Miranda July's "It Chooses You"
Even though Miranda July‘s new nonfiction book It Chooses You isn’t inextricable from her latest film, THE FUTURE, the two could easily be called companion pieces in that having some knowledge of one only adds to your experience of the other. And it makes sense that July, who’s a writer, performance artist and filmmaker wouldn’t just make a film when she makes a film – she creates a whole world that manifests itself in the various mediums in which she works. There’s performance art in the film, there’s pieces of the book in the film and there’s the story of making the film in the book. That’s what this book really is, the story of how July finished her film, an unexpected and arduous task that took her on a journey all over Southern California.
When she was close to finishing the screenplay for THE FUTURE, July was hit by a major case of writer’s block. As any writer knows, sitting at your computer and Googling stuff related to your work instead of actually writing it is a completely normal and acceptable form of procrastination. But ravenously reading the Pennysaver and calling the people who placed the ads not to buy what they were selling but to interview them about their lives, their hopes and dreams, is another form of distraction altogether. But to July it wasn’t a distraction, at least not entirely; It was a vision quest.
In It Chooses You, July weaves her interviews with the Pennysaver people into her own personal narrative about her struggle to finish writing her film in a voice that’s so honest and humble, so yearning and without pretense that I think even her detractors would get sucked into the power of her story. From the outside what she’s doing is such a small and seemingly trivial thing, but from the inside of it, it’s absolutely everything. It becomes grand in scale and importance. Everything hinges on July’s ability to not only make it through the Pennysaver obstacle course she’s set up for herself, but to make sense of it at the end.
One of the things I enjoy so much in July’s writing is her ability to create a completely unique narrative that’s also entirely universal. Often times her stories are filled with really sad things and lonely people (if you want specifics just read No One Belongs Here More Than You), but coupled with an awareness of their own sadness it brings about moments of levity and, ultimately, insight. Her nonfiction is no different. Its personal nature doesn’t keep it from being relatable. In one moment she describes the feeling of the reality of the world hitting her like “a silent whoomp.” She closes her eyes to absorb this whoomp, much like I have done and you probably have, too. And also, it’s funny. It’s so, so funny, and actually it’s funniest when its at its most depressing, like the man who drives a mannequin delivery truck, who had a mannequin made that looks like this soap opera actress he once stood in line with at Disneyland. That’s all I’m going to say. That and, read the book. (You can already get it on Amazon.com for $10 less than I paid for it at the Symphony Space event in NY where July and some actors performed sections of the book onstage.)