The approach I use in this essay does not come naturally to me, though telling one’s story through the lens of books, film, and music is immensely popular and effective. The inherent appeal of the method for writers is the legwork it does: readers either love or hate the book or film, or at least they have heard of it. Instant, if contingent, interest.
In my view, however, this perk never compensates for the heavy lifting of explaining not only how the art impacted me, but also how that art may reflect a broader reality. I, like every writer I suspect, make sense of my world through the media I consume. For me, translating that meaning has been difficult. In this case, the film finally allowed me to parse what has been so elusive, what has taken half a lifetime to evoke: how I, like daughters everywhere and all the time, am finishing my mother’s story.
Long before this conclusion, The Exorcist was a symbol for me. The story spoke to me with its iconic setting in my city of birth (I was born in Georgetown Hospital because it was the only place that would accept my mother without health insurance) as well as its petrifying religiosity (if god, I realized as a child in Sunday school, then also the devil). To later construct my mother’s experience of the film as part of a larger phenomenon, specific to a historical moment she mirrored and in which she was embedded, was a thrill, but it was also a late conclusion drawn from research; I didn’t know the connection was there. I had long wanted to write about my mother and the film, long before I knew there was anything there between them. Writing this essay felt like a kind of reverse engineering then. A conjuring.
A. SANDOSHARAJ’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Millions, Literary Hub, The Massachusetts Review, American Literary Review, Southeast Review, Fourth Genre, River Teeth, and others. She has an MFA from The Ohio State University and a PhD from the University of Maryland, and currently teaches writing at Georgetown University. She also has two dogs and an unused motorcycle license. Find her on Instagram at @alissandosharaj.