All Adventurous Women Do: On Being Hannah Horvath

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Everyone hates HBO's Girls, right? It's become, like, A Thing. People, especially those who dwell primarily on the Internet (like me...), love to hate on the show, its creator, its creator's body, & every plot line said creator comes up with, from maybe-rape (by the way, totally rape) to the lack of characters of color to that whole "voice of a generation" line that first started getting everyone's undies in a bunch.

Yeah, I get it. It's become trendy to hate Girls. So trendy, in fact, that whenever I mention my love of it - or, hell, even just that I watch it, regardless of how I actually feel about it - someone responds to tell me how awful the show is & how awful my taste must be if I happen to enjoy it. Because Hannah is self-absorbed & every other character is vapid & there are no black people & whatever other reasons people hate it for. And look, I get it; I really do. I don't have such pop culture blinders on that I fail to recognize the flaws & misgivings of the pieces of work I love - but mostly, I just love them anyway.

I am woefully aware of how uncomfortable this season of Girls has been, & I've noted it myself. The episode when Marnie sang Kanye at her ex-boyfriend's hip office party was the stuff real-life horror is made of; the truly heinous jumpsuit Hannah wore in the weird episode when she played house with a middle-aged doctor stranger was, well, truly heinous. And the arguments about vanity, race, & everything except Lena Dunham's body are, to varying extents, totally valid. I'm not saying they're not. What I'm saying is that for so many viewers - myself included - Girls & the girls in it are, if not the voices of our generation as a whole, at least the voices inside our heads.

In Hannah, I see so much of myself. Does that make me self-absorbed? Well, OK, I guess I'll cop to that sometimes, because I'm 28 & a lot of twentysomethings, privileged or not, use theirs 20s to discover themselves, & sometimes self-discovery veers into that territory before you learn better. Am I as self-absorbed as Hannah? I sure as hell like to think I'm not, but let's not forget that Girls is a TV show & Hannah Horvath is not a real person, so caricatures are to be expected. Still, the similarities are enough that I feel a fondness toward Hannah in a way that's unexpected & even uncomfortable, from the time she fooled around with a stranger who was just barely of age to the way she reacts to returning to her Midwestern hometown to the fact that if anyone ever read my personal journal aloud on stage set to music, everyone who loves me would start to loathe me. And while I've never cut my own hair, I did have a life crisis & shave my head, which might actually be worse.

Though her quirky quips occasionally remind me of myself in a good way, Hannah overwhelmingly reminds me of the worst of me, the parts I wish weren't there. Much as I wish I didn't, I understand all too well being a person who appears to be fully functional & even smart & with-it who is essentially a jumble of rubble inside, a house that looks safe & comfortable but is full of asbestos that threatens to asphyxiate its inhabitants. I understand turning yourself into a human guinea pig for the sake of the experience, living for the story that you can't even bring yourself to actually write about. I understand the bizarre mix of ego & anxiety, putting up a front that you don't even realize is a front, coming off as self-absorbed because you're actually so full of self-loathing that you can't help but give it all your attention in an effort to, you know, change... all while trying to soothe yourself by saying - & believing, & trying to accept - that this is just who you are. When Hannah's neighbor Laird tells her she's "rotten inside," I hurt for her because I've been there, in a place where the people outside of me can't see the goodness inside of me, where I seem like a raging asshole because, well, what's coming out of my mouth sure makes me seem that way, even if I know, in my heart, that it doesn't match up the way I really feel or am.

Like so many others, I've been hanging on this whole awkward season of Girls, waiting for that quirky season-one spunk to return to the show, for some of the melancholy to lift, for the discomfort to subside. I've been waiting in earnest, & last Sunday, during the season finale, that didn't happen. You know what did happen? In the finale scene - when Hannah's ex-boyfriend Adam recognizes the pain in her voice & the mental illness seeping through whatever facade she sometimes-not-really manages to put up, when he runs through Brooklyn shirtless to get to her, to break her door down, to pick her up & comfort her while she cries & panics - in that scene, I saw life. Not a life that ties up neatly with the happy endings or plot-twisting cliffhangers we expect from highly rated cable TV, but actual life, the kind that is sometimes fantastic & sometimes horrific, & usually someplace in between. (And Dear The Atlantic: This is not "happily ever after." Are you fucking nuts?)

My insightful & eloquent friend Lexa wrote about the Hannah/Adam scene in a way that I respect but don't really agree with, mostly because I think all the people writing about this non-couple's romance have it all wrong. This scene wasn't about romance. It was about rescue, about need, about recognizing another human being on the edge & caring enough for that person to be absolutely fucking nuts in your insistence upon making sure they don't fall apart in an irrevocable or irreparable way. I'm not discounting the idea that maybe Adam ran half-naked through the city because he loves Hannah in some re-realized girlfriendy way (he's not a real person, so I don't really know), but what I saw in that scene was someone who loves someone else, period, & doesn't want that person to fall off the edge. I think that if you're scared enough for somebody, you go a little nuts, shirtless on the subway & all, because you will do whatever the hell it takes to make sure that person knows that someone cares & that she is not alone.

My boyfriend said during the season finale of Hannah's recently revealed (& relapsed) OCD, "I feel like this came out of nowhere, like they made it up for the storyline." But that's how mental illness works, & that's what makes it such a dangerous beast. Those on the outside can't always see it there, & if a person with mental illness is mostly functioning "normally," that mental illness appears not to exist. That means that all the crazy things a person does as a result of it, or as a result of trying to get it under control? Just makes them look crazy - and no one else can tell the difference. In that final scene on Sunday, in Hannah, I saw me, just a few years ago, terrified of my own mind & unable to express what was inside of it to those who loved me. I recognized that fear & pain that comes with actual mental illness, not just standard twentysomething vapidity or self-absorption. I remembered what it felt like to be at that end of the life spectrum, the end that feels like the end, when you're not sure if you'll keep going & make your way through or if you're going to actually just give up & be done with it. I remember crying at night & praying that someone, anyone, would somehow just know that I needed them, really needed them, that even though I was probably being crazy & dramatic, I wasn't just being crazy & dramatic. I was stuck, & I was scared, & sometimes that's how those things manifest themselves.

People rescued me. Maybe not in the grandiose, "romantic" way that Adam did Hannah on Girls last weekend, but they did. One night in college, when I cut myself too deep, my sorority big came over, washed off the blood & put me to bed & promised to be there in the morning. The day Dave died, three of my best friends got in a car & drove to get me, not trusting me to do it alone. And when I was falling, falling, falling, in a crazy way I can scarcely explain at this stage in my life because it's just so far removed from my current state of mind, I stayed put because I knew, somewhere in there in a place I couldn't find but still knew existed, that a few vital people loved me & needed me around, even if I was convinced they all hated me (& even if they sometimes really did, because frankly, crazy people are often hateable).

I don't hate Hannah Horvath because it would be, I think, too much like hating myself, & I'm just so tired of that. I can't hate myself anymore; I haven't for a long time, even on the days when I think I do. I make bad decisions sometimes, still stuck with anxiety issues & impulse control problems & fear of commitment & whatever the hell else might be residually wrong with me (I probably need a therapist, I know). I don't hate myself, & I can't hate other people who are sick like I was, even if they seem totally insane & unlovable & batshit crazy - because crazy is hard & hurts really badly, & I believe that most of those people just need love & maybe some medication to find their way back to some modicum of sanity. Like I did.

I read once that someone referred to Hannah as an "unlikeable protagonist," & I think this is sort of an apt description but also sort of not at all, because we're all the protagonists in our own lives, but are any of us wholly unlikeable? And do you want your TV characters to be so whitewashed & unrealistic that they are? Because, look, if you want that, there are a host of other shows that I can suggest you watch instead. But I'm going to keep watching this one because it reminds me of who I am & who I was & who I'm not anymore & who I never want to be again - but keeps me grounded enough to remember that some people are still that person, & maybe they need people like Adam & me to reassure them that they won't always be.

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