Instead of ending the year with a slew of Best Of lists, BlackBook asked our contributors to share the most important moments in art, music, film, television, and fashion that took place in 2012. Here, Amanda Chatel discusses what’s behind her complicated love-hate relationship for Lena Dunham and Girls.
I was a sophomore in college when I stood outside my dorm fighting with my boyfriend at the time. It can’t remember the details exactly, but it was something about the two of us trying to maintain our long distance relationship—one that was less than an hour by car. I was infuriated by the oronic analogies and literary references he was making. They were nonsensical, and I half wondered if he had spent the last weekend reading the dictionary for words, but skipping their actual definitions. It was only after someone called campus security, fearing an actual physical altercation, that I walked into the building, locked the door behind me, and ran up to my room. I was done, or so I told myself.
As I listened to him yelling my name from the lower quad at the University of New Hampshire, I threw open the window and screamed out: “I’m gonna write about you! I’m gonna write about all this and I’m not going to change your name! I want everyone to know how awful you are!”
I was a second year English major who, at the time, was quite certain I’d be published by the time I was 25 years old at the very latest. (I’m a little behind on schedule.) And I did write about him. I wrote about him for a long time. In poetry classes, in creative writing classes, in any forum that allowed me to write about my life, I wrote about him. I was writing him out of my bones, I was chastising him in front of strangers; I was doing exactly what I told him I would do: I wasn’t changing his name. His name was Chris.
When I fell in love for the first time with Timothy, I stuck to my initial threat to Chris that night. But by then, it was no longer poorly written, hate poetry about a 19-year-old broken heart, but poorly written, love poetry about a 21-year-old heart that was blooming for the first time. I was finally understanding whatever the fuck Jane Austen had been yammering about in all my Brit Lit classes.
I was going to immortalize Timothy. I was going to write him into every manuscript I ever composed and people, hundreds of years from then, were going to study my work in comparison to my relationship with him! It was going to be gorgeous! It was also the same semester I was studying Shakespeare and decided the greatest gift of all was to immortalize someone. I had also seen Shakespeare in Love too many times that year.
Timothy and I broke up several months later, and I no longer care for Shakespeare.
But I had started a precedent; I had decided I couldn’t write fiction. I couldn’t even come up with a proper name for anyone about whom I wrote, because their real life names fit them so perfectly. It was not my job to alter them; it was my job to tell the story that may have starred them, but since I was there, too, it was my story to tell. If it meant long drawn out lawsuits with people who wronged me and whom I wrote about in great detail, then so be it. I wasn’t even going to change the words that poured from their lips—especially the ones that had hurt me so bad.
Then Lena Dunham, or rather Hannah Horvath, stole my line.
The line that I had uttered just weeks before to Christoffer in the spring of 2012 after he had broken my heart for the hundredth time in the last four years; the line that I had used as both a threat and compliment had been stolen from me. In that instant, I was horrified. I had always convinced myself I was original, but Lena Dunham changed that. I was, well, an imposter.
The actual moment when this happened is still crystal clear. I had been in Paris when the first few episodes of Girls aired—an escape for which I can thank the heartbreaking, devious and conniving Christoffer—and upon my return to the city I knew that I had to get caught up on the series. Everyone was watching it, either loving or hating it, comparing their current lives to it, or being grateful that their life had evolved past that point.
By the time I was about to reach the fifth episode, “Hard Being Easy,” I was in New Hampshire visiting my family. My sister was in town from Colorado and I forced her to watch it with me. It was, after all, something to which I could relate. I had been (and still am) a struggling writer in New York City in my mid-20s. I had begged my parents to supplement my income with the promise that “I’ll pay you back after I get my book deal,” and “if you don’t help me, I’ll become a prostitute,” and all the other bullshit lines I thought appropriate to throw their way.
So, there we were, on the couch, somewhere in the middle of June watching Girls On-Demand when the character Hannah, with her god-awful, drawn-on eyebrows, turned to her boss and said, “Someday I’m going to write an essay about you and I’m not going to change your name!”
“What did she just say?” asked my sister. I hit rewind.
“Someday I’m going to write an essay about you and I’m not going to change your name!”
It was clear as day. My sister burst into laughter and grabbed my knee, as she yelled out, “That bitch stole your line!”
My sister was right. It was stolen. I had been robbed and now I had to come up with another line and I really didn’t want to do that because it had been my line for so long. It was part of me. I had written so candidly about so many people in my life from the very beginning of my career. And while I occasionally referred to some of them under a thinly veiled moniker once I found myself in the blogging world, the truth was the real name factor, whether it was for all the right or wrong reasons, was somewhat of a gift. It was proof of impact; don’t we all want proof of impact?
How was I supposed to write about Christoffer or Timothy or Angelo or Andrew or Ben, or talk shit about my former bosses Alan and Marc, or point out the fact that my aunt Patty thinks I’m a heathen, if I’ve been stripped of my line? What was the point of even being a writer if not to exact revenge on others? It couldn’t possibly be because you love the art form, could it?
WHY WAS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?
I had so obviously been the only person in the history of the world to have strung all those words together in that order to make that exact sentence and now it was gone. I could never use it again without being accused of lacking creativity, thievery or straight-up plagiarizing. My life, as I knew it, ended in those few seconds while my sister laughed her ass off and I buried my head into a pillow screaming, “Fuck you, Lena. Fuck you and your youness!” Or something else equally poetic and practically deserving of a goddamn book award.
And yes, that’s how it all went down that afternoon, on a couch in New Hampshire, in the early summer of 2012.
I have since then tried to make peace with the situation. I have pointed out to myself several times a day in the mirror during my hourly pep talks that I am older than Lena, so I did technically come up with the line first, if we’re to do the math based on our ages. But it seems like a waste now, and I don’t have the energy to stalk her and have it out with her on a Brooklyn street corner. Such behavior might get me labeled crazy, and I’ve heard that enough for one lifetime.
I love Girls; I really do, but now I have this chip on my shoulder. See? I can’t even come up with anything more creative for that? It’s so cliché.
My name is Amanda Chatel. I’m a writer in New York City. And Lena Dunham stole my line. I know there’s a therapy group out there for such a thing, or eventually will be. But I guess in the meantime, I’ll have to join the one for all the girls who had short hair before Lena, but now get accused of having it that way because of her.
I’ve had pixie short hair since sophomore year of college when I used to fight with my boyfriend named Chris whose name I never changed because he was an asshole. It just goes to show you shouldn’t fuck with a writer, because we’re a fucked up lot and we’ll eventually catch up with you. I’m looking at you, too, Lena.
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