Tag Archives: current-events

I Am Lena Dunham and I Want to Be

22 Feb

I’m a 55-year-old married, mother who is Black and lives in the suburbs. She’s a 27-year-old, White girl who lives child-free with her boyfriend in Brooklyn. She’s also the creator and star of the hugely successful HBO series, Girls, and I’m a stay-at-home writer of four successful, if mostly out of print novels, and an adjunct professor (can you say, the new slaves). Obviously, our stats prevent us from being twins, yet we are so much alike. I’m only an occasional watcher of the show–I’m not the target audience–but after reading a profile on her in Vogue magazine, I so admire her writing hustle and her freedom to be herself.

This girl writes ALL THE TIME. She creates. She grew up the daughter of artists, a photographer and a painter, who  gave their daughters “an office” in which they  created everyday. I not only admire her drive, which doesn’t seem grabby and aspirational,  I admire her freedom and to be so in front of millions.

She’s been criticized for often showing her naked rather un-thin, kinda doughy body one on the show. Lena looks like most women. She’s not fat, not thin, just a regular sized American woman. We’ve become so used to the unnaturally thin, fake boobed, Gisele Bundchen protracted legged image, that we think normal is an anomaly.

Last year Howard Stern referred to Lena as a “little fat chick.” After which, when Lena was on the David Letterman show, and said that her gravestone would read: “She was a Little Fat Chick and she got it going.”

Judd Apatow, the director (Super Bad, 40-Year-old Virgin , Bridesmaids among others) and Girls’ ex producer said: “The criticism hasn’t thrown her…I would be naked and crying under my pillow.”

Me too. Another reason I want to be her. I want to be inured to criticism.

And then, there’s her ability to,  “work pretty well within the whirlwind of my life.”

If Only…

I would more prolific . It’s not  like I don’t have an idea a day, but between running to the grocery story, worrying about the amount of time my son spends on the Xbox, being on 24-hour call for my college-age daughter, trying to accompany my husband on the occasional work/social outing, looking after my 88 year-old father who has dementia, there’s not enough free head space to create. You might say, cut off some of those things; and you know what, you’re right and that’s exactly what I am going to do.

Lena’s executive producer, Jenni Konner, says: “Where it takes me 20 years to write about my 20s in a really honest way, it takes her 24 hours to have gone on a bad date, experienced it, had pain about it, gone home, metabolized it and turned it into art. It’s the fastest system I’ve ever seen.” Another colleague calls Lena an “aggregator of humanity.” My gift is that I’m a vacuum of people’s stories. I ask because about people’s lives because I’m genuinely interested. I want to be a person I actually am, whose collected stories actually morph into tangible work and not just remain in the tangle of my brain; and I want to be able to do it with regularity.

IMG_0898She writes constantly on planes at the Girls studio, in bed. “It’s her great ambition to be the sort of writer who sits down go  to work [at her desk], but hasn’t ever gotten there.” Finally something I can do that she can’t.

“…I can’t overstate how much I hate leaving the house…no one would describe me as a private person, but I actually really am. It’s important for me to have a lot of time alone and to have a lot of time in my house by myself. My entire life sort of takes place between me and my dog, my books, and my boyfriend, and my private world. To me privacy isn’t necessarily equated with secret-keeping. What’s private is my relationship with myself.” Twins!


With all her success and the bootlicking from celebrities and being a media darling, she maintains:

“I still go to a party and say something embarrassing to someone and then write them a weird email about it the next day, and then write them a text because I think they didn’t get the email…no matter what happens with your level of success, you still have to deal with all the baggage that is yourself.”

And if you’re lucky, you can turn the baggage into art.

How Important is Your Family’s Story?

26 Mar

In my last post I quoted something the writer Walter Mosley had said about why some Black people are angry. “They stole our story.”

A week ago, I came upon an article in the New York Times by Bruce Feiler about the importance of families developing a “strong family narrative.” A story.


Now a family narrative isn’t exactly the solution to a having our collective history, culture “our story” stolen. But it kinda is. When the mini-series Roots aired in the 1970s it was the most watched television show–ever. Why? The narrative. Was the stuff in Africa fiction, of course it was, but that wasn’t the point. (Again, the actual stories were not preserved).  To be able to follow this one family through slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, was mesmerizing. The country watched, mesmerized.

What we can do is be conscious of what we’re doing now. How are we sharing time with our kids? What do we tell them about ourselves, grandparents, uncles, aunts?

A psychologist at Emory, Marshall Duke, was asked to explore myth and ritual in American families.

Because of all the research on the dissipation of the family, he became interested in what could be done to counteract it. His psychologist wife had shared with him that she’d noticed something about the students with whom she worked who have learning disabilities. The ones who knew a lot about their families tended to do better when they faced challenges.

Dr. Duke decided to test her hypothesis and created a 20 question test for kids called, “Do you know?” It asked questions like: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Where your parents went to high school? Where they met? Do you know about an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family?

After comparing the results the conclusion was overwhelming. The children who knew more about their family history had a stronger sense of control over their lives and higher self-esteem. “Do You Know?” turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

Why does knowing where your grandmother went to school help a child overcome set-backs (big and small?)

It’s simple: the child’s sense of being part of something larger.

A community of  psychologists say that family narratives consist of one of three forms:

“When we came here we had nothing, but your grandfather worked hard and sent your mother to college…”

“We used to have it all, then we lost everything.”

They say that the third one is the most helpful:

 We’ve had our ups and downs. We built a  successful business; your mother was the first woman on the city council, but we also had setbacks. Your uncle was arrested, your dad lost his job…but we stuck together.”

One suggestion is for families to create a mission statement like the kind companies have to identify their core values.

A lot of you already do this, but Dr. Duke recommends occasions like holidays, vacations, big family get-togethers, even car rides to the mall, to convey a sense of history and ritual.

In my birth family, Friday nights were for Tree Tavern frozen pizza and playing Pokeno at the kitchen table and my Aunt Thelma, my mom’s sister, would come over. Now, with my family, Friday night is for ordering pizza and either watching a movie or playing a board game.

“The traditions become part of your family,” Dr. Duke said.

For many years, research has said that happy families communicate effectively, but it’s not just the talking; it means telling something positive about yourself that illustrates how you overcame a hardship.

In Feiler’s book, The Secrets of Happy Families…he writes:

“The bottom line: If you want a happier family, create, refine and re-tell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”

Years ago, probably  25, I was in an apartment of a woman I knew and saw that her hallway wall was filled, top to bottom, with black and white pictures. I’d never seen a Black person with that many pictures, generations of family members. I remember feeling a stab of envy. I’d never seen pictures like that of my family. I didn’t think we had any.

Five year later, when I married Cliff, I saw that his family had old family pictures on display (although most were stuffed in boxes). His father happily made copies for me. I also started pressing my mother, aunts, older cousins and they searched and gladly shared what pictures they had.

I’m sure my kids’ take our stories and the pictures for granted. They’ve never not lived with them. They might be able to name two of the relatives and they know that their paternal great-great-great grandmother Caledonia had bought her freedom.

One day Ford asked about the relatives in the pictures. He was in the fourth grade and was learning about slavery. Each photo that looked especially old, he ran his small finger across the glass and asked: “Was she a slave? Was he?”

When I hung those pictures, twenty years ago, I wasn’t consciously providing a family narrative, but I understood that people need to know where they come from and who their people are.

The pictures in this post are of our family–the top two are Cliff’s grandparents and parents; the lower four are my grandmother and her boyfriend, a great-aunt, Dad and Aunt Thelma.

What do you think? Do you have a family narrative? Is it important to have one?