On Longing for Self & Other, Pt. 2: A Pathology


“I’ve often thought that had I been compelled to live in the trunk of a dead tree, with nothing to do but gaze up at the patch of sky just overhead, I’d have got used to it by degrees.” Meursault

No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.
Mary Wollstonecraft

I write many poems out of longing. I have also struggled for years with the tendency to obsess. Some might ascribe this longing, or this tendency toward obsession as addiction. It is true – Longing seems to coexist where there is creativity (the positive) and addiction (the negative). And, many people I know who struggle with obsessive impulses also describe themselves as creative, romantic, a wanderer. There is the resistance to discussing longing in the context of addiction and other obsessive-compulsive disorders. Society likes a tidy explanation, and physiology becomes a good soldier to the war on addicts and addiction. Apparently, some of us were born with deficiencies of spirit, a biology set out to ensnare our mind, body, and spirit in a terrain of lifelong struggle. Our obsession, unless curbed by mantras and punishment, will consume us. Us. Those whose lives resonate with a consumption of spirit: the artist, the ill, the outsider, the magician.

I came into the world with an inextinguishable longing for reasons. I want to know why I have the story I have, this body, the people and places that have named me, the desire. I want to know why I am writing this; why I put my hand against a particular chest; why some walk away when I need them; why some stay when I do not. It is this constant desire that brings words to my heart, makes music out of a resonant sadness. I have loved dangerously. I have walked in pace with the many times I thought everything would stop. I have wished for time to stop.

Yet, I continue to wake with longing.

For those lucky individuals who were born with a certain acceptance and peace about them, this predicament may seem self-imposed. The hardy stoics simply accept. There is willingness to subterfuge emotion in our easily explained culture. These souls live on crumbs of reason and go into the arms of predictable life stages. They go to college. They work. They marry. They buy a home, a few cars. Some have kids. Some don’t. Everything seems orchestrated. They have an ethical, good life. A good life believed to be gladly earned.

Do they, too, languish in a bastion of questions?
But they don’t show it.
To speak of it would be even more dangerous, and besides, a pointless question would seem like a waste of their time, divided up into work units and schedules.

Maybe I have bitterness about those who find acceptance so easy. I do not deny this possibility. Like many I love, outsiders, weirdoes, addicts, socially inept neophytes, I do not understand how one can so willingly be here and not wonder why. We are not the predictably loveable sort. Our eyes shine with a light of tremendous love, but not for our kind, not for humanity. We love something that can best be described as ghostly because it cannot be seen, held, or proven to exist. We cherish the hypothetical. We want what cannot be obtained, or described.

In waking, we reach for a lover, a bottle, a pen, a tree branch. We speak half-animal language. Our tongues are composed of fire and birdsong. We split between a longing for life and a curiosity about death that is met in the unfathomable questions we cannot outlive.

Elizabeth Siegfried
Elizabeth Siegfried

I wish I had answers for this state of mind. If I could shine a light down this dark tunnel, I would. But we disperse with the harsh noise, the loud clap of life. I want to give us something to hold onto when things seem too much, or when we feel like we are alone. And, we do… feel alone. Always. Even with others.

I have a painting of a rabbit above my computer. I remember hearing rabbits at night, getting devoured – wild rabbits caught by feral cats and other animals. Their screams are palpable to me even now. We are like this, those who make their hearts open to anyone who will accept. We are easily devoured. I believe we, kind-hearted fools, want to be the prey, even when our teeth run red with the blood of others. We believe ourselves the victims of our tendency to desire.

Pathology is defined as πάθος, pathos, “feeling, suffering”. To suffer is to long for something other than that which we have and experience. This is the result of a life of longing: a carefully edited story where no harm is done. It is tidy. It leads us astray from truth.

It is our work, in this short life, to be led or to lead ourselves into acceptance. This work is perhaps the most important and difficult task we will ever undertake.

Let us cry out under tooth. Let us bring only the pulse of our vulnerability to light.

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