Guest Post: On Lena Dunham and Growing Up By Sarah Goncalves

Maturity has a strange way of sneaking up on you.

A few years ago, I had watched the first few episodes of Girls, written by and starring girls’ girl Lena Dunham. At the time, I lauded it (as many critics have) for the way it depicts, as a kind of humorous expose, the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a young, “I don’t know what I’m doing” female —particularly, one who self-identifies as a writer (the voice of her generation to be exact).

Now, twenty-four-year-old Sarah ate that shit up. So, in the spirit of reconnecting with her, I dug up a blog article I had written in 2013, which recounts my first fictional foray into Dunham’s world:

“There’s an episode where Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah, admits to doing something ‘for the story.’ It’s a little crazy, but I’d be lying to myself and to you if I didn’t completely and wholeheartedly agree. This doesn’t mean I’m about to jump in front of the pack of cyclists cruising down the street ‘for the story,’ but again, I’d be lying to myself and to you if I said I hadn’t thought of it.”

Fast forward three years later.

On Sunday morning, I woke up at seven-thirty and immediately began meal-prepping my food for the week (“Thank God I bought that extra cumin,” I remember thinking, “because I’ve just run out of seasoning for my turkey breast.”). After that, I headed to the gym, where I also coach part-time either before (think: five-thirty in the morning) or after (think: thirteen hours later) my nine-to-five editor job. My boyfriend, who was away on Army training, called me. We talked for an hour. He wants to help me get my bench press up.

That same evening, while browsing Amazon for something to watch, I noticed the first two seasons of Girls were available for streaming. By the end of the first episode, I wanted to backhand everyone: the whiny self-indulgence, the entitlement, the languid disregard for responsibility—all in the spirit of pursuing the kind of life perpetuated ad nauseam by trending Instagram hashtags.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the show (which I still very much enjoyed) induced such rage in me because it holds up a mirror to my generation—to the privilege and promiscuity symptomatic of millennial myopia, particularly among middle-class youths choosing to “find themselves” in some soul-sucking urban environment (a.k.a. New York City).

I breathed, and after morphing back into Bruce Banner, I paused and reflected in a let-he-who-is-without-sin kind of way.

And I realized, that by way of some glitch in the Matrix, should some time traveling portal suddenly open up before me, leading to twenty-four-year-old Sarah’s face, I would most definitely reach my hand in and backhand her too.

At twenty-four, I got caught up in what “being a writer” meant and how that self-identification should infiltrate other aspects of my life: an artist’s life. I always had a bottle of gin in my cheap basement apartment in Queens. I spent too much money at bars that offered half-priced shots named after body parts after eleven o’clock

Don’t even get me started on the unrequited love—ah, the perfect fodder for any writer. We practically wish for it, beg for it, washing down its repugnance with equally repugnant bottom-shelf liquor as we sit at a computer and crank out the mawkish first line of a novel we swear uppity youths of the future will be required to read for school. I once spent forty dollars on a cab ride across midtown (on St. Patrick’s Day, mind you, so you can imagine the surge prices) just to see the reluctant object of my affection at a bar for a grand total of forty-five minutes. I think, in between his sips of Jameson, we spoke a few times.

But hey, that was good “for the story,” right?

I’ll admit: my first draft of this, on a scale of one to Mother Theresa, definitely teetered on “holier-than-thou.” I set out wanting to reflect on my lifestyle as a young, ignorant, identity-less female and then impart to you, without any semblance of doubt, the sense that I have since renounced my evil ways and grown up.

And for the most part, I have. (Although I’ll admit, at least 60 percent of the time I spent watching Girls, I also spent scrolling through my Instagram feed—a hodgepodge of socially telling meme accounts, viral videos, dogs, and CrossFit athletes.)

Now here’s where the wisdom of old age has begun to kick in, and I offer this advice up as a token of my absolution for college-educated twenty-somethings everywhere. Take heed (or, you know, ignore me. That’d be the more bougie thing to do, I get it.).

You can’t “find yourself” if you’re too busy chasing ghosts: a love that never was or a purpose that stays put in your imagination despite the fact that you use it to justify all of your decisions— except, whether by laziness or fear, the ones that will bring you closer to it. These entities aren’t destinations; they’re the incidental effects of, quite simply, living. Which is not (I repeat: not) the same as doing something “for the story,” which points to some elevated, romantic notion of what our lives should be—not the beauty of what it is already.

Ghosts are beautiful because (as most things that exist in our heads) they take the form of whatever we need them to be.

The ghost of my college love haunted me longer than it should have—because I let it. And as narcissistic as my generation can be, its constituents are marked by great vulnerability. We hide behind our tablets and our entitlement, putting up a pixelated front to shield us from a world that is as illimitable as it is cold, all the while wondering where and how we fit in.

I wish I could tell twenty-four-year-old Sarah that she could still be a writer without the martyrdom and that chasing trivial phantoms, distracting as it is, won’t get her anywhere.  I would tell her to laugh at the idea of “for the story”—because, honestly, who the fuck is reading it anyway?

Not that twenty-four-year-old Sarah would’ve listened.

But I suppose that’s the beauty of maturity. One day, you suddenly wake up (figuratively speaking—although it’s most likely seven-thirty on a Sunday) and take up residence on the great proverbial porch, from which you will proceed to wave your fist at all young passersby staring down at their phones on their way to the corner coffee shop.

But after a few minutes of this exhausting effort, you’ll probably grow bored, pull out your phone, and wonder what’s new on Instagram.


Sarah GoncalvesSarah is originally from Long Island, New York. She graduated with a Master’s Degree in English from St. John’s University in 2012. An avid writer, she has had several short stories published and plays produced since 2009. Sarah currently resides in New Jersey, where she works as a part-time CrossFit coach and full-time editor for a design engineering magazine. @SarahG_WDD

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