The bedroom was too warm and I had drank a full bottle of tea in the late afternoon, but those weren’t the reasons I couldn’t sleep. The skin covering my heart did little to protect the fast beat, my right arm shook slightly from lying in one position too long, waiting for tiredness to envelope my brain. I wish I hadn’t binge watched it. Inwardly, slight embarrassment peppered my thoughts that I experienced such a strong reaction.
It’s fiction. Get a grip.
I wanted to believe that Hannah Baker, a made-up teen character conjured from the imagination of a male author, was not going to be raped before she decided to end her life. The entire premise of 13 Reasons Why is untangling how and why the events and relationships surrounding a teenager led to a decision that dragging a razor across her skin in a bathtub was better than finishing high school and enduring the shit years of young adulthood.
But rape. Rape is one of the reasons why Hannah Baker commits suicide.
I closed my eyes during the rape scene in the last episode, once I knew the scene was coming. I didn’t need one more visual of sexual violence embedded in my memory. Not because I was raped, but because both in my work and in my personal life enough people have been raped that I sometimes I had come to believe that
Rape is inevitable.
But it’s not. It just feels that way. Like knowing an entire premise of a popular Netflix show is based on a girl’s suicide and then watching an actress ascend a long driveway toward a party— it feels inevitable how the narrative will go before the razor blades.
There’s no way to look at my 7 year old son and 2 year old daughter and do anything but worry the years away and hold fast to the truth there is nothing I can do except be there every step of the way so whatever shit the world tries to put inside them, I make myself available—an empty sanctuary for them. A place to be loved, for them to confess without judgement, and bathe in compassion.
Is that all I have? Is that enough?
Hannah Baker is not a real person, but the story is as much in the world as my children. The co-existence of those truths kept me up past 3am last night. I laid there thinking of their futures and tried to unsee the moment where I thought the scene was over and opened my eyes prematurely and saw the last seconds of Hannah Baker’s rape: her face turned to the screen, dead eyes, violated.
As I write this, my toddler has awoken from sleep, crying out for someone to hold her.
I go. Practice.
I’m taking on the challenge of writing one essay a week in 2017. My essays will be formulated to answer a question or prompt. My weekly essays, regardless of topic, will be exploring the boundless nature of essays and what this particular form makes possible.
What Movie has Deeply Impacted You? Essay 2
Back in the day, circa 1990, when Demi Moore’s acting – not her personal life – made headlines, she played Molly Jenson, the love interest of the tragically-murdered-in-a-NYC-alley-after-watching-MacBeth, Sam Wheat played by the flawless Patrick Swayze.
Ghost came out when I was in the 5th grade and became an instant favorite. The plot is that Sam Wheat, though dead, cannot move out of the limbo between life and death, not until he helps solve the mystery of his murder and protect Molly from a similar fate.
There’s a scene in Ghost early in the movie when Molly and Sam are sitting in bed, when Molly asks Sam if anything is wrong, suspecting (erroneously) that he is rethinking their decision to move in together. After initial resistance to talk, he finally gives a brief but emotional confession of what is bothering him, “I don’t know. It’s a lot of things. I just don’t want the bubble to burst. It just seems like every time something good in my life happens, I’m just afraid I’m going to lose it.”
As a kid who was entranced by the film effects, Demi Moore’s new bob cut, the iconic pottery scene, and Patrick Swayze’s…well, just Patrick Swayze, I didn’t understand that part very well. Why worry about something ending? Why worry about a potential burst and not just enjoy the bubble?
Watching movies that formed my childhood as an adult brings strange pleasure; a mixed bag of offering and reminders of age. Watching Ghost again reminds me how that at one time, not that long ago, really, I didn’t know how to worry. It dawned on me that the developmental bypass of certain cinematic themes- sadness, listlessness, communication barriers, fearful anticipation of the unknown – has passed and, now, my acute understanding of these themes means I am no longer a child. It means that the thin layers of resilience I once enjoyed in my younger years have transitioned into a radar of perceptions. I worry now, so much more than I ever did before…marriage, children, Sallie Mae, digital footprints, gravity, social perception across fiber optic glass. The anxiety is ephemeral in topic. My children, my partner, my health…my family, my friends, their health. Other people’s lives have always held a grip on my conscience, but as the years parade, its grip has strengthened.
Living well doesn’t seem as important as living justly. And when you prioritize justice, people think that that pronouncement means you know what that means and the prescription for living as such came sewn on your skin. I don’t have any instructions. Living well, I’ve begun to learn, means living synonymously with trying to live justly in the painfully unjust world. I worry I’m not, though, and wonder if trying is enough. I worry that I am in a bubble, positioning me to be both grateful and resentful.
And, of bubbles: I’m afraid of the bubble bursting, too. With my family’s recent move to calmer, more deeply peaceful times, with the clarity that has bounded into my periphery, with the prolonged and sustained love between my life partner and myself. With my parents cracking jokes and my nieces and nephews miracle bones growing with every soccer kick and pool lap. With every finished meal that ends with two kisses from my healthy children. With age, with age. I feel how sweet it all is.
I worry about the bubble bursting, too. Because I have never been happier and I won’t want to think that the moment I am living is a price to pay for something coming over the hill.
Enter abundance and prayer. Enter hope and remembering community. Enter, enter, enter.
I remind myself that there was a line in the movie that crossed generational lines and I profoundly understood it as both a child and as an adult. It’s a promise:
“It’s amazing, Molly. The love inside. You take it with you.”
Thank you, Patrick.
You take it with you.
I’ve moved to Ohio four times in my life.
Age 8, from New Jersey
Age 26, from Boston
Age 29, from Boston
Age 37, from New York
Each move was grounded in home-building: My father found a better job. Nick and I wanted to get married. Nick and I wanted to have kids. Nick and I had two kids and needed more room.
My pattern is to leave for school or career and come home for family. The movement normalized after a while. I’ve learned to never say never.
But now, with two children, and clear vision of my writing, I have doubts that I will move again in the way I moved before. Travels will never cease; writing takes me places. But my children, as most children do, I think, sleep best in beds they are familiar with, pushed into the same corners of the same room they have grown used to and juggling parenting and writing has been easier in Ohio than at any other time before.
There are no surprises in Ohio, there are promises kept, and predictable four seasons. An earthy texture to life that once made me flee, and now helps me rest. It’s been reliable, like how I never question my parents house being an open door to me and smelling Adobo spices when I walk in the door, my father keying the piano with his latest melody. That used to make me want to flee, but now it helps me rest.
I live here now. And updates on this site will be about that transition; the ongoing work of mothering and writing, exploring the deep pleasure of simplicity, art, critical thought, and feminism.
Be like the new me: Stay.
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 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.
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
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
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
It has become impossible for me to maintain my fun and light-hearted side when I post on this site. Lord.
My name is the URL gives me the creeps – like this should be my PROFESSIONAL space where I show off how SMART I am or have the capacity to be.
The problem, I’ve realized is that SMART is not necessarily equivalent to being authentic or even compelling. I’ve thought a lot about this lately as the end of the MFA looms. I’m reviewing my writing – all the critiques and feedback and scribbles in the margins – and there is one consistency: I hold back. Still, even after all this time I’ve been laying essay after essay, I’m holding back.
WHAT am I am holding back?
WHY am I holding back?
WHAT is gained by holding back?
The only answer that I can offer myself is the illusion of safety. To write one’s mind is cathartic. To have one’s mind read, interpreted, and opened is terrifying. I didn’t have such qualms in my 20s. Perhaps because I never really aimed at the larger world of publishing. The internet, as vast and limitless as it seems, is not very scary to me. There are niches and pockets of places where I am read, but I figured they were all rather small in number. To project oneself PAST that world, into places where I don’t know, into communities where I would not identify is something of a different animal; a realization that puts me in a cold sweat. Maybe the difference is minute, but it feels stark.
To bid farewell to one’s work and watch it be metabolized into bodies unknown is what holds me back. I don’t want to be mistaken, misunderstood, or judged. (A rather common desire, I think.) And I very well could write in circles for the many years to come, giving just enough that I gain some kind of circulation and respect for writing some fraction of my truth. This would be safe. This would ensure interest in my writing but not really a response or challenge. This is one option.
The other option is the one where I write the process of how I arrived at such a belief; the contrarian existences in my life that I employ in my everyday. This is the other option: to be brave.
I’ve been slammed in workshops not for my writing but for my reluctance to share the process of my mind behind the story. What I submitted as essay has always been story telling with the occasional aphorism to inject some jazz and spark every now and again. But I won’t share the fire of my contention or the heartbreak of pain or the resurgence of ghosts, habit, and failings.
Maybe I will.
Maybe I will write down instead of writing up.
Three weeks until my coursework at Columbia is finished. There has not been one day that I took it for granted and walked without knowing the immense weight, gift, and privilege it is to study the craft of writing.
I’ve been processing offline in my friendships – having friends over for dinner, long talks with a handful of confidants, and jotting down fleeting thoughts about grief & the end of things.
I take great comfort in the words of so many talented professors I had who expressed uncertainty if they knew what constitutes great writing. It’s art. It’s subjective. It’s varied and complex. But the one thing that writing demands is an authoritative voice. A knowing presence stringing one word to the next. I’m still experimenting with my voices. Because I don’t have just one, I learned. I have many.
My writing is hovering near the surface because I’m emotionally overwhelmed these days. The end of things.
I have a hard time letting go, even when I know when I’m ready to move on.