Last week, Miranda July visited Columbus. Honestly, I was surprised that she was in Ohio, but she was speaking at an art school so it sort of made sense. I was a little nervous because it was billed as an artist’s talk that had “interactive elements,” and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s audience participation. I’m old enough to admit that, right? Like, I’m in an audience because I want to sit back and enjoy myself, not because I want to be part of the show. But MJ sort of addressed my concerns in an interview with Columbus Alive, so I felt comfortable in assuming that this wasn’t going to be like Cats and she wasn’t going to crawl into the audience or anything.
My friends Carrie, Mindy and I showed up a little early, and the auditorium was already packed with art school kids. So much faded blue hair! So many pairs of unconventional tights! It was like a different world for me. No one was wearing business casual. I realized later that the girls and I spent our pre-show minutes talking about the most stereotypical adult things ever: home renovations, hosting holiday dinners, and weddings. I’m sure there were some 19 year olds making gagging motions behind us or something. I will never be hip.
Anyway, when MJ came out, after a crying 1.5 year old was escorted out of the auditorium (sidenote: Who brings a 1.5 year old to an artist’s talk? It’s cool that you want to expose your kid to culture or whatever, but 1.5 year olds are KNOWN for their disinterest in performance art and experimental videos), I was immediately entranced. Her work is so earnest and out there that it’s easy to forget how funny she is, but she very easily made the entire crowd laugh all the time. It’s so strange to me that she has a reputation for being “twee” (ugh, I’m sorry) or precious when, in my opinion, she’s anything but. She has an extremely strong presence on stage and everything she said felt extremely confident.
She showed some of her early short films and talked about the origins of her career. It was so interesting to hear about how her smaller works informed and transformed into her larger works. Short films and her real life became Me and You and Everyone We Know, and a play became The Future. One of the most fascinating things she showed us was the audition she made her moving guy do for what became Hamish Linklater’s role in The Future. Coming from some people, showing a random dude’s audition would’ve seemed mean or like she was poking fun at him (and, judging by the loud groans of the girl behind me, some people took it that way anyway). But I didn’t see it that way, and that’s what I love about her work so much. She’s not passing judgment on the people she shows us; she just presenting them. And you know what? People are weird. Like, 95% of the time people are really, really strange and funny and creepy, and she never shies away from that.
She read an excerpt from her not-yet-out novel, which I loved. It was extraordinarily sexually explicit and extraordinarily funny. And that’s another thing I love about her! Her writing is extremely sexual, but it’s never used for shock value. She’s so good at highlighting the most vulnerable, tender parts of people, and showcasing their weird or unusual fantasies is one of the ways she often does it. This is another reason why I think that anyone who’s actually watched her films or read her writing would never dismiss her as precious. Some people really do dislike her, and I think it all comes down to the lack of irony in her work. She’s always unflinchingly, uncomfortably direct about the pure needy emotions of her characters. There’s no escaping that earnestness when you experience her work. She doesn’t hide behind sarcasm.
Are you guys tired of hearing me go on and on about how much I love her? Well, I can’t help it. She’s a huge inspiration and influence for me (even though I don’t write at all like her). Unsurprisingly, there are lots of other people who love her just as much as I do, and many of them asked her weird, uncomfortable questions during the Q&A period.
Have you ever attended a Q&A that wasn’t incredibly awkward? I haven’t. Why are they so universally awful? Shouldn’t someone normal stumble onto an appropriate question once in awhile? It never seems to happen. Someone traded her a box of something for a high five, someone made her wear novelty glasses while she answered their question, someone told her about how they postponed a surgery so they could be there, someone told her that her work wasn’t “normal,” and someone informed her that people in the IMDB comments thought the characters in The Future were unlikable. Oh, you precious, marvelous question askers. Why are you so reliably strange?
MJ was great, and if you ever get the chance to see her (which you probably do reasonably often if you live in a larger city!) you should definitely go. She was funny and smart and even nice to the people who asked her rude questions. She’s a class act.