Me and You and Everyone We Know
I first met Miranda July years ago at a faraway literary conference in Portland, Oregon. Along with Rick Moody and others we were on a panel that was supposed to converse authoritatively about narrative structure. When it came time for July to speak, she stood up and started singing. She was large-eyed and lithe. I don’t remember what song it was—something she had written herself, I believe. I was startled. Who was this woman? (Her performances and short films had not appeared widely enough to have caught my notice.) I was then mortified, not for her, since she seemed completely at ease and the audience was enthralled, but mortified for narrative structure, which had clearly been given the bum’s rush. (Well, fiction writers will do anything to avoid this topic: it is the one about which they are the most clueless and worried and improvisational.)
Sitting next to Ms. July was the brilliant Denis Johnson, who, inspired by his neighbor, when it was his turn (figuring out one’s turn can be the most difficult part of a panel) also began to sing. Also something he had written himself. I may have laughed, thinking it was all supposed to be funny, realizing too late my mistake. There was a tragic aspect to one verse in the Johnson song. I believe he did not sit down because he had not stood to begin with.
Then it was clearly, or unclearly, my turn. If not the wallflower at the orgy then I was the mute at the a cappella operetta (a condition typical of many a July character though not of July herself): I refused to sing. I don’t remember what I said—I believe I read from some notes, silently vowing never to be on another panel. (The next panel I was on, in Boston, I thought went well by comparison. That is, no one burst into random song. But when I said as much to the person sitting next to me, the editor of a prominent literary journal, he said, “Really? This was the worst panel I’ve ever participated in.”) So my introduction to July was one at which I watched her redefine boundaries and hijack something destined to be inert and turn it into something uncomfortably alive, whether you wanted her to or not. This has been my experience of her work ever since.
July’s first feature-length film, the now-famous independent Me and You and Everyone We Know, also upends expectations. July writes, directs, and stars in all her films. In many ways, while remaining a love story, the film is about the boundary-busting that is ruleless sexuality—stalking and sexual transgression—though here the predators and perpetrators are gentle and female. A boy is coercively fellated by two slightly unpleasant teenage girls devising a competition. Low-level sexual harassment is everywhere and July sometimes plays…
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