(Interview appears in AnOther Magazine, 2015)
Miranda July greets me at the door of her Silverlake, Los Angeles home with those famous cornflower blue eyes. Delicately formidable, with her trademark curly mop of brown hair and vintage letter box red cardigan, she’s like a cheerful Sylvia Plath, a poster child for hip American intelligentsia in the 21st century, one of the boldest female voices in underground film, literature and multi-media art since 2004, when Filmmaker Magazine pronounced her number one among the “25 New Faces of Indie Film". Her first feature film “Me You and Everyone We Know” (2005) won accolades at Cannes and Sundance, and her short story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in 2007. Her 2011 film The Future premiered at Sundance, amid myriad creative collaborations, including an email-based art project with Sheila Heti, Lena Dunham, and Kirsten Dunst and her own mobile app, “Somewhere”, which incites strangers to deliver messages to one another.
Two years ago, shortly after giving birth to her son Hopper (with husband noted director Michael Mills) July, 40, started work on her first novel, The First Bad Man. A notable addition to July’s zeitgeistal, left of centre oeuvre, it tells the tale of Cheryl, a sexually-frustrated, middle-aged anti-heroine with grey hair and a dirty mind. In creating this brave, oddly Bukowskian heroine, Miranda paints a picture both ugly and charming at the same time, forcing us to question what is “appropriate” these days, when it comes to love?
There are pretty big age gaps between the various lovers in your book. One of the characters goes so far as to say: “I think everyone who is alive on earth at the same time is fair game.” Have you ever had a lover who is much older or younger?
I’ve almost always been with older men. The oldest being twelve years older, and I was only 24, so that was a lot. Mike, my husband, is eight years older than me. I mean maybe there’s some psychological daddy stuff going on, but guys my own age just always felt like chums. The few times I dated someone my own age it just felt weird, like, “OK so you knew about the Pixies at the same age I knew about the Pixies. So what.” I like the disconnect that comes from age differences. I want us not to have stuff in common. And for us to each know and be experts on our own thing. I mean maybe it’s almost too intimate when a romantic partner is the same age. It’s like “ugh, get out of my decade”.
Age differences have been a theme throughout your work, actually.
Yes, in my first movie there was this five year old and a middle-aged woman who had a quasi-romantic relationship. It was interesting to explore that without actually making it about something really awful and scary. We always see the same people together and those well-worn grooves don’t really create new feelings for me. Even when the age differences are pretty implausible, I feel like it sparks all this hidden stuff.
There’s a crying passage in the book, where one character cries on the phone to another and it’s a sexual experience for the listener. What’s been a good, sexy cry for you?
I am the kind of person who builds up feelings over days. I get wound tighter and tighter and at a certain point I have to cry to sort of reset that to zero. It was late at night and I had managed to not talk to a single adult all day, and I was feeling totally crazy. I started texting with Lena Dunham, who is a good friend. She was in Germany and she said she had just had half a beer, and we started I was all wound up and as we were texting I started crying. It was all really loving stuff, we were just supporting each other. And when we were done I was like “that was the first time that I managed to get that much emotional relief from a text.” It was like sexting, but the cry version. I felt so much better afterwards. I got off.
Cheryl, the protagonist of your book is middle aged and grappling with what that means, while her younger counterpart, Clee, is very much an example of “entitled youth”. Youth, and middle age—what are your thoughts on what those words mean today?
Youth has always been power. But now it literally means running the companies that are creating our reality. I picture youth in the past as kids at a sock hop (a dance from the 50s). But it seems like technology is the huge divider between youth and middle age now. I am really on the other side of this divide. I might not feel old, but just the fact that I didn’t grow up texting makes me different. It’s interesting to be my age, because it’s really straddling two eras.
In the book, there’s a passage where Cheryl talks about ways that women can disguise their pear shaped figures. Care to share some pearls from your vault of fashion secrets past?
I was very on my own page in my twenties in terms of what I wore. I always wore my tights over my shoes, for example. Which meant I’d go through a pair of tights almost every time I went out, and they would get really dirty on the bottom. But it was very elongating for the leg, and just kind of alien looking. Also, when I was younger I wore just a little black mark on either side of my lips. Little lip extenders. Kind of like making your lips bigger with lip liner, but much more overt, because obviously you can see there are two black marks there. You couldn’t draw them too long, or you looked like the Joker. I felt like it looked good and was flattering, even though everyone was like “that’s so weird, what are you doing?” But I wasn’t trying to look ugly. I was basically making sure that anyone straight felt completely alienated by me. It was cool.