On Fran Lebowitz and Work
by Mike Dang and Logan Sachon
Mike: This week, I listened to an interview that Jesse Thorn did with American writer Fran Leibowitz, who has been described as a “modern Dorothy Parker.” And she talked a lot about some of the difficulties she faced just doing her job, and some of her thoughts about money. So I thought it might be something interesting to talk about! So let’s start with this for example:
Up until the point I got my first writing job, I loved to write. I wrote all the time when I was a kid and when I was a teenager. The second I got my tiny $10 writing assignment from a tiny tiny newspaper, suddenly I hated to write. And I realized that I am so resistant to authority that I am even resistant to my own authority. The second I said, “Fran, you HAVE to write” — which before that it was, “I’d rather write than do anything else” — and that unfortunately has stayed with me.
That kind of resonated. I mean, having the freedom to do something you love, but once that thing you love becomes Work with a capital W, somehow it becomes this difficult thing.
Logan: I really don’t like talking about writing or reading about writing or anything about writing, but I LOVE it when writers talk about hating to write. Because that is my experience: that’s it’s hard and painful. So it’s nice to have that experience validated. People who are like, “I love writing, writing is like breathing,” to me that does not compute. But I also can’t remember when writing wasn’t a job. And I don’t just mean a paid job. In school, it’s a job. I can kind of remember making up elaborate stories when I played dolls when I was little. I had maps of everyone’s relationships and story arcs and history. And that was just for me, so I must of thought it was fun. But the idea of doing that now, blech. Hard. I know you’re a person who really enjoys writing. Has doing it every day diminished that for you?
Mike: Well, yeah, I mean I was that kid in school who looked forward to writing assignments the most, and I wrote short stories and movie scripts for fun as a teen. I enjoy writing, and I’m certainly not Fran Leibowitz in that I just can’t do it once it’s work. But yeah, I don’t look forward to doing it every day. I don’t think people look forward to doing something every day of their lives. We have moments where something we enjoy doing can feel like a chore. I think that’s true of any job, really, not just writing. And that’s okay! It’s human to feel that way. So here’s Fran again:
I hate work. I hate all work. I have never had any work that I’ve enjoyed. I am by nature a sloth. I am really lazy and I really don’t like to work. I would have made a spectacular heiress.
Later, Jesse asks her if it’s painful to have something you used to love become something you now hate and she says, yes. But also, that she can’t figure out how to fix it.
Things that you know the origin of, you have a high chance of fixing. I don’t know.
Now me, I don’t hate work. I love working, most days. But I feel like this would resonate with you: Not happy that you have to do something that you’d probably like to do if you didn’t have to do it, but also not knowing exactly how to fix that too.
Logan: Yes, I think Fran Leibowitz and I could be great friends — very similar dispositions it seems. I would also make a spectacular heiress. I also pretty much hate work. But it seems like she’s more comfortable with that than I am. To me, it’s a disgusting and unhealthy thing, Hating Work, so I’m trying very hard to become a person who does things well and joyfully, but you know, it’s hard to change who are. Later in the interview, Jesse asks her if she gets jealous of her rich friends, basically. And she says, no, because I know you can’t just have a plane; you have to become the person who has the plane, and I don’t want to be another person. I guess a difference there is that I wouldn’t mind being another person.
Mike: So I have wealthy friends. It’s not difficult to meet wealthy people in NYC. I mean, just walk down to Wall Street. But. I am not jealous of my wealthy friends? And by wealthy, I mean the friends who can buy apartments here like it ain’t no thing. Are you jealous of your wealthy friends? Do you want to have a plane?
Logan: No, not jealous of them, like I don’t want to be THEM. I want to be me, but just a totally different version of me. Like to start, you know how some people, when they are having a bad day, they’re like, “I know, I’ll go on a run and this will be better!” And it is! I’m the kind of person who has a bad day and goes to bed. Or to the bar. It’d be nice to be the other kind of person. Maybe the Logan who goes on a run instead of to bed would have a plane. I’d also like to be funnier. I am very jealous of people who are funny. I guess money I feel like, if I wanted to work harder I could figure out how to have more money, but I guess I don’t, so I don’t. But you can’t do anything to make yourself funnier. And okay yes of course I’m jealous of people with money. Yes. I am.
Mike: I mean, you can be funny! And you are just so much better with money now than back when we first started this site. Remember when you lived in my studio for a few months and then had to borrow some money to pay rent when you found a place to move into? That is a thing of the past! You are paying off bills, and paying down debt. I mean, you’re not putting money into an IRA or anything, but you’re making strides and that is what matters.
Okay, so one of my favorite parts of the interview was when Jesse asked Fran how she squeaked by once she hated work so much that she stopped doing it, and she said:
I do these lecture dates. They’re pretty lucrative enough, if you haven’t expanded your way of life, which I’ve never did. I’ve never put myself in a position of having to keep up a life that was psychotic. When my first book came out, I did indulge my lifelong love of fine furniture, and as the years went on, I sold this furniture. And since I have really good knowledge of furniture, everything I bought went up in price. So for a while I lived on my furniture as it fled my apartment. And sometimes I don’t even know how I did it.
Sometimes I think about how I got to live the life I’m living now and it feels that way: I don’t know how I managed to do it, but it happened.
Logan: I know you how you did — by working your butt off! You’re the hardest worker I know.
Mike: Always be hustling. Okay, but like, if this doesn’t work out, I’m going to do some research into fine furniture and be that person who hunts for things at estate sales.
Logan: You know that would actually be really, really fun. Except for the part where you know something is very valuable, and you have to lie to someone and pretend it’s not worth anything so you can get it. There was a movie about this.
Mike: Oh, what was the movie? One of my fondest memories was selling a bike I had outgrown at a garage sale my parents had, and a man came up to me and said, “You know, you would probably accept $10 for that bike, but I am going to give you $50. It’s a good bike.” And then he gave me $50. My dad had bought me that bike from a flea market, and apparently it was rare or something. I’d like to be like that man … and probably make $0.
Logan: What a good man! I like that man. That sounds like something you would do, actually. I just looked up Catherine Keener’s IMDB page and I think the movie is Please Give. Maybe she doesn’t take advantage of people in it. But she definitely buys dead people’s furniture.
Mike: Oh yeah, I think it was a Nicole Holofcener movie? She just came out with the one starring James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Let’s get out of here and go see that.
Logan: Yes done going gone. Also do you know that Tavi Gevinson is in that? She’s a human I’m jealous of. Well, not for me. But on behalf of my teenage self, sure.
Photo: Christopher Macsurak