I just read Lena Dunham’s new novel Not That Kind Of Girl.
It. Was. Amazing.
I first discovered Lena Dunham back when most of us did – the premiere of Girls on HBO. The show was brilliant. Hilarious, smart, and the perfect portrayal of life as a 20-something woman. How useless we can be. How confusing the whole thing is. How insecure we are. (Shit, I just realized that I’m no longer a 20-something woman so the tense in all that is wrong. Oh well. Also maybe I need to have it all figured out at this point? Double shit.) The New York Times has this to day about LD:
She is perhaps to the millennials what J. D. Salinger was to the post-World War II generation and Woody Allen was to the baby boomers: a singular voice who spoke as an outsider and, in so doing, became the ultimate insider. (Read more here.)
That’s a pretty big statement and I’m not going to go so far as to say that I agree with it. I will say that, for me, LD seems to voice my weirdest, most secret thoughts about life as a young (ish) woman.
Lena Dunham was the first normal, non-perfect female body that I ever saw on TV. And she is naked on TV A Lot. It was refreshing to see someone normal, in the nude, on HBO. I was fascinated.
The sex on the show was raw and normal and not nearly so pretty as we are normally led to believe that sex should be.
The Girls were screwy, funny and lived in crappy little apartments, with crappy thrift store clothing. They portrayed accurately an age that is so often glossed over.
Even as a married suburban woman I could relate to the show. I looked forward to each episode. As a single woman I enjoy it even more. C and I texted each other constantly through the first season saying: “OMG – did you just see that?!” again and again. We laughed ourselves sick on our weekly walk, rehashing the events of the previous night.
The episode where Hannah removes and exchanges shirts with the man in the club and spends the rest of the night running all over New York in a lime green mesh tank, boobs exposed to the world, doing coke off of bathroom toilets? One of the best, most honest things that I have ever seen. If my life had taken just a slightly different turn that could have been me. (Minus the coke. Boobs on display in a lime green tank? Totally possible. When I was younger and less wise.)
I was excited when LD had her book published in September but, what with one thing and another, I didn’t get around to reading it until this past week.
I devoured it.
I read it, highlighting passages madly on my e-Reader. In the end I have 36 highlighted sections. I’m sure that I could write a post on why each of those passages resonated with me. I’ll just share a few…
On being young…
“I couldn’t escape the feeling that I had experiences to gain, things to learn.”
Isn’t this a hallmark of the 20s? That you are trying to figure it out, try things, try yourself and your abilities? I didn’t do this in the traditional way. I didn’t sleep around, or travel, or have a crazy college experience. But I did do this. Especially this past year, I have gained so many experiences, learned how strong I really am, how strong my family really is. Experience is how we become who we are meant to be. I’ve learned that I don’t need to seek experiences out – If I am an active participant in my life they will occur and I will grow and learn and it will be wonderful even when it is completely horrific.
“When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself.”
It took me too long to learn this. It took me too long to realize that I was worth more. It took me too long to realize that you become less when you accept less.
“The flirting consisted of him questioning my general intelligence and noting my lack of spatial awareness and then winking to let me know it was all in good fun.”
This casual form of belittlement that is so common and yet so damaging. Do men realize that it cuts to the core? The men I know who are good husbands, fathers and boyfriends, they do not do this. Why then is it so common? Where do you find these guys who aren’t like this?
“Because he told me my body was beautiful, like a Renaissance painting, something I badly needed to hear.”
Even now, (especially now?), I feel shock (then melt) when a man loves my face, hair, or body. It is so unexpected for me. It is such a deep seeded insecurity. I’m getting over it.
“And one day you’ll get out of bed to pee, and someone will say, ‘I hate it when you leave’, and you will want to rush back. You’ll think, Stuff like this only happens to characters played by Jennifer Garner, right? but it’s happening to you and it keeps happening even when you cry or misbehave or show him how terrible you are at planning festive group outings. He seems to be there without reservation. He pays attention. He listens. He seems to want to stay”
My cousin posted this passage on her instagram the other day and when I came to it I highlighted it also. What a beautiful sentiment. What a beautiful thing to find. What a rare thing to find. I don’t want to fall apart (ever) but it is inevitable. To find someone you can fall apart with every now and then and know that it’s okay to do so? Trust me. This isn’t the norm.
On life as a woman…
“I have been envious of male characteristics, if not the men themselves. I’m jealous of the ease with which they seem to inhabit their professional pursuits: the lack of apologizing, of bending over backward to make sure the people around them are comfortable with what they’re trying to do. The fact that they are so often free of the people-pleasing instincts that I have considered to be a curse of my female existence”
This is me to a T. It makes professional life difficult. Men inhabit their bodies, careers, lives with a casual confidence. They own the world and even if they don’t they act as if they do. Women apologize and people-please their way up the ladder. It’s exhausting. It’s silly. It holds us back. Why are we programmed this way? How do we change it?
“Over time my belief in many things has wavered: marriage, the afterlife, Woody Allen. But never motherhood. It’s for me. I just know it”
The one thing I know for sure is that I want to have children. That that is what I am built for. It’s not all that I will be… but it’s an important part. I can’t picture a future that doesn’t involve children.
“And there I am, drunk on a spring night, yanking my tampon out and hurling it into a bush outside the church”
I want to be this honest in my writing. I don’t think that I ever will be. Also this passage made me laugh and I could picture the scenario so perfectly in my mind and I could sympathize with her so strongly. Let’s be honest ladies… who hasn’t been there in some way or another?
I don’t know who I would recommend this book to. It would drive my Mother crazy. Dad, I think you’d get a kick out of it. Anyone who is my age and needs to know that you aren’t alone in having no idea how to do life as a “grown-up”? If you need to know that screwing up isn’t abnormal? Try it.
Honestly, I know how to do life as a grown up. I know how to pay bills and a mortgage, maintain a home, cook Christmas dinner. I could have kids and I’d be able to keep them alive and care for them emotionally and stuff. I don’t have everything that I want yet but I know I’ll get it. I’m past the point of wanting for the material and am focused on partnership and family and contentment and happiness.
Lena Dunham’s book, her experiences, her life… they felt so similar to my own. And yet we have had a completely opposite experience in our 20s. I felt like it was a strong portrayal of the mind of a (white, middle class) millennial woman.
I recommend it to anyone who wants to see inside that mind.