Is It Evil Not to Be Sure? An Excerpt from Lena Dunham’s College Diary
There is something so pleasurably painful about reading old diaries, like picking a scab or waiting for a sneeze or asking an ex to explain, in graphic detail, why they don’t want to fuck you anymore. I’ve mostly avoided rereading my diaries, which are all typed, due to my near-pathological aversion to my own handwriting. But in March, felled by illness and regressing in surprising ways, I wanted to pick that aforementioned scab. So I revisited a year’s worth of personal recollections: the 2005–2006 running Word doc I called “creative snippets and observations journal,” and now I’m releasing them in a limited edition book * (5)* available now in e-book from (6), (1), or (5), and in a limited, signed, printed edition at 12 PM EST at the Lenny store. (**Update 5/17**: the printed copies are sold out! But the e-book copies are infinite).
I’m not sure what inspired me to record my thoughts this way. While nonlinear observations are now the norm because of Twitter-enforced brevity, at the time it wasn’t such an obvious way to write (unless, like me, you were reading a ton of confessional poetry and listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs exclusively). But I think the form mimicked what I was experiencing internally: massive personal growth, the kind that comes from a million tiny shocking moments rather than one big bang. In reproducing the journal entries, I’ve held on to a lot of the unorthodox grammar and punctuation, to keep that immediacy alive.
I needed a personal, urgent way to describe losing my virginity, but also the shaft of light that hit my face the next morning, the smell of burning leaves, and the way my bike chain froze to the lamppost it was locked around, and how these sensations became inextricably linked with some shift inside me. The journals are full of a sticky nostalgia for the present and an achy loneliness unsoothed by hurling myself at every boy in tight pants I could locate in a 30-mile radius. I was shopping in all the wrong aisles.
Some things were just as I remembered them, like the amount I napped, the pride I took in letting my hair knot. And some surprised me. I’ve spent my entire 20s believing that my cynical, at times comically revolting, vision of sex was a result of being assaulted (which happened a few months after these diary entries stopped). But these “creative snippets and observations” remind me that I always had a dour approach to the act, a sense it was some weird piece of theater that left everyone exposed and no one satisfied. My essential nature was compounded, not created, by the violation I experienced. That comforts me in some way. I was also disappointed, though not shocked, by how rarely my gaze was turned toward other people. Looking around makes you a better writer and must exist parallel to looking inward.
Memoir will never not be my favorite genre (despite the fact that it gets maligned as a way for solipsistic lazy bitches to get and maintain their reputations). So much beautiful, culturally essential work has come out of the act of a woman monitoring her own emotional pulse — books ranging from Sylvia Plath’s highly autobiographical novel (9) to Maryse Holder’s (2) to * (3)* , a young-adult account of a child in war-torn Bosnia. Zora Neale Hurston’s (10). * (7)* by Mary MacLane. The fucking (8). My college diaries don’t begin to join their ranks, but they’re a reminder (to me and I hope to you) that your experiences, large and small, are worth preserving.
That’s also the reason that the profits from these books will be going to (4). Girls Write Now provides opportunities and education to underserved high-school girls so they can use writing for its highest purposes: catharsis, activism, and envisioning a better future. Girls Write Now’s programs are remarkable, as are the young women they serve, and I hope you’ll all join me in supporting them. These are the girls who will expose their truth and eventually join the canon. I was lucky enough to have a rich writing education from an early age (thank you, Marty Skoble, America’s best middle-school poetry teacher!), and that’s part of why I was so enamored of my own observations, so ready to spill. But we need to remind every young woman, no matter their socioeconomic reality, that their stories are essential to our future. We can’t live without them, and we also don’t want to.
I wish I had never found out about karma.
When I knock I hear the voices behind the door go silent.
She spent a week saying what a strong single woman I am, how much she envies me. She said she was working hard to get to where I am. Then she had sex with my ex- boyfriend.
Why does she think she can knock on my door? She is a dumb whore.
I hate her with a venomous hate. I want to rip her face off, hold it up, watch her watch me in shock as her cheeks bleed in my hands.
110 pounds, she says her mom might think she’s gotten fat. But her boyfriend called her back bony. It hurts, she says, when you just can’t be good enough for anybody. I fucking hate this girl.
“Ever since you left I have empty-nest syndrome” he says.
“Come here.” His skin feels like fresh laundry. He’s telling me he’s sorry for not loving me.
He says I always mothered him obsessively. Sometimes it was good and sometimes it wasn’t.
She awoke once to find his nose pressed to her cheek.
Usually, when she shared a bed with a boy, she was the one whose eyes opened first. But in this case he was always waiting for her to awake.
I think you could have handled the whole thing in a more considerate way, been a bit kinder to me. And I’m sure I could have done better with it all. But these things are hard to navigate, and you’re not that easy to understand. I guess that’s the name of the game.
He brushes my hair from my eyes. He looks surprised, probably because my hair’s not very soft. It feels like straw. It’s sort of a point of pride, actually.
His breath smells like booze, or what I think booze smells like. The truth is I don’t really trust my own knowledge of illicit substances.
He’s so lovely and so tiny.
I’m so tired lately that I look dirty all the time.
I nap deeply.
Jen says the problem isn’t that Sergei’s ugly. The problem is his aura,
I have some friends who I just can’t imagine with any guy. They are too huge, too overwhelming. It would be like pinning a massive carnation to a baby’s lapel.
I just want what is owed to me. I just want what is mine.
I told him I was a virgin. He said “whoa, really? I just thought you’d had sex, you know, since you’re a sophomore and stuff.” “I’m only, like, three months older than you” I told him. “Yeah” he said. “But you’re a sophomore.”
Like Joan Didion, I wonder what it’s all being written down for. Is there a larger purpose for all these tiny pieces I carry with my like baggage that cannot be condensed or consolidated?
you kiss like a two year-old on meth
She says she wants to fuck some guys in the ass until they cry. She’s sick of feeling like all she has is a hole and that she has to put stuff in it.
She lied and said she’d lost her virginity at eighteen. She didn’t want to think about the twenty guys she’d slept with before that.
“how was your break?” “good, and yours?”
“um, bad. My sister just got out of a pseudo mental hospital and she’s like my favorite person on the world. And I found out my grandpa is dying and my mom has cancer.”
“oh, I’m so sorry. Wow.”
All I could think was and I gave head to your boyfriend
*Lena Dunham is a better judge of character than she used to be.*