And by “Girls” I mean the HBO series written and directed by Lena Dunham.
I don’t get HBO — I don’t get cable at all — so I’ve only seen on episode, by chance, in a hotel room. My reaction was mixed. It was funny and painful and truthful and sad and ridiculous and unrealistic — all at the same time.
It’s a show about four girls living in New York — out of college and one of them newly out of money — her internship is unpaid and her parents have just cut her off financially and she only has four essays finished out of her nine-essay memoir which, she believes, will make her the voice of her generation. “Or at least, a generation… somewhere,” she fumbles. The girls mostly deal with boys — a too-good boyfriend who becomes a turn-off (because he’s too good) and a not-really-a-boyfriend who, despite all the sex that happens, never seems to turn his not-girlfriend on. There’s one amusingly meta moment when one character explains Sex in the City to another, and even assigns them combo-packs of Carrie/Samantha/Miranda personas* (one with “Charlotte” hair).
* Spell-check tells me this should be “personae” but somehow I just cant bring myself to go with the Latinate plural.
After watching the one episode in the hotel room and the pilot online, I read “Girls Girls Girls” by Roxane Gay in The Rumpus. She begins:
A television show about my twenties would follow the life of a girl who is lost, literally and figuratively. There wouldn’t be a laugh track. The show would open deep in my lost year—the year I drop out of college and disappear. With no ability to cope, and no way to ask for help, the main character—my character, me—is completely crazy. She makes a spectacular mess.
No one would make a show about my “lost” twenties. I was in New York, in graduate school. I spent a lot of time reading, my life was far more city (bookstores in the Village, cafes in Soho, the MoMA, the Met, the Cloisters) than sex. And I didn’t have three friends to act as complements and foils to my brunette bookworm (no bombshell blonde, no career-driven redhead — and no bohemian British accents either). My friends and I talked about relationships but we also talked about literature and movies and music and what was going on in the world. If one of us was going to have an abortion (as a character in Girls is scheduled to do) we probably wouldn’t have told anyone — let alone had a group support session in the waiting room, complete (if I remember correctly) with snacks. For my version of Girls — which would most likely be titled just “Girl” — all you’d have is a lot of footage of someone reading and writing in the above-mentioned bookstores, cafes and museums or walking around Washington Square or seeing bands at CBGB or looking out a window down 23rd Street and wondering, vaguely, wonderingly, is this my life?
One of the things I was reading during that time was Joan Didion’s powerfully poignant essay “Good-bye to All That” (which you can find in her essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem). It begins:
It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was. When I first saw New York I was twenty, and it was summertime, and I got off a DC-7 at the old Idlewild temporary terminal in a new dress which had seemed very smart in Sacramento but seemed less smart already, even in the old Idlewild temporary terminal, and the warm air smelled of mildew and some instinct, programmed by all the movies I had ever seen and all the songs I had ever read about New York, informed me that it would never be quite the same again. In fact it never was. Some time later there was a song in the jukeboxes on the Upper East Side that went “but where is the schoolgirl who used to be me,” and if it was late enough at night I used to wonder that. I know now that almost everyone wonders something like that, sooner or later and no matter what he or she is doing, but one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.
The feeling here is so very different from the feeling in Girls — and more like my own feelings about New York and my 20s. But while Lena Dunham is in her mid-20s, I am in my late 30s. I was going to ask if this is the difference of a generation (loosely speaking) — but Joan Didion is in her 70s! Perhaps, then, a difference in sensibility?
At first Didion believes that
Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach. Just around every corner lay something curious and interesting, something I had never before seen or done or known about.
But I don’t see the girls in Girls feeling this way. What seems to be around the corner is another unsatisfying relationship, a futile struggle to earn a living, a general malaise in the face of a decision or some kind of petty humiliation.
I wonder where these girls will be in, say, eight years?
For Didion, eight years in New York was enough.
That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every word, all of it.
Is this the moment when girls grow into women?
Roxane Gay writes in her Rumpus essay that
Every girl or once-was-girl has a show that would be best for her. I’m more interested in a show called Grown Women about a group of friends who finally have great jobs and pay all their bills in a timely manner but don’t have any savings and still deal with messy love lives and hangovers on Monday morning at work.
I’m still looking for my once-was-girl show (it wasn’t Sex in the City, or Felicity (although that might have been closer), and it’s not — I don’t think — Girls) but I’d like to watch a show called Grown Women. In the meantime I’ll content myself with rereading “Goodbye to All That” and waiting for Girls to come out on Netflix. Because despite my ambivalence about the show … I can’t seem to stop thinking about it.