Saturday, January 23, 2016

Dear Lena

Dear Lena,

Your autobiography Not That Kind Of Girl is written like a guide for young women.  It reminded me of Dolly, an Aussie teen mag for girls.  Did you read Sassy?  Kind of like that, but less bad ass.  Oh wait, you're probably too young for Sassy.  Teen Vogue?  But less rich girl.  Girls' Life?  Whatever.  You get the idea.

I am 42.

You grew up in an apartment in New York, had artist parents, a Summer house and worked in a store where Gwenyth Paltrow shopped for overpriced baby wear.  You knew someone who dated the UTZ fortune heir and as a teen auditioned for Penny Marshall.  Now you direct your own TV show and write for The NewYorker.

I grew up with a single Mum who was a nurse in suburban Sydney.  We moved from rental flat to rental flat, including a stint in the Staff Residence of a Tasmanian Psychiatric Hospital.  Then I moved to live with my Dad in Melbourne.  Now I live in suburbia with a partner and two kids.

You are 29.

In short our lives could not be more different.

And yet your internal life is so familiar to me.  It kinda blew my mind.  This is why I liked your book.  I didn't relate to all of it; the fear of death, fear of aloneness, fear of disease.  The fear of running?  I do not share these things.  I like to run.  By myself.  I'm pretty sure I'm not running from death, though I suppose that is always a possibility.

But your inner voice, your dissociation, your awkwardness.  All that?  Yes. Yes to the power of yes.  Yes cubed.

I wasn't sure I'd like your book.  I've only seen one season of Girls, from a DVD a friend lent me.  Because we don't have HBO.  In our house we only have Free To Air TV.  No internet streaming.  No Netflix.  No cable.  I know, right?

And I'd heard somewhere, from someone who'd read it that your book was 'self involved'.  I remember thinking "That sounds dull."  But also (because I like to be contrary, especially with myself) "How else is an autobiography supposed to be?"

And I read that article you wrote for Lenny about endometriosis.  Despite having no real interest in or experience with the condition your writing was gripping and funny and raw.

It also made me feel like a big fat failure, because I've not achieved half as much despite being older and healthier than you.  I've had less than half the obstacles and had less than half the success.  

But I fell a little bit in love with Hannah in just 10 episodes, even though she was really quite unlikeable in many ways.  And I fell a little bit in love with you too reading your book.  Because you don't apologise.  And you have learnt far sooner than I that you shouldn't have to apologise for taking up space in this world, to take your place - even when you are imperfect, uncomfortable, unwell, unlikeable, wrong, not good, unattractive, difficult, combative, isolating, contrary and a little bit nuts.

I too am all of those things.  But I have lived my life as though that made me not good enough.  Unworthy of taking up space, taking my place, being seen, being heard, being loved, being wrong, being right, being allowed.

I wish I had learned all this earlier.  That I don't need to be attractive to other people, that I don’t need to be conformist to other people, that I don't need to be apologetic to other people, that I don't need to seek permission from other people in order to take my place.  I wish I had.

But I am learning it now.  And that's better than not at all.

As for being schooled by a younger, more successful New Yorker?  Yeah, I'm good with that.

I feel like I should add a note here about privilege.  Because it's not like it didn't occur to me that a big part of the reason why you feel entitled to take your place is because of privilege.  Like maybe being white and rich made it easier to overcome the perceived shortcomings of being female and made you feel like you had a right to be heard.  That's possible.

Like it's somehow easier to occupy the periphery of the mainstream if you are edging towards it from within, rather than from without.  Would you have felt that sort of entitlement if you had been poor and black?  And even if you did, would you have had access to the means of exercising your creative expression?  Could you have accessed the tools, the audience?  Who knows?  We can't say because you came from the background you came from, not an alternate one.

And that's kind of the point.

Because coming from a privileged background doesn't make you somehow unworthy of taking up space.  In the same way coming from an underprivileged background certainly doesn't either.

It's always worth acknowledging the privilege, but it doesn't mean you have to be silenced by it.

I don't consider that I came from the sort of privileged background that you came from.  But I too need too acknowledge my privilege.  White, middle class, educated, entitled.  What I don't have to do is apologise for it (yeah, okay, well maybe a little) or be silenced by it.  I'm allowed to take my place too.  Even if people just think I'm another middle class, middle aged white girl.  Someone too bored and too boring to have anything to say.  You know what?  It's kind of irrelevant.  Because it's not so much about tap dancing to the desires of some nameless, faceless 'they', who in truth is probably (hopefully?) only my own self critic, my own insecurities, my own inner-doubts, my own thoughts of not being good enough.  It's not even about that.

It's about owning my space, taking my place and teaching myself that I am entitled to that, not because of my privilege, maybe though in spite of it.

So that's what I 'learned' in reading your book.  And you know what else?  It's pretty damn scary, this taking your place biz.  There's a fair amount of vulnerability involved, and a big whack of honesty.  Because, it's occurring to me only now (did I mention I am 42?) that in order to take my place I also have to open up, and once I've opened up I have to let people take a look, really crawl in there and dig around if they want to.  And they might not like what they see.  This means I might just be the unlikeable, unloveable, unworthy creature I thought I was all along.  And that's a pretty big risk.  

Maybe that's what I respect about your book.  That despite the privilege, the neuroses and insecurity, or perhaps because of all that you are willing to take up your space and be heard.  You are willing to expose your messy insides.  There's a crazy bravery in that, and I like it.

So, thanks Lena.

Yours Sincerely,


Have you read Lena Dunham's memoir?  What did you think?

Image Licensed Under Creative Commons via Morguefile


  1. oh no! another book to add to my pile of must-reads! I have enjoyed everything of Lena's that I have read, I think I would enjoy delving deeper into the complexity that is she. And perhaps, me too. I love your account of the reading, Kate. Loved it! Your writing always feels so authentic and conversational and leaves me wanting more. Thanks for sharing your experience of Lena's book. It was thought provoking. X

    1. Thanks Lovely Rachel! Thanks for the words. Definitely read the book, it's funny, revealing and scorchingly personal, so yes you do get most definitely a sense of her complexity and also our own. I'm sure you'll enjoy it - let me know what you think once you've read it. xx

  2. I love this style of post. Your style of writing is so engaging and like Rachel, I didn't want your letter to Lena to end. And also left me wanting to read the book. It's so refreshing to read something, have your curiosity spiked and be left looking for more. Thank you!

    1. You are so welcome Collette! Thanks so much for you comment and kind words. I hope you enjoy Not That Kind of Girl when you read it - be sure and pop back and let me know what you think of it. I thought it was very funny (as well as brave and honest). x

  3. Adding this to my list now. although I already have too many on it. Honesty and vulnerability make for a good combination and so does "Take up your space and be heard". Thanks for sharing your thoughts and a bit more of your story Kate. x

    1. Oh I know! I have too many on my list too Emily! But this is a goodie, and a quick, easy, funny, entertaining read. Love to hear what you think of it when you get to it. x