Dear Amy Poehler,
My eight-year-old daughter, Ali, told me to write you this letter.
I was telling her about a dream I had, where you and I were hanging out.
“That’s ALWAYS your dream, mommy,” she said.
She wasn’t wrong. I frequently dream that we are BFFs; I have for years. When I tell my husband, “I dreamed that Amy Poehler and I…” he says, “Of course you did.”
Sometimes, you’re telling me how funny or talented I am. Other times, we just, you know, chill. Once in a while, Tina Fey makes an appearance.
I can’t help it: I have this feeling, deep down, that if we knew each other, we would be best friends.
I realize that this is the kind of thing that crazy fans both think and say. If you’re reading this, which is an enormous “if,” you are now probably THIS CLOSE to closing this tab in your browser, because hearing adulation from yet another stranger who thinks she knows you is almost certainly very low on the list of things you’d like to do today. But I’ve started and stopped this letter so many times over the years; I’m just going for it, this time.
“Why do you like her so much?,” Ali asked. She was in her “sleepy unds” at the time, which is what we call the underpants she sleeps in at night, in lieu of jammies. What can I say, the girl likes to be naked(ish). It was that sweet moment before bedtime, when the household slows down, and is dimly lit, and we murmur random things to each other. I remember that in your book, you talked about the pleasure you take in rubbing Aquaphor on your boys after a bath. I rub lotion on Ali, too, because otherwise, her skin gets dry and itchy. She has ADHD and sensory issues, which make her extremely sensitive to touch, so putting on lotion is one of the few times I get to put my hands all over her.
She looked up at me with big, curious eyes. “I admire that Amy Poehler is a leader,” I told her, “while making everyone around her look brilliant.” (You are probably wondering, “How could this woman have any insight into whether or not I am a leader?” While I obviously have not seen you in action on set or in any area of life beyond the stage, I saw you perform improv a few times at UCB back in the day. An improvisor myself, I could see you making moves that made other people look brilliant, while also lighting up the stage with your own brilliance. So few people can do this: Shine, while making others shine, too. This is the kind of leadership the world needs more of: Not leading by trying to control people, but leading by bringing out the best in them.)
Now I was on a roll. As Ali moved to the dog’s bed to cuddle our lovable, high-strung rescue mutt, I told her how I admired that you were kind, but not a pushover — that you stood up for yourself and for the people and things you cared about. How you used your platform for good, between Smart Girls and your work with the Worldwide Orphans Foundation. And how you’re just really, really funny.
“She sounds like you, mommy,” Ali said.
To describe a person you admire deeply, and have your daughter hold up a mirror and say, “You’re describing yourself,” is a really powerful thing. Especially because my daughter has zero capacity for bullshit.
What I didn’t tell Ali was how I also related to what you say in your book about using charm to disarm people, and how that can become something to hide behind. How I loved the anecdote in Rachel Dratch’s book about how you yelled at the waiter when he shamed her for drinking wine while pregnant, and the one in Yes, Please about yelling at the business dudes from first class. It’s not that I admire yelling. But I admire people who by all indication value kindness and yet refuse to take any shit. (“Do no harm, but take no shit,” goes the saying on the mug that I saw advertised on Instagram. Amen.)
My daughter isn’t the first person to say that you and I have a lot in common. A number of my friends have said as much over the years, nodding as I explain my obsession with you. Oops, did I say obsession? Rest assured, I’m no crazier than the next person — I swear. I realize there’s no way of proving this to you, but I hope you’ll take my word for it. And yet, for years, I’ve had this feeling that I’m supposed to know you. What is that? I know that we’re strangers. I know that even though I’ve read your book, seen you host awards shows, watched you on SNL and Parks & Rec, and consumed interviews with you, that I only have access to a persona you share with the public, and that that is as far from actually knowing a person as you can get.
I wonder who you’re obsessed with.
To be fair, we did actually meet, once. It was at the Del Close Improv Marathon in…2008, I want to say? We were in the green room. You had just been onstage as part of “the UCB four” and I was abusing the backstage access I had as a performer in the festival to use a bathroom without a line. I came out of the bathroom and there you were. I said it was an honor to meet you, and you said it was an honor to meet me. You were so gracious — and tiny, I remember thinking (isn’t that the cliche, that the celebrities we admire look smaller in person?).
Anyway, fueled by only good intentions, I proceeded to be overly familiar with you. Your co-stars had basically spent their entire time onstage making a big deal about how you were the famous one, to the point where the four of you never actually got to do any improv. I felt like I could tell this was annoying you. So I said, “I’m sorry those guys were giving you such a hard time out there.” I feel like I could see you have this moment of reaction, like, “I’m not going to get personal with this woman I’ve never met before.” And you said, “So, are you performing?” and I told you I was, with an all-female group from Washington, DC, called The Shower (RIP), and you seemed genuinely interested and happy about that, and then we said goodbye.
I was talking about this moment years later with Betsy Stover, a teacher of mine at UCB, and she said you’re big on boundaries. I respect and understand that; I am, too, and I can’t imagine what I would feel like in your shoes, in that moment or so many others, when strangers have presumed to know you. (And yes, I fully realize the irony of saying that in a letter in which I say that we’re destined to be best friends.)
I almost met you one other time, and this story is embarrassing to share. It was in 2013 or 2014, and my husband and I were on “date night” in the West Village — a rare chance to enjoy the city as grown-ups since having our daughter. And there you were, walking past us in the crosswalk. My husband said, quietly, “That was Amy Poehler,” and I got so excited, I turned around right away and started walking after you. You were talking on your cell phone and you turned away and turned your body into this kind of protective armor, and I was so ashamed to have been “that person.”
Now it’s 2020 and my 8-year-old tells me I should write to you. I accept her calculus: We have a lot in common, and I think you’re awesome, so, we should meet.
My fantasy, of course, is that this letter will go viral. Someone will forward it to you, and you’ll read it and think, “I have to meet this woman!” Your people will reach out to me and we’ll set up time to meet on Zoom. The next thing I know, Amy Poehler and I will be on a video call together. After some initial nervousness, we’ll hit it off. Things will really click when I start talking about the work I do helping women tell their stories, which will genuinely interest you. Soon, we’ll be working on a project together. We’ll become friends and collaborators. I’ll inspire you, and you’ll inspire me.
But I wonder: Who, then, will I hang out with in my dreams?
P.S. In case you want to respond. (A girl can dream.)