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.

Home Again

 

 

Several years ago,  I moved back in with my parents, into the relatively large-ish bedroom that I’d shared with my sister during high school and my drunken, collegiate summers. I was interning at a PR firm for practically negative compensation and experiencing what I think I would now classify as a slow-building nervous breakdown, though at that time I just thought I was constantly “in a bad mood.”

One weekend, I invited two of my college friends to come up to my house for the night. I had invited a big group of my mostly unemployed high school friends over to my house and we were going to grill in my backyard and, I guess, get wasted while listening to Michael Jackson, because he had died that week. Before the party got started, I was showing my friends Jen and Liza my bedroom, which at the time featured a framed poster signed by the cast of my high school’s production of Grease and approximately 700 issues of Rolling Stone stacked and organized by date. My friend Jen was looking through one of my many piles of “stuff” on my side of the room.

“Yes,” she said. She was holding up a (CD) copy of Carole King’s Tapestry, like she was Rafiki and the CD was Simba except she was being at least a little bit ironic. I felt exposed. I hadn’t listened to Tapestry in years and there it was, sitting out in plain view in my bedroom.

I don’t remember what was said afterward, but the three of us laughed and probably quoted Liz Lemon. I suppose I admitted that I had loved that album a long time ago, when I first started seriously listening to music on my own. I doubt I was able to hide my embarrassment. But truly, if anyone was going to find a Carole King CD in my bedroom, I was glad it was those two and not, like, a boyfriend who publicly listened to more obscure music than me. (JK, I have had zero boyfriends who fit that profile, or even fit the traditional profile of “boyfriend” to be honest.)

Anyway, I was thinking about this the other day because I’m going to a karaoke event in a few weeks where I’ll be limited to singing only “sad songs.” Putting together my list of possible songs, one of the first artists I thought of was Carole King. So I ended up listening to Tapestry and am glad I did. I have so many memories wrapped up in this album that I hadn’t, uh, remembered in a while.

When I was very little, my dad used to sing me to sleep. One of his standards was “You’ve Got a Friend,” but in the style of James Taylor, I guess. We still listened to the Carole King version, obviously, but my dad is a dude, who also happens to like James Taylor. Anyway, that song – ugh, I know it’s cheesy, but I’m sharing something personal right now and I’d appreciate if you could stop judging me for one second – still makes me tear up when I hear it.

“I Feel the Earth Move,” “So Far Away,” and “Where You Lead” were songs I grew up hearing on the radio constantly. My mom listened exclusively to 106.7 Lite FM, which I hated as I got older, but now appreciate for bestowing upon me an extensive knowledge of easy listening/soft rock/AM Gold. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know those songs.

By the time I reached middle school, I was stealing CDs from my dad’s collection and secretly listening to them. And Tapestry was one of the albums that I stole. (The CD that Jen found was probably my dad’s.) Why this listening had to take place in secret, or alone, I’m not sure. I suspect it had something to do with needing to experience something by myself in order to connect with it emotionally. The songs on Tapestry allowed me to imagine what it was like to feel things like love and loss – and other things too, but those are obviously the easiest/first things that come to mind – long before I would have those experiences myself.

“Home Again” and “It’s Too Late” became “shower songs” – these are songs that I often sing in the shower – that I “practiced” while I was home alone in middle and high school, though I still find myself singing them once in a while. Which brings me back to the karaoke thing. After listening to Tapestry the other night – in my apartment, alone – I sang a few songs from the album while taking a shower. Quietly at first, and then louder once I remembered that my roommates weren’t home. A few weeks from now, I’ll be bringing one of these songs out of the shower and into the public eye – or, actually, a big karaoke room filled with mostly acquaintances – for the first time ever. In a way, my secret relationship with Tapestry is coming to an end.

P.S. I tweeted about listening to Tapestry alone and the official Twitter account of the Carole King musical, “Beautiful”, tweeted at me:

beautiful broadway tweet