3 Audacious Things Lena Dunham Wants
Recently, I talked to Lena Dunham on the phone for half an hour while my dad, Greenie, carted me to the Philadelphia airport to catch my flight back to California. In order to tape the conversation, I had to put her on speaker, and after just about everything she said, my dad laughed so hard I thought his dentures were going to shoot out and break in pieces against the dash. (Obviously, I had to explain all this to Lena, who said his mirthful outbursts were making her so happy which made my dad so happy and now Greenie, who had never heard of her before yesterday, has called twice to announce that “our gal” has been written up in Time Magazine and the New York Times too!) I had just finished her really excellent first book, Not That Kind of Girl, which I’d started only the day before.
Listen, you have written a phenomenal book. So many great observations and really important confessions (some large, some very small but still daring and important), and then sentence by sentence, you can really twist a phrase. So many quotable lines.
Oh, that means so much to me. I really cannot thank you enough, Kelly. It’s such a new thing to put something out in this form.
No, seriously, I was floored. You’re a great fucking writer.
Your feedback means the world. [She seriously said this, slowly and emphatically. She is very humble.]
So I’m going to post notes from our conversation on Medium —
I love Medium. I am obsessed with the platform. I think it is so cool and I want to find more and more ways to use it.
It’s awesome; I’m addicted. Hey, so I have three big questions and ten little ones. Let’s start big. Your work is so audacious; it made me wonder what you might do next. So, what’s something crazy you’d like to try creatively?
I would love to write a play. I would love to experiment with the concept of live performance and see what that is and see if I have anything to offer. And it seems like such an insane thing to do since there are so many theater professionals who have made that their craft. But every time I go to the theater I have this strong desire to worm my way into the place and start barking orders so maybe if I ever get brave enough…
[This reminded me of a notable distinction she makes in Not That Kind of Girl about getting naked on TV, something many characterize as “brave,” but she does not.]
How about personally? What’s something bold you might want to try there?
My friend, Amina, forwarded me this story about this guy that said No for a month without any explanations. He didn’t say Oh, I’m sorry but that’s not going to work for me for these reasons…he just said No. And he talked about these incredible results he got.
I’m not really oriented properly for that sort of grand social experiment; I worry much too much about offending people. But it seems like it would be very liberating to just No It Up, like be your own Fran Lebowitz and just say No a lot.
[My dad, swept up, shouted into the phone You Go Girl! to which Lena replied, I know, right?]
And how about something you’d like to do philanthropically.
Oh, oh, philanthropy!
Did you think I was making up words to mess with you?
Ha! No, I thought you had used a word I’d never heard of. My first instinct is always that everyone knows things I don’t. You could say anything and I’d be like, Whoa you’re so smart. So, okay, philanthropically, I got it.
Well, you know, I’ve spent a lot of time working with Planned Parenthood and I’m really passionate about it. I get an amazing sense of what they’re doing on a grand scale but I’d love to spend a few days in a Planned Parenthood clinic really getting a sense of what happens on a day-to-day basis because I think that such an important part of supporting a nonprofit is to see the operations at the ground level, to understand and participate in the real work of the place. I’d probably be twice as impressed as I already am.
So I guess you could say No to everything and everyone while writing a play about the daily goings-on in a Planned Parenthood clinic…
Perfect! Done. And probably, that would be a really fun play. I once wrote a terrible play in high school that took place in an abortion clinic that wasn’t even politically on point and had all these assumptions about girls crying because that’s what I thought happened there. So this could be my second chance; I could make up for that.
Okay, last thing to do: The Kelly Corrigan Pop Quiz. This my answer to that James Lipton/Bernard Pivot speed round. You ready?
Ten questions. 1. What song have you listened to more than any other?
“You’re my favorite mistake” Sheryl Crow. Always good to get some Sheryl Crow up in there, right?
2. Absolutely. If you had a year to get really good at something, what would you try?
Hip hop dance.
3. Nice. Who do people say you look just like?
It’s really sad. The little boy from The Shining. Danny. I literally get it all the time. I used to get Britney Spears when she was going through a not-that-fit phase but now I just get Danny from The Shining.
[Both my dad and I died here, so much so that I hung up on her somehow and had to call back to finish up. I’m very professional.]
4. Sorry about that. So, if your mother wrote a book about you, what would it be called?
Go To Sleep.
[The book includes descriptions of her anxieties and compulsions that are so sharp I felt poked by them. One can only imagine how much her mother longed to see this girl at peace.]
5. What would you like to see fixed in your lifetime?
All American citizens would receive medical coverage.
6. If everyone on earth could kill one person without repercussion, would you be killed? By whom and why?
That’s an amazing question. I like that so much better than who would you kill. I feel like I have one or two ex-boyfriends who would like to eviscerate me for depictions in my writings.
[You can decide how fair this is as you read; I thought in at least two cases, she didn’t eviscerate them enough.]
7. Is there one place you wish everyone could go?
Cuba. And it’s really hard to get there. But it’s incredible. It’s got a time capsule element, all these fascinating social elements, and the people are really sexy. I wish everyone could go. I don’t know what the implications are of saying that; I’m not thinking at all about the Twitter factor here. I’ll probably be in handcuffs by tomorrow.
8. What’s the worst job you ever had?
I was the pooper-scooper at a doggie day care place. That was a bad job.
9. Whose voice, either how it sounds or what he/she says, do you most revere?
Oh, I love that. I really like my grandmother who passed away. I like remembering her thick Yankee accent; I often try to imitate it but I don’t do a good job. But I can hear it perfectly in my head.
10. Lastly, if you could say four words to anyone, living or dead, who you would address and what you would say?
Oh that is such an amazing question. Who…who…well, I mean I just had a very strong instinct to go up to Virginia Woolf and say What’s up with you?
[At this point, my dad laughed so hard we damn-near drove into the median strip. I don’t think he’d ever been exposed to someone quite like her. Nor had I.]
For your reference: Danny from The Shining.
Since this conversation, I’ve asked the same questions to BJ Novak, Mary Roach, John Cleese, Margaret Atwood, Jason Segel and a few others. Follow FOREWORD to find out what they said.