I arrived at Katja Blichfeld's apartment building (it takes up an entire Brooklyn block, and used to be a candy factory) a little bit flustered. I wasn't late, but I'd been having an intense back-and-forth text conversation with someone and was just feeling a little bit... off. It was nothing too dramatic, just the kind of slightly heightened version of a mundane occurrence that can define a person's, if not day, then at least hour, or moment. It was the kind of thing that I could easily imagine being dramatized in an episode of High Maintenance, the HBO show that started as a web series and was co-created by Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair.
Since it first started to amass a devoted following, long before making the leap to HBO, High Maintenance, which follows around the Guy (played by Sinclair), a weed delivery... guy, as he makes his rounds, has been known for being a definitively New York show. This is not merely because it takes place on both the streets of New York City and also inside those streets, in the apartments and in the lives of the people who dwell within them. Rather, High Maintenance perfectly captures the disorganized energy of this city better than any other show on air now. And what is that energy? It's frenetic at times, it can feel like too much; but it's, also, imbued with a loneliness, a pathos. We are all of us in this together, and we are all of us all alone. Watching the show can feel like one of my favorite New York activities: looking in people's windows. There's an obvious distance, but sometimes, you'll see something familiar, and you'll feel attached, you'll feel connected. High Maintenance captures those connections, that energy, but it also does one other important thing: It shows the way in which this energy is transferable. It shows the ways in which we're all part of this big organism—and not just New Yorkers but all Americans, all people.
This energy transfer was present when I was buzzed into Blichfeld's building. A man was leaving as I was entering, and he was juggling a huge stack of books in his arms, and looking as harried as I felt. I couldn't help but think of it as a scene from a High Maintenance episode; the camera which had been following me would leave to track him instead. I told Blichfeld about this when I entered her beautiful light-filled loft apartment: "You've affected my brain!"
She laughed and said, "Sorry!" But I told her, "It's a beautiful virus." Because, of course, it is. It is a beautiful thing in a time of fragmentation and division to feel these connections. And this new season of High Maintenance does a particularly beautiful job at showcasing those connections, even after a sharp divide has occurred. This is particularly notable in the episode airing tonight, "Scromple," in which the Guy spends an extended period of time with his ex, who is now in a relationship with a woman.
Blichfeld and Sinclair went through their own division between Season 1 and 2. They had been married, and now they're apart. Blichfeld is in a relationship with a woman, and spoke about it in a beautiful piece in Vogue, "How Coming Out Made Me Whole." This doesn't mean that their relationship is in any way playing out on screen (in fact, the groundwork for Guy's story line this season was laid out at the end of last season, prior to Blichfeld and Sinclair's separation), however, it does mean that it's a perfect time to talk with Blichfeld about her thoughts on living truthfully and being deliberate in how we live our lives.
In both the interview, below, and video, above, I talk with Blichfeld about her new reality, what it means to find potential in other people, and about the glorious houseplants that populate her gorgeous loft space.
You had a really successful career as a casting director working on 30 Rock. Was writing always something that was in the back of your mind?
It's funny because I have always wanted to write, but it's something I sort of forgot along the way, I think, between being a teenager and going into the workforce. I don't know if it was just because I didn't believe in myself as a writer or what it was, but I recently found all these papers and drawings and assorted things from my childhood, among them many writings, like attempts at stories that I didn't finish, and some that I did when I was really small. I also found all these career worksheets from when I was a kid where I'm literally filling in a blank: "I wanna be a writer" or "I wanna be a journalist or "I wanna be a writer."
I don't know where along the way I forgot it, but I did, and then, something happened in my late 20s, I started thinking—this was after I had been doing casting for a while—it would be cool to be a documentary maker. I think that sort of led me to realize, I'm just sort of interested in people, and you can't always get a real-life subject to say and do the perfect thing to further a narrative, so maybe I should just write the narrative. I think, when I had been in casting for a while, I realized that I had access to so many amazing actors and performers and assorted weirdos and I thought, Why not? Let me give it a try. Web series were sort of a new thing at the time. It felt like a low stakes way to try it out, and so I did, and here I am.
I read something that was described really wonderfully in Emily Gould's profile of you—about how casting people is about realizing potential, which I thought was such a fascinating way to look at it. But I wonder if, by seeing the potential in other people, it was something that you were maybe denying doing for yourself for a while.
Definitely, I have always been better in seeing potential in other people than myself. I think it's only really more recently, after a lot of therapy and self-help books and introspection, that I've started to be able to pull up that potential in myself. I do still think though that I've been able to test my limits and pursue things that I had no prior knowledge of or training for and sort of jump in. Because I had a hunch that I might be good at it. So I guess, I've done it for myself, but have focused more of my efforts on pulling out the potential in other people.
I was always the kid who was pulling together a talent show, for example. I have so many memories of going around the classroom and being like, "You'll do this song, you and you should do this little scene together, and you'll be my co-host." Even making little movies with my friends on their camcorders in the '80s, I was assigning people roles then, too. It's sort of my go-to, thinking—about what people would be good at doing and then trying to get them into position to do that thing.
There’s this kind of controlling aspect of it where you both get to help others but, also, be in charge. I was wondering how that works when, as a writer, you’ve always at least been working with one other partner. And then more recently, for Season 2, you have a writer’s room. How has it been working collaboratively?
I love collaborating. I love it more and more as time goes on. I just, you know, after doing this last season, having a writer's room and seeing just how much richer the stories can be when they are more voices contributing their life experience or their flights of fancy, it really makes everything much more richer and more interesting and funnier and all the things. Collaboration has been great, and I definitely want to have other permutations. I was collaborating with Ben for so many years, and he and I are so different in what we bring to the table, and that was one dynamic, and it worked great. And then we added more people to the equation, I saw what that looked like, and it just gives me that much more excitement to sort of seek out other collaborators.