Miranda July, Part 2

Cody Walker
July 31, 2014
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A few weeks ago I posted a short appreciation of Miranda July’s 2007 story collection, No one belongs here more than you. Since that time, the New Yorker has temporarily opened up its archives, which means that even non-subscribers can read two pieces with July’s byline: “Roy Spivey” and “TV.” If you’d like to hear David Sedaris read “Roy Spivey” (and really, you should), click here. In a conversation with New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman, Sedaris describes his first encounter with the story: “I’m laughing, I’m laughing, I’m laughing, and, at the end, I’m just devastated.”

Sedaris’s description tracks with my own experience with July. Her stories crack jokes, they establish outlandish conceits—in “Making Love in 2003,” the narrator semi-stalks the husband of Madeleine L’Engle and seduces a special-needs student who she imagines to be possessed by a “dark shape” that had seduced her ten years earlier—but, more often than not, they leave us in uncertain, fragile space. As the narrator says about her affair with the student, “We learned to be discreet. It helped that nobody really cares about anyone but themselves anyway. They check to make sure you aren’t killing anyone, anyone they know, and then they go back to what they were saying about how they think they might be having a real breakthrough in their relationships with themselves.” July has a novel, The First Bad Man, coming out in early 2015. I can’t wait to read it.

Other July-related efforts that are worth your attention: Learning To Love You More, a website she created with Harrell Fletcher that’s full of odd assignments and poignant/surprising responses (Assignment: “Describe what to do with your body when you die.” Response: “I want to be thrown in the forest and eaten by foxes.”), and her two feature-length films. Of the two films, Me and You and Everyone We Know offers more obvious pleasures: it’s the most subversive (and actually hopeful) rom-com imaginable. And it treats sex in a way that we almost never encounter in film. “I was always interested in sex, even as a kid,” July told a Times Magazine reporter in 2011. “Sex includes shame and humiliation and fantasies and longing. It’s so dense with the kinds of things I’m interested in.”

The Future is a darker, less consoling film, but it gets under your skin (or at least it got under my skin) as good art can do. (A quote from Joyce Carol Oates’ introduction to The Best American Essays of the Century comes to mind: “My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment, and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.”) The trailer for The Future ends with a sly promise: Coming Soon. Maybe it’s more of a threat than a promise.

I wanted to post this essay today because, well, it’s the last day of July. (Sticking to this scheme, I should post something tomorrow on August Kleinzahler. Don’t worry, I won’t.) And I wanted to offer a small blessing. It comes from “The Shared Patio,” the first story in No one belongs here more than you.

Do you have doubts about life? Are you unsure if it is worth the trouble? Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person’s face as you pass on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street, and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing. Stand up and face the east. Now praise the sky and praise the light within each person under the sky. It’s okay to be unsure. But praise, praise, praise.

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