Tracee Ellis Ross Is Here to Soothe Your Frazzled Nerves – W Magazine

Posted: April 26, 2020 at 4:44 am


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Tracee Ellis Ross New Royalty: Television

Ross wears an Alexander McQueen dress; Gianvito Rossi shoes.

Photographs by Mario Sorrenti, Styled by George Cortina; Hair by Recine for Rodin; Makeup by Kanako Takase for Shiseido at Streeters; Manicures by Lisa Jachno for Chanel at Aim Artists.

Earlier this month, Tracee Ellis Ross shared a video on Instagramnot a groundbreaking action necessarily, especially since many of our favorite celebrities have upped their social media usage in quarantine. But her message broke the so-called fourth wall. In her typical slapstick way, she let the leaf of her house plant flop around near her face. Using a faux-husky voice, she said, "I want to share something that's been helpfulit's not what you expect." Then, on a dime, she shifted, her voice normal again: "How are you guys doing, seriously? How are your hearts? I know my heart feels really heavy." For me, this clip epitomized the singular way Ross has balanced humorsomething we need desperately right nowand genuine outreach to her audience during the coronavirus pandemic, and made it into something of a salve for uneasiness. She is equal parts comedienne and activist.

When she got on the phone from her home in Los Angeleswhere she's currently working on five film and TV projects, along with her hair-care brand Patternour conversation went the same way. She'd dive into a goofy joke, and the next minute, deliver a credo on patience, humanity, and life itself that sounded straight from the pages of an Eckhart Tolle book. Her careful consideration and real interest in people calmed me down a bitsomething I haven't felt in a while. Needless to say, she took on a persona her followers bestowed upon her, and went full Aunt Tracee.

In this interview, Ross discusses her approach to social media during a crisis, the importance of her group text (it's called "Keanu Forever"), and why listening to David Sedaris audio books helps her sleep at night.

Where are you right now?

Im in L.A., at home, like most of us. I havent been out of the house since March 12, I dont think. Last week was a doozy. It was like, okay, wait a minute, is this still happening? This is still going on now? I feel like its the least amount of sacrifice considering what so many others are showing up to do to keep us all afloat. Being uncomfortable is a privilege when theres so much real pain and loss going on.

I just keep reminding myself that staying home is for a higher good. If I think of it as me being of service to people that are faced in a more immediate and direct way with danger, it relieves the pressure of feeling bad that youre feeling bad. My friend Kerby Jean Raymond reminded me of that when we were catching up on the phone last night. He always thinks about more than himself, it seems. Its really easy to forget the helpful things, and thats why I like to swim in a currency of good stuff, and good reminders. He was so helpful in reminding me of that: Youre being of service, and you can take the self out of it.

I also think theres a lot to be said for allowing yourself compassiontheres some space to give yourself on the feelings. This is a collective experience that none of us have ever been in before. Our physical well-being and our health is the overarching theme right now. But at the same time, theres also a mental well-being that all of us are navigating that is part of the whole experience. That is no joke.

How have you been keeping up with friends and family?

Ive done a lot more luxuriating on the phone and FaceTiming. Its been supportive to the experience. My core group of girlfriends are all in New York, and I dont see them all the time. Ive cooked dinner with them and talked to them more often than normal. Its been really helpful. Ive had dinner with Romy [Soleimani] and cooked dinner with my friend Monica, and we have a really fabulous text thread. I would have to ask them if its appropriate to tell you the name of our thread because its so good. You know what, Im gonna breach our privacy. Theyre probably gonna get so mad! Our thread is called Keanu Forever. It happened ages ago, because I rode in an elevator with Keanu during last years Met Ball. It was literally just Keanu and me in an elevator. It was such a short elevator ride. I thought so much was gonna happen. Like a proposal.

At the very least.

And so I went on our thread afterward, and was telling the story. I dont know which of us changed the thread to Keanu Forever. It just stuck and its hilarious. I have another thread called Cabo Bitches.

Those have been the most helpful: the friendships that Ive had continue to bolster me, and that love and connection has been so fulfilling. The group calls with my family make me cry. I have a very close relationship with my family and I dont just mean my mom and her kidswe do those regularly, and with all the grandkidsbut also with my aunts and cousins and uncles, and my mom and all of her siblings, and all of the cousins I grew up with. It is so special. I not only love my family, I really like them.

And theyre incredibly smart, one of my first cousins is a doctor, and she is in Detroit. Her specialty is OBGYN, but like most doctors with specialties right now, theyre leaning into just COVID 19. My cousin Stephen's wife, Gina, is also a doctor with a specialty in OBGYN and something that I cant pronounce, shes in Atlanta, in a hospital there. My cousin Alaina is a civil rights attorney. And the three of them are actually the ones I did a post on, my two cousins that are doctors and my aunt whos a doctor as well. They all helped me put together the post that I wrote about how this is disproportionately affecting the African American community in terms of mortality rate.

What has been top of mind these days?

That pain is not something that you compare. For some people, boredom and discomfort does fall into other categories, where it really is more than boredom and its more than discomfort. Its a real mental anguish. So I have deep compassion for all this, because I feel like theres such collective trauma were all making sense of with no roadmap. None of us have experienced anything like this before. Its hard to wrap your mind around and your heart around. Its like a sci-fi movie. And it doesnt seem like anyone has any answers. That in and of itself is difficult. The unknown is always difficult, but we have the illusion of some sort of plan. And now, theres not even an illusion of a plan. Were just figuring it out as we go. Its just like, Okay, my god! Whos the parent here?!

With that in mind, how do you go about figuring out what you want to share on social media?

Ill be honest, I have not been on social media as much as I am when Im working. When Im working, social media is such an easy place to kind of scroll through, because of the pace we work at. And I can never really dive into a book or e-mails, or other work because Ive got lines swirling around in my head. Ive been going on to look at my DMs, to post, and I kind of swipe around a little bit, but I havent been intensely connected through social media.

When I do post, I try really hard to research my information and to go to people that are experts and actually know what theyre talking about, to give that information credibility and share accurate information. Share joyful information, share a loving, connected, honest, accurate information. Because I find that theres a lot thatit could be true, but we dont really know, because it hasnt been researched.

Its interesting to me that youre saying youre staying off of social media, because it feels like youre giving people an inside look at your lifewhich youve always done, but in a way, it seems really personal right now.

Its funny, because its hard for me: Ive picked particular places in my home that Im comfortable sharing. Its not that Im a private person, I just have a real sense of what sacred means. And I honor those things with great care. Those things that are sacred to me are not for public consumptionhowever, I have grown to be somebody who enjoys sharing how I hold myself emotionally. And now, some of those things have been really fun to share. I really loved sharing the socks on my hand. People were writing me: You know, you can buy gloves for that. Im like, I know! But I got socks! So why I gotta buy the gloves? I get it, I know I can. But, like, I got the socks. So were good, right? These seem to work just fine. Theyre like a mitten, with no thumbs!

I dont know if you know how many articles were spawned from that Instagram post. There are three pages worth of Google results.

Are you serious?

Yes, people are like, Check out this life hack that Tracee Ellis Ross does for her hands!

People were like, I dont know if you know whats in Bag Balm. I was like, no, I dont know whats in Bag Balm! Am I in trouble? Whats happening? You can use whatever you want, its the socks! Thats the key, the socks, people!

Do you know how much people use your likeness in photos and videos as memes? Like that video of you with the Ulta bag is so widely used as a reaction meme.

That kills me. That shit is hilarious. And I get it, because I do think that to a certain extent, I move like a cartoon character, and I feel things in very big ways and Im an animated, gesture-filled human being. My personality is probably perfect for memes.

One thing I really love about your approach to social media is that youre able to have this, at times, comedic approach while youre talking to your followers, but also maintaining a sensitive message. Im wondering how youre able to balance that.

Someone asked me the other day: Do you think theres a place for comedy in this? I dont even know if comedys the right word. Theres always a place for laughter. Theres always a space for joy. I think that is a revolutionary act, in all honesty. Its a choice thats about perspective and how you look at things. I think I am truly being very mindfulI really am just very aware of all of the different responses and experiences that people are having. I think social medias old use does not match where were at. The crassness of some of the humor at other peoples expense, all of those kinds of things, the glimpse into extravagance and all that, just doesnt match where were at. We do have to be extremely mindful of everybodys vulnerabilities and sensitivities right now, and the fact that everybodys nervous systems are a little bit shot.

I dont know about you, but most everyone I know has gotten a nice big, basket or tunnel of fear just sitting there, waiting, and it takes everything in my power to keep turning my attention somewhere else and to a different narrative. One thats like, What can my hands actually do? What do I actually have control over in my world and in my mind? What am I going to eat today? Who can I call to check in on someone else, particularly when I need to be checked in on and nobody seems to be checking in on me in that moment? How can I take that feeling and turn it around toward somebody else and find a connection there?

Today, it seems the biggest joys I get are deciding what Im gonna make to eat, how Im gonna prepare it for myself, so that when I sit down to eat it, it actually looks beautiful. I have found that my mindful practice of being present with what Im doing when Im doing it, knowing where my hands and my feet are, has been extremely helpful. Allowing myself to let my heart feel the heartbreak and anguish that so many are feeling and not try and push those feelings away but give them space, but not let them be the full story, because that will make anyone go down a rabbit hole. I know weve done a lot of thanking of the first responders and all of those that are doing essential jobs that are keeping us all afloat. But i also feel a real call to continue to remember that although this virus is invisible for the majority of us, for the first responders and the healthcare workers, it is not invisible.

We need people. And I think part of what all of us have been navigating in our own private ways is how do you find comfort for yourself? Where do you go when you are frightened? Without a hug, without the distraction of making a plan to go to dinner, without the ability to hear an impulse inside you and know all of the ways that we used to answer those impulses, What do you do in this? And how do we want to envision what it will be after? What are we making sense of, while still honoring the human experience and the reality of what that is? And it really does highlight the compassion that all of us should have always been dialed up on, surrounding so many different parts of how our society treats people and responds to people.

How did the transition to working from home go?

It was a little bumpy for me, 'cuz Im not going to lie, I am not the most technically savvy human being. When it comes to Zoom, and Blue Jay, and all these other things, Im like, I dont fucking know what Im doing. I thrive in isolation, and I am a person who plays an extrovert in my job, but Im really a bit of an introvert. And I will also admit that I dont spend a lot of time at home. When I started quarantining, I was like, why the fuck is this Internetmy mom told me I should stop using so many curse words, so hold onwhy for goodness sakethere we gois this Internet so slow? I finally got on the phone with the right people at my Internet provider; and that man was so kind. We checked my Internet speed, and he said, Yeah, thats very slow, maam. I dont think your equipment is up to date. Its from 2010. I was like Oh! Goodness me. So the beginning of transitioning to online work was not easy.

But now, I am great. I do all the Blue Jays and Zooms and FaceTimes. Keeping up with the work has actually been very encouraging. It gives me something to look forward to. Its given me an opportunity to continue to use my mind; I have more time to think creatively right now, I have more courage to think creatively. One of the things I had to remind myself, which has also reminded friends of mine, is momentum and the course that we are on, the energetic journey of what we were all doing in our livesif that is a path you enjoyed and were happy about, whether that was you in college and getting a degree, or you on the path to getting married, got halted and shifted during this time, remember that has not stopped. Its just changing. Because there was a real sense of grief and disappointment, that of course you have to temper, because it is not the grief of loss of a human, of somebody you love, but of a way of living, or dreams. Theyre not gone, theres just a transition in how those things are going to happen.

I read an article in which you said youve been listening to David Sedaris audiobooks. Are there any other titles youve been loving?

David Sedaris is wonderful for going to sleep, because I kid you not, I go to sleep laughing. And for some reason, during this pandemic, falling asleep has been very difficult for me. I get tired, and usually cannot get myself to fall asleep until about 1:30 a.m. It seems that is when I am most acutely aware of the collective sadness and trauma thats happening, and its really hard for me to settle my heart and my mind. So David Sedaris has been really wonderful in the evenings. It distracts you in the right way. I can turn off the lights, and just allow that to be what Im hearing, instead of my thoughts.

I usually read multiple books at a time, so Im still in process with Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I started by listening to that as an audio book, but my sister suggested I switch to the actual book, because she said there are so many pearls in it I'd want to underline, highlight, and earmark. I also have not finished The H-Spot by Jill Filipovicits really worthy and its been fantastic. I just finished The Nazi Officers Wife by Edith Hahn Beer, which I enjoyed, and Less by Andrew Sean Grier, which I loved.I am a huge Ann Patchett fan. For anybody who hasnt read Bel Canto, it is a must-read. I have read every single one of her books. An all-time favorite is The Bluest Eye, which is actually read by Toni Morrison and Ruby Dee. It is like going to the theater; theres music, it is literally like going to see a Broadway play, but you get to use your imagination.

What music are you listening to in quarantine?

Okay, Ill be honest: Yo-yo Ma (laughs). He gets me every timelovely for a Sunday afternoon. Theres a great new Frank Ocean song. And I was a huge Fiona Apple gal growing up, and Fiona Apples new album is wonderful. Theres a song called Heavy Balloons that shatters me open. Im always a fan of Drake, and Rihanna. I've gone back to the favoritesI have a Bill Withers essentials album, and thatll get you through any cleaning experience, I can tell you right now. Bill Withers will take you through the bathroom. You will make it through the toilet with Lovely Day going. You will forget what youre doing, and you will absolutely make it to the other side, no problem.

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Tracee Ellis Ross Is Here to Soothe Your Frazzled Nerves - W Magazine

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April 26th, 2020 at 4:44 am

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