"We are social animals, and everything we do is because of other people, because we love them, or because we don't," writes Miranda July in "Ten True Things," one of the short stories collected in No One Belongs Here More Than You (Scribner, 224 pages, $23). Indeed, the stories in July's first book tenderly—and often bizarrely—deal with tragic human emotions: Loving someone who never knows, who does not feel the same or who can only bring you hurt. A performance artist who made a name for herself while living in Portland but reached critical success when she released her first feature-length film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, after moving to Los Angeles a few years ago, July spoke with WW about the latest addition to her prolific body of work.
WW: Do you think you'd be making the same kind of art if you never lived in Portland?
Miranda July: I mean, who knows, but I definitely think [Portland] was a big piece of being able to do things at my own speed, and exactly how I wanted to, you know? I actually felt like I was so impressionable that if I had lived somewhere bigger I would have gotten caught up in the momentum of what the place was. [Someone knocks at the door.] Hold on, a delivery just arrived. Wow, what could this be?
Did you get something exciting?
Well, no one has this address, so it's weird that I would be getting things here. Oh, it's a garbage can. I forgot I ordered a garbage can.
You have a Wikipedia page about you, and you're a celebrity in a lot of people's minds. How does that feel?
It's funny...my dad just updated it a few days ago because it had such a huge amount of inaccurate, total lies that came out of nowhere. But I just never could bring myself to deal with, so my dad just did, which is really cute, because his point of view.... [laughs] I don't know; he gets into things that no one else would.
Your book is a collection of short stories, and you've made a number of short films as well. Do these shorter mediums appeal to you?
No, I think I'm learning. I'm self-taught. I think it's pretty normal to start with a short movie and then I moved into a longer one. I just didn't want to start out writing a novel, you know? I'm really just sort of teaching myself how to write.
One of your stories is from the perspective as a man. Was that hard to write?
Maybe it felt a little risky, but as long as I can really feel the character and imagine him, it's kind of like acting. And definitely in performances I acted out men and women, so it felt right.
The characters in your book have very weird and complex emotional lives. Are your own relationships, like with your boyfriend Mike Mills, that complicated?
They're a million more times complicated. I mean, if I could ever really get in the complexity of one day with my boyfriend...I always just feel so clumsy compared to reality. You almost have to make something up to make a more accurate representation of how you felt.
Out of curiosity, what are you always looking at in your pictures? You don't seem to look at the camera.
When I was more sort of nervous about having my picture taken, I would, like, try and imagine I was looking at someone—a friend or something. Often what I'm thinking about is I'm pretending I'm the person who is taking the picture, you know, because I'm used to thinking that way. [There's another knock at the door.] Here's the guy who's going to look for the dead rat under my house. Hold on one sec. [To the rat guy:] Hi, sorry, I'm on the phone, but maybe you can smell it or something. I feel like it's underneath, but you use your nose.
Are you going to put the rat in your new trash can?
[laughs] Yeah, right. But no, I'm not.