It Happened to Me: I Went to College with HBO's New It Girl Lena Dunham, and I'm Seething with Jealousy

If you had asked me in 2008 who would be end up being the famous one in the 12 -person screenwriting workshop I was enrolled in, I would have said "me."
Publish date:
April 20, 2012
girls, entertainment, jealousy, lena dunham, hbo

Sometimes I paw at my computer in tragic jealousy, because that’s a really good way to accomplish things.

If you had asked me in 2008 who would be end up being the famous one in the 12 -person screenwriting workshop I was enrolled in, I would have said "me." Because I was an asshole. Also I was writing a very solid screenplay about lesbian ninjas and explosions, that I still think has a lot of potential. (Call me, Judd Apatow!)

I was very wrong, because also in that class was Lena Dunham, writer, director, star and god knows what else of HBO's new series "Girls." The one everyone and their angry, semi-employed friends from college loves, loves to hate, or hates to admit is basically about them.

I forget exactly when I first heard about the new show HBO had just optioned. Imaginatively titled “Girls," I know it was about ladies and something something new "Sex in the City"? It hardly even registered, until one day I was stuck in traffic on my way to work, when I was distracted from deciding whether my car's clock was four or 14 minutes slow by the face of Lena Dunham staring at me from a billboard on the side of the road.

"Goddammit," I IMed my friend Em when I finally got to work that day. "My old classmate has an HBO show now, apparently?"

[Thank you for this honest piece. Let's just look at why your response wasn't, 'That's so great that Lena is on that billboard!" --Jane]

"I waltzed with the Poet Laureate last night," Em replied. (She graduated from Cambridge, and is no help at all.)

"Why won't anyone give me an HBO show?" I whined back. "Why is everyone more successful than me?"

Then I went and searched my old college email inbox for any emails Lena Dunham had sent me back before all the fame and New Yorker profiles. Not like a stalker! I just thought I remembered us doing a project together, and needed to know if I had actually co-written a short screenplay with HBO's new It Girl.

I had. I wrote most of it, actually, after Lena stood me up for our coffee and writing date. Three times. (I totally forgive you for that, Lena! Like you said, you totally had the flu, not a hangover. Call me! Maybe I can write some more scripts for you. That would be pretty rad, wouldn't it?)

We also, if four years and the haze of collegiate drinking have left my memory intact, once tipsily stumbled home together from an end-of-semester margarita night. I spent most of the walk telling her her about my heartfelt desire to one day be a television screenwriter. She nodded at me very kindly.

Cut to three years later and I've settled in a job that involves deciding precisely which polar bear picture makes you care the most about our planet’s slow and inevitable demise, and being angry at spreadsheets a lot. Lena Dunham, on the other hand, has a New Yorker profile at the tender age of 25.

At this point, I suspect my friends may be sick of me asking why I don't have my own HBO show. Especially because the answer, at its most fundamental, is pretty simple. I didn't try to get one. Getting your own TV show isn't that easy to do. No one is wandering around Hollywood asking if someone -- anyone! -- will write them a prime time dramadie.

Moving to LA or New York to become a writer is a huge risk, and you will probably never be an acclaimed writer, but you'll really never be an acclaimed writer if you stop writing at all. Which is what happens when decide that your dreams of artistic success are less likely to ruin your life when left in the hypothetical.

Lena graduated two years ahead of me, went off to New York to be “poor” and jobless, and ended up with her own series on HBO about private college graduates stumbling into downward mobility and privileged white girl poverty. I went to college with big dreams and left with the great recession, a newly diagnosed anxiety disorder and a crippling fear of ever, ever being enough of a fuck-up to have to beg my parents for money.

I've been truly, genuinely lucky in my post-collegiate adventures. I've had two jobs since I left school in 2010, both of which, unbelievably, paid me a living wage and gave me mad health care benefits. I am full of vaccines, covered in prescription glasses and the dentist will almost certainly only find, like, one cavity when I eventually work up the courage to actually make an appointment.

The truth is, I let a terrible economy and my own personal demons direct me to the safe job that’s good enough to be going on with, I guess.

You can call these privileged white girl problems all you want, and I will agree with you 100 percent percent. Nobody deserves fame, and complaining that you don't make a living doing your art of choice is annoying at best, and wildly offensive at its ugliest. It's just that I've got a stable, cushy job writing emails for non-profits. And Lena Dunham is staring at me from a fucking billboard on my drive to work.

[This may sound lecturey and I'm sorry for that. It is important to me though that we keep in mind that someone else's gain is not your loss. Especially among women where a gain for another girl is a gain for us all. Let's all root each other on and pull each other up. Feel free to rag on me as a pollyanna or whatever you like in the comments, everyone. --Jane]