MIRANDA JULY AT CITY ARTS & LECTURES: how some people are making it through life, sorry, just trying to be honest

(Evan Karp)

I made it to City Arts & Lectures for the first time this past week to see Miranda July in conversation with her longtime friend Julia Bryan-Wilson, and I’d like to share some of the things I heard. For those of you who don’t know (you probably know), Miranda is one of my favorite artists; if you don’t know why you should click here, here, here, here, and it’s not too late to go here.

“Yes, I wanted the solution to my script,” she said, “but also sort of to life in general, and it seemed better to talk with strangers than to just keep spinning in my own head and my sort of fictional world.”

While working on her recent film The Future, July solved a case of writer’s block by reading the daily (analog) PennySaver and eventually meeting and interviewing people who advertised goods there. The result, July’s first book of nonfiction It Chooses You (McSweeney’s), is an account of these interviews. “All I ever really want to know is how people are making it through life: where do they put their body hour after hour and how do they cope inside of it,” she says in one of the book’s entries. Another:

For a split second I could feel the way things were, the way time itself used to feel before computers. It was an annoying question, but I doggedly asked each Pennysaver seller if they used a computer. They mostly didn’t, and though they had a lot to say about other things they didn’t have much to say about this; this absence. I began to feel that I was asking the question just to remind myself that I was in a place where computers didn’t really matter. Just to prompt my appreciation for this. As if I feared that the scope of what I could feel and imagine was being quietly limited by the world within a world, the Internet. The things outside the web were becoming further from me, and everything inside it seemed piercingly relevant. The blogs of strangers had to be read daily, and people nearby who had no web presence were becoming almost cartoonlike, as if they were missing a dimension. I don’t mean to say I really thought this out loud; it was just happening, like time, like geography. The web seemed so inherently endless that it didn’t occur to me what wasn’t there. My appetite for pictures and videos and news was so gigantic now that if something was shrinking, something immeasurable, how would I notice? It’s not that my life before the Internet was so wildly diverse that there was only one world and it really did have every single thing in it. Domingo’s blog was one of the best I’ve ever read, but I had to drive to him to get it; he had to tell it to me with his whole self, and there was no easy way to search for him. He could only be found accidentally.

When asked the source of general discomfort that runs through her work, she replied:

I guess I was uncomfortable [as a child], but I don’t think any more so than anyone else, from what I can tell. I think maybe I was just more interested in it than other people, even from pretty young. I mean, I have things that I wrote as a child and they’re not that different. And I think it just seems like what’s interesting for us here. The things that you’re comfortable about are done, and are kind of already answered, and then the discomfort, it has actually a lot of power in it. I guess I never saw it as weakness or something… like, the second you hit upon something you’re embarrassed about, well you know that if you have the power to look at that, you know, or to share it, then it’s almost like you have a superpower. It’s like being able to fly or something. So you just do that, and it is actually fine. You know, nothing very bad happens other than some people don’t like you. And you get… it’s worthwhile. Sorry, I’m just trying to be honest here… I’m trying to think about it for a second. I guess what looks like discomfort might actually be something else; like there might be something great there, and if you could just bear it for a moment there might be like the whole new great world that you think you’re going to get by going into the good thing, you know, might be there. I guess that’s always the feeling. That it’s like a well-concealed portal that has in fact been concealed for so long because it was uncomfortable.

I can’t stress how present she was (despite a cold), how exact in her considerations. The podcast will be up on February 5, and I highly recommend you tune in. Transcribing just for myself, I copied nearly the entire 80 minutes. I’ll share more, but you’ll have to come over—fair use and all.