bar.
Me: Yeah, me too.
Okay, so not only did I have to write a book that I seemed incapable of describing to others in even remotely intelligible terms, but I was starting to doubt that I even had an idea for a book in the first place.
I was starting to think that it was a bad idea.
A couple of months into my writing period, I hadn’t done more than jot down a few incoherent notes and avoid repeated calls from my editor. I was starting to dream up new and varied ways to fake my own death in order to get out of having to write this amorphous glob of a non-book. And then fortune, in the form of a cocktail-sodden party weekend, smiled upon me. Or more accurately, barked in my ear.
Excerpted from "Swerve: A Guide to the Sweet Life for Postmodern Girls" by Aisha Tyler. Copyright © 2004 by Dutton, a division of All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.