I am a ball of nervous energy: I get nervous to fly, speak in public, interview celebrities, but the event that takes the cake this year for nerves was waiting in anticipation to see Lena Dunham and Carrie Brownstein. Over the weekend, I was one of nearly 930 event goers who grabbed a coveted sold out ticket to see Lena Dunham grace a Portland, Oregon stage for the first time, ever. In fact, it was her first trip to Portland, ever. For those curious: She bought 30 books from the world famous Powell’s Book Store (also the host of the evening’s event) and the morning after, there was evidence from her Instagram that she’d raided the iconic Voodoo Doughnuts at roughly 5 a.m. Her book tour, appropriately hashtagged #NotThatKindofTour was a 10-city medley that ends its run today in Toronto—having given us a chance to hear her read excerpts from her new memoir, Not That Kind of Girl.
The crowd was filled with excited locals out for a fun and unforgettable Sunday night, from Portland proper and beyond, all of us with the same questions in mind: Will there be beer? What will Lena be wearing and what will she say? Will she talk about her show Girls or address the fucked up backlash she’s received for her admission that she was raped in college? I knew she’d taken to her Twitter recently to air out the conversation, in one tweet writing: “And I have some news for certain “news” outlets. No matter how much you thump your keyboards with your meat hands we will not stop talking.” The “we” being us who’ve been abused, raped, assaulted, traumatized, and have a human right to simply tell. In an earlier set of tweets, Dunham writes: “Some men are enraged by stories of sexual assault that don’t have clear cut villains, pimps or men with guns…” “That’s because these stories force them to ask hard questions about their history with consent…” Maybe people just want or expect Dunham to be all funny business, but then you haven’t really been watching Girls the right way. What I knew was that I was nervous because Lena Dunham isn’t just a big ass deal—she’s one of the most authentic, concerned, smart and expressive makers in the entertainment business today.
Without further adieu, Lena takes to the stage in a frayed dress, her platinum blonde ‘do an eye catcher from any seat in the Newmark Theatre, where we lay our scene. Sadly, she hasn’t been feeling well while on tour, so she’s admittedly hopped up on steroids and a litany of other meds she’s had called in. The tragedy of her bod’s state has made her realize maybe Portland is the right place for her—she says she feels relief in the Pacific Northwest, and goes on to talk about getting cat-called, which she’s totally OK with because half the time, it’s the lesbians who holler—which would likely increase big time if she were here, she says. A collective, boisterous response echoes across the theater from every lesbian or lesbian-understanding human in the house. Someone laughs behind me and says, “We’ll take it!” I’m not sure what they mean, but I like the energy that’s flowing.
Lena situates herself and prepares us for her readings. She shimmies up onto a stool and begins to read her first passage from her book; it’s a story about how she lost her virginity. She stops midway through and addresses us—“Can you guys see my underwear?” The place erupts in laughter. She realizes we’ve all seen her naked, perhaps, and adds, “I don’t even care. I just want to know.” Everyone in the front assures her that she’s fine, as if we know her and we’re just at her wine and cheese dorm party on the night of her hymen-break together. I still remember when I watched the girl who made and starred in Tiny Furniture describe how she thinks—“I may be the voice of this generation”—as Hannah Horvath in the pilot episode of Girls. Suddenly, she’s proving why that’s true. It like, if these walls could talk! All of us have stories. Many of them are similar to hers. Her honesty and her knack for describing the monotonous details we so often overlook is brilliantly orchestrated as she reads along.
In another passage, Lena describes being younger, and accounts for a teacher whose favoritism took a nasty turn for perversion. It’s hard to say if that moment strikes a nerve and dissuades her from taking school seriously over the next few years, but she eventually transfers schools, and expresses how pivotal that time period was for her creativity and openness—recharging her interests. I catch moments of Lena looking her up from her mic as she reads, lightly shaking her head decidedly, her hair tossing around, Lena self-soothing her inner leg, her face filled with confidence and poise. Later on, she would apologize for her speech patterns, citing that it must be the steroids she’s on. Everyone laughs, because we’ve all been on the steroid train (I mean—I have) and it’s hard to fault her for slipping up a few words. We hardly noticed. And even if we did, we loved it.
While Lena is here to share some of her anecdotes and indulge in what Portland has to offer, she’s also here to tell us about the midterm elections, Planned Parenthood, and how important it is to get informed about our state leaders, our state politics, and our rights as women. (She mentions her sister Grace wrote out her political lingo for her because Lena has great intentions but terrible political game.) But, I digress. The conversations Lena is having are necessary. And when Carrie Brownstein takes to the stage to join in for a chat, she brings up the idea of the two of them running as co-presidents together. “We should run on a joint ticket,” she jokes. But, seriously, they probably should. Dunham-Brownstein is the most dewy, beautiful sounding political duo that any button or decal sticker would ever see.