If you've heard anything about Living Oprah blogger Robyn Okrant, you probably fall into one of two mistaken camps.
"One, that I'm an Oprah fanatic," she says. "Or the other, that I'm out to disparage Oprah."
In January 2008, writer/performer Okrant embarked on a "social experiment, living entirely according to Oprah Winfrey's advice from her television show, in her magazine and on her website. If she says, 'Girls you gotta have these 10 things in your closet,' or 'Make this pie,' or my husband's favorite, 'Build your man up,' everything she advises for her audience to 'live their best life,' I do."
According to Oprah Winfrey's people, Okrant takes brand dedication to a new level, but in Okrant's mind, her undertaking is much more complex. When we met at Café Neo to discuss her ongoing blog and resultant book deal, Okrant - dressed in an Oprah-mandated fitted sweater and slim pants - clearly articulated her agenda.
Describe the purpose of your experiment.
I'm creating in myself a reflection of Oprah's perfect audience member. It's a many-layered critique about the machine of Oprah Winfrey, but also about women and how we fall into taking the advice of celebrities, assuming someone's gotta have the secret to happiness. Oprah certainly wouldn't advocate taking every bit of her advice, but my hope is that people will reflect on their own lives.
What was the original inspiration?
In my art, I've focused on the self-help industry, creating a lot of satire. I was editing a video with a friend and we kept noticing that in terms of self-help, all roads lead to Oprah. I said to her, because I'm a coward, "Hey, what if we both lived totally according to Oprah's advice?" and she sort of threw her head back and laughed at me or with me, I think at me, and said "Not a chance," and I laughed too and said "Yeah, yeah not a chance." That was about three weeks before I started.
What does a day in your "Living Oprah" life look like?
I think I'm the only person who didn't realize it was gonna take a lot of time. I thought I'd watch her show, maybe there'd be an hour of stuff to do, but the moment I wake up I have to breathe a certain way, I have to savor every meal, I have to be happy every time I walk in the front door of my house, I have to love Cher. It's really holistic. Oprah creates a world. I feel like I'm living in this doll house Oprah made.
You've been taking orders from Oprah for a year, now's your chance to give some. What's your best Chicago-related advice?
Get out and walk from neighborhood to neighborhood. That's how I learned the city. It's not intimidating at all. There's some great architecture on side streets and little hidden gems off the beaten path.
Give me an example of a Chicago hidden gem.
I'd say Cafe Selmarie. I could eat their sweet-potato fries every single day. In fact, the kitten we adopted (because Oprah told us to go to a pet shelter if we wanted a new animal), we named her Selmarie. After Jim and I met on our blind camping date, our first real date was at Cafe Selmarie.
If I came to your neighborhood, where would you insist I visit?
Bloom Yoga Studio of course, even if I didn't work there! I'm madly in love with Lincoln Square. If you want a great restaurant, if you want to shop, if you want to go to the movies, everything's within arm's reach.
Tell me about your book.
It's a reflection on what I've learned, the outcome of Oprah's assignments, trends on Oprah's show. An opportunity for me to talk about why I think this project was necessary, that this is my way of doing feminist work.
How will you celebrate the end of your experiment?
I'm in such a panic that I won’t finish, I haven't really thought about it. But I think a beach may be in my future, that and the word shlumpadinka, meaning I will sit around—'cause Oprah's very anti-shlumpadinka- but I say shlumpadinka in 2009! Bring on the sweatpants!