On Owning It
its source, its power.
Thirty years ago, I was 14, and Lisa Rinna entered my life. In 1992 she began playing Billie Reed on Days of Our Lives. Billie was a recovered coke head, a singer, a cosmetics mogul, a battered daughter accused of murdering her father, and the girlfriend of Bo Brady.
A few years later I watched her on Melrose Place and Veronica Mars. I couldn’t have imagined this actress would follow me on my television throughout my entire life, and she’d be cast on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills in 2014, where she reigned as a queen of chaos for eight years.
I started to watch Housewives religiously in 2008, during season 4 of the Real Housewives of Orange County. This is when Gretchen Rossi joined the cast, and Tamara Barney, her costar, set the bar for what makes a housewife transform into an icon. Their blowup at the reunion is legendary, and the entire Housewives franchise shifted from that point on. It went from being about a friend group of wealthy, delusional, and somewhat corny women living in either California and New York, to an aspirational— and also cautionary tale— documenting friendship in modern life. Shortly after Gretchen joined Orange County, the seminal third season of Real Housewives of New York aired— and if you know, you know. The rest is history.
The Real Housewives is a uniquely durational experience. I have watched these women for fifteen years, which is longer than I have known all the best friends I have in my life. I get worked up by them, along with the rest of the devoted audience, because we’re incredibly invested in what happens to these women. To surmise that watching Housewives is shallow or trashy is simply the lowest of hanging fruit. I’m not saying these are women are pillars of society who do profound things— who the fuck wants to watch that? They’re terrible, hilarious people that I have a funny and complicated relationship with.
I don’t stan housewives, I’m never on anyone’s team, I just want to be entertained by these woman who truly bring me so much joy year after year. I love watching them, I love dissecting their relationships through a sociological, feminist and critical theory lens. I had a love/hate relationship with Lisa Rinna, and my opinion of her varied from season to season, but eventually the love/hate turned into plain old hate the last couple of years.
I’m not embarrassed to admit Lisa Rinna triggers me. A lot of the housewives trigger me— they’re no different than anyone else in my life. They’re my mirrors. Lisa reflects back on to me all of the things I reject about myself, and all of the things I refuse to admit I am capable of: harming people, being a manipulator with a heart of tarnished gold who “just wants to help,” backstabbing, lying to others, lying to herself, being passive aggressive, the list goes on and on.
My main issue with Lisa is she tried to hold others accountable to ‘owning it’ (‘it’ being their shit) when she couldn’t own her own shit. She is a misguided individual who thinks she can hold people accountable— when really, it isn’t our business to hold people accountable. We can only hold ourselves accountable.
Owning it— similar to what Joan Didion said about self respect— is the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life.
This is a concept I learned yet again this year after another round of doing the work of the 12 steps, meditation, and reading self help quotes on Instagram.
And now Lisa’s fired from show. The news broke last Thursday, January 5th. Naturally, Bravo gave her the respect they give to the majority of the cast members who don’t get a renewed contract, they let her pretend to the public it was her choice to walk away. But those who pay attention know the truth— Lisa was fired. And as soon as I heard the news, I felt a pang of what the fuck? I’ll miss her.
Then there’s Jen.
The day after Lisa’s departure was announced, Jen Shah of Real Housewives of Salt Lake City infamy was sentenced to six and a half years in federal prison. She’d been arrested almost two years earlier after the FBI closed in on her, after they’d been investigating her for almost a decade. She was accused, and plead guilty to, defrauding the elderly out of millions and millions of dollars in telemarketing scams. Even after she plead guilty she swore she was innocent, so if you think Lisa Rinna bothered me for not owning up to selling stories to Radar Online, you can imagine how angry Jen Shah makes me.
And yet all of this happened on the same week I finished another personal inventory of myself. I am never more aware of my own shit than when I have finished writing an extensive, searching inventory of myself.
Last January I was a little sick of myself. Really I was sick of the way I was thinking. The pandemic was almost two years old, and I didn’t want to participate in it anymore, I wanted to shift into a new way of living but I wanted my old way of living to return and I couldn’t because the old way was gone. What had grown in its place inside my mind was feeling really, really judgmental of people. And superiority is adjacent to judgment, so I had that too. Among other things. I guess for awhile judgment was working for me, but it stopped working and I had to do something different.
I started another round of personal inventory, which is a written practice of writing down all of my resentments, all of my fears, who they’re directed at, how they effect me, what my part is. My brain can trick me into thinking I have very few resentments— but if the question is rephrased to Who pissed you off today? This week? This month? The list starts to write itself.
Initially when I saw my the length of my list I was confused. I’ve done inventory before, so the fact that people from past who were present on my list 12 years ago ( or 10 years ago, or 7 years ago) didn’t belong on my list currently, or so I assumed. I discussed this with women I know and trust who have the experience to act as an advisor on this process, and I was reminded— or maybe told for the very first time— nobody really lets go of everything. Some things I can let go— someone cutting me off in traffic, a child I love being rude or dismissive, an honest mistake from a friend, but the deeper stuff can linger in my core, and it’s fine.
It’s better to just admit it than pretend things don’t get to me. The truth is, they do get to me, I have trouble letting things go fully, and I’m not petty or less than because I am capable of hanging on. I’m actually more free by admitting it, and it doesn’t matter what lingers and what is released. What matters is how I behave.
I’ll tell you this much— I don’t act like Jen Shah. Or Lisa Rinna. But I used to. Not on the same scale as them, but had I been permitted to? Jesus. I wasn’t as volatile, but had I been paid and filmed and famous, I could have out crazied them both. Stolen more. Lied more. Blamed more. Fabricated more shit than they did. Goaded more.
I may not act like them any longer, but I am certainly capable of it. Once my inventory list was written, a deeper analysis is examined through even more writing. I started my inventory in March 2022, and I finished it last night—January 12, 2023. I didn’t write for ten months straight, in fact I took significant chunks of time ‘off’ from writing, but nonetheless I filled a 5 subject notebook almost completely. And while I had a long list of people from my past (and my present) who pissed me off, hurt my feelings, no longer spoke to me, or I no longer spoke to them, and I listed out all of my reasons why, the list is still an inventory of myself.
I’d write and write, and when I’d turn the page and see the name of a former friend who makes me want to saddle up on my mighty high horse because I think I am so much better than them, the writing is only about me. I wrote about my own selfishness— all the things I wanted, and didn’t want, from this relationship. I wrote about my own dishonesty, and the lies I can tell myself just as easily as I blink or breathe. I wrote about my own fears— even when I swear I don’t have any— fear of other people’s opinions. Fear of being alone. Fear of being embarrassed. I wrote about my self seeking behavior— how do I behave when I don’t get my own way? What do I do to try to get my own way?
Would Lisa Rinna be good television if she were owning her shit? Probably. There are housewives who have growth arcs (Theresa Guidice) and they’re still total assholes and monsters (Kenya Moore). You can be both. I can be.
I recommend revisiting inventory if you’re someone who practices these type of spiritual principles. The thing I integrated this time around is that I am a spectrum of everything, all the emotions and actions and behaviors and reaction that exist in the world. I am not good, or bad, I am all of it, and depending on where I am at in a given day or circumstance, I react to my life like everyone else does. Obviously I am not saying everyone reacts like I do, I mean, I’m human. My humanity is something I can accept with way more tender gentleness than I could a decade ago. Ten years ago I thought growing up meant I needed to be perfect. As in, mistakes weren’t an option anymore. Today I know this is an unattainable goal, and frankly one I am not interested in.
Owning your shit means allowing yourself some grace when you make mistakes. And knowing what the price is for all of these emotional transactions. Owning your shit means being free— even if only for a little while— of the expectations of others. This is the singular power of owning it. Without it, while you are continuously running away to find oneself, you will discover there is nobody at home.
As for Lisa Rinna, I continue to look to her as someone who mirrors my own wounded inner child. Now that she is leaving the show, I can focus on all the times she made me laugh, let go of my anger towards her (I am not exaggerating! I am such a psycho) and stay watching for the next couple of years until Andy hires her back.
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