Monday, May 14, 2012
If you spend any amount of time in the writing/publishing world, you'll hear an aspiring (or accomplished) writer extolling the virtues of Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art or Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. For good reason, too. The War of Art is an excellent book about discipline, a sparse quality among creative types. Outliers compellingly raises the argument that the only control you have over your career is how much work you put in, and about 10,000 hours should do it.
Doing work is absolutely crucial to success in the creative world, but I think these two books (Outliers especially) undervalue natural talent. I've known quite a few writers over the years from scrubs to accomplished authors, and what separates them is not usually work ethic. What separates them is a natural perception about the world around them, and an ability to articulate that perception. The most vibrant art I've experienced has been birthed from otherworldly insight, and most people I've met with those gifts aren't naturally hard workers. That's why The War of Art and the 10,000 Hour Rule are so valuable, but it's not as if anyone can write eight hours a day, five days a week and become a great writer.
Whatever natural writing talent is, whether it's genes or personality type or some intangible spirit, Lena Dunham has it up over her eyeballs.
Dunham is the creator/director/star of HBO's brilliant new comedy series, Girls, which chronicles the life of four women in their early 20s in New York City. In the laziest possible terms, Girls is like mixing Sex in the City's setting and XX-centricity with Louie's fearless, unflinching comedic perspective. (Considering a scene where Lena's character, Hannah, jokingly accuses a man interviewing her for a job of being a serial date rapist, you could probably add a little Larry David to the mix, too.)
Girls is more than that, though. For one, it's the first real television show to rise from the Millenial Generation. As someone born at the tail end of Generation X, Girls feels a bit alien, and it's surprisingly easy to buy into John Cook's review on Gawker, which waves a cane from the front yard with lines like:
"Girls is a television program about the children of wealthy famous people and shitty music and Facebook and how hard it is to know who you are and Thought Catalog and sexually transmitted diseases and the exhaustion of ceaselessly dramatizing your own life while posing as someone who understands the fundamental emptiness and narcissism of that very self-dramatization."
And just like all cane-waving, there's truth there. Lena Dunham may be incredibly self-aware and insightful, but no 25 year-old gets a show on HBO without a healthy dose of narcissism. Hell, no one writes words meant for others to read without an inflated sense of their own importance, whether it's Lena Dunham, John Cook, or Cormac McCarthy.
I wrote things when I was in my early 20s that seem horrifyingly self-indulgent now, and I thank God semi-weekly Facebook didn't exist back then. My guess is Lena Dunham will one day look back at Girls and be ashamed of a few scenes, or cringe at how she viewed her own body, or wish she wasn't quite so honest when it hurt relationships. My guess is every 21 year-old will scan back through their Facebook timeline 20 years from now and do the same thing. That's part of why Girls is so brilliant. It's a sheer reflection, and sometimes 22 year-olds are the only ones who can be that nakedly transparent.
In his review, John Cook quotes Kenny Powers from the finale of Eastbound & Down: "The shit you all are doing—the fucking Facebook shit, the internets, the fucking DVDs—that's all bullshit. Your shit isn't real." Cook uses that line as criticism, but what he misses is that Lena Dunham's world is equally as real as Kenny Powers' career. Probably more so. And at least she's documenting that reality in an entertaining way.