It Chooses You by Miranda July

Miranda July has written what is probably my favorite collection of short stories, “No One Belongs Here More Than You” and is the writer/director of two movies I really like, “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and “The Future” so I had high hopes for this book.  Although there were interesting tid-bits in the book, I find her other work to be much more compelling.

miranda_july

The thing I really enjoyed about this book was the insight into July’s quirky mind and her creative process.  The book picks up with July being stuck while writing and trying to get funding for her new, yet to be made movie, “The Future.” For some reason she decides she will interview one person who is selling something in a little newspaper called “PennySaver.”  In this weekly newspaper, it’s free for a person to advertise anything they are selling as long as it’s under $10.  So July picks out a person each week (I think for 13 weeks) and goes to meet and interview them about their life and what they are selling.

At first it’s a bit hard to get into because some of the interviews are fairly boring and trite. But then some of the interviewees turn out to be really bizarre and interesting, like the man under house arrest or the woman who is selling a hair dryer whose daughter sings her a Miley Cyrus song.

However, I think that some of the interviews could be seen as exploitive. Not that that’s what July’s intention was, but she interviews some people that one never reads about in mainstream media, the very poor who don’t have internet access and so are selling cheap things in a newspaper.  I don’t think July means to exploit these people but it’s obvious she is not really from their world and is pretty brazen in some of the questions she asks.

After one interview with a man named Domingo who collects pictures of nice girls and babies and LAPD cars she says:

“I found myself paying him a little more than everyone else, as if this would somehow level things out. Because of all the people I had met, Domingo was certainly the poorest.  Not the saddest, the most hopeless, but the person whom I felt the most creepily privileged around.  We drove home, in my Prius.  If I interacted only with people like me, then I’d feel normal again, un-creepy.  Which didn’t seem right either.  So I decided that it was okay to feel creepy, it was appropriate because I was a little creepy.  But to only feel this way would be a terrible mistake, because there were a million other things to notice.”

So it seems she does have some knowledge of how she might be being exploitive, or “creepy” as she calls it.  I really like the line following this quote though, and I think it explains a lot about her creative process and why she is doing these interviews in the first place:

“All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life- where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.”

My favorite part of the book is her last interview with a man named Joe who is selling fifty Christmas card fronts. He has been married to his wife for 62 years and each year writes her a dirty limerick for their anniversary, some of which he shares with July.  July likes him so much that she casts him in her movie, “The Future” just as himself, a man the character meets through the PennySaver.

Joe is diagnosed with cancer and given two weeks to live right before shooting starts and so July almost cuts him then changes her mind and Joe ends up living long enough to see the finished product but dies shortly afterward. Right after meeting Joe she writes:

“I felt like I wasn’t living thoroughly enough… the visit was suffused with death. Real death: the graves of all those cats and dogs, the widows he shopped for, and his own death, which he referred to more than once- but matter-of-factly, like it was a deadline that he was trying to get a lot of things done before.  I sensed he’d been making his way through his to-do list for eighty-one years, and he was always behind, and this made everything urgent and bright, even now, especially now.  How strange to cross paths with someone for the first time before they were gone.”

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