Dear Pamela Adlon

Dear Ms. Adlon,

On fan letters.

I don’t do this.  The last time I was truly, unabashedly a fan was when I was 8.  I was watching reruns of The Partridge Family and in love with David Cassidy.  While other kids went to the store to buy Tiger Beats with pictures of  Donny Osmond or Michael from Good Times, I begged my mom take me to garage sales to look for old magazines with David Cassidy on the cover.

I studied that show for lessons in how to be a teenager.  To this day, my favorite number is 17 because I guessed that was how old Laurie Partridge was on the show—and what a perfect age to sit outside at a taco stand—a foreign concept to a kid from Northern Jersey.  Strange, you might wonder that I was his fan and not her fan.  It sticks in my craw too. Image 5-23-20 at 11.14 AM

Between 8 and 11, my ego made herself known and I became extremely self-conscious.  I preferred to sit on the edge of things and judge.  Even though I couldn’t get my hair to flip like Farrah, even though I was always only the third girl picked for kickball, and even though I wasn’t the smartest girl in class, I learned sarcasm and survived.

David Bowie.  Even now, I am not sure whether I wanted to be with him or just be him.  I saved up my allowance, bought Stage at Sam Goody’s because of that gloriously lit picture of him.  Standing in front of the record player, I belted out Fame as if I were him.  My imaginary fans adored me until my grandmother opened the door and I would fold in shame.  At night, I would dream I was lost and sick on the side of some British country lane and he would find me, nurse me back to health, and fall madly in love with me.

My mother took me to see him in The Elephant Man at the Booth Theater.  Wasn’t I the coolest kid in middle school?  We sat in the fourth row.  Afterward, she tried to rush me to the stage door.  “We can get his autograph,” she said. “You can tell him how much you love his music.  How loud you play it.”  I stalled.  She tugged at me.  “It’s just like when we go to the ballet and you get autographs from the orchestra.”

I shook my head.  Getting an autograph from a flutist in a pit was not the same as speaking to David Bowie.  No fucking way was I going to have David Bowie see me in my lowly 13-year-old body.  We weren’t equals!  I couldn’t meet him until we were equals!

Now he’s dead. Still not equal.

And now you.  Yes, of course, I am 52, Say Anything defined an era of my life.  When I moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I watched all of Californication, because somehow that east-coast, SoCal vibe made the adjustment just a wee bit easier.  I could be loud and direct and brash and maybe fit into this sunny place where everyone seems way too happy to talk freeway routes and sit in traffic.

Yet it isn’t like I embraced you then.  I was an anti-fan my first few years in LA.  My partner works in the industry.  When we went to events and met actors and directors, I shook their hands like they were just anyone.  Sure, in part, I did this because it seemed the more human thing to do; who wants to be on the receiving end of constant gushing?  So I shook hands and treated those I admired as strangers.  I was polite.  But that was only part of the reason, because the thirteen-year-old in me was still so fearful of feeling small in comparison.

But alas, there’s you.

Well, yeah, first there was Louis C.K.  (Okay, so maybe I am a fan of his too.  But that’s a different letter for another day.) Even in his television shows, your performances, your storytelling was done through a lens of brutal honesty that demanded my attention, respect, and empathy.

But with Better Things, you have become someone I think about when I sit down to write, when I host a salon, and even when I work with a student.  Your constant gaze on authenticity and truths are my true north.  Your storytelling has squirreled into my psyche and remains there, making me braver.

Thank you for seeing women of all ages in our power and in our vulnerability.  For women in control of their sexuality.  For a teen ambivalent in hers.  Thank you for illustrating the deep connections that propel us through life—not all of them sexual but all of them intimate.  Thank you for embracing our contradictions.  For allowing us to be feminists who want to be both attractive and left alone sometimes and sometimes not. For allowing us not to give a shit how we look and to obsess how we look.  For allowing us to love and hate our mothers.  For capturing the shame we feel in all those contradictions.  I say this as a woman, as an Italian girl from Jersey, as a third-generation American, as a 52-year-old human—all of it, separate and together.

Thank you for the love letter to Los Angeles.  You remind me that I love LA for all that it does give me: art, diversity, creative energy, a promise of discovery, beauty in small things, and the freedom to create your own life.  You’ve done that for me.

Thank you for unabashedly putting your beloved artwork on the screen for the world to see how aesthetic shapes the mind and spirit.  Thank you for putting your crack on the screen to remind us that we’re human.  Thank you for your candor and vulnerability about aging.  Thank you for the complex women you put on the screen.  My sister said that Better Things should be required for every woman over 45.  I disagree.  It should be required viewing for every human.  We would be better for it.

Thank you for being my first female idol.

Sincerely yours,

Alexandra D’Italia

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