Miranda July has been hovering round the top of my imaginary list of favourite artists for a while now (I don’t have an actual tangible ‘favourite artists’ list that I have written down, just a nebulous collection of people whose work I admire – anyway, the point is, July is up there). I stumbled upon her work almost by accident when I went down to Dublin with some acquaintances for a Sleater-Kinney gig. We spent the afternoon hovering near the venue and outside the stage door eating our packed lunches, hoping to run into the band members; fortuitously, it worked. We met Carrie Brownstein on her way to rehearsal, and after gushing and getting autographs, we engaged in a bit of smalltalk and she told us she’d just come from an arthouse cinema up the road where she’d seen a great little film called ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know’ by a woman called Miranda July and that we’d love it. I later learned that July and Brownstein were good friends (July directed Sleater-Kinney’s video for ‘Get Up’) so it was as much a sneaky plug as it was chit chat. Anyway, we had a few hours to kill before the gig and groupie-dom was wearing thin, so we decided to check it out. Thus began an enduring fascination. ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know’ was equal parts beautiful and creepy and I had no idea what to make of it at first, but I knew there was something special about the way that July saw the world.
Fast-forward to 7 years later and Miranda July has released a bunch more material to help me grasp her mesmerising but elusive worldview. After MYEWK came ‘No-One Belongs Here More than You’, a collection of short stories with an inventive accompanying website, some web stuff, a crowd-sourced art project (‘Learning to Love You More’), another film (‘The Future’) and now a book based on July’s procrastination techniques while writing ‘The Future’. Ok, end of backstory, start of review.
‘It Chooses You’ touches upon many of the same themes dealt with in ‘The Future’ – ie. procrastination, human connection and the midway-between-quarter-and-mid-life-crisis that the age 35 represents. The book begins in the summer of 2009 with July nearing the completion of her screenplay, but suffering from hopeless writers’ block. To procrastinate, she starts reading junkmail, including a classifieds paper called the PennySaver, and begins wondering about the characters that may lurk behind the adverts. Rather than simply leaving it as a hypothetical musing, July actually phones up and arranges interviews with the people, and what starts as a procrastinatory device actually becomes a project in its own right.
Each chapter is centred around a different interview and flows effortlessly between transcript and July’s prose, contextualising how she’s feeling, how the film is progressing and whatever profound insights she happens to be having. Interspersed throughout are candid photos by Bridget Sire, bringing the characters and situations to life.
If you haven’t got an idea about July’s writing style from the photos, here are some quotes. You should be able to figure out from these if it’s your cup of tea or not:
“…of all the people that I met, Domingo was certainly the poorest. Not the saddest, not the most hopeless, but the person around whom I felt most creepily privileged around. We drove home, in my Prius. If I interacted only with people like me, then I’d feel normal again, un-creepy. Which didn’t seem right either. So I decided that it was okay to feel creepy, it was appropriate, because I was a little creepy. But to feel only this way would be a terrible mistake, because there were a million other things to notice.”
“Despair was gathering. Only it didn’t feel like the sentence Despair was gathering; it wasn’t impressively dramatic like dark clouds before a thunderstorm. It was pathetic and tedious, like a person you don’t want to be around.”
“My inquiry was open-ended, but it wasn’t pretend, I wasn’t in a fairytale or a fable. I shut my eyes and absorbed the silent whoomp that always accompanies this revelation. It’s the sound of the real world, gigantic and impossible, replacing the smaller version of reality that I wear like a bonnet, clutched tightly under my chin. It would require constant vigilance to not replace each person with my own fictional version of them.”
What I love about July’s work is not just her unique insights into life, absorbing as they are. It’s the fact that any time I read, scroll through or watch anything she’s done, my mind is set alight with ideas and the desire to make something, anything. That, to me, is great art. It doesn’t stand aloof, setting itself apart as Something You Could Never Do. It spreads, like bacteria, and multiplies itself, triggering synapses and sparking creativity in others. It invites you in. This morning I was sitting in Browns Coffeehouse, reading the last third of the book, and I felt like my own creativity had doubled in size.
Incidentally, she did finish her script; in fact, some of the characters she met in the interviews made it into the movie. ‘It Chooses You’ is a lovely insight into the writing process, and will likely make you feel better about your own lack of productivity.