Personal writing is just whiny writing. It’s what you make when you can’t fold things beautifully, when you figure that a handmade card is okay because at least people can be sure it’s from you. Personal essays are never trashy because they’re honest. But are they ever any good?
Lena Dunham’s character in Girls is writing a book of essays. It’s what I love most about her character. It seems to be the show’s joke: she has a self-inflated sense of importance in what she has to say, at twenty-four, without a job. Then again, Lena Dunham is in her twenties and is writing and starring in the award-winning, huge show Girls.
I’m teaching my grade 5 and 6 students how to write personal writing. We write in journals every morning, and my next goal with them is to turn some of those journal entries into personal essays. The difference? Make it legible. Give it a shape. Add interesting details. Make it something. Give it value.
Is it possible to make a good personal essay, or is what we write always going to belong to an insiders’ club, the insiders being those who enjoy personal writing and yourself, whose head it belongs in? What’s the point, really, when changing “I” to “she” could make a compelling story about which a readers asks, hopefully, “I wonder if this is at all a true story?”
I like what HBO’s “Girls” has to say. It has to say that at 23, all girls are lost, but all girls dress so cool and have such great potential for their personalities. This show is a little in your face, but so is 23.
TV shows are rarely about 23 year old girls. If 23 year old girls are in TV shows they are usually playing high school students. I grew up watching Friends and Sex in the City, where people are in their late twenties or their thirties, and they’re starting to figure things out. 23 is so messy.
(photo from imdb)
The four main characters of Girls – Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna – don’t really have their act together (though they live in cool apartments in Brooklyn). Hannah is a writer whose parents just decided to cut her off. She quits her year-long unpaid internship and is struggling to find a new job. Marnie works as an assistant at an art gallery and is having trouble with her boyfriend of four years. Jessa just stopped travelling and is now a nanny. Shoshanna is a high-strung student.
As any good story goes, the characters keep making poor choices that lead their act to fall even more apart. That’s not just a good story; that’s 23.
This show represents its age so well because most episodes are something like written, created, directed, executively produced by and starring Hannah, or Lena Dunham. The only thing Lena Dunham could do to make her show better represent 23 is not include all these labels, which estrange her 23-year old viewers who are not doing any of the above on any TV show.
“Girls” got me thinking that I am 23, and I am trying to write something that feels my age. What do we do when we graduate school? What if we don’t want a real job? What if we just want to be a writer?
Then I realized I made my character 29. At least it’s the age I’ll be when I finish it, because finishing it would mean getting my act together, and that doesn’t happen at 23. See? Lena Dunham is 26.