Lunch with Oprah

By Shelley McKinney
web posted August 7, 2000

Having lunch with a celebrity like Oprah Winfrey is a life-changing, consciousness-raising event and I have emerged from this experience as a better and more spiritual person.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I also stuck to the peanut butter I had for lunch, which led me to murmur things like, "Oh my goth thith ith the sthupideth thing I have ever theen," as I leafed through the pages of the second issue of O: The Oprah Magazine (July/August 2000), which is actually as close to Oprah as her security personnel were willing for me to get. But trust me, this magazine is so smooth, so glossy, and so girlfriend-oriented, you feel that you really have spent some time with Herself. Oprah.

Buying the magazine was a hurdle. I live in a small town, and I have been pretty vocal about my feelings toward Ms. Winfrey and her smarmy television show, which is anathema to me. It didn't help that when I sneaked the magazine off the rack and into my cart at our local Wal-Mart my five-year-old immediately blew the whistle by saying loudly, "Why are you buying that magazine for? Who's that lady, Mommy?"

"Her name is Oprah Winfrey," I said quietly. "And I am buying this magazine for research purposes only. Now would you please lower your---"

"She's really pretty," my daughter interrupted, studying the cover photograph critically. "I like her red outfit."

My daughter is correct -- Oprah Winfrey is beautiful. And red is certainly her color: she blooms on the cover of the July/August issue like a dusky rose. She smiles out of the photograph, beckoning women to step onto the deck of her boat and curl up on the designer-fabric cushions in the prow with a glass of iced-tea-with-mint and pour out their hearts and explore their feelings. I sat down at the kitchen table with my peanut-butter sandwich and my iced tea and as I paged through the magazine, it occurred to me that Oprah means well. And she'll probably scoop up another tidy fortune on this meaning-full, meaningless drivel too.... I can live with that. It makes me cringe, but really, I'm fine -- I'm perfectly fine with the fact that Oprah encourages women in all this woolly, pseudo-spiritual celebration of egocentrism, which enables her to buy stuff like the $220 Ralph Lauren jammies on page 189.

Don't get me wrong: this magazine is chock-full of the kind of stuff that women typically lap up -- fashion (featuring a packable straw-and-cotton fisherman-style hat in a spread called "Traveling Light": at $150, it's a mere bagatelle), recipes, exercise hints, instructions for performing one's own French pedicure, and the obligatory article on why married-with-children women don't want to have sex with their husbands (they're too tired, in case you were wondering.) The piece on exercise revealed the startling information that it is boring to do the same activity -- such as climbing on a Stairmaster for 30 minutes a day, five days a week -- over and over again: The fitness gurus in the O Magazine's exercise think tank recommend that you vary your exercise routine to avoid burn out. Another section, called "Tell It Like It Is: Get to the Root of Your Feelings" features Philip C. McGraw, Ph.D. doing a Q&A format of dumb questions, such as Why won't my husband clean up? "First ask yourself," Dr. McGraw advises sagely, "Do I just complain about my husband's mess, or do I tell him what message he sends me when he ignores my requests?" (All men reading this article are now excused to go and deliberately throw a sweat sock on the bedroom floor.)

This is harmless and typical women's magazine fare, to be sure. Yawn. At this point, my forehead almost made contact with my plate, but I was jerked wide awake by the next thing I came across, which was my first encounter with the theme of this issue, which is "real happiness" and "living in the moment."

I found an attractive marbled-paper page bearing the legend "Something to Think About." Okay, I thought, rubbing my eyes. Thinking is fun. This should get my blood pumping again. I was dismayed to discover that this is what Oprah wanted me to reflect upon: "To experience real happiness, you must first connect with why you feel what you feel--even when that's painful. Pain is information: It leads you to what is keeping you from becoming your best self." I nearly choked on the last bite of my sandwich.

I hurriedly left that page -- wincing at the pain of the peanut butter forcing its way down my esophagus -- only to find an article titled "Real Joy, Right Now," where writer Debrena Jackson Gandy urged me to "free up" my "inner power." I emitted a strangled cry and hastily flipped backward through the magazine and landed on an article called "My Life Didn't End After My Divorce." I knew better than to even start reading that one when I saw a highlighted phrase that read "Once I started trusting my inner voice, my soul began to reveal itself again." Can anybody out there tell me what that's supposed to mean?

At that point, I closed the magazine altogether and sat trembling in my chair, wondering what had made lunch with Oprah sound like such a great idea in the first place. For the first time in my life, my nerves felt the need for the soothing qualities of vast amounts of alcohol and nicotine simultaneously working their way through my bloodstream to deploy succor to my jangled ganglia.

The back cover of the magazine idly blew open, stirred by the breeze from the ceiling fan. And there she was, Oprah herself, still dressed in red, still beautiful, still smiling. I felt a small bit of hope spring up within me: surely on this last page -- page 274 -- there would be some sort of wry, self-deprecating humor. Surely there would be a bit of wit and the light admonition not to take ourselves and our madly burgeoning self-esteem so seriously...not to wallow in our feelings...not to spend so much time learning about how to experience joy that we totally miss the little things that come our way every day. ("Mommy, look, I drew a picture for you!" "Shut up, kid, and go away. I'm learning from The Oprah Magazine how to experience joy.") Instead, I got more unctuous I-feel-so-good-about-wonderful-me spoutings about How to Say No.

"You don't know what a genuine yes feels like if you're used to saying yes to everything. When it's right, your whole body feels it. When I accepted that I was a decent, kind, and giving person -- whether I said yes or no -- I no longer had anything to prove," Oprah writes. "Now I have the courage to stand and say, 'This is who I am.'"

Okay, so I did learn something from my lunch with Oprah after all. I learned that when our local elementary school's PTO president asks me this fall to bake two pans of brownies for Teacher Open House Night, I am going to delve deep within my soul to see if my whole body will tell me whether I should go the Betty Crocker route or make them from scratch. Or maybe I'll just look Madam President right in the eye and say with clear-eyed calm, "No. I will not bake brownies for you. Oprah says I don't have to."

This is who I am.

Shelley McKinney is a regular contributor to Enter Stage Right.

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