Before mercury, my blood used to fill thermometers.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

La Borde. Bath, Ohio. The country of blue.

I do not write about what I read. That's absurd.

I, Little Asylum by Emmanuelle Guattari (Semiotext(e), 2014): started and finished in order to get it over with because I loved it and it could have gone on forever. It was short even for a novella, even more of an ethereal voice than Sweet Days of Discipline. In the same vein as Sweet Days of Discipline, of quiet, exotic memoir of remote France which should be a better populated genre than it is. What else would belong there? Claudine at School, sort of. What else?

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock (Atria, 2014): finished! I picked it up hoping it would be an objective resource on discussing trans issues; I didn't realize that it was strictly a memoir and that, as a memoir, it succeeded in addressing what I wanted it to precisely and is an astonishing story. I love how specific and personal it is. Especially interesting alongside She's Not There — they are not the only memoirs by transwomen, but they are very visible ones (I bought both of them at the area Barnes & Noble, which has a shamefully anemic LGBTQ+ section) and focus on very obverse circumstances (being attracted to men and women, being poor and wealthy, a person of color and a white person).

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (Harry N. Abrams, 2012): I stayed up late and woke up early just to speed through this. It looks so rough — and, yes, is about a rough subject — but the story is told in such a sensitive way, grounded in the seventies, from the point of view of someone having as similar an experience as possible. I used to read anything I could find about Jeffrey Dahmer — I mean, to the exclusion of all else (not just in the way of reading but, activity-wise) for a while — so this was also evocative of my own excruciating time in school.

Tampa by Alissa Nutting (Ecco, 2013): it came out in paperback, so I bought it and started it this past weekend after a hurtful week, amidst a book-binge that yielded this, Stefan Zweig's the Post Office Girl, Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched with Fire, Mavis Gallant's Cost of Living, and How to Disappear Completely: on Modern Anorexia by Kelsey Osgood. A recent headline (how awful) reminded me that Tampa was on my radar. I was caught off guard by the trashy tone of this book and how well (at this point) it works to its advantage. I'm just about halfway through, the pace is keen and I am fully into the language of the romance novel describing such horrific pathology.

Also, with zeal, I cast Anna Camp as Celeste.

On Being Blue by William Gass (New York Review of Books, 2014): finished, after dragging it out for as long as a book of its size would allow. Not better than Bluets but what is. I have the source material for the cover (a Francesca Woodman photograph) on the wall next to my bed.

Notice by Heather Lewis (Serpent's Tail, 2004): halfway through it now, and every page is agony. I love it so much, it hurts so badly to read. I want to take days off to read this book. It is an experience reading Notice and Tampa simultaneously, neither book is easy. Tampa's narrator is so unsympathetic, it's an easier book through which to glide. Notice's narrator is so sympathetic, it makes every new development in the story agony and the prospect of abandoning the narrator at the end agony.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 12: "Two Plane Rides" - MFA vs. NYC

This episode was literally MFA vs. NYC. If it hadn't been, the title of the entry would have been "break all your legs."

Photo: Mark Schafer/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty-Two, "Two Plane Rides"

I. Hannah

When Hannah asks the people in her life if she should or should not do something, she is not really weighing their opinion against her intuition — she wants to see where their priorities are, what they think about her, and what action might elicit the biggest reaction.

This episode, season three's finale, starts out with Hannah receiving some news (it doesn't really, but I'll come back to that*) that she finds positive. The audience doesn't find out what it is right away. At first, I was skeptical that it could be good news for her — my first impulse was to wonder whether or not it might be bad news for Adam, something reigning him in, or something bad about Ray. Or bad about the publishing company that had tied up the rights to her book.

But the triumphant fist pumps that the title fades out from are for something good for Hannah, and the audience finds out when Hannah tells Marnie: she got accepted into the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Marnie abdicates Hannah's ability to tell her the news by providing a lengthy disclaimer re: her awfulness. She acknowledges that Hannah is actually erasing the events of "I Saw You," when Hannah walked in on Marnie and Ray, on something she knew Marnie — who lives to fill Hannah with shame — was ashamed of. Hannah doesn't care about that anymore, and her news does have the power to obliterate that and make Marnie listen and acknowledge what a good and massive thing this is for Hannah. That would have been a great way to justify that narrative handicap from which this season has suffered so much: there are events in real life that just blow up whatever one thought was one's primary focus or biggest anxiety.

Hannah ends her announcement with the disclaimer: she doesn't know if she's going to go. The scene smashes to an end on Marnie saying of course you should go, but if anyone has any personal investment in Hannah's decision making, this is the worst place to find one's self in. Hannah exists in an ambient space of shame and personal frustration and she would rather have fun than worry about whether or not that shame and frustration might be magnified due to others' reactions. She would rather pursue adventure than what may necessarily impress or appease the people close to her. It looks like she doesn't know what's good for her, but Hannah is aware that what's good for her is what challenges her, even if that challenge seems unreasonable, avoidable, and nothing but humiliating.

Lena Dunham leaves no doubt in viewers' minds the extent to which Hannah is proud of what she's done. It seems strange to think of growth on her character's part as, instead of pursuing a challenge in spite of what the people in her life think, doing — and, importantly, agreeing with — what those people think is the move she should make.

I was disappointed when I heard that it was the Iowa Writers' Workshop Hannah applied and got into (this was not, plot-wise, entirely out of nowhere: Hannah told Shoshanna in "Truth or Dare" that she applies to grad school every year) but then considered that it is the stock MFA program, just like New York is the stock creative city. And then I felt absurd because I just finished before the episode came on MFA vs. NYC. It is an exciting prospect (for me) to consider that Girls could turn out to be about the unsustainable pursuit of making one's self into a writer by means of these affiliations.

But the episode doesn't exactly make any promises. I'd like to hinge it all on Dunham's acting, on Hannah's dogged elation. Despite what a tough episode this is for Hannah, she begins and ends it with the ability to find joy in the fruits of her work. I want to look forward to a season with Hannah in school, but — considering how much erasing and backtracking the show's been prone to — I'm not committing to that hope.

Also, the unspoken element of Hannah's Iowa acceptance that I found most interesting: Hannah has worked up some traction exploiting her openness, her willingness, her ability to be a "sweatshop factory for puns," and this is the first indication that she did not give up on the kind of writing her late editor encouraged her to abandon. In all likelihood, the work she submitted to Iowa — which I hope (I hoopoe) the audience hears about next season — is not only the work that was inspired by her friendship with Marnie, it's probably so good that Hannah may bristle against it when she is isolated in the midwest, where she may be confronted with the dissolution of that relationship and her inability to rebuild it. This is my wish.

But, back to the episode: Hannah's parents are ecstatic for Hannah, Marnie is ecstatic for Hannah, and it's Adam's opening night. She forces her way backstage to wish Adam well in his dressing room and deliver her news. Because he's thrived, she says, she wants to thrive. It is a moment with so much vulnerability. This episode had a lot in common with "She Did," and this scene reminded me of when Hannah danced for Adam and he pulled her into him and told her to be careful: this as the inverse of that. Adam tells Hannah after the show that she sabotaged him, he ruined his performance (an imperceptible phenomenon to the audience, Hannah and Broadway-devotee Elijah among them), and he screams at her about why nothing can be "easy" with her. I wish there had been an "I'm the most scared" response from Hannah, but she just leaves Adam alone. He doesn't get struck by a car: instead, Adam gets a kiss from a cast mate. He cannot leverage any guilt over Hannah this time. She leaves the show to hold the acceptance letter in her hand and smile to herself.

II. Marnie

Marnie's plot line has embraced the fact that her professional pursuits are just a red herring. Her story wraps this season with her breathlessly sharing with Hannah, Elijah, and everyone who'll listen, "Desi kissed the shit out of me." Marnie going around finding people to share this with is a nod to how she's the same Marnie as she was in season one, when she worked her way through a party in "Welcome to Bushwick, a.k.a. the Crackcident," venting to anyone who'd listen about how Charlie got over her so fast and how she's an "ideal." As foretold by Elijah, this doesn't work out well for Marnie — Desi's girlfriend, Clementine, is in attendance at the "Major Barbara" premiere and, whether or not she is aware that Desi and Marnie kissed, she is aware of Marnie's MO and calls her on it.

So her failure to snare Desi is made explicit, but what shows up in fainter relief are the facts of where this season leaves Hannah and Marnie: they are united in their understanding that Hannah going to Iowa is a great thing. But where Hannah has that going for her, that means to advance professionally, that sign of having achieved at writing, that well-branded bit of writerly success, that thing she knows she could be doing for a few years and therefore some security about being able to answer "what are you doing these days?"-esque questions in a dignified way — Marnie doesn't have any of that. She's stalled in her career development, she's sexually involved with someone she doesn't respect. To wit: the way Marnie explained to Ray in "Incidentals" how she wouldn't eat pizza around him if she cared what he thought of him smacks of Hannah explaining in "Beach House" how she feels free to lavish all her feelings on Adam because he isn't really paying attention to who she is and how she behaves. Marnie's relationship to being judged isn't exactly like Hannah's — Marnie needs to have someone to impress and whose standards she can succeed to. But this forthcoming season may see Marnie turning more and more into Hannah. She's already been embroiled in circumstances more closely related to Hannah's for the past two seasons, but after Desi expressing how Marnie may be a writer (I would love to hear Marnie give a reading of her personal essays), this may be the dawn of her trying to exploit a more Hannah-esque approach to her travails.

III. Jessa

In all too brief moments, this episode provides glimpses (not glorified interstitials!), starring Louise Lasser, of what should have been Jessa's season three arc. Set up Withnail at the beginning, have him disappoint her with the action with Dot from "Role-Play" taking place during the first half of the season. The stuff about her allegedly deceased friend Season could have been excised completely. In criminally few scenes in this single episode, Jessa demonstrates that Louise Lasser's character, BD, has earned some respect from her, that she likes her, and that she wants Jessa to help her die. That's such a worthwhile dilemma! That the story spends no time on! For as rivetingly as it plays out over the episode, I was so irritated that this didn't occupy a greater part of season three when it seemed like the writers spent so much time perplexed over what to do with Jessa! This made me furious!

IV. Shoshanna

Same deal with Shoshanna, whose character did at least get the satisfaction of mauling Marnie. Marnie chooses exactly the wrong time to come clean to Shoshanna about her relationship with Ray. It struck me that Marnie doesn't tell Shoshanna, when she says she's slept with Ray several times, that she doesn't specify that it's a very recent thing. I think she purposefully provokes Shoshanna by not specifying that their involvement is recent and did not include when Ray was with Shoshanna. Marnie could not know how provokable Shoshanna is in that moment, though. Shosh discovers that, during her distraction-packed final semester — getting taken on stressful road trips and beach getaways, being dragged into Jessa's myriad miseries — she failed an incidental class and does not have the credits to graduate on time. The writers at least attempted to establish Shoshanna's plight from the start of the season, but for as great as her arc lands on this finale, her role this season was so anemic.

V. Miscellaneous

Adam could leave the show now and I'd be happy.

Ray's explanation to Shoshanna about how they've outgrown each other is as boring as his explanation to her about why they can't be friends.

Elijah is responsible for the funniest scene this season and probably in the show so far, which comes at the end of this episode. It's all worth it for that. I'm not exaggerating.

* - I never did come back to it. Adam's sister, Caroline, resurfaces and facilitates a scene that causes Hannah to consider the shelf life of her fertility. The scene is exactly as long as it should be.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 11: "I Saw You" - You will never judge me again.

I will go through, when this season is over, and count how many times the show introduced a fact or scenario it erased the following episode.

Girls, Episode Thirty-One, "I Saw You"

In keeping with the fact that no crisis has resulted in any follow-through story-wise this season, Adam and Hannah are still having sex despite Adam's assertion as of last week's episode that he needs space. Everything's been looping back, and the things that have happened to impose plot on the characters have felt profoundly inorganic. To contextualize how inorganic lots of this season feels, Adam winding up on Broadway feels like one of the less inorganic elements of season three, even though so much of that is by the grace of Adam Driver.

Something this episode, and this season overall — though feebly — emphasized is how Hannah's use of Adam isn't any more savory than Adam's use of Hannah. She's the devil he knows: it's safe being with someone whose problems, though they may be extreme, resemble the ones his sister has, that he grew up handling. Adam "asks nothing" of Hannah, so she "give[s] him everything" — his love has no risks and no consequences. He will never judge her.

What's driven them apartish, for now, is Adam's impending Broadway debut. He lives with Ray now live; shamefully, they're as great to watch as you'd imagine. I didn't think last season's "Boys" was great, but oh, I hold out hope that there's a dynamite Ray/Adam episode somewhere in this show's lifespan. I hate Adam and Ray, but no amount of hate could stop me from appreciating half an hour of Alex Karpovsky and Adam Driver acting at each other, unencumbered by b-plots. I'm afraid this sounds like I'm referring to Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna as b-plots. I don't want them to be, but as of this season, everybody besides Hannah has been a b-plot in the worst way (Ray and Adam chief among them, with Adam only moving to the narrative front, really, as of "Incidentals").

Hannah, disregarding boundaries (which is a useful setup for the end of the episode), visits Adam at Ray's apartment. Please not that, in this scene, there is a box in the corner of the frame marked "Adam's creepy shit." The apartment's been featured this season otherwise, but it bares repeating that Ray's apartment, for the first two seasons of Girls, was Adam's. It's a shame they don't capitalize more on the juxtaposition between the present and the beginning of Hannah and Adam's relationship. Remember how fun and uncomfortable and complex those scenes were, I ask myself?

Season one callbacks do otherwise populate this episode. When Adam escorts Hannah back to her place, Adam apologizes for the space he's asserted he needs by informing Hannah that when she gets a break like he's gotten, and she needs to be in work mode, she'll understand what he's going through! Viewers may remember that Hannah has gone through this. In season one, she prioritized her work — even when there wasn't much of a sign that it would get her anywhere, save the invited reading that she botched — over Adam, and he reacted to this by verbally tearing her apart (which resulted in him injuring himself, and he used his injuries to shame and manipulate Hannah for the unseen months between seasons one and two).

What I love about that little narrative wave — of Hannah telling Adam she didn't want him to move in because she wanted her work to come first — was how, without even the external markers of success, it was articulated so well that being invited to the reading and failing at the reading, in addition to (crucially) Marnie pettily elevating Hannah's college nemesis, with her successful sob story — all lit a fire in Hannah, a fire she wanted, even for all of an episode, to take care of.

Since then, the external markers of success that have come Hannah's way have served as obstacles. They haven't necessarily lit her up in that same way. It's been two seasons since then, but what the audience has glimpsed that does light up, compel, inspire et al. Hannah is...Marnie.

Marnie was all Hannah could think about when she was on deadline with her ebook, but she couldn't control Marnie. She can control Adam, but what is that worth? This season's been full of tired warning signs directed at Hannah regarding why Adam isn't great for her, but — as ever — the biggest danger he poses to Hannah is that he is just a coping mechanism that has relieved the blow of Marnie disarticulating herself from Hannah's life. It's the lack of respect for the Marnie-wound that the writers have demonstrated this season that illuminates why season three has been a travesty. Divorcing Hannah's relationship with Marnie from her creative work is — has been proven — narratively unsound. That's my greatest dissatisfaction with this show, even more than — well, I'm going to hold off on listing everything. But I have to say I'm still raw about how Jessa showed up in "She Said OK," after two episodes with her as a central figure, and had NO LINES. My irritation persists!

Speaking of Marnie: she gets a season one callback, too. Marnie is in the same position at Soo Jin's gallery as she was at her first job — literally, in the same position in the frame, at the same kind of desk. She gets a scene with LOUISE LASSER. The woman who dared to be married to Woody Allen, star of Mary Harman, Mary Hartman! Although I haven't seen the show, since critics have been discussing it, it sounds like exactly what I want to watch right now. Lasser gets an absolutely killer line that can't get enough critical emphasis about why aging is "the pits," elevating this scene, at least, is required viewing.

Lasser's cameo dented my heart. She is as well formed a minor character as anyone in season one. Shortly after her first scene, Hannah and Elijah go together to resume the Patti LuPone interview Hannah started in "Incidentals." Mr. and Mrs. Patti LuPone function feebly as warning signs. I think this could've been pulled off, but they are both cartoon characters. Nobody in season one was a cartoon character. The closest anyone came to cartoondom then was Hannah's college nemesis, and it worked.

In the glorified interstitial corner:

  • Elijah, now fully back in Hannah's life, delivers the most precise and "so good" critical evaluation of Marnie's performing style: at once too stiff and too hopeful. This was good use of a brief scene.
  • Jessa dances the withdrawal out of her hair before rolling around on the floor crying, "I'm so bored!" Shoshanna also drops by to remind the audience that she's graduating soon.
  • Desi reminds the audience that Marnie made an amazing YouTube video we haven't heard about in episodes, infuriating me all over again.
  • Ray and Adam share with each other about the space they've insisted on from Marnie and Hannah, respectively. Although Ray doesn't acknowledge that it's Marnie he's talking about, he does mention that he loves her chin, which is a detail I appreciated.

As a result of Mr. and Mrs. Patti LuPone giving Hannah the glimpse at the relationship-fate of her nightmares, she gets herself fired from the advertorial department at GQ. If it's truly gone (I can't trust this show anymore), I'll miss the Yale Younger Poet's Prize-winner and his pitches, which were also stiff and hopeful. Those characters, except their awful cardboard supervisor, had the potential to become real. Hannah trashes the department's mission and its negative impact on the staff's creative lives in a speech that has none of the visceral darkness of, say, Hannah's "Vagina Panic" rape joke. Hannah's actions may demonstrate that it is, as Laird told her, a "dark scene" in her head, but I could have really gone for Hannah exorcizing that in that moment. For something. Although she does shut down Joe, who has been nice to her, as she detected that he wanted something from her, which is a detail I liked, even though their relationship amounted to nothing more than one introductory episode and a montage.

One complaint Hannah airs is the concern that she and her advertorial colleagues are a "sweatshop factory for puns," which is what's been paying off for her. Remember that her old publisher didn't want a friendship between two college girls, he wanted a pudgy face slick with semen and sadness. Her almost new publisher wanted a funny fat girl who, unlike Mindy Kaling, "goes all the way." Will Hannah be moved to reevaluate how she channels her "myriad talents"? It hurts to hope for anything now.

In the first scene I've enjoyed Jessa in in way, way too long, she crashes Marnie's workday and offers Louise Lasser the criticism she's been craving and trying to elicit from a too-timid Marnie. Jessa's boundary transgression earns a job offer from Lasser (it is interesting to notice who benefits and loses from boundary transgressions all over this episode) and Jemima Kirke gets to be funny again.

Rapper Lil' Freckles! Too good for this show at this point. Although she's on the writing staff for season four. So maybe that won't always be true.

Marnie bares her stiff and hopeful soul for Desi and tries to transgress the boundary of their professional relationship. I want Marnie to realize that something can come from her and that she can function as something other than the achieving man's significant other. It would make me scream in the best way of Marnie initiated the project of writing a memoir next season and called it the [Anything]'s Daughter/Girlfriend, she defines herself so exclusively by her relationships (and that title cliche is hilarious and the worst, just like her). I don't care for a man teaching her this lesson, but true to form, Marnie doesn't seem intent on learning anything from him. As soon as she's faced with the reality of Desi's girlfriend, Clementine, Marnie invites herself to Ray's apartment.

During the performance, Shoshanna detects that Hannah's blown up her life and asks her if she's going to be okay. Hannah demonstrates how and to what extent she's not okay at a dinner with Adam's theatre friends, the "scene" he said in "Incidentals" that he didn't want to be a part of. Hannah glories in the fact that she was fired — which means unemployment checks for her — and, wasted in Ray's apartment, forsakes sex with Adam to demonstrate how she has no respect for Ray. I don't have any respect for Ray, either, but this gesture comes out of nowhere. Sure, Hannah believing that "everything is [her] business" is an entrenched facet of her character; it was even pointed out in explicitly in "Flo," the way Hannah insists on knowing everything. But Ray has thrown a real wrench in Hannah's life before — it would have been awesome if, to rhyme Desi's attempt to teach Marnie a lesson, Ray brought up, in the wake of Hannah's firing, how she's made all these bad decisions, including the reading she botched after she took Ray's useless advice about what is and isn't a valid subject. It's a scene like that that should drive Hannah to want to violate Ray's privacy. When she finds him having sex with Marnie, though, her reaction has — perfectly — minimally to do with Ray.  "You will never judge me again," Hannah warns Marnie.

Please don't let that rage get erased.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 10: "Role-Play" - A woman with a baby's body.

In response to my reading of last week's Girls installment, Gina Abelkop made the excellent point that just because Hannah was a sexual child does not make the character a monster. My wording of that statement pertains to the cumulative effect of what Gina perfectly terms "the monstering of Hannah," which has taken place over the course of the season in a big way. My distaste for that narrative move is because it was not in the service of exploring that children do this and it's part of childhood, but as another piece of evidence that Hannah is a destructive force. To clarify, because it is the practice of watching the show in order to feed the desire to judge the decisions of and be disgusted by the titulars, of watching the show to see a group of girls paying for their stupidity by not heeding the lessons adults and men and life try to teach them, that's what I'm against, and that's why I write about Girls.

Photo: Mark Schafer/HBO

Girls, Episode Thirty, "Role-Play"

Hannah did not used to drink, but she does now, and that change — her exploits notwithstanding — seem to be positive, fueled by her desire to relinquish her hangups and have fun. She recaptures the potential for fun bogged down in "Beach House" by cavorting with her work friends at a bar. After the brief montage, in which the audience get a great look at how minuscule a person Lena Dunham is, her coworker Joe continues hosing off her underwear-clad carcass and gives her space to crash in his suspiciously lovely apartment. This series of moments does not exist to suggest there is anything mounting between Hannah and Joe, and doesn't offer any clues into Joe's character — its purpose has a lot more traction and relevance to Hannah.

Too drunk to go home, Hannah spends the night at Joe's and comes home the next morning in her dress that looks like a long pajama, majorly disheveled, extremely upset to have worried Adam, the Adam who, last week, didn't want her to go away for a night. Adam, looking extra-strapping and in costume, which he has to break-in for the show, is totally unphased by her absence. Hannah mentions that she was with a boy from work, but Adam is totally at peace with the world, totally absorbed in his work on Major Barbara. Hannah tries to seduce him away from his work, but Adam doesn't want to have sex prior to rehearsal. Here Adam returns to a great old Adam thing last glimpsed, if I remember correctly, in this season's first episode, which is infantalizing Hannah when she calls him out. She didn't plan on making it complicated, she says, referring to the sex he doesn't want to have, and he laughs it off. This is vintage Adam, which is important to keep in mind.

In between these scenes, Marnie has a series of encounters. She meets up with Soo Jin, who is living Marnie's dream of being in a relationship, making music, running her new gallery — and Soo Jin wants Marnie in on all of it, but as an assistant, an apprentice towards this life that Soo Jin seems to have been able to seize with money and familial support. Marnie seems to have both these things, too, which, I believe, probably leaves her with the feeling that for all her privilege, there is something about her that is keeping her from doing what she wants to do.

Marnie explores this internal flaw when she meets up with Desi, who takes her journal and makes up little song pieces with her from what she's done. Desi berates her, in his suave-Ray act, about her tendency to diminish her work. He tells Marnie she's a writer, and what a thing to hear. She sees Soo Jin living the dream that belonged to her, and a man she's so taken with tells her she has something of Hannah in her, after Marnie has done so much to control and compartmentalize the Hannah element in her life. In an echo of Hannah and Adam's scene, Desi brings up his girlfriend the way Hannah brings up her male friend from work: just setting the scene, letting you know these threats exist.

Jessa is also with a man — Withnail has been crashing with her and Shoshanna for days untold, and he and Jessa are piled onto each other, babbling, more physical with one another than they were when Jessa was even soberish. Zosia Mamet plays a frayed Shoshanna so well, and I wish the whole scene could have been quieter, especially once Withnail leaves to see a man about a horse. Jessa has no regard for Shoshanna at all and keeps right on yammering as Withnail leaves.

Hannah abortively tries to visit Adam at rehearsal and walks, devastated, by a large advertisement featuring Adam prominently — way more professional recognition on a public and visual level than she has attained so far, and she did have a reasonable expectation at the beginning of the season that she was on her way to attaining some kind of professional validation on at least a comparable scale. This is a rough place to go, though, so instead of excavating her feelings about her book — it's pretty crucial that audiences haven't heard about Hannah's book in several episodes — Hannah power clashes with Elijah and opines the death of sex in her relationship. "He's one of the best people I've ever known," she says of Adam. Elijah encourages her to take some action, which, of course, involves Marnie's apartment and complicated underwear, but before getting into that: Adam is one of the best people Hannah's ever known? Where to look for evidence of what Hannah means by this: when Hannah told Marnie in season one that she hates everyone who loves her, when she told her father in season two how she hates his look of concern, when she extolled to Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna in "Beach House" how Adam expects nothing of her, so she gives him everything. Adam does not approach Hannah with corrective impulses, and even though his acceptance of her is fueled — at least in part — by a conscious obliviousness to who she really is, it at least gives her the ability to be who she is alongside someone who isn't dedicated to correcting her or teaching her lessons. I haven't forgotten about what Adam told his AA group, though, which is that being around Hannah involves "teaching her everything" — I think it's this gap that poses, and has posed, the greatest danger to them as a unit. As this episode demonstrates, Adam is moving on as a person, Hannah has "an old idea" of who he is, because professional validation has alerted him he can't just be old Adam and get by anymore. This is an accusation: Hannah's inability to abandon old Hannah, Adam's insinuating, is the reason her professional validation has disintegrated. Alyssa Rosenberg at Vulture nailed down exactly why this, from Adam, is bullshit:
Hannah may be a more difficult person than Adam is, less able to detach her body from the whirling clockwork of her brain. But that’s not exactly, or at least not entirely, the reason her road to the same sort of artistic independence that Adam’s achieved so easily is proving harder than his is. What people want from Adam, for him to be handsome, and dark, and a little weird and a lot intense, costs him very little. But what the professional world wants from Hannah, for her to repurpose her entire life into a monetizable story, and to do it before she gets old enough for her antics to be pathetic and unmarketable, costs quite a lot.
Before it all comes crashing down around Hannah, though, and Adam leaves her to stay with Ray, Hannah Hitchcocks him in an attempt to recapture their season one sex life where Adam fantasized that Hannah was "an orphan with a disease," among other things.

I liked the way Marnie's b-plot figured into this episode, but Jessa's was rushed. Shoshanna calls an intervention, dropping a bomb on Jessa and Withnail by inviting them and Withnail's daughter, Dot, to dinner. Much of what comes out of Dot's mouth and the conversation she has with her father resembles so closely exchanges Jessa has had with her own father, which is detectable even though the audience has seen Jessa interact minimally with her father. "You can't imagine how beautiful he can be; he'll never show you," Dot says of Withnail. I would have liked to have seen more lingering on what a destructive move this was for Jessa, but the focus is anchored on Dot, who has a skin condition, and Shoshanna, who watches Dot and Withnail like she watches daytime television. The purpose of the scene — how much Dot's situation mirrors Jessa's and how Dot, achieving and successful, represents everything Shoshanna wants to be in spite of her family. That's a lot on one scene full of amazing actors, and it could have been a major part of its own episode, the way Jessa's eruption at Thomas John was last season.

I wonder how strong a meta-element is this recurrent tension about making "progress" in a show that has not even an old idea of what it is, but a regressive one. That sounds even harsher than I mean it to, because regression has its purpose, and taking stock of one's foundation's adequacy can be vital to progress that looks the way it's expected to.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Body of the author: 27 years.

I am so grateful. Thursday night, I had been invited as the featured reader at the Almost Uptown Poetry Cartel, and Julia not only previewed the reading on the site we work for, but she and my close work friends came! And they enjoyed it! I rarely get to share my writing with my best friends, let alone new ones, so I am overwhelmed they all took the time to come and listen to me.

And then I turn around and the magnificent Tamryn Spruill has written so glowingly of Come as Your Madness and I can't believe it. And that is after a day of so many coworkers asking me how the reading went and if/when I'll have another one! This could not have come at a better time.

And I have an essay in the first print issue of the Juvenilia! Which only exists in the real world. So you'll have to become real before you read it. Take your time. It will wait for you.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Girls Season 3, Episode 9: "Flo" - I didn't mean to make your life ridiculous and about sex.

Apologies necessary.

Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Girls, Episode Twenty-Nine, "Flo"

In the first episode of this season, Hannah incurred a warning about Adam from Adam's ex, Natalia, regarding his dangers. No fears of Hannah's about Adam's abusive behavior played out, though. Instead — which I perceive to be in a choppy way, although I want to reserve judgment about that until the end of the season when it can be viewed as one piece — this season has been a lot about what Hannah perceives as her own drawbacks, what Adam risks by being with her: her dangers. A lot of what could be reductively referred to as Hannah's trademark awfulness is positioned this season for Adam to evaluate. But the point of view remains anchored with Hannah, who is dually on the mission to both pose fair warning to Adam and convince herself that as toxic as Adam may be, her alternatives — Jessa, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Elijah — are worse.

This snapped into place for me in this episode. Hannah and Adam's relationship had become one of the weakest aspects of the show, since it is so easy for a whole scene to lean on Adam Driver. His character was not "progressing" much — like Jessa, his affectations were becoming a punchline, and for the biggest thing to happen to his character this season from which viewers see legitimate action as a result (his unstable sister just disappeared, and even their intervention yielded no new information or surprising outcome) is his procurement of a Broadway show which is convenient and only remotely something I can go along with as a viewer because Adam Sackler is almost as good an actor as Adam Driver.

This episode starts with Hannah getting summoned by her mother and her mother's family to her maternal grandmother's deathbed. When she packs up, the conversation between she and Adam give an excellent idea of what a large part of Adam's world Hannah occupies in a more mundane and sweet way than his pronouncements about what would happen to him if she died.

Hannah's aunts join her mother in making monumental things happen in tiny, tiny glimpses. "They're very misshapen people," Hannah's mother says about her sisters. Everyone in this episode exemplifies the best of Girls' minor characters.

Her mother insists that, in order to send off her dying grandmother with good feelings about a figure as divisive as Hannah, that Hannah lie and tell her that she and Adam are getting married. Since her grandmother isn't long for the world, her mother says, there will be no harm in the marriage never coming to fruition. That this sort of thing — not, say, a lie about Hannah's book coming out — is what her mother thinks her grandmother wants to hear throws Hannah visibly. Hannah terminated her relationship with Adam in the first season because she wanted to focus on other things, not the care and feeding of a relationship. The second season found Hannah understanding, if hazily, the ways in which a relationship might contribute to her care and feeding so she might function better as a writer. In this season, nothing is settled, she still feels split, and spotlighting how logical it would be, now that they live together, that Hannah and Adam get married, calls up an ambivalence that has driven Hannah from the start. But what will come of that?

To jump ahead — because I don't want anything interrupting what I have to say at the end of this review — after being forced to consider marriage, and even with Adam readily playing along, seeming to agree that this is a good idea, Hannah is advised against the decision by both her grandmother and her mother. Marriage, her mother says, should be on her mind, but not to Adam. The episode ends with the observation that advice can't be taken without some skepticism — "people aren't always right" — although the example Hannah gets to work with falls through her hands.

My favorite aspect of "Flo," though, is Hannah's cousin, Rebecca.

Mark Schafer/HBO

Speaking at least of mannerisms and at most certain biases, Rebecca resembles so much one of my closest friends that, after less than a minute of her action on screen, I just lost my shit. More of Rebecca! My kingdom for more of Rebecca! She believes what she is doing is so efficient and effective that Marnie would devote her heart and soul to her and make dates to trash Hannah with her with renewed and vital glee. Rebecca is in medical school and cannot understand why people keep querying her — who is becoming a doctor herself — what it's like to be up to the stethoscope in hot doctors-to-be, despite the fact that any onlooker would be easily compelled, after mere minutes, to try and figure out what is wrong and how many voids need filled in this person. Against Hannah's, Rebecca's myopia is a total contender. Dressing Rebecca as a career-minded go-getter reveals another reductive, easy means by which viewers judge Hannah. But Rebecca's every snide jab about Hannah's self-involvement comes from a point of view that perceives Hannah — who is living her own life to such the extent that the viewers of her story are just now, after three years, learning of Rebecca's existence — has laid claim to parts of Rebecca's life to which she was not entitled. And I'm not talking about the molestation, which I will get to.

When Hannah makes a joke — a joke about herself, but a joke for Rebecca's benefit — Rebecca reads it straightforward, earnestly believing that Hannah is, in fact, excited about Rebecca's chosen professional pursuit for the sole reason that Hannah looks forward to texting her, at all hours, with medical queries. This is slight, but I love this exchange because this is how reviewers respond to this show. They take gestures that have been endowed by the writers with so many dimensions and ignore what nuance is there and instead stack them up as evidence of how awful Hannah, Jessa, Marnie, and Shoshanna are. Critics who do that miss the joke. And the watered-down writing this season has caved to that critical bias and become, as a result, there to fuel popular perceptions about the characters, which has been extremely, extremely disappointing.

And not unlike those viewers, after misreading Hannah and aggressively condescending to her, Rebecca makes a date for drinks with her. The way she explains her logic — that she is on an extremely tight schedule, but she assumes Hannah isn't — is such a stunning non-answer to Hannah's questions (why would Rebecca want to get a drink with Hannah), it definitively proves that Rebecca's self-absorption is worse than Hannah's. Hannah can converse, even when she feels unable to venture outside of her role to have a really generative, real conversation — she can still converse, which Rebecca can't.

Upon first viewing the scene when Hannah's mother and aunts divvy up their mother's drugs, I thought they were claiming them in the same manner they claim their mother's heirlooms. Also, I wish Rebecca's mother was the character that actress played on the Wire so those shows could occupy the same universe.

Because Adam did not receive the news that Hannah's grandmother, according to her mother, would be happy to know that they are to be married with a ready, impassioned response, Hannah hangs up, feeling weird and unhappy to have had that conversation. I love it, and I love that when Rebecca explains her relationship — she sees a guy one night a week, and otherwise he has other girlfriends — Hannah says that's horrible, even though Rebecca finds it convenient. That was Hannah and Adam's arrangement in season one!

Hannah and Rebecca's conversation about whether or not Hannah is funny does make a great imagined dialogue between Girls and its critics, although Rebecca is such a great character, I am not inclined to look at her as purely an avatar for those voices. Particularly not in light of the molestation, which I will talk about now.

In the most clearheaded bout of communication with Hannah, Rebecca explains to Hannah that her animosity towards her comes not exclusively from the time Hannah told her why she would never see her father again — which, Hannah argues, she would have discovered anyway because he insider traded, not the biggest moral conundrum Rebecca could have been left to untangle. That's not where the animosity comes from, Rebecca tells Hannah. She introduces the subject very frankly as she drives Hannah home after their bar date: when Rebecca was seven, Hannah made her fondle herself. Rebecca uses a euphemism, which Hannah latches onto as a means of shaking Rebecca's credibility. She says Hannah told her she had learned a "cool new trick" and they should both lie under the covers and touch themselves. Hannah vehemently denies this accusation. This follows a remark Hannah made at the bar where she includes "being molested by the same person," is an element of a bond she wishes she shared with her platonic ideal of a cousin. This could be from a book, as a lot of other facets of the perfect cousin relationship as Hannah describe it seems to be, but this also marks the third time Hannah's mentioned molestation as an element of her past. Hannah divulges to Dr. Josh in "One Man's Trash" that she told her mother that her babysitter touched her inappropriately, for which Hannah was accused of lying. In "Video Games," when Jessa mentioned getting molested by a substitute teacher in an off-the-cuff generalization about how awful it was to wait for her parents to get her from school, Hannah was eager to share a similar experience, but Jessa shut the conversation down. Both of those scenes were great examples of how catharsis is rarely curated in real life. When Marnie had something to get off her chest, she wanted to have a very special episode about it. Jessa introduced the possibility of catharsis to Hannah but withdrew her responsibility for whatever Hannah might hand her immediately, so they were both left standing there with a sense of, "all right, guess we're not doing that right now." When Hannah told Dr. Josh, she did not like his response — the experience he had to share, she felt, had nothing to do with hers, and he clearly could not handle the facts she just handed to him. I love the fact that Rebecca brings this fact up on a drive, where Hannah can't leave. Objectively, it is another great example of how catharsis does not function in life the way it does in film and television. Having a face-off with an abuser may lead to nothing. They may just deny what they've done, remaining unmoved by the accusation. Just as often as it's not, catharsis is one-sided. Marnie has a lot to say to Hannah, still, and Hannah really has nothing for Marnie now. These kinds of confrontations are among my favorite things about Girls: the way it examines the way people communicate. But —

Speaking not objectively for more than a minute: sexual abuse. As a viewer, I can remain neutral about a character who is morally lacking, frustrating, and maybe not someone I would want close to me in the real world, which is such a mundane observation it's barely worth making. Regardless of the context, this accusation posits Hannah as such a monster that I am freaked out. Not by Hannah, who is not real, but by the writers. Bruce Eric Kaplan wrote this episode alone — he also wrote "Video Games" (see above). Other people may very well feel differently about this than I do, but there is no way, to me, you can have a show about a character who has committed an act of sexual violence, introduce it, and expect it to disappear without insulting your audience deeply. I doubt much will be made of this again, especially considering how narratively dissonant this season has been. I really hate this. I really don't like it. I can't even be articulate about it. And it is not purely the emotional manipulation of dropping such a fact about the protagonist viewers have been following for three years now, but as a narrative move, it looks tone deaf and unsympathetic to the point of being so alienating I can't even —

Hannah puts her hand over Rebecca's while they sit in the hospital together in a gesture not unlike her leading Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna in a microdance after their collective vent in "Beach House." But where that gesture seemed to shift the perspective back to their friendship's potential, this was weak and evasive. Rebecca is a brand new character and possibly isolated to this one episode. Hannah "doesn't want to fight" with Rebecca so she...forgives Rebecca for being angry at her for molesting her? Ugh.