The Felt House that Moves Us: A Conversation with Saretta Morgan

I am doing a slow read of this interview with Saretta Morgan and it is full of wonderful quotes, like this:

“When I make things, it’s less about communicating interiority to others than it is about translating what I believe myself to understand into physical material, and watching that process happen. For me, this means that I don’t publish a lot. And right now that’s okay.”

Check it out here at Apogee.

When You Love New York

When you leave New York, you want to appear as if it’s not impacting you as much as it actually is.  Well, that’s what I did.  I hate the cliches of leaving New York, as if there is nothing worth exploring west of the Manhattan border.  So I pulled off this facade of, “I’m sad and relieved to leave.”  In reality, inside, the never-aging adolescent in me was on the floor, face down, weeping and slapping the floor.

I suppose 12 days outside of New York should bring me some epiphanies.

The logistical ones:

you can turn right on red outside of New York

when you don’t turn on red – even when you’re allowed – people DON’T honk at you

customer service workers are straight up FRIENDLY, happy folks

you don’t have to pay for parking

groceries are AT LEAST 20% cheaper

Ohio has all the space to make you happy if you’ve been feeling cramped

The main epiphany is that the struggle to leave New York was not about leaving New York.  It masked itself in a frenzy of grief-stricken cries over leaving NYC, but the truth of the matter is it’s not about New York.  It was about growing up, growing FURTHER up than I wanted to.  It was about being forced to grow up and choose something that perfectly fit the family I created but was not what I wanted for myself individually.  That kind of choice, that kind of growing up is painful.  It is one that takes time to find the joy, it is the kind that most cannot understand, particularly single, NYC dependent-on-parents-without-dependents kinds of people.  My New York friends tried to frame this decision like it needed tweaking.  No, it didn’t need tweaking, or finding a way to reverse the decision I made.  Some decisions are made somberly, knowing that the good feelings won’t automatically surface.  That’s parenthood; doing and being the thing you know is best for everyone else in moments when it’s not about you.  Uncentralizing myself – as a writer, nonetheless – is difficult.  Monstrously so.

I was relieved to leave New York, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want it.  But wanting it doesn’t mean that I want it more than what I want for my family: sanity, a present mother, a soulful father, more biological family who can’t wait to see you, love, love, love, love that is not rushed.

New York will be frequently visited and will always be home in many ways.  I’ve heard that people go to the city for their dreams and to find themselves.  That might be true for some, but, for me, it was leaving New York that took the strength and effort to realize that I had grown up,  yes, but it was time to grow up even more.  It was time to accept that my life had grown too big for the Big Apple and I needed something different.

Twelve days in Columbus, Ohio.

Like I said, Ohio has a lot of space.



Day 11: Post NYC

Moving out of New York feels very much like breaking up with someone who you love deeply, but cannot be in a relationship with any more.  It is for the best.  They will be fine without you.  Life goes on.  And yet, something inside makes you want to run back into their arms, have that part of you that only they could illuminate be illuminated one last time.  But you remind yourself that sweeter days are ahead if you can get past this moment of yearning for what is no longer. -LFB

On Leaving New York

On Leaving New York

IMG_8690I was a child here first. This is the city where my parents chose to enter the US from the Philippines which formed my first understanding of urban living as urban family. The social security numbers of my siblings and I show we were born here, around here. As children, my father drove us around in the old Impala to see the Rockefeller Christmas tree. I remember the sun-drenched slide at the playground, burning the backs of my sister’s and my legs when we slid down in our summer shorts. My name – Ana Lisa – comes from my two Lolas (grandmothers): Juana Fernandez and Elisa Factora. Elisa spent all of post-immigration years in NYC and died the night before the infamous blackout on August 14, 2003. When I was in my 20s, my best friend tucked my body with a barely-there pulse into her car after a devastating break-up and drove me from the midwest all the way to the East Village, where she fed me new music, poetry, and let me cry out my dark grief at Battery Park and then sat next to me on the top deck of the Ellis Island Ferry, riding the river between Lady Liberty and Manhattan until I began to show signs of life again. Many rituals of Filipino faith – weddings, baptisms, and funerals of my extended family – were celebrated on this cement. My family was here decades before and leaving is familiar. The oscillation between two states is what I’ve always known; I quasi-belong to a place I occupy only in intervals.

I began writing when I was eight years old, in a place called Massillon, Ohio, shortly after my family moved from the Atlantic shoreline to horizons of cornfields and pastures. To offer an alternate route for the deep ache of missing New Jersey and New York, my mother gave me a journal. That was 30 years ago. Mom, I’m still writing my thoughts about leaving New York. Again.

New York has birthed and eulogized many parts of my personal life, and its magic transforms me without delay or disappointment. It’s magical because of the deep relationship of my family’s history to the city. The stories of first and second generation Filipino-Americans is my narrative of New York, not the illusion of the Upper West Side bestowing the precious identity as a “writer in New York.” I am infinitely much more interesting than that. New York was given to me by my family, not the faculty at Columbia. I took up writing as a child, under the wing of my mom, not the fame addict who butchered the pronunciation of my name at graduation. I know the magic of this city because I’ve been here before and I’ve left it before. I can attest to its allure and I can also attest that the magic does not cure the hollow, pervasive loneliness of the writer, nor does it repair the erosion of empathy for the marginalized. The New York I know is multi-narrative and in this month-long goodbye in my series of life-long goodbyes, I want to bid one tip to the “New York writers” who don’t know any other narrative of New York other than your own: please stop offering me condescending looks and suggestions on my life decision to live elsewhere. Please close your lips.

I am equal parts mother and writer, traversing the unstable grounds of both vocations. Both writing and mothering necessitate the quotidian discipline of practice, practice, practice and establishing a familiar ease with failure, learning, and rejection. The decision to leave New York for Columbus was made using a lexicon that most “New York writers” are unfamiliar with; a lexicon that establishes life outside the conformity of trending unconformity; a lexicon supremely sensitive to the dis/connection between fulfillment and success. This lexicon has been built by experience, the decision to create a life with someone who – thank GOD – is not a writer, and the glorious grace called Your Mid-to-Late Thirties. This lexicon has roots in trust not trust funds, the desire to be with my aging parents, and the simple truth that neither Nick nor I can comfortably justify what New York requires for existence; a trade-in offer we are walking away from with peace. I love New York and rest comfortably knowing that the world is not New York. Leaving it can leave me devastated and thrilled at the same time.

To write, to write at the deepest level of consciousness and care that I can possibly reach, is to locate the primal voice, luring it out of of the cave of discretion into a robust and spined creature. To live, to live well means to taper the irrational urgency to pursue what’s greener on the other side because I’ve seen the evidence: both sides are equi-green. Living well means presence and absence, here and there, both/and, Ohio and New York, belonging but not, hyphens and halves, dwelling but never truly residing. Savoring but hunger, again, arrives with voracious demand. Life is cyclic. I’ve only known it that way. I’ve only known loving something, someone, some place so much that I can trust saying goodbye.

I’m not going to make a pronouncement or draw metaphors about the great madness and euphoria of this place. It’s been said. Each person who stays is right. Each person who leaves is right. The only person who is wrong is the one who invests their writing in the luminous skyline. The lights are real, but those lights, remember, do have a history of blackouts.

Upcoming Appearances!

Come out and say hello!


The Art of Activism and Agency
Friday, April 29th 7-9pm
Columbia University & Barnard College, Milibank Hall – Ella Weed Room

“Revolutionary Mothering” Reading hosted by AF3IRM NYC
Sunday, May 15th 2-4:30pm
Butterfunk Kitchen
1295 Prospect Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11218

Left Forum Conference: “Revolutionary Mothering” Panel
Saturday, May 21
John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY
524 W. 59th Street, NYC