Doing It (Sort Of) For Myself
I’ve been watching the show Girls, and like using Snapchat, knowing what the fuck Vine is, or being able to connect my school email account to my Gmail account, I am late on the ball for this seemingly very Millennial thing. I mean, I’d intended to watch the show, like I intend to watch The Wire, do my laundry, pay rent, be an adult — I just never got around to it. A college course was my impetus, which has proved illuminating. Applying theoretical frameworks to media texts is my crack. Perhaps unexpectedly, the class, called “HBO’s Girls and the Millennial Generation”, has proven confrontational in a way that I am somewhat disinclined to disclose in class.
I suppose that was what drew critics to the show in the first place: the story of a young person, whose generational or sociopolitical, economic, etc. identities were both crucial and inessential to understanding her character, navigating her identity in the midst of a turbulent transition into adulthood. The details of Hannah’s life hone in on specificity to the show’s style and a universality to the show’s, and in turn Lena Dunham’s, sentiment.
What gets me is this, an aspect that has been discussed to some degree in class: her desire to chronicle her life for the sake of constructing her identity as a form of commodity. Her experiences are for her essays, and Hannah feels validated when those experiences are put to paper and received (hopefully well) by an audience. There’s an implication that there’s little point in doing the thing she does without some form of “compensation”, whether monetarily (her book advance, the freelancing), or sentimentally (the reception from her editor, her friends, e.g. Marnie).
I have done this. I have done this many times. I don’t think that the idea of putting X experience to paper and being validated with Y reception is necessarily the catalyst for all of the things I do, but it’s definitely driven some of my weirder moments.
Like the time I had anonymous sex at the Dick Dock and told a joke, which the guys watching did not think was funny. I remember having a mild panic attack, my palms sweating in spite of the cool ocean breeze brushing up against my at that point clothed body, walking towards the spot. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, at least this will make a good story.” As the boy on top of me struggled greatly and as my face was sort of in the sand, I began writing an essay about the experience in my head. I imagined the punch lines I would write for jokes (“This is the closest I will have identified with gamers, as I said to him, ‘Up, up, down, left, left, down, up, right, right, Jump, Sprint, Square, Triangle, Circle… there we go…’), the way I would try to articulate the ambivalence I felt about what was happening, and how it would or wouldn’t change me.
Right before I told the joke (“So, two peanuts were crossing the street, and one was a salted… peanut.”), I thought, “I can tell people I told a joke during sex. During anonymous sex.” This was the crux. It was a relatively unconventional, or at least unspoken, thing to do. It was gregarious and atypical to my personality, and would only exist and fit within the context “So, I have this story”. In a way, the experience, however authentic the feelings were, however honest the anxiety was — was artificial, or at the very least, performative.
Similarly, the only reason I had a threesome over the summer was to say I did. So much of my persona has been built on a kind of timidness, a reserved nature that hinges on a kind of Woody Allen like neuroticism. And you don’t picture someone super neurotic being super into the idea of having a threesome, much less one where the age gap is, for at least one participant, significant, do you? Law & Order: SVU was playing in the background, no less, a detail that serves more to exacerbate the oddness, the juxtaposition of persona and situation, and the irony. And I knew I was going to write about it, in some form or another. I knew that the fact that I would complain that this sexual foray only lasted 17 minutes would cater to the aspect of my persona of being part incorrigible horn dog and part grumpy old man. And I knew that whatever came of these experiences, both in Provincetown (an experiment in itself), would end up being a part of extending my identity beyond the parameters upon which it was already built: movie person, grumpy/sardonic person, sort of salacious person.
(Side note: Someone recently referred to me as “that guy who rants about gay stuff”. So, as a queer, I guess I feel I should do my best to uphold this perception.)
Moving and being obsessed with Frances Ha, my relationship to the films of Xavier Dolan, the time I did(n’t) do poppers, the second time I had sex. It’s a matter of self-mythologizing — which isn’t in and of itself new — but I seriously wonder how cognizant other people are, if at all, of doing this. I wonder if they do do it. I don’t mean to necessarily implicate myself as someone extremely calculated, even though I would like to know that I am somewhat more interesting beyond “movie person”, even if it means experiencing things mostly to write about them. Is that bad? Therein lies the rub, the thing that Girls is so gratifyingly vicious about and yet sympathetic to: is making these experiences with the purpose of identity construction any less valid than doing it “the old fashioned way”? Confessional essays, personal think pieces, etc. have risen as a form of cultural and monetary capital. In a way, I don’t think this is new at all. I think only the recognition that they exist is something new. And maybe doing things to write about it is just another iteration of doing things to tell your friends, part of the same version of creating an idea of yourself for yourself, as well as for others. And writing is cathartic and reflexive for me; I learn about myself during the process. I guess it’s comforting to know that you have at least some grasp or control of what kind of person you are, what kind of brand you’ve created. In chaos, I can write my own character.