You are in a church in the University District of Seattle. You are compulsively early, so you take a seat near the front. There are thirty other people there already. Mostly academic-looking twenty-something riot grrrls, and one guy who looks a lot like Adam Driver.1 (You are also twenty-something. You are twenty-eight, to be exact, which is also Lena Dunham’s age. You feel older than everyone around you, but it’s because your hair is not dyed anything. You aren’t wearing a single skull, and your one and only facial piercing has been healed over for nearly a decade. You have kids. You drove your minivan here from the suburbs. There are a million reasons for you to feel older, really.) The man who is potentially Adam Driver is slumped down in his seat, chewing on something. You text your husband.
You: I’m here! And I think Adam Driver is here? In the front row. I’m in the fourth. I’ll take a pic of the back of his head.
You: (picture of guy who looks like Adam Driver)
You: The guy in purple.
Your husband: Could be!
Your husband: (picture of your two-year-old daughter with a Duplo sticking out of her mouth)
Your husband is home with your kids, and you are at An Evening With Lena Dunham. It’s 7 p.m. You’re usually breastfeeding a nine-month-old with four new teeth at this time, but not tonight.
A representative from Planned Parenthood approaches your row. She asks, “Do you ladies support Planned Parenthood?” Everyone nods. You’re at the end of the row, so she hands you a tablet. “We’d love to get you on our mailing list, so we can let you know when there are volunteer opportunities.” You smile and pass the tablet on to the girl next to you without typing anything. That’s not for any political reason, you just don’t want to be on another mailing list, and when would you volunteer? You barely have time to shower.
The girl next to you looks quizzical. “You didn’t want to sign up?”
You smile and say, “Oh, I’m okay!” But now you really, really wish you’d signed up. You want to explain that No, no—it’s not that I don’t support Planned Parenthood! I do! I am so pro-birth control, it’s ridiculous. Birth control for everyone! I just don’t want to be on another mailing list. But you can’t explain that, because it makes you sound a little uptight and elderly, like your grandmother in Massachusetts, who waved away your brother’s suggestion that she FaceTime with you and your kids on his phone. “Oh, no. I don’t need all of those internet bills coming to my house.” That, of course, is not how FaceTime nor phones nor the internet work.
It doesn’t help your situation (the one in which you desperately don’t want to seem illiberal or old to the girl next to you) that you’re wearing a long white cardigan and holding a camel bag on your lap. You walk a thin line between classy and geriatric.
At 7:10 p.m., the opening act still hasn’t begun, and your vision is going hazy from the bright lights and the exhaustion. You were up at 5:30am with a baby who couldn’t wait to sink his primary teeth into your nipple.
Then she’s on: an alternative-sounding keyboardist with streaked, flowy hair and a voice reminiscent of Norah Jones or The Cranberries. Then again, you think every alternative-sounding keyboardist has a voice reminiscent of Norah Jones or The Cranberries. This doesn’t help with your push against being elderly.
The second opener is a friend of Lena’s, and a staff writer for Buzzfeed. She reads an essay that you know is beautiful, but right there at the beginning of it is a stillborn baby, and suddenly your milk lets down and your breathing goes kind of weird and you’re anxious to get home to your babies. But wait—there is clapping and a hum of excitement throughout the church that is suddenly packed from front to back. The choir loft is heaving and full, like someone’s cleavage in a turn of the century movie.
And there is Lena Dunham, in a fabulous tan coat that poufs out at the bottom, and she is brilliant. She is funny. She is direct. She reads an essay about rape, because another writer recently informed half the world that it was not, in fact, a rape she described. She chose this essay tonight because yes, in fact, it is. And because she senses that she is in a cozy, coffee-drinking pocket of the world where the women and men want to hear this story and every story. You lean forward and listen and scribble notes in your lilac Moleskine notebook, and you are so caught up in her voice that you hardly think about how much you wish your Moleskine notebook were cerulean instead of lilac.
Twenty-eight years old is young and riotous, and sometimes it is being hilarious and truthful and affecting in a tan coat that poufs out at the bottom. Sometimes it’s not, and you’re twenty-eight and old somehow in a church in Seattle full of women who are different from you in every way except all of the important ways, and you smell vaguely of breastmilk and peanut butter.
This night reminds you of being younger than you are now, at a bar in St. Paul, Minnesota with two women you admire for being wonderfully different from you and from each another. You drank too many gin and tonics and you knew you saw Goldberg from The Mighty Ducks at the table next to you. It wasn’t Goldberg then, and it probably isn’t Adam Driver now, but here you are, in a church full of Lena Dunham and a couple hundred wonderfully different women, and you soak it in.
You will go home at the end of all of this with her new book, Not That Kind of Girl, and you will brush away gnats of guilt when you sit down with your children on the living room floor and read the book from cover to cover over the next two days while they run you over with fire trucks and an excavator. You will love best the essay about desiring motherhood. You aren’t so different.
1 Adam Driver is that guy from Girls. He was also recently in This is Where I Leave You, which I had desperately hoped would be the new The Family Stone. It was very good, but it wasn’t the new The Family Stone. Nothing ever is.