The past few weeks—and the ones just now cresting—feel held in the hazy duality of ends and beginnings: inciting incidents, opening paragraphs, exposition alongside denouements. (What an earnest opening sentence.) (I promise to tonally undercut myself at all points.)
October rounded itself out with a gloriously ambitious adaptation of Animal Farm, which I stage managed, and the submission of my final essay for a paper on psychoanalytical theory and British and Irish theatre. Both the play and the essay were feverish, packed tight, and completed quickly. Both were—thankfully, and, though one shouldn’t depend on external validation,—well-received.
November began with the submission of my dissertation, which, like Animal, concerned adaptation: particularly that by and of Shakespeare, alongside many a scholarly resource, featuring a quote by Ira Glass which I saw online last year and which my friend Harriett showed me—in video form—as we sat in her car outside my building in the wee hours of some forgotten weeknight. (I’m glad that happened, and that the stars aligned in the way they did, and that when I paraphrased the quote to my supervisor she said I ought to include it as an epigraph.) (It went on to become the bedrock of the dissertation itself.) (Thank you, Harriett, and thank you, Sophie.)
The adaptational bent has continued, and earlier this week I performed in a development showcase for a friend’s twist on Peter Ustinov’s The Love of Four Colonels. The day of the performance was miserable (weather-wise!), and then grew into summer. Everything about it turned warm. I saw friends, and sat amongst flowers, and felt what had for months been something akin to industrial bloom, instead, into potential. A clock stopped ticking. A canvas opened up.
But I’m conscious that this is meant to be a literary newsletter! You have not subscribed to read about my life a la the final monologue of a coming-of-age film.
September 28, 2019
From the novel, via the Notes app:
‘You can’t lose someone you never had.’
‘Bullshit,’ said [Redacted]. ‘Bullshit. You lose them over and over and over, forever, and don’t get to hold onto any of the good.’
I told her I thought it would hurt more to have the good and then be forced to live without it; to mourn the loss of something you knew that intimately. To look away from a life you had gazed so intently upon.
‘But then at least you had the thing. You had it, and it was great—or it wasn’t—and you know what it would’ve been like. You get to have had the joy, and at the same time you can stop constructing some image of what could have been in your head—which is bound to end up more romantic, more heartfelt, more perfect than what would’ve really happened.’
In 2017, a friend of mine (also a writer) was featured on a podcast. She discussed, amongst other things, ‘incurable’ themes. An incurable theme is a central subject or idea to which a writer will continuously return—the common thread through all of one’s oeuvre, that which cannot be suppressed. At first I thought mine was intimacy. A month or so on, I think it’s longing.
From the very recent first draft of a play:
L. Imagine that. Craving something but not knowing what it was. Just a listless ache.
M. I’d say I’ve felt that.
M. Well, isn’t that just what ambition is?
L. Ambition is a precise ache.
M. Yeah, but success is indeterminable.
L. Your dad’s definitely a capitalist.
M. What’s that got to do with anything?
L. Well, I mean, success is something you can define for yourself—and something you can allow to fulfil you. It shouldn’t hurt.
M. I didn’t say it hurt.
L. You called it an ache.
M. You called it an ache.
L. I defined an ache, and you called it ambition. Love’s an ache. Think about the last time you were in love—wasn’t that just a trauma that you chose?
The thing about longing—about yearning—is that it doesn’t have to be for a person. It can be for a circumstance, for an opportunity, for a life. It’s an emptiness and a fullness: a heaviness without respite. Which renders it melancholic, I guess. In order for longing to exist, it must go unassuaged.
I’d like to talk a bit more about longing, if you’ll let me. And, because the format’s mine—take a collection of lyrics:
It’s not enough to feel the lack (Lorde, ‘Ribs’)
It’s a lack, isn’t it? It’s a lack! You can’t long for that which you possess.
I need something bigger than the sky / Hold it in my arms and know it’s mine / Just how many stars will I need to hang around me / To finally call it heaven? (Mitski, ‘Remember My Name’)
This whole song! This whole song!
How will I know? (Don’t trust your feelings) (Whitney Houston, ‘How Will I Know?’)
This song brings to mind a fantastic piece by Hanif Abdurraqib for The Paris Review. It’s all about summer crushes, and longing, and this particular Whitney Houston anthem. It’s so good! It’s so, so good, team. (As is everything Abdurraqib writes!)
And last but for the purpose of absolutely not being least:
I can’t touch you / I wouldn’t if I could (boygenius, ‘Bite The Hand’)
I tend to take this lyric out of context, because it ties so beautifully to a poem that I currently can’t share with you (per submission guidelines).
What I will say is:
There’s an absolutely striking devastation in wanting something so! desperately! yet never, ever reaching out to grasp it. And knowing that you wouldn’t, even if you felt such a thing to be possible; even with the idea that what followed mightn’t be defeat, or rejection, or a complication. This is willingly depriving yourself of a desired object which has its anchor deep within you. Standing by, because there is nothing else to be done, but also understanding that—out of fear, or self-flagellation, or sheer, hopeless wanting—you would stand by even if forward propulsion were plausible. And the helplessness—but also the strength—in that! Clinging to it—and existing in the unsatisfied yearning state instead—because the anguish of it is, perhaps, safer. A familiar hollow fullness. The leaden uvula, and aching jaw, of all that goes unrequited.
There’s an Adam Phillips quote which popped up several times in lecture materials this past semester. It stopped my heart every time, yet also managed to fill it, in that it articulates the idea of longing—and its devastation, and that desperate want—with such precision. I’ll leave it here:
I’m now realising I gravitate towards music that would soundtrack the following:
THE LISTENER is standing at a party, either alone or feeling alone, and slightly miserable, and full of the desire to be somewhere else, even just on the other side of the room, with people they love but will never tell so. It’s dark and perhaps hopeless, and everything feels inconsequential but also momentous. There is a grandeur to the overarching instrumental. A crushing, liberating intensity. Both a quiet moment and a supercut.
(I promise I’m relatively fun to be around.)
There we have it, for now, I think.
Summer is here (in my corner of the planet) and the world (again, I am very conscious, in my corner) is good. There are months stretching out before me, full of beginnings and endings, and the incurable flowing through it all, ever-present, the red thread itself, perhaps. I hope my default state veers toward joy. I hope I don’t spoil things for myself by leaning into the melancholia that comes with care, and multiplicity, and the things we can say and the things we can feel. There is sunshine, and there is sunscreen. There will be poems, and there will be paintings. There is love, and there is longing which comes in tandem with that, and if all goes well the latter won’t impinge on the former. I guess time will tell. (And I guess that’s a cop-out.)