Reader's Request Week: Holiday (1938)
THERE’S A CONSPIRACY AGAINST YOU AND ME, CHILD.
by Anaïs Escobar
I am what you could call an obsessive person. Rather, I become interested in something or someone and I suddenly feel the need to explore everything about that subject. I have listened to many bands’ entire discographies for the sake of being a completist, read every book, story, poem by writers I find interesting, researched details and read multiple biographies about historical figures; I am no stranger to the black hole that is opening Wikipedia articles in countless tabs of my browser.
There are a lot of us like this, especially on the internet. We are creative types but more importantly, we are curious types, soaking up as much knowledge as we can. I tell you this because being this, this kind of person I am, has been the cause of so much of my life’s joy and had been, as of not so long ago, a factor in keeping me from being, well, who I am.
I first saw Holiday because of this trait of mine. I was fourteen and my parents’ divorce coincided with a Katharine Hepburn obsession. In my bitter teenage “I am a rock, I am an island” emotional state, I couldn’t imagine anyone I wanted to be like more than the great Hepburn. I ignored the things going on in my life to read countless Hepburn biographies and most importantly, her memoir, Me, which was underlined and full of notes by the time I was done with it. I made a list of all the movies she had been in and painstakingly crossed each one out after I had seen it or, in many cases, seen again as I was raised on several of her movies. I made my way through as many as I could, turning to Turner Classic Movies along the way. There was no DVR back then and I recorded a few of her movies on VHS, making sure to cue it to the right place where a tape would have room for more than one film. I was nothing if not dedicated.
I was desperate to see Holiday, not only because both the plot description and Cary Grant appealed to me—the girl raised on classic Hollywood comedies—but because Hepburn had written that it was one of her favorite movies to make. The famous photo of Hepburn in elegant evening gown standing on a tuxedoed Grant’s shoulders was too much for my all at once sentimental and obsessive heart to take.
So, when I discovered it would be on TCM at 4 AM on a school night, I set the tape in the VCR and my alarm so I could both record and watch the film. I woke up slowly to my alarm but soon found myself pushing record and sitting wrapped in a blanket to watch.
I will tell you this: I have never had a movie affect me more. It became and still is my favorite movie; I watch it every New Year’s Eve, appropriate to both the theme of the movie as well as to the ends of what have been some very long years.
The movie itself is about Johhny Case (Cary Grant, of course) who falls for a young woman named Julia Seton (Doris Nolan) while on vacation and proposes by the end of the trip. When they get back to New York City and he goes to ask for her hand in marriage, he discovers that she is extremely wealthy. While Julia’s father is wary of this upstart with no notable family background, he gives his blessing and begins to plan, with Julia, Johnny’s career in finance.
Johnny also meets Julia’s sister Linda (our girl Katharine Hepburn) and brother Ned (Lew Ayres), both of whom are on not-so-great terms with their father; Linda the classic black sheep who has no interest in money and the pressures and trappings that come with it and Ned the somewhat depressed lush who can’t quite live up to what he’s supposed to be. Linda quickly understands Johnny for what he is—an independent, laid-back dreamer—and wants him to be a good influence on Julia, to give her a life of adventure and happiness, what Linda herself really wants.
From the beginning, Julia tries to change Johnny, making him wear one of her father’s ties to fancy him up before meeting her father, as well as pushing Johnny into working for him. She can’t understand it when Johnny says, “I want to know why I’m working, it can’t just be to make more money. I want to make enough to go out and figure out why I’m working and come back and work when I know what I’m working for.” For Julia and her father, there’s no other reason to work, to do anything.
I think this is the time to tell you that not only have I not written in these pages for a whole year, I really haven’t written much at all for a whole year. It hasn’t been a stand I’ve taken, I just haven’t had much to say. When I have written, it’s been briefly and about the big things that have been happening: going back to school to start a new career, getting engaged, figuring out more and more every day whoever it is that I’m becoming and have become by the ripe old age of 25. I haven’t written like I used to, and nowhere near as often, and I’m surprisingly not at all guilty about it. I guess I got burned out. I realize now that I was trying to figure out why and what I was writing for.
When I think about Johnny needing to know why he’s making money, I think about how I lost sight of why I was writing. I felt myself sacrificing the possibility of a life at different points to pursue something I wasn’t even sure why I was doing. I filled my life and head with noise to the point where I couldn’t be alone with myself; this part of me, when in check, is wonderful and valuable but it’s easy to get lost in facts, in other people’s stories instead of writing your own. This isn’t uncommon. I just always thought there were things you simply did and that if there were things you loved doing, you did them. I never considered that, when I had writer’s block, I just had nothing to say, nothing to give at that point. I didn’t yet realize that a life lived for any purpose other than the pure, actual living of it had a hollow sort of center to it at the end of the day.
I stopped writing and started going to therapy and, although I didn’t realize it at the time, it’s not shocking that these two things coincided. Most importantly, I became actively engaged in my own life for the first time, maybe ever.
I began staying in, I didn’t log into gchat often, I read the internet less in general. I hold a BA in literature and, during that time, I finished the first book I had read for pleasure in years. I learned how to focus again. I listened to whole albums without doing anything else. I did one thing at a time. Some nights I would come home from work and sit in my chair without really doing anything until bed. I learned how to be still and let myself be so quiet that I wouldn’t notice hours passing. I was quieter than I’d probably ever been.
I ate good food and savored it, growing comfortable with things I used to refuse to even try. I saw friends and people I wanted to see and became thoughtful about these relationships, no longer distracted at every turn. I became less concerned about what everyone else was doing and writing and publishing, and instead focused on enjoying myself. For once, I took things in and processed them, absorbed them, no longer saving them up for the story I was constantly trying to write. It turns out that when you’re living, the story writes itself.
I don’t think it will surprise you when I tell you that Linda and Johnny fall in love. They are, as my mom would say, made of the same stuff and see the world in the same way. Linda believes in Johnny in the way that Julia and her father believe in money and the status quo. When Julia rejects Johnny for refusing to give up his dreams, Linda is outraged: “His little dream may fall flat, so it may, but there will be another. Oh, I’ve got all the faith in the world in Johnny, whatever he wants to do is alright with me. If he wants to dream for a while, he can dream for a while, and if he wants to sell peanuts, oh, how I’ll believe in those peanuts!” Seeing this in the wake of divorcing parents and at a formative age, it’s no wonder that this forever stuck in my head as the kind of love I’d want for a lifetime, the kind of love that’s an adventure.
I watched Holiday this past New Year’s Eve with the man who would, a few months later, become my fiancé. He had never seen it but wanted to take part in my tradition in the same way he (and I) had wanted our lives to become one from the very beginning. When it was over, I could tell that he got the movie and, by extension, me—that we not only saw life the same way but that we were indeed made of the same stuff.
It was no surprise when he supported me entirely when I changed my career, and it was even less of a surprise when he asked me to be his wife. I guess the ending here is that, like Johnny and Linda, we’re riding off into the sunset together. Except that there is no sunset and it’s only the beginning of something I can’t even begin to predict. And I’m comfortable with that.
A year ago, I was beginning to figure it out, how to be happy, the why of it all. I stopped doing one thing, being creative in a specific way, and found other ways to express myself. I guess what I mean is that you can’t make something, money or art or anything, for the sake of making it, it’s missing something in the process that way. It turns out there’s time enough for everything if you don’t force it, and that goes for the right person, too.
What I’m really trying to tell you is that I still couldn’t begin to tell you why I’m writing again, but I can tell you why I’m living, and that’s a start.
Anaïs Escobar is a sometimes writer these days. She loves brunch and hates (well, sometimes) wedding planning. You can read more of her work and see a lot of her meals here.