Why I can’t be Lena Dunham – but will keep writing anyway

Has anyone noticed how annoyingly awesome Lena Dunham is?

Why, of course, the entire motherbleeping world has noticed.

Reading her on-point, hilarious, witty writing part impresses me, part irks me. Because she is so damn street-smart and opinionated and all those things I will never be. I watch her HBO creation Girls in open-mouthed awe and kick myself for not being more like her.

But let’s take a look at the facts.

Lena Dunham grew up in New York City. I grew up in a pile of cow dung in God-Knows-Where, Sweden. (Still not Switzerland.)

Lena was born to successful, Manhattan-based artists. I was raised by withdrawn parents whose main legacy is their children’s inherent fear of the world.

Lena went to an arts-oriented private school in Brooklyn. I went to Hickville High where staying invisible was a method of survival.

You get the picture. Black on white, I am as far from Lena Dunham as Skåne is from Manhattan.

The labyrinthine search for authenticity

I have a tendency to belittle myself and put others on pedestals. Somehow, I always believed that anything coming from me would be utterly worthless and possibly worthy of ridicule.

Like that time when I started first grade, and we were told to draw name tags for our coat hooks. Notwithstanding my six-year career of acquainting myself with crayons and felt tips, I glanced over my desk mate’s shoulder (sorry, Jimmy!) and copied his drawing, line for line. Because the whole world knows the rules of life, and I didn’t get the memo.

Or that time when I wrote an entire book in the voice of Bill Bryson, before I realised that I am not a dusty older man with high intellect and wry wit. Then I read Eat, Pray, Love and rewrote the whole book in a style that would hopefully impress Liz Gilbert.

It left me wondering, just who am I, and what does my voice sound like?

The answer is, not one bit like Lena Dunham. Why do we always favour the voices that are so far from our own? Because we cannot possibly conceive of how they dreamed it all up. That kind of unfamiliar genius always impresses me the most.

But the answer is not to stump the foot to fit the shoe. Bleeding into glass pumps was never a good look. Instead, I’ll get myself some nice, roomy slippers and revel in the comfort.

Because I do have a voice and a style. It’s emotive and emotional, sentimental and dreamy, circling around human connection and the strife to overcome issues of various natures – mental, emotional, familiar. All the things that have propelled me forward and shaped me as a person and writer. Because when you grow up in isolated Swedish backwoods to a troubled family of ten, your writing may become just a teensy bit, well, emo. And you know what? I like emo.

Identifying the goal

A life coach once asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write, I told her, but I was also dazzled and distracted by all kinds of creative careers – I love watching musicians skilfully play their instruments and sing their truths; I adore the image of freely creating painters and illustrators, watching colours and pictures spill out of pens and brushes; and so on.

And she said to me, “It’s not that you necessarily want to do all those things yourself. What grabs you is not the activities but the state of flow; the artists being fully engaged with their creativity.” And she was right; that was what I wanted for myself.

Similarly, what I want is not to be Lena. What I am truly drawn to is her raw authenticity, her unashamed transparency, her gutsy vulnerability. This is what I will continue to work towards. I am still not clear about who I am, but it’s coming to me piecemeal, one small chunk for each paragraph I write.

And for that journey, Lena Dunham is a perfectly decent role model.

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