(Content warning for: mentions and discussions of serious injury, abelism, death, and difficult/emotionally abusive family relationships).
The Mountain’s Heart is one of MJ Bailey’s many brilliant single-narrator podcasts, which ended in August of this year. In this story, Bailey plays Felisa, a disabled college student who visits her family in the Philippines. Her professor makes her a deal – in exchange for time away from class, she will send him recordings documenting her visit. It’s these recordings that make up the episodes of The Mountain’s Heart.
Felisa is the daughter of Filipino immigrants, and she’s currently taking a course at a community college. A few years before the setting of The Mountain’s Heart, Felisa was seriously injured when she was hit by a car, and this accident caused her to drop out of university. This visit to see her family will be the first since the accident, but not all of her relatives know about her disability – or if they do, they don’t know the whole truth. When we first meet Felisa, she makes it clear that this visit will be a complicated one, also partly because of her relationship with her mother – who is her primary caregiver – and her mother’s attitude towards her disability.
It’s a long and difficult flight, and after a couple of days recuperating in Manila, Felisa and her parents travel onwards to her family’s home town. Here they stay at Felisa’s grandma’s house, where both she and her parents have rooms that are kept especially for them. It’s here that the course of Felisa’s visit changes completely.
Throughout the series, Felisa explores the concepts of identity and belonging. Right from her arrival in Manila, she questions what it means to be ‘home’ in a place she didn’t grow up in. There’s also a language barrier, and being unable to communicate fluently with Lola – her grandmother, whom she loves dearly – frustrates and saddens her. Later on, she talks about feeling like she doesn’t belong either in America or the Philippines, having grown up in an immigrant household in a very white area, and being different to her friends; but also not sharing the same customs as her cousins who grew up in the Philippines. It’s partly this search for a sense of belonging and understanding of her own self that leads her on both a physical and metaphorical journey during this series. There’s also a wider search for meaning in life, as Felisa is still dealing with the decision she had to make to drop out from university, and the disappointment she feels from not having lived up to her family’s expectations.
The journey begins in the room that’s been set apart for her at Lola’s house, where there’s a homemade bookshelf. On the bookshelf, there’s a book that was given to her as a baby by Lolo, Lola’s late husband. Felisa never really knew her grandfather, and when he passed away, she and her parents weren’t able to travel to the Philippines in time for his funeral. The book he gave her is a children’s book, about the mountain ranges in the Philippines. When she reads it, there’s something about Mount Makiling that speaks to her, and she can’t shake the feeling that she needs to go to the mountain. After researching all night, she records her decision the following morning – she’s going to climb it.
As with many of MJ Bailey’s other podcasts, The Mountain’s Heart is an introspective examination of one person, and how their key relationships with others shape their life and understanding of the world – and the difficulties these relationships can impose. Some of Bailey’s other stories also deal with fraught, difficult, or abusive family relationships – especially Temporal Light and Aishi Online. There’s also the influence of authority figures (familial or otherwise) who often have some kind of control or limitation over the narrator’s life in Bailey’s podcasts – here, there’s a stark contrast between Felisa’s mother, and her university professor whom she confides in. Felisa’s relationship with her parents – and especially her mother – shapes much of the story, but there’s also the influence of her parents’ relationship with other relatives, and how they withhold information from them. Felisa’s relationship with her parents evolves during their time in the Philippines, as her journey to Mount Makiling creates a lot of tension, and the entire family doesn’t like talking about problems.
The full series of The Mountain’s Heart consists of 36 episodes. MJ Bailey’s impressive collection of podcasts can be found under Miscellany Media Studios.