If you haven’t seen this, I talk about nearly everything in the kitchen sink here with Deesha Philyaw. An interview with me is up on The Rumpus!
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’m taking on the challenge of writing one essay a week in 2017. My essays will be formulated to answer a question or prompt. This first essay is my response to the question “What can an essay be?” offered by Leslie Jamison. My weekly essays, regardless of topic, will be exploring the boundless nature of essays and what this particular form makes possible.
What can the essay be?
The ever-reach of the essay is its finest “can.” The ever-reach.
Like when you find that essay letter from your ex-lover. Even if that version of you no longer exists, you can still feel the power of those aged words finding relics of that former you. The barbs. The accusations. Like when you discover Baldwin as a time traveler who casually wipes away the smug creases on your face. You come back to works like these after lapses in time and discover they are not unalive. The tawdry precept that words die, dies in the power of their reoccurrences.
And. Even when I read a writer who performs and adheres to traditional essay rules, even when that writer shows no evidence of derailment or digression, I’m always waiting to be surprised. Because the essay itself holds the possibility that at any moment it can turn on you, punch you, or grab your head in the weirdest, most unanticipated way. It can turn violent or surreal by absconding all the lucidity that had just been so carefully laid. (As a trap, I often hope.)
What drew me to the essay as a child was its reliability; like a religion assuring me the form would hold all my internal wandering. A certain logic of the lines made me feel safe. I suppose, as a child writer, I needed that kind of guarantee. What seduced me as an adult, though, was the inverse: the revelation that the rules could, actually should, be abandoned. Writing is worshipping and traditional, unexamined forms of prayer like the essay sell an illusion of safety. Ironically, liberation is in the abandonment of rules and the literary embodiment of formless, freestanding nudity.
Even in the attempt at essay, even in a bombastic failure of stopping short of a pronouncement, or a tsunami of boring prose, or cringe-worthy unoriginality, or a spineless compromise — even the nothing-essay, to me, is something because the sound of utter collapse, in an essay, sounds like a throw. The essayist, therefore, is incapable of failing, even if the last sentence remains unfin
On Leaving New York
I 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.