What It’s Like To Be A ‘Girl’

When Girls first premiered, I told anyone who cared that I refused to watch it. How could I watch a show that was basically about my life? As a 24-year old living in New York City*, I was convinced the show was going to be a bizarro version of my own experience, which would make it “too weird” to watch. I can admit now, two years later, that I only said these things because I was jealous of Lena Dunham. She got to write a show about the kinds of things I was going through at that very moment. I wanted to be writing that show, but she was. But instead of sitting down and writing my own show or short stories or novel, all I did was complain about the things – my job, my lack of financial support, all of the choices I’d ever made up until that point – that I saw standing in my way.

However, I’m never one miss out on a pop culture moment. I eventually succumbed to the hype after two episodes had aired and “caught up.” I liked Girls. I became a regular viewer. There have always been some parts of the show that rubbed me the wrong way, but I’ve remained a fan and (mostly quiet) advocate of the show over the last two years.

Girls is now in its third season and for the first time, I feel compelled to write about it. This past week’s “Free Snacks,” the seasons’ sixth episode, struck a chord with me. Well, one storyline in particular did. For those of you who haven’t (or won’t) watch the episode, Hannah, whose ebook publication has been stalled for now, gets a job writing for an advertorial section in GQ. She quickly impresses her boss in a brainstorm, but pisses off at least one of her new teammates with her spot-on ideas. When she tells her colleagues that she doesn’t see herself doing this job for long because she wants to be a real writer, they reveal that they’re all writers – of varying degrees of New York-y successfulness – but pursue writing on the side as they’ve settled into the corporate comfort of their jobs. Joe, Hannah’s teammate who has sort of taken her under his wing, tells her that she just needs to write her own stuff on nights and weekends. It’s hard, but it what you have to do.

It’s been a few days since I watched the episode and there’s a lot of stuff I could write about Hannah’s character growth or the expansion of the show’s world, but I keep thinking about how Hannah’s new job storyline relates to my own life. As much as I’ve enjoyed watching Girls – even and maybe especially because of all the parts that have made me uncomfortable – during the past few years, I’ve never been able to confidently identify with any of the main characters. I can’t pinpoint which “Girl” I am because I don’t think I’m any of them.

Shoshanna is too much of the person I tried very hard not to be for me to relate to her, though I recognize what the writers have tried to make her character represent (sometimes). Jessa has always seemed a caricature of certain privileged people who have floated around the periphery of my life. I understand Marnie’s confusion about her identity and uptightness, but I’m not sure I would have made any of the choices she has.

And I’ve always known that I’m not “a Hannah.” Yes, Hannah is a not-yet-successful writer. But she is devoted to writing in ways that I’m not, is confident in her voice, and has made things happen for herself in a way that I’ve never been able to. I, on the other hand, dove right into a career without even the slightest clue that writing professionally was even an option for me. Once I did realize that I wanted to write, I also realized that I’m less willing to struggle than someone like Hannah. I’m afraid of losing my parents’ approval and having to deal with their anxieties about whether or not I’ll be able to support myself. And frankly, I like making enough money to get by, even if it means that I can’t spend all day working on my personal projects. As much as I fantasize about not working an office job, there is a definite comfort in being paid to go somewhere every weekday.

So, you know who I am? I’m Hannah’s new co-workers. Well, I’m a less successful version of Hannah’s new co-workers. Some of them have actually been published. I’ve never been published anywhere but on this blog and, so far, it’s been hard not to be deterred by rejection. But the more I write here, the more I understand my voice and the types of things I’m capable of writing. And this has enabled me to come up with new projects that I’m excited to be working on, even if nobody else is all that into them. It’s hard to keep motivated or maintain any sort of writing momentum while working full time but when I can, I try hard to write on those nights and weekends.

And then, sometimes, I don’t. There are nights I could use for writing when I end up doing something else instead. I like socializing, which often means drinking and dinners that last later into the night than I’d planned. Sometimes, I have to do laundry or cook. Watching TV, reading, reviewing for the class that I’m taking, these all take the time that I could use for writing. And work really does takes a lot of my energy. At the end of “Free Snacks,” when Hannah falls asleep on the couch after work, just after she’s proclaimed that she’ll spend the next three hours writing, I felt her. I liked the Hannah at the end of this episode, who has decided to stick it out at the new job and try to write on nights and weekends, I guess, because she’s become more like me.

Over a year ago, a colleague of my father’s who is also a reader of this blog told me that I should write about Girls. She said she thought I would have an interesting perspective on the show. I told her that I couldn’t possibly write about it. There were already so many people writing recaps and think pieces and garbage that who really cared what I thought about this show? This, of course, was bullshit. Another excuse to mask what I really thought. What I meant was that I didn’t think I could write about it. I wasn’t a critic. I wasn’t even a real writer. Just a person with a small, unfocused blog. Everyone else could write about it better than I ever could.

But here I am, writing about Girls. Or, I guess, writing about myself by writing about Girls. Which leads me to think that I’ve changed. I know I’m still not a critic or “real” – whatever that means – essayist or professional writer. But that doesn’t mean I can’t become one of these things eventually. I just have to write more critical pieces. Getting more serious about writing has been a consistent goal of mine since graduating from college. What I’ve needed more than anything in order to achieve this is confidence, which I feel that I’ve been gaining, slowly but surely. Maybe I’m becoming a little bit more like Hannah, a little less afraid of rejection and certainly more willing to write things that fail.

*I was then living in Manhattan, but months later moved to Greenpoint, where the show is set. I get my coffee at Cafe Grumpy every morning. Take what you will from these facts.

Emphasis On: The Enchanted April

Since starting Emphatic Hands, I have tried to find a way to write about things I like in brief. That rarely works out. But I’m going to try it from now on, once a week, every Tuesday. (Haha, I hope.) “Emphasis On” – shut up, I needed a title – will consist of short reviews of books, music, films or television. Last week, I talked about Craig Thompson’s graphic memoir, BlanketsThis week, I’m talking about Elizabeth von Arnim’s novel, The Enchanted April.

I only knew this book existed because Netflix kept suggesting I watch the movie, which I assumed starred Helena Bonham Carter, but recently found out did not. (Polly Walker – who I know best as Atia of the Julii in Rome – just looks a tiny bit like Helena Bonham Carter on the film poster.) I picked up The Enchanted April months ago on the table in the Strand where I know they keep the new NYRB Classics paperbacks. I finally got around to reading it last week and, I can tell you, it is a very nice book.

Published in 1921, The Enchanted April is about four women who spend a month at an Italian castle after one of them reads about it in a newspaper advertisement. The story is simple. The women go to the castle and their perceptions and relationships and LIVES are changed. Though she mostly focuses on the women, I was very impressed by the way von Arnim was able to write from the perspectives of all of the characters who appear in the novel, who vary in age, gender and nationality. (She dwells briefly on the husbands and suitors of the women, who are all pretty big jerks, as well as the castle’s staff.) And after finishing the book, I felt satisfied by the lovely positivity of the story, even if the ending was abrupt and the outlook for the characters was perhaps a little too hopeful and earnest. Not every book I read needs to blow my mind for me to like it. The experience of reading this felt like a vacation from reading, which I think was just what I needed.

Give this book a shot if you like costume dramas or, more specifically, stories about British ladies who take long trips to the continent, which I’m certain is a real literary subgenre. Or if you are like me and need to take a bit of a reading vacation every once in a while.

New Music: Angel Olsen

On Friday, I included Angel Olsen’s new song “White Fire” in my list of favorite things from last week. Now I would like to take this opportunity to strongly encourage all of you to listen to her new album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness, which is streaming on NPR. I think I can say that this album is my favorite of the year so far. I mean, there hasn’t been that much of “the year” yet, so it’s pretty easy for me to say something like this on February 10th. But…I think it’s very good. Just listen to it.

And if you like it, buy the album. It comes out on February 18th.

Here is the video for “Hi-Five”:

And also, her recent NPR Tiny Desk concert (the first one of these I’ve actually watched all the way through in a while?):

Five Things I Liked This Week

It’s Friday so here’s a short list of things I liked this week, most of which I found on the internet. One is a book that I read in book-form because I found it while browsing at a bookshop, because that’s a thing I like to do. I find myself making short lists like this more and more often, so I hope you like them! If you don’t, tell me. Just know that I’ll probably keep doing stuff like this because, haha, I will do anything to distract myself from sitting down and actually writing something.

1. BANKS – “Brain”

 

2. Gabe Delahaye’s response to that terrible NYT article on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last days

 

3. Angel Olsen – “White Fire”

 

4. Jeff Chu’s profile on two sisters who left the Westboro Baptist Church (available paywall-free today on Beacon Reader)

 

5. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Emphasis On: Blankets

Since starting Emphatic Hands, I have tried to find a way to write about things I like in brief. That rarely works out. But I’m going to try it from now on, once a week, every Tuesday. (Haha, I hope.) “Emphasis On” – shut up, I needed a title – will consist of brief, one-paragraph reviews of books, music, films or television. Last week, I talked about Gary Shteyngart’s Little FailureThis week, I’m talking about Craig Thompson’s graphic memoir, Blankets.

 

Blankets

I first read Blankets several years ago, while on a quest to read all of the best graphic novels. (I believe I chose this one after reading Watchmen for the first time.) At the time, I was blown away. I read the whole thing in one sitting. A brief synopsis of the book: Craig grows up in rural Wisconsin in an evangelical Christian family, is bullied throughout his childhood and adolescence, falls in love for the first time, and struggles with his faith. The autobiographical novel follows Craig from childhood to young adulthood. I found that I could relate to all of his experiences, from evolving sibling relationships to feeling guilty for not being exactly who you thought you were supposed to be, even though my life and opportunities have been very different from Thompson’s. Upon my recent re-reading of the book, I fell in love with it all over again. I definitely recommend this to…anyone, really! But especially those who are looking to start reading graphic novels or enjoy coming-of-age stories.