I have a confession to make. I’ve been obsessively googling “Lena Dunham interview” videos on YouTube for the past few days – sneaking them in the background at work, while I cook, while I tooth brush. Not to mention the frantic episode review searches every Monday, since no one in my circle is a devoted Girls Season 6 follower (that, or they don’t have cable).
Part of it is nostalgia for sure, since the series finale is tonight (how?). Part of it is because Lena Dunham and I are the same age, with similar neurosis and evidently, similar dreams. Perhaps it’s based on identifying with three of the main characters (35% Marnie, 40% Shosh and 25% Hannah), going through similar painful life lessons at roughly the same time.
The Courage To Create From The Heart
I first heard about Girls shortly after accepting a content and programming role at a telecom (“TV Everywhere”, they call it). Reps from HBO were very excited to share the premiere news, like all networks that pitch and pimp their fresh meat in order to get more marketing and merchandising love.
When I watched Season 1, I loved to hate it. And then I tried to watch Tiny Furniture and fell asleep. I thought Lena Dunham was overrated and a little weird but mostly I was just jealous that she had hustled and created her way to producing, writing, directing and acting in a fearless series that was based on her most shameful, raw, vulnerable moments and observations.
Lena Dunham’s commitment to portraying the truth, from awkward sexual experiences to UTI’s, Facebook stalking to brawls with best friends, masturbation to silicone penises is a sharp contrast to the veneers we share on social media and the benign pleasantries we exchange at work.
It requires facing the judgmental voices in our heads and the fear of being found out. Because once our most shameful traits and memories are out in the open, we for sure won’t be lovable. At least that’s what’s kept me cocooned in writer’s block half of the time.
What will my current and future employers think? What will my Ex’s think? What will my parents and grandparents think? What will my unborn children think if I published the moments that mattered most? Surely I would never get married, get hired or live a normal life again.
But maybe the relationships we’d outgrow are the ones that would fade out or temporarily hold anyway. Maybe we’d attract a tribe like Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner who celebrate and support the real us. On that note, the oral history of Girls in The Hollywood Reporter is a fascinating, must read about the universe conspiring.
The Courage To Keep Going When Critics Say No
Lena has faced an inordinate amount of scrutiny and criticism since the debut of her show from valid journalists and critics to random trolls on twitter. They’ve criticized and applauded her appearance, torn down and built up her work, questioned her morals and values. There were even lawsuits from stories in her book. I had my own experiences with critics (outside of myself) and it didn’t end well.
In grade 12, my friends and I entered the “Sears Drama Festival” with an ensemble play about a group of friends and I was to play Martha, the one they could barely tolerate. The plot line cut a little too close to home, as I often felt like an outsider in our group of friends. Her character had the greatest emotional arc, with a breakdown at the end as her carefully crafted façade came tumbling down.
I remember crying backstage during our dress rehearsal because the Director wasn’t feeling it and I felt blocked internally and like I would fail. True to form, the festival judge praised a couple of my classmates but told the room that, “Martha just wasn’t believable.”
I was devastated…and he was probably right. I really wanted to deliver a flawless and inspiring performance that would validate my childhood actress dreams and help win us a prize. I wanted OUTCOMES. But I’ve come to learn that perfectionism kills presence and vulnerability, two key attributes for creating inspiring work.
That same year I tried halfheartedly to get an agent but was told very kindly by one to take acting classes and come back (spoiler alert: I didn’t). Another female agent told me the bags under my eyes were so deep that “not even stage makeup could cover them up”, among other harsh opinions. I cried during the car ride home with my dad, feeling like an idiot. Who did I think I was?
I decided that I didn’t have the thick skin required to endure endless rejection in that industry and so I focused on business school, a place where I could rely on my intellect and relentless work ethic to thrive and feel good about myself. It was 100% a fear-based + ego saving move. I didn’t realize then that the corporate world could be full of critics too.
SO, even if you manage to silence your inner critic enough to produce a work from your heart and soul, you have to continue to stand by your conviction, believing that you belong in the arena, while being open to perspectives that can truly help you grow. In Lena’s case, learning about diversity inclusion and racial sensitivity.
The Courage To Live Your Values AND Use Your Voice
Finally, Lena is a woman of cause and conviction. She is a huge advocate for mental health, sharing her own struggles with OCD and anxiety, so we can all feel less alone. She’s passionate about feminism and Planned Parenthood and sisterhood. YES, she’s in a position of power and influence where she’d naturally be more “role-model” conscious. AND these activities benefit her personal brand and therefore wallet. BUT her actions still feel authentic to me.
When the Women’s March happened around the world shortly after the US election, I realized I’ve never protested for anything. Been more of a blah, sit on the sidelines, “what’s the point?” kind of girl. But I want to give a sh*t and put my money where my mouth is now.
I want to be the 12-year old girl who auditioned for a drama program with very little experience, put her heart into it and got to jump up and down on her modest porch, smiling from ear-to-ear after receiving her thin acceptance letter in the mail. It felt like magic. And I think that’s the last time I took any major action from the heart.
So thank you Lena Dunham, I’ll be watching for an untidy and realistic ending to the confusing cluster f*ck that is our 20’s, reflecting back on how far (or not) we’ve come.
PPS Who inspires you lately? Tell me in the comments. Remember what you see in them, you have in yourself. xo