“Filmmaker, writer, artist.” Biographies tend to reduce people to nouns, but in reality the most interesting people are adjectives. Miranda July has made two acclaimed feature films (You, Me and Everyone We Know and The Future), a book of short stories (No One Belongs Here More Than You), a novel (The First Bad Man), and many collaborative art projects that harness communication as their medium. There are pre-lives, too, as a Riot Grrrl or a performer, all of which will surface in her characters. She lives in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, despite disliking all the driving that the city entails. Miranda July is always impeccably dressed and has an ear for tender pathos.
Interview: Shumon Basar
Portrait: Todd Cole
Shumon Basar Is it important to start each new day the same way or differently?
Miranda July Well, there’s the beauty of getting a week or even three days of a routine that seems to really work – meditate, don’t look at phone, write first thing, then attend to business, et cetera. But the reality is that this gets disrupted constantly and one can’t feel ruined all the time. So the best thing seems to be able to salvage any given hour; to not feel easily dirtied.
SB You’re in that – rare – category of people who are equally natural at all the different things they do. Was there a conscious decision somewhere in your past there would be several Miranda Julys?
MJ No, not at all. The plan was to be a director, and I immediately set out, with great determination, on a totally weird path towards that. The punk rock, performance, literary, drop-out-of-college path. This had something to do with my dislike for authorities, school, being taught. But in general I tend to think I’m moving in a very logical, straight line and it’s only later that I see things other than my destination are propelling me. Part of the path is determined by what you are avoiding also.
For a while this included men, New York, Los Angeles, and things that I (naively) felt had already been done.
SB How would you sum up the 1990s?
MJ Oh gosh, I find it hard to think objectively about the 1990s. There is something to the word “grunge”. Recently I spoke with some friends about how we all had the same type of mould growing all over our bodies in the 1990s. This had to do with the dampness of the Pacific Northwest, a region which is the 1990s for me.
SB There’s a sense, whether in your films or the app “Somebody” that you devised with Miu Miu, that the thing separating bad technology from good technology is intimacy. Are we intimacy starved or intimacy obese?
MJ Intimacy starved. Or just starved of the present moment, which is where intimacy happens, always, with yourself or other people. But I try not to waste time feeling too bad, but instead notice what is this technology actually doing to the person I am, have always been, want to be? Once you manage to notice (and the whole point of the phones and apps is that you don’t notice them), then I think questioning and hunger kicks in naturally, rather than just guilt.
SB Is there a significant resurgence of the politics of friendship between women, whether it’s Taylor Swift’s squad or the kind of epistolary projects you’ve initiated with your own circle of female friends? How do we account for this happening right now?
MJ I know, how do we account for that? It’s easy to dismiss it as feminism lite, but thinking back, I remember my dad using the terms “women friends” – my mum’s “women friends” – in a way that made me and my brother laugh. It was just inherently silly, the idea of these women all together, talking about God knows what. That kind of devaluing may be specific to a certain white, intellectual class – I’d be curious to know. In any case, it’s useful to remember because there is still a tinge of that in this new conception of female friendship. It’s like it’s supercharged! Has superpowers! It’s never just, you know, serious and important in a normal way. On the bright side, I’m enjoying more female friendship and the cheering on of those friendships in the media.
SB You called your debut novel The First Bad Man, even though the publishing trend today is to slap the word “girls” somewhere in a novel’s title. How did you evade the obvious?
MJ I think I wanted to call the book No Country for Old Men, basically. I wanted a title that sounded old-school “real” – i.e., made by a man. Though the book is very womanly and vagina-y, it is also fairly normal in terms of how it was built – somewhat traditional, with twists and turns of the plot. I was proud of that and kind of wanted to indicate it with a normal title and a normal cover.
Of course, it actually looks like a fake book, a prop. That’s often the problem with drag.
SB It’s easy to think of fashion as facile. How far would you go to argue fashion is in fact profound?
MJ I’m not sure I, personally, need it to be profound. I grew up in a house where anything surface was deemed superficial and an embarrassing waste of time. So loving clothes was a way of arguing that surfaces can bring joy, and joy is important. All I can say is that I put great care into my outfit each morning and then I work alone all day in my office. At the very least, it’s an antidepressant, a way of stepping back for those of us who tend to spiral inward.
SB When we first met, you had just interviewed Rihanna. My favourite part was when you both candidly discussed the relative merits of capacious or compact vaginas. Was that the most surprising moment of your meeting?
MJ Yeah. The part where she Googled “fear of a big vagina” was actually a much longer digression that involved her and her assistant texting Ri’s producer about some joke they made the night before involving a fear of a certain kind of dick. Everyone went completely off the rails for a long time and it was all very funny, and they helped me get screen shots of all the text exchanges, and then, you know, you had to be there. My editor made it very clear that I better buckle down and start writing. My idea for that interview was a transcript of the day since I thought every second of it was a precious dew drop. I still do.
SB Corny question alert: has becoming a mother altered your relationship to the future?
MJ Yes, in that I really want to hang around this place for as long as possible. I’m actively trying not to die, every day. And also there was an article in the Sunday paper yesterday about “empty-nest syndrome” and I actually read it. Even though he’s four. Just to get a sense of what’s coming.
SB You wake up one morning and decide you are going to write 21st-century erotic fiction. What is your nom
MJ Miranda July. §