At 28, Miranda July Was Published, Got Dumped & Was In An Orgy

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In Bustle’s Q&A series 28, successful women describe exactly what their lives looked like when they were 28 — what they wore, where they worked, what stressed them out most, and what, if anything, they would do differently. This time filmmaker, artist, and writer Miranda July opens up about being ultra ambitious and why she wishes she had even more sex in her 20s.

Miranda July is the consummate multi-hyphenate. Over her expansive career, the 46-year-old has directed three feature films, authored three books, and helmed countless large-scale art projects. At 28, July was laying the groundwork for her prolific career: She had her first short story published in a literary magazine and wrote the script for her first feature film, Me and You and Everyone We Know (which is being added to the Criterion Collection later this month), all while working on a seven-year-long crowdsourced interdisciplinary project titled Learning to Love You More.

"I'd be like, 'You could slut it up, even like 5% more.'"

July recently committed all of these early memories to the page for her new self-titled book. Part oral history, part scrapbook, Miranda July is a retrospective of her work from age 18 to now. It features a series of reflections on the artist from friends like Carrie Brownstein and Spike Jonze, as well as trove of archival materials like handwritten letters, script notes, film stills, collages, and more.

The new book is far from the only creative pursuit July’s currently juggling. Kajillionaire, her latest film about a family of small-time grifters played by Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, and Richard Jenkins, premiered at Sundance to rave reviews and is due out in June. Ahead of the release of both projects, Bustle spoke with July about ambition, her creative mindset, and her first (and last!) orgy.

How were you feeling about your life at 28?

It was a funny year. I had either broken up with my boyfriend — Harrell Fletcher, who I would then work with for years and years on Learning to Love You More — or we were on a break. It was also the only year that I ever participated in an orgy, which was at the Palace Film Festival. It was two guys, me, and another woman. She left, so [then it] was just me and these two guys, but it's a fond memory. It's one of those things that I'm glad I did.

What were you most worried about?

Once I had broken up with Harrell, I dated this poet. I still remember that as a really romantic thing. [But] the poet, who shall remain nameless, broke up with me and specifically said that he did not want to date a woman who was bigger than him [or] doing more than he was. He was up front about that. That was the case for me for a long time with men, and that's not where I'm at anymore. But it's interesting to look back because that seemed like something I didn't know if I would ever really overcome. I was ambitious, so that was a bit of a tough nut.

What would you tell your 28-year-old self if you could have a conversation with her?

I'd probably tell her that the different sexual experiences she was having were as important as anything else. All these different experiences with my body were essential in a way that I didn't understand. I don't think I had shame exactly, but I definitely prioritized my mind. So I would encourage her in that direction. I'd be like, "You could slut it up, even like 5% more."

Was there one moment in your career when you thought to yourself, "I've made it"?

I have a new movie coming out this year called Kajillionaire. I remember when we were on set, someone was about to approach me and my production designer stopped them and said, "If you haven't learned by now not to interrupt Miranda when she's in that zone, then you haven't been paying attention." I was like, "Wow. I'm actually at the point where other people recognize and are looking out for my internal creative space and protecting it." All the prizes in the world aren't as meaningful as overhearing that thing that I wasn't even supposed to hear. So maybe that moment.

What do you think your 28-year-old self would think of that?

She was living in that creative internal space all the time, and there was zero regard or respect for it. It would have blown her mind.

This interview has been edited and condensed.