Follow Me on Twitter

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lena Dunham and Me

I read Lena Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl and I liked it. I’ve gotta say it. She’s been getting a  lot of press, some of it accusing her of being weirdly interconnected with, and possibly abusive of, her younger sister. I gotta say I enjoyed the book. She’s funny. She’s young, sure.Painfully so, when I consider that she could be my child. Or rather, that I could have a child her age. Ouch. But she has some self-awareness, thanks to mucho therapy. You know how I feel about therapy. NO? Well, nevermind. I might turn you off by saying more.
How I feel about keeping Lena's book out so long.  

Anyway, my point. Despite all the negative press she has received, mostly from conservatives, I don’t think she wrote anything particularly disturbing about her relationship with her sister. Yes, she did look in her sister’s vagina, when her sister was a toddler and she was six years older than that. But it was because her sister had inserted marbles in there. I would have looked, too. And then she told their mother, and then her mother got to remove them. Ah, the joys of parenthood. Just the other day I was wondering WHEN my children might learn to throw up in the toilet. TMI? Sorry.

Anyway, yes, she shared a bed with her sister, and seems to have tried to lavish her with love as if her sister were her baby. This behavior is so classic I don’t even need a psych degree to analyze it. Let’s just say I was more direct in expressing my jealousy. I simply tried to kill my sister (six and a half years younger, like Lena’s younger sister) by holding her nose. When I let go, her nostrils stuck together briefly, and I panicked.

I like to think this is one of the reasons my sister grew up to be the excellent psychotherapist and psychoanalyst she is.

People’s reactions to Lena Dunham and her book reminded me of an incident regarding Harriet the Spy. The younger daughter and I read it for our mother-daughter book club. Thing is, as a kid, I loved Harriet the Spy. I related to Harriet. I was a writer. We had a housekeeper (a series of them, actually) with whom I had relationships. I even made a spy route around my neighborhood and wrote about it in a notebook. I knew what a dumbwaiter was because my nursery school was in an old mansion that had one. But when the younger generation read the book they couldn’t relate to Harriet. They thought she was spoiled and super rich. Yet I and my schoolmates and neighborhood friends all lived the same way. Many or most of us had housekeepers and working parents and went to private schools. It wasn’t so hard to achieve that standard of living back then.

Which is, I guess, why so many people feel that Lena Dunham is hopelessly privileged. By the standards of these times, she is. Most of the children I know do not have regular housekeepers or nannies. That style of living is out of reach for most people now. This seems like a tangible expression of those stagnant wages and real earnings I’ve heard so much about on the news. You know the stuff about how since the 1970s, people’s incomes haven’t actually kept pace with price increases and other economic stuff I know nothing about. But I do know about therapy and private schools and how my kids don’t get those things – but I did.

So I liked her honesty and her tone and her self-deprecating humor. And I guess I just don’t find her upbringing threatening.

In short, I related to Lena. How could I not, when she writes things like, “The germophobia morphs into hypochondria morphs into sexual anxiety morphs into the pain and angst…?” Sure, she was talking about middle school. I have never been that extreme. Although, come to think of it, in 7th grade I fell under the spell of that saying, “See a pin, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck. See a pin, let it lay, [something one syllable I can’t remember or never knew] bad luck is here to stay.” This meant that I had to pick up every safety pin I saw. Readers, there were so many of them. I hung each new find on a big pin I’d come across, sort of like safety-pin art, and I’d have to carry this set of pins with me. Eventually, I was pinning that bunch of safety pins to my underwear for protection every day. I think this stopped only when my stepmother asked with irritation why all my underpants had holes at the waistband and fear knocked some sense into me. I realized I couldn’t indulge this kind of obsessive behavior. I moved on to something more normal, picking my split ends.

Confession time.* I had this post about Lena Dunham almost ready a while ago. Back in ’14, I believe. But I didn’t get a chance to finish it. I think I had too much procrastinating to do. Then the book was due at the library. I love the library. And I couldn’t renew it because there is a waiting list for it. But I couldn’t return it because I had to look up a couple things to quote for you, Readers. Then it was Christmas and everything got “tidied up” around the house. This is shorthand for saying I lost it. But then I found it again, after New Year’s, and I returned the book. I promise I did.

How do you feel about overdue library books? I used to worry about them. I tried never to have overdue books. However, unlike my MIL, who has never returned a book late to the library, I have become a compulsive late returner. Worse, instead of feeling bad about this, I feel okay, because I know I’m performing a service to the library. They count on those overdue fees to contribute to their budget items. So, it’s actually a good deed, a veritable mitzvah, to return them late. As long as you pay those fines.

So what did I want to quote? Well, I intended to illustrate my statement that the book is funny and well–written. That Dunham, while young, is reasonably self-aware, thanks to a lot of therapy, about which she writes at length. She’s aware of how people view her – as a privileged, white, New Yorker. At the same time, she’s only in her late twenties, so she’s still got limited awareness of herself and a limited scope of interest. But she puts it out on the page well. For example, on page 46, she recounts a moment at college (Oberlin), where someone points out her sheltered upbringing by calling her “Little Lena from Soho.”
            “What a snarky jerk,” she writes. “(Obviously I later slept with him.)”
            Come on, that’s funny.
            If I could put myself out there on the page and be honest and raw and funny and insightful and get PUBLISHED and PAID to do so, I’d feel successful. Oh, yeah.

*Rereading this, to implement the fixes the husband pointed out were needed, this strikes me as hilarious, following as it does the paragraph about my 7th grade OCD. Not to mention the attempted suffocation of my sister. Like that wasn't a confession??

No comments:

Post a Comment