“When searching my inbox last night for an e-mail from Nora, to get the specifics of her phrasing, I came upon this sign-off to a short but sweet one thanking me for lunch: “see you somewhere… xox.” Somewhere, it turns out, is everywhere. I see Nora in the home I wouldn’t live in if not for her, the shot list I make in the van to set in the morning, and the jacket I slip into when the sun comes down (she always sent links along with tips). I see her when the craft services on set isn’t up to par, or in the process of getting to know a man who seems to understand. I see her in the worst hair moments and the best soup moments. I know I am only one of hundreds of women, people, who will miss Nora’s company, and millions who will miss her voice. The opportunity to be friends with Nora in the last year of her life informs the entirety of mine. I am so grateful.”—Couldn’t we all use a mentor like Nora Ephron? Incredible piece by Lena Dunham.
“First, let me admit I am jealous. I would love to be so smart and talented that people wanted to invest their time, energy, and money in me despite my lack of concern or regard for them. I am jealous that I don’t have the courage or privilege to live free from life’s silly constraints – responsibility, respect for others, plates! – and that my time is spent trying to keep Joe Schmo commitments to work, family and friends while the really special girls are laying around in the bathtub, watching TMZ and treating each day like the cheap trash it really is. I’m jealous that I spend holidays with lame real people instead of Courtney Love (because that is how special some people are) and I will never be lucky enough to rake in the cash for being so refreshingly self-aware about what, like, a mess I am.”—I’m not sure if this comment is ironic or sincere (probably a little of both), but it pretty much perfectly captures the underlying message of this article.
The other day on the Tube, I saw the cutest dog. It was a brown Labrador puppy, accompanying a sight-impaired man through the station… although the man seemed to be guiding the dog more than the dog was guiding him.
“Awwww, I want a dog,” I thought to myself. But if there is one thing my parents drummed into me growing up, it was the pets are a Serious Responsibility, to be taken on only when you are planning to live on a single continent for the duration of their lifespan. You can’t get rid of a dog any more than you can get rid of a child. It’s a member of the family.
But I don’t know when I’ll next be in the position to commit to a single home (or animal) for a decade.
“Oh well, I can get a dog when I’m in my fifties,” I reassured myself, picturing a future of dog walks and tossing balls in the garden.
Perhaps this is what they mean when they say you can have it all, but not at the same time.
(And yes, I am acutely aware that Hannah Horvath is not someone any person should want to be.)
I used to think that if I ever met Tina Fey, I would probably burst into tears, clutch her give her a hug and start wailing “thank you, thank you, thank you,” in a pale imitation of when Liz Lemon met Hallucination Oprah on 30 Rock. There are many reasons I adore Tina Fey, but chief among them is the fact that she took some the things I was most ashamed of and made them awesome, simply by associating them with her awesome self.
If I ever meet Lena Dunham, I doubt there will be any wailing involved. Which is funny, because if I’m honest, I have a lot more in common with Girls’ Hannah Horvath than I ever did with Liz Lemon.
I’m not talking about the superficial things: I submit my work for publication (clearly, it’s my job), I’ve always paid my share of the rent on time, and I wouldn’t want to spend more than 5 minutes in the presence of Adam. But those aren’t the things that make Hannah, Hannah.
I’m talking about her actual, deep seated character flaws: her petulance, her penchant for melodrama, her insecurity-slash-self-absorption. Her repetitive use of the word ‘I’. (Which I have employed 16 times so far in this blog post. Seventeen, now.)
I despised her at first, in that opening scene where we find out her parents have been footing her rent for the past two years. “Upper-middle class privilege!” I shouted. And yeah, the show is an exercise in upper-middle class privilege.
But watching the episode for a second time, I began to realise that (much like her best friend Marnie, says Scarlett Harris) many of the things that made me cringe about Hannah were things that, were someone to video tape my every move, would make me cringe about myself.
That scene in the restaurant, when she brattily informs her parents: “I don’t want to see you tomorrow. … I have work, and then I have a dinner thing, and then I am busy. Trying to become who I am”? Could have come out of my mouth in a family fight. And at the end of the episode, when she collapses on the floor and her parents start fighting over her, saying: “You’ve just been played by a major player”? Yeah. Could have come out of my parents’ mouths.
Then there’s the scene at Planned Parenthood in episode two, when Hannah confesses that as a child, she was always afraid of getting AIDS. Marnie: “It’s called HIV, and it’s not that easy to get.” Shoshanna: “It’s really not that hard to contract either, though. Haven’t you seen Rent?” Marnie: “Please, I’ve seen it 12 times. It’s basically why I moved to New York.” Not quite as awful, but not exactly glowing either, and again, every sentence could have come out of my mouth.
Then there’s the blowout between Hannah and Marnie in episode 9, which could have been a word replay of a fight I had with an ex-housemate, and Shoshanna’s outburst of “I know you hate virgins. You totally hate virgins. You hate me so much. You totally lied about liking me. You don’t like me at all.” Which, uh, sounds an awful lot like a (similarly unprompted) recent conversation I had with my husband, minus the virgin bit.
To which we could probably add Adam’s: “You think you’re not pretty, and you’re not a good writer and you’re not a good friend. Well, you are pretty and you are a good writer and you are a good friend.” Which – you guessed it – are precisely my favourite topics for self-flagellation.
And here’s the thing: while it’s kind of awesome to wave the Liz Lemon flag, it’s not cool to admit you might have a couple of things in common with Hannah Horvath. And nor should it be. The thing I like most about Girls is that it’s not aspirational. To the extent that it is a mirror (and there are many, many ways in which it is not) it is a mirror of all the things we would rather forget about ourselves.
But I do wonder if one of the reasons some people hate the show (not the people who critique it on race or class grounds, which is totally valid, but the people who hate it because the characters are kind of despicable) is because it reminds them of personality flaws that go beyond junk food, slankets and not getting laid a whole lot.
Or maybe not. It’s also possible that Lena Dunham and I are just similarly and uniquely awful people. In which case, if I ever do meet her, I will buy her a drink and commiserate over our mutual awfulness.
In my latest for Daily Life, I attempt to do for sociology what Ben Goldacre does for science: explain why silly studies are wrong. My first target? Mark Regnerus’s take on the problems with same-sex parenting.
Q: When things are working, great artists say they reflect their audience. Do you feel you’re still in touch with your audience?
A: I feel I’m reflecting the part of the audience we don’t hear from. There are a lot of people out there who love music but don’t have a place in music culture as it exists. I meet these people all the time. Soccer mom, 34, has good taste in music. They are your average rock fan who isn’t part of the Pitchfork culture. They don’t follow the train. They’re the difference between 40,000 sales and 400,000. … The unspoken audience, the stragglers, and this new audience who isn’t snarky or cares much about modern record business, that’s our audience.
“Nuance aside, whether you’re playing yourself or a wink-wink persona, the law of cameo syllogism goes as follows: if you spend a certain amount of time playing yourself, you are no longer yourself but playing a version of yourself—a stereotype of you. Add a bonus layer if you are playing a stereotype of you in a fictional scene in which all the fictional characters are outraged by the possibility that the fictional (or fictional fictional) characters in a fictional book published by a real publishing house might be based on the actual real fictional selves they’re playing.”—
My love for Simone de Beauvoir is well documented on this blog. But truth be told, my admiration is driven less by what she wrote than by the way she lived.
I love the long letters she and Sartre would write to one another, detailing their every thought and experience (proto bloggers?). I love the intensity of the relationships she had with her friends; the tight-knit, dysfunctional community she built; the sheer amount of time they spent together. I love the places she visited, the projects she worked on, the legacy she built.
I love the fact that despite her nickname being “The Beaver” (for her legendary work ethic), she actually only worked seven hours a day: three hours in the morning, and four in the evening. The afternoons she took off to socialise.**
So I’ve decided to try an experiment – to temporarily alter my routine to look more like Simone’s. Two medium sized, sharply focused bursts of work, punctuated with a break in the middle of the day to meet a friend for lunch, go to a museum, or exercise. As opposed to my current “routine” (if you could call it that), which usually involves long, meandering sessions of work, punctuated by falling down rabbit holes of internet commentary and malaise, with no clear beginning or end.
The idea? To focus more completely on work while I’m working. To separate my recreation from my work time. To feel more connected to my city and my community. To take advantage of the fact that I essentially set my own hours, instead of letting my work hours bleed into every waking hour.
Like I said, it’s an experiment. I may well abandon it within a couple of weeks, due to decreased productivity, increased spending, or a workload that literally requires me to spend 12+ hours a day staring at my computer screen. But changes don’t have to ‘work’ forever to be worthwhile. They just have to work for the moment.
London, one of my friends here recently declared, is where dreams go to die. I beg to differ – for me, it has been where my dreams have come true in ways better than I could ever have imagined – but there’s no denying that it can be a tough city. For some, the pressures are financial: high costs of living (although lower than Sydney or Melbourne, I would argue) and a lousy job market. For others, it’s the seemingly endless winters.
For me, the challenge has been social: finding a place where I fit in, and fostering intimacies that are on par with those I built up over my previous X years of young adulthood in Australia.
In my first six months here, I was plagued by anxiety. I’d go out often: to literary nights, on “friend dates”, to meet ups – one night, I even went clubbing at Camden alone, one night when Mr Musings was out of town to give a talk. Some of these worked spectacularly (the “friend dates”, for instance, which were wonderfully well judged by everyone who set us up), some weren’t worth my while (the meet ups, which too often seemed to be full of people who didn’t meet the community’s self-described criteria). But too often, I’d find myself exiting the Tube station, heart beating rapidly, knowing that once again I would be walking into a room where I knew almost no one. Where those I did know would have scores of others they wanted to talk to more than me, and where I would be an outsider.
Almost two years later, I no longer burst into palpitations every time I leave the Tube. Intellectually, I know I have plenty of friends here, a fact that becomes resplendent every time I organise a dinner or a picnic or realise it’s been HOW long since I saw person X.
But there is still a sense of loneliness that comes from not being part of a community. The thing I miss most about Sydney is not my individual friends (who increasingly scatter themselves around the globe), but that feeling of walking into an event or gathering and already knowing, if not everybody, then at least 20% of the room. More if it’s a house party.
London, for me, just hasn’t been like that. Or at least, it isn’t yet. It’s not that people are unfriendly, so much as it is that my friendships are separate, discrete.
There is this niggling part of the expat brain (or at least of this expat’s brain), that can’t help but wonder, “Have I fucked this up?” In plonking myself on the other side of the globe to most of the people who love me, have I necessarily diluted their love, whilst being inevitably locked out of the pre-existing intimacies of whatever new places I visit?
Much of the problem is internal, in my tendency to romanticise other people’s intimacies (perhaps a consequence of feeling like a genuine misfit when I was a kid). Other people get gooey over pictures of small children or perfect home decor. It’s photographs of friends sharing lunch, working on projects, or laying in the grass that tug at my heart strings. Even other people’s Twitter exchanges can render me wistful. Which is funny, because again, intellectually, I know that I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some of the most magical friendships around. And I also know from experience that that kind of intensely intertwined filial community can get nasty. Or at least messy.
Last week, I said goodbye to a friend who has been one of my closest companions here in London. It was a surprisingly unemotional event, given the tone of this post. We agreed that saying “goodbye” would be too sad, concluding instead with “I’ll see you in December” – when I’ll be spending a few days in his home city. Nothing is forever, not even goodbyes.
And perhaps that’s the lesson, when it comes to what shapes friendships might take in a world/subculture/era in which it feels like everyone is constantly coming and going. Make the most of your time together for as long as your paths cross, and operate on the assumption that at some point they’ll cross again (even if they don’t, it’s still a much nicer thought).
And as they merge and depart again across time and continents, it will build into something beautiful. Just like it did with all those (or at least some of those) those people I met back in Sydney when I was 18, 19, 20.
Feeling rather inspired by Sarah Wilson’s latest post. She’s packing up her life (and ridiculously successful career) in Australia to take to the road/seas/skies, find a new place to live, and start a new chapter of life with a greater sense of purpose. Think Eat Pray Love, without the self-absorption.
I’m looking out for community and social initiatives geared at bringing people closer. Outdoor experiences. People giving a shit. Please, if you know what I mean and you’ve found somewhere that fits this brief, please share.
Stay tuned for my own (rather more self-indulgent) upcoming travel plans in the next few days.
“Loneliness makes things happen. It’s when you haven’t spoken to a soul for days, when your whole being feels possessed by the rage for company, that even the withdrawn social coward feels an invigorating rush of desperate courage. Then you start risking things you wouldn’t dare at home. Steeling yourself, you make that call; you go over to the stranger’s table; you gratefully accept the dubious invitation. This is how adventures begin. This is why people find themselves waking up in strange beds and don’t go home again.”—Jonathan Raban (via clambistro)