Season 2, 005: What do yearn for? Do you see longing as a productive or painful state?
An octopus, one head barely distinct from the body, three hearts to pump blood blue with copper to survive the depths and eight arms with two rows of suction cups, arms reaching in all directions, arms in motion, arms with choices, arms full of neurons, far more even than in the brain, each arm almost a brain itself, able to bypass the brain and communicate with each other, arms ruled by senses. Each arm tasting what it touches.
I long for an arm built for creating joy and releasing false responsibilities, sweeping past unnecessary demands, an arm for embracing ease instead of effort, this arm that goes limp and cannot be willed to write a list of chores to check off, this arm of curiosity, refusing time, tossing clocks.
An arm for holding and pulling close, full of muscle and flex, an arm to protect, to unfurl and cast back into the ocean, this arm of neurons lighting up when others are ready to swim, this arm that knows when to let go and speed off before poisoned by its own ink, blinded by the ink of others ready to go.
An arm to grasp courage and fling off fear, an arm to pull back another arm when it gets tied down with tedium, this arm that will fill the porch with wildflowers, steep in autumn air, stay and stare at stars until their light reaches down and through, burrows into bones, light becoming marrow, holding the patience of lightyears.
An arm that holds my mouth open wide, suctions my fingers to pen and pen to paper until all that was needed to be said was let loose, even if these words are disregarded, tossed and scrambled back into random letters, words no longer floating through my blood, ricocheting through veins, pulsing through gut, now riding ocean tides.
An arm that reaches up, grabs a rope, a wave, the tail of a kite, a witch’s broom, pulled fearlessly forward, joined with a cloud on a far horizon, knowing if it lets go, gives up, that backward motion is deadly, this arm that grips tight to free reign, avoids the hard falls that come with restraint.
An arm to cast away like a spider’s fine filament, not knowing where it will land, across creeks and pastures, in woods from tree to tree, across oceans and rising tides, slant of sun holding the power of being seen or unseen but casting away anyway, an arm arching toward adventure.
An arm that meanders, finds its own path, pushing through dirt and rock, ocean silt and the shells that hold others captive, barricading and camouflaging when necessary as it strays from the expected, the known, crawls through deep water, cradled in currents ruled by a moon it cannot see.
An arm able to regrow when severed.
Not everyone would understand the feeling of longing. For some it’s meaningless – “Why long and yearn? Just go and get it!” or, simply, “Come back to Earth - want what you can achieve”. I envy that approach.
My birth had too much meaning for my family; it came out of need not love. I was an unplanned and an unpaid work for granny, the precious last hope of happiness for mama and a pension fund for papa (although he was sorry that I turned out to be a girl). In return, I’ve inherited their own often nameless and rootless longing. Longing to belong, to be free and to feel safe.
My parents’ accidental and unwanted union caused too much rift in both families, and I was left in a care of my grandmother for my first seven years. All week I longed to see my parents at weekends; then I longed to return home to granny. I longed to play with other children but there were none around. Instead, I played by myself, helped with chores, and listened to adults’ conversations; “child should be seen, not heard”. I longed to be heard and I longed for my questions to be answered but the only answer I ever received was “when you grow up, you’d understand”. So, I longed to grow up. At school I longed to be like other children, make friends and I longed to be alone. Often, I longed to be back in granny’s flat in a two-storey house surrounded by apple and cherry trees that were no more - demolished and bulldozed to give way to a sky-scraping, expanding capital.
And on and on it went until all I could long for was to be someone else, living in a different time and in a different place.
Sad brown eyes , I had been told this more than once in my life , I knew that they were and I had often caught that sadness staring back at me in the mirror . All my life I had been searching for the feeling of home probably long before the fatal detination that send our family scattering into pieces in my 15th year when dad died .
Searching for him always , I knew he had gone but it was that feeling of not being able to find him again that became my longing for the rest of my adult life I looked in all sort of places for him just wanting desperately something tangible to hold on to a life raft of hope that I could pull myself up onto and feel better .
I put myself in danger to find this feeling, I tried to find it in people and places i joined communities then ran away when the burden of connection became to much.
I felt like I destroyed myself many times to fill the void
None of it worked so at 43 I knew I had to find some way to let you go and I did
I found a person and we talked about you
I talked with you in my head in those times also , I wrote a poem to say I released you and you could release me too and that was OK, that I'd be OK , because it was either you or me and you had died and I'm had to keep living .
"They braid and knot "
Like insects, black in golden amber, they are caught in the past. Trapped by time, unable to move, unable to grow, they look at the world from the transparent matrix of their own captivity. I wish I could break their prism, invite them to step into the fresh air of ‘now’, stand blinking in a new decade, a new century, perhaps to acknowledge I am not the man I was.
They knew me then, they judged me then. Their verdict was cruel and accurate. I accepted it and, in accepting it, I was helped to grow. They saw the base thing for what it was, yet it is many years since I crawled. I am not the man I was.
Our time-lines are rarely straight. They braid and knot, they try to unravel, they always collect the rough debris of our existence; the pattern of one part is not the pattern of the whole. I yearn for a time when they will examine my first 20 years, years when the weave was clear and clean: or these last 20 years when the weaver grew in her craft and gave me the intricacies of age and experience, subtle in colour, soft to the skin. Oh I acknowledge there was a time, (look here at the middle 20 years), when the weaver grew careworn, the pattern was lost, the loom grew restless in it’s impatience to be done. Can we not ignore this part? Knot a scarf to cover the misplaced stiches? Wear life under a winter coat so only the finework shows?
My past cannot be unmade, but I am not the man I was.
" If you keep staring at that box you will never amount to anything," said a six foot bib and brace man; a manual man, a callused man with an unforgiving hand with fingernails nightly cleaned; leaving the days labour floating in the pond of a sink.
I was careless with my time, neglectful of my allotted span. Three score years and ten was beginning to empty itself through the winged sand glass. I was slipping peacefully through, feeling gravities pull; filling my personal void packed with space to fail. A dark spirit crept in, camped out in my sandscape and sculpted my form. My shape was all wrong. I longed for a better fit, but I was anchored to my fate; but the fates were as mercurial as the sifting sands. My thread of freedom morphed into a limp acceptability that rabbits, mice and hamsters would fill that void. So, I clung to my furry comforters; dug in, did my time and watched my glass empty, but seeking succour in fur had a limited shelf life. I had a crushing need to flock with kindred kind
I yearned for a clearness of vision; unblurred, unblinkered by the embrace of familial approval. A crashing wave of inevitability was washing away any semblance of non- fictional me. I grasped on to fistfuls of feeling; stretched my imagination, stretched my skin over my emotions, bagged them up and hid them in a deep pocket.
One, ordinary day at school my saviour turned up dressed in tweed jacket, deer stalker and sucking on a droop of a pipe blazing with three nuns tobacco. He helped turn over my winged glass and taught me to become a careful chronicler of my time.
See me, find me, I silently scream, attracting no one’s attention. With my entire being, this is what I want - to be seen, to be found. But I have a broken body and a fractured mind, and invisibility is so much easier for all concerned. My malfunctioning has no place amongst the functioning, it is awkward and it is ugly. Kind eyes become short sighted, warm hearts beat to the rhythm of avoidance.
Where to go with a soul which never belonged? My mother mistakenly birthing me into this world when I belonged in another. She meant me no harm, but I bear a grudge with a permanence not to be shifted. The baby with the fragile soul went unnoticed.
The baby with the fragile soul became a teen with one, a dangerous pairing. And that teen hatched an unconscious plan to turn all eyes on her. She denounced food, rejecting sustenance, and she made her body small. And in her smallness she found visibility, her pain on show for all to see. She found that They wanted to talk about the pain, to soothe it and banish it. I found that I mattered.
But the success of my shrunken self became my downfall. It turns out that seeking to be seen is an illness, and one that is hard to shake; one which breaks body and mind, relationships and lives. And it becomes not a thing of interest or concern but a thing of anger and boredom, and, in the end, invisibility.
Loneliness kills they say, kills like cigarettes they say. Will it melt my lungs and put holes in my heart? Both diagnoses are easily imagined. Hope kills too they say, but not for me it doesn’t. For me, it is what keeps me alive.
Sunshine sears a juicy June afternoon. I’m hidden in a reedy green ampitheatre. It’s a bend in the river where swirling gravel creates a tiny island, beached by the floods. Lying on my hand in this favourite place I’m stopped short by the sound of loud munching. Holding my breath, I scan dense rows of green spears. The sound is a mystery. But as the crunchy minutes pass I have my suspicions. Something extinct in these parts. I wait for a glimpse of yellow teeth, chestnut fur: a water vole.
My phone calls me back to London. My boyfriend, uncharacteristically wanting to meet me off the train. We wait on the underground platform, watching plump town mice snatch crumbs from the track. Silent, I share nothing of what I’ve left behind. A train pushes a filthy, warm guff of air towards us. The animals scatter.
He leads me to bed, to the four-poster he chose when he signed a record deal. The first time I saw this bed he apologised for its ostentatiousness, was coy about the photo I spotted, sent by a nude fan. But the four-poster, billowing with bright drapes in the Brixton Road breeze, reminds me of childhood dens.
Afterwards I stretch elastic egg white between my fingers. I frown, not knowing I will long for it in ten years’ time, with a different man. And ten years further on my fertility will be dispatched to the hospital incinerator. But what I’ll yearn for even more than babies I never had is a chance for all the disappeared wild animals to come back, something neither of those men might ever understand.
You cast your spell over me, all golden and seductive.
Those long childhood summers you came calling, peeking through the letterbox, peering through the windows. As we splashed in the summer shallows, cool water soaking the hem of my dress, you turned dull days into sparkling, carefree, precious times.
When you left me, even for an instant, all was darkness and gloom.
I followed you everywhere. On long bike rides you urged me onwards, laughing into my hair. I felt your warmth close behind me. We’d lie together on the beach, hand in hand, oystercatchers peeping in the distance. Mother didn’t always approve. On long balmy evenings I was always late to bed, playing outside with you until darkness fell.
September brought school. Trying to concentrate on handwriting and maths, I’d see you, dancing outside the classroom, at once coyly tiptoeing around the edges of my vision, then brash and fearless, beckoning me to join you. I ached to be outside.
I was scolded for daydreaming, staring out at you, smitten. You’d call for me after school and we’d snatch a few urgent, precious hours, hating the lengthening nights.
Winter arrived and I missed you so much. You’d disappear once the weather turned cold. I dragged a weight around my shoulders like a lead cloak during those dismal, miserable days.
But over the years I’ve noticed a change in you. Where you were so gentle, your sweet touch a delight, lulling me to sleep, there’s a ferocity to you lately.
You come calling for me in winter now. I’ve caught you peeping through my curtains, even in January. You’re still frail in the cold, but stronger than you ever were.
Has my gentle friend turned into a monster?
I fear for our future, sunshine.
That’s exactly it just putting something out there is so rewarding even though it can feel very daunting it’s always worth it 🙏🏾
especially as it can help others and like you say help your own writing too
Thanks for reading mine I always feel vulnerable putting something personal out there but it just comes back to reward you in bucket loads in a shared community feeling!😊🙏🏾
Two of my sharpest childhood memories are from the world of sleep. Each bedtime I would fixate on the blank wooden wardrobe door and begin to hallucinate: geometric patterns would form, folding in on themselves in growing intricacy, eventually transforming into delicate willow-pattern scenes of swaying trees and curved clouds, of bridges stretching over slow woodcut rivers, of silhouetted figures talking and laughing and dancing in synchrony. An entire living world conjured effortlessly from nothing. The delicious feeling then of sinking into deeper sleep, inevitably guiding me towards the familiar dream sequence: willing myself gradually free of the earth, I would be running, fast and then faster still; I would break free of gravity, free of limits entirely, floating higher and higher, flying at will, the warm night air carrying me over the tiny town lights and into the hills of my imagination. The same dream over and over, the same thrill of aliveness and impossible daring, the same state of pure being rushing through me. A wild creature unleashed.
The longing that came later was a sharp, painful hunger, an endless raw animal yearning of unmet needs. Years after the dreams died, my mother's madness triggered horrific surreal nightmares in their place. Each lonely 3 a.m. the same longing for safety and love would ache in my soul. Just for someone to notice. After I was ejected from home at 16, the longing each Sunday for my Dad to visit, the pathetic window-watching from the corner of my eye, trying to conjure his appearance. The longing for him to like me.
Now all that collapses back to a simpler longing: to be that small boy again, dreaming a world into life, existing in a state of pure being, and aliveness, and joy. To be me again.
Hi Tanya. I submitted a piece a few months ago following a session from you that was part of our MA at Bath Spa. It was called 'Tapping' and was about my Father-in-law, Derek.
I would like to submit the below piece about Longing for wilderness.
Hope you are as well a can be expected. So sorry to hear about your mum.
Longing for wilderness
I am sitting on a mountain top in Switzerland yearning for wilderness.
I reach out for it with both palms, with all my being.
I imagine I have clasped it, then it blows away like a dandelion seed, whisked up into thermal currents, higher and higher until it disappears.
What is wilderness? Wildness, loneliness, being alone?
Many religious leaders, pilgrims and vagrants experienced solitude. Christians believe that Jesus sought quietness, time away from crowds, space to meditate. The bible recounts stories of him retreating into the mountains or the desert. St Cuthbert used to stand in the sea just off the shoreline of Lindisfarne and today pilgrims trek along the Santiago de Compestela trails searching for answers to life’s questions.
People head for the mountains when they have a decision to make. This can be a pilgrimage to a known or unknown place, or simply a way of finding the peace and rest that we desire.
Wilderness represents a place where there is little life: a desert, a derelict piece of land or the top of a mountain where the wind blows on your cheeks and the air smells fresh.
Wildness, on the other hand, makes me think of uncontrolled and untamed landscapes, such as our garden or the courtyard nearby where ivy winds around the pillar in a figure-of-eight, like a Christmas tree adorned with green ribbons.
I want it to stay like this: a blend of rural and urban, because I am a mixture too. I would never rip off the ivy. I would trace the patterns to appreciate its route, to celebrate its audacity. If it were left alone, it would flower and fruit next year. If it were removed it would leave behind an imprint of its journey embedded in the bricks.
I look forward to hearing back from you. Jo Baker
Longing isn’t a positive verb. To me it implies pain, agitation and being incomplete, inviting an internal interrogation of merit, skills, worth, and every other form of self-critique. Somewhere I learned that longing was some combination of pointless, delusional, lazy, or just sad.
“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” was one of my mother’s favorite sayings. And she was right to teach us early to not expect too much. She had 12 children and a husband that, for many years, drank too much and was often ‘between jobs’. It was safer to long for more attention, less chaos, and time by ourselves, than to hope for the material things we craved.
Now that I have summited the hill, I am excited for, instead of dreading, the other side. I am approaching it like a long slope after the first snow; full of potential. My longing now is anticipation of the joy flying down the other side, as I shed layers of anxieties, biases, and need of acceptance, leaving them in a heap at the top with a note saying, “Marie was here!”
The house in Ireland, which I regularly declared I would one day own, was an up-hill, first half of life longing. It was an ache to achieve the quest of going home. It would signal success, and was as realistic as a Christmas unicorn.
My lovely strands of tinsel I welcomed as my ‘Wild Hairs’! They are a visual reminder of all I left at the top of the hill. They welcome my Crone Crown with pride and cheer me on as I jump into this Fool’s Journey. My silver strands and tiara will be a beacon to welcome all my sister Hags to my Irish home to create magic.
Back on the chain gang
I looked down at the fried egg sandwich, grease oozing out onto the white plate, and felt sick. He came back with two cups of tea, grinning, stumbling, drunk. The cafe was loud. Condensation ran down the windows. The link was cracked.
Eat, he said, and I did.
Back at the flat, he fell onto the bed, which wasn’t a bed, just a mattress on the floor, and lay there with his hands behind his shaved head.
Take my boots off, he said.
Why, I said.
I want to watch, he said, and so I did.
It took some time: I was drunk, and he was wearing his 12 hole oxblood Doc Martens, but after a truffle with the laces I threw the boots across the room. He raised his hips, undid his zip and I dragged his jeans down. He was smiling. He was already hard. I crawled up his body and put him inside me. He never wore underwear.
I took his face in my hands and kissed him. I opened my eyes so I could look at him. I wanted to trace the teardrop tattooed under his left eye, but I knew he wouldn’t like that. I wanted him to open his eyes, his beautiful brown eyes, but I knew that wouldn’t happen either.
When I was kissing him I thought of Chrissie Hynde’s voice earlier in the club, the yearning. I remembered the song because he had got up to dance. I loved it when he danced, because he didn’t do it often. He liked to watch. And smoke.
The yearning. The longing. The key changes, and the crack in her voice.
The powers that be. Force us to live like we do…
Eleven weeks later, I was sitting in the abortion clinic, with that song in my head.
Forty years on, it’s still there.
What if we get what we longed for?
A new longing to take its place? As keen as the last?
A longing is tinged with romance, desire and a depth of need not matched by wanting something. Wanting implies you could do without but longing, well, you need that to be realised so badly.
That's how I feel about being immersed in water, be it a cool shower, a warm bath or the crashing waves of the sea. The smooth lanes of a swimming pool indoors and smelling of chlorine or those of my local Lido, open to the sky whatever its hue and wherever local is that year. A river swim would be even better, but you get the idea.
I have tried to understand this yearning, to compare myself to fellow swimmers to read about them, to observe them. I'm still not entirely sure why it is so compelling to me, but I know it is a fact of me. I'm a daughter, a teacher, a nurse, I have a cat called Jeff and a dog called Olive, a grown-up son called Jake and I love water! I also love a good fire, but that's another story.
When I am in water my body is eased, my senses awakened. I am soothed or energised, reminded I am alive, and I want to be. I am frequently reminded whilst swimming of a previous swim. I'm sometimes surprised by the one my mind presents that day. What has triggered this recall, is there a similarity between the two events? But it seems to be a special alchemy and a mysterious connection somewhere deep within me that is ignited. To remember the evening swim in my uncle’s pool in LA or the basement at the hospital where I first trained a nurse when I would imagine myself injured and alone as there were no lifeguards. To watch myself at eight months pregnant in my stretchy pink swimsuit, strong and proud of my body lightening as I floated along.
And then to return to today, here and now telling myself how lucky I am to have what I always long for, to be healthy and able enough to be in the water yet again. Pure bliss.
Thank you for commenting Sheila, lovely to hear that it resonated with you.