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Being Fran Lebowitz

February 18, 2021

If you could swap places with someone else, who would that be? This is not a question I’ve ever really given any consideration. In my teens and twenties, yeah, I thought it would be rather nice to be a bit pretty, have better boobs, find a newspaper or magazine that would pay me a living wage to write a regular column in which I could sound off about whatever was annoying me that week, but I didn’t have any individual in mind. I never found myself thinking, “I wish I was Meryl Streep or Nora Ephron.”

A couple of days ago when I was visiting some “bubble” friends, they asked me if I’d watched Pretend It’s a City on Netflix. I told them it was on my To Watch list, although I hadn’t yet. The closest I’d got was the Saturday Night Live sketch, which left me wondering if it was possible the only thing Martin Scorsese does in the series is laugh uproariously at everything Lebowitz says. They told me that is indeed pretty much all he does.

I told them I was going to move the show up my To Watch list, as I was sure I would enjoy it. I’ve been a fan of Fran Lebowitz ever since reading her collection of essays, Metropolitan Life, back in the late 1970s. (A quick check of the bookshelf reveals that I still have my copy, although Social Studies, which I also enjoyed, seems to have disappeared over many years of moving across oceans and continents.) I love it when she appears on talk shows. “Well,” one of my friends, a follower of this blog, said, “she is a writer, thinker, smoker and drinker.” Indeed. She is also, I’ve always thought, the quintessential New Yorker.

So, over the past two evenings I did watch the show and I did love it. And I found myself thinking, if I could be anyone else, I wish I could be Fran Lebowitz.


She’s smart, she’s blunt, she’s funny as hell, she reads, she writes, she lives in a large apartment on Manhattan which houses her and her 10,000 books and people pay her large sums of money to just talk in front of an audience. (The clear advantage to living in one city for 50 years is never having to seriously cull your books.) What’s not to love about that?

Turns out she’s not a New Yorker born and bred, although she was originally from New Jersey, so close enough. (There is no way she could have been from the Midwest originally.) She’s lived on Manhattan since she was 19. Close enough.

I assumed, watching the show, that her ability to spend her time reading and writing was down to completely eschewing technology. She’s never owned a computer or a mobile phone. Oh, I wondered, how much reading and writing could I get done without the poisonous distraction of the internet?

Of course there’s always a catch, isn’t there?

Turns out, I discovered this morning, using that same distracting internet, that Lebowitz is not spending her days reading and writing. It seems she’s had writer’s block for decades – novels and other projects begun and never finished.

Here’s something she said on the subject ten years ago:

“Not writing is more of a psychological problem than a writing problem. All the time I’m not writing I feel like a criminal. … It’s horrible to feel felonious every second of the day. Especially when it goes on for years. It’s much more relaxing actually to work.”

Man, can I relate to that. All those novels begun with such enthusiasm and promise, all those novels going nowhere.

Ten years later her writer’s block continues. Public speaking represents pretty much her entire income. Well, there’s no question she’s bloody good at it. If I ever had a chance to spend a couple of hours listening to her spout, I’d leap at it.

So, take away the Manhattan apartment and the speaking engagements, get to the core of anyone who’s only ever wanted to write, and it turns out there is no point in wanting to be Fran Lebowitz, because I already am. Sigh.

Still, I’ve enjoyed spending the past couple of evenings in her company and I do recommend the show.

From → Blog

One Comment
  1. Catherine Stewart permalink

    Thanks for this. Love Fran. Must watch!

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