A Sense of Longing

I thought I would be ready to get back to my story today, but I’m not.

I’m feeling – well, I don’t know what I’m feeling exactly, but I’ll try to describe it.

I woke up this morning at 8:00 a.m., had breakfast, and immediately went back to sleep. I woke up at 1:00 p.m. I mentioned that I’ve been tired beyond tired, and of course I needed sleep. So that makes sense.

I woke up to a terrible sense of longing. I felt restless and had no idea what to do with myself. So I did something relatively silly, which was go shopping. I went to the Land’s End Canvas shop and ended up with some reasonably rational purchases. Two pairs of chinos (this is one of them, the other is a slightly darker khaki):

And a chambray dress:

They were all 60% off, which I mention just to say that I hadn’t completely lost my senses. But it’s fairly clear what was going on, wasn’t it? I mean, look at what I bought. Where would you wear clothes like that? At the seaside, of course. I didn’t really want new clothes, although I’m always happy to have them. I really wanted to go to the sea, walk on the beach with my chinos rolled up, go to a restaurant in that dress.

So I came home and had a couple of mild panic attacks, and thought of those lines from Moby Dick: “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.”

And then I went grocery shopping, and while at Whole Foods I did something I’ve never done before, which is put together a plate of antipasto and bring it home for dinner. And I am in the process of eating it now, with part of a baguette and a glass of Reisling, which you wouldn’t think would go with antipasto, but goes with it just fine. It all looked like this, before I started eating:

What is going on with me? The sense of panic seems to have subsided, but the sense of longing is still there – a terrible sense that there is something missing from my life, and that I have to find it. And that in order to do so, I have to change my life – not just a little, not by buying clothes or eating things I don’t usually, but by truly changing it. Completely.

I’ve felt like this before, although never to such a degree. When I do, I revert to the habit of childhood: I get on a plane and go. I can’t do that today, of course. But I’m already planning on going to Madison this summer, for Wiscon. And now I’m thinking that I should go to San Francisco for the Isabelle de Borchgrave exhibit, and a friend has suggested I visit Asheville. I guess it all depends on what I can afford, but I can’t get to Europe this summer, so maybe I should fly around, visit friends and family. Maybe that’s a short-term solution, and will keep me from knocking people’s hats off. Although what I really want is to go to the seashore. But I’d be going by myself, and what’s the point in that?

Longer term, I have to change my life, of course. But that’s in process and will take a while. And that terrible sense of longing . . . The one that makes me feel as though I have a hole in my side. What to do about that? I don’t know, I’ll have to figure it out.

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7 Responses to A Sense of Longing

  1. John Stevens says:

    Spring is certainly the season that makes us think of change, of new plantings, of taking stock of what we want to nurture, of life bursting forth from a cold, dark past. And when you feel panicked or in a rut, thoughts of any sort of movement, whether flying off somewhere or going out to get new clothes, can give a bit of comfort and hopefully a little food for thought on a good direction.

    I sympathize with the feeling of longing, and the need to change life in a big way. For me it is changing vocation, changing how I do things everyday, changing my idea of who I am, changing my feelings of what I am responsible for and what I need to do to fulfill my obligations to myself and to my daughter. I long for what is possible, rather than what I used to have. Spring is longing for regeneration, for not just growth but a maturing, for brilliant expression that draws the sunlight to you and turns it into energy to continue the process. It is the desire to flower, to release one’s seeds into the sky and watch them fly, see children put wishes on them as they float back to the ground and lie there waiting for light and nourishment to turn them into the promise of more beauty in the future.

  2. Jeff P says:

    Wow, John, your entry is beautifully written!

    Dora, while I’m not as eloquent as John, I certainly can identify with the longing, though as I’ve gotten older it’s lessened some. For me, I think it can only be quenched by indulging in my creativity, be it writing or drawing. When I get antsy, I head to bookstores instead of clothing stores. If I retired today, I’d still not have enough time to read all the books I’ve acquired. At least you can use the clothes!

    Here’s hoping you have a wonderful, relaxing summer, with as much time spent at the sea as possible.

  3. Maery Rose says:

    Longing, we all feel it in some way but it seems that at times it lodges in the pit of your stomach like an intense hunger. My instinct also is to go somewhere, throw the dogs and a few necessities into the car and start driving. I don’t know where I’d go but the act of heading towards something would be a relief. Right now, I’m just pacing like a caged animal looking for release.

  4. Grey Walker says:

    I always feel a longing to wander, in the spring.

  5. Cymru says:

    Sometimes I get a notion to do something unreasonable–like cartwheels at work or speaking entirely in verse (though I don’t think I’m actually that clever). Sometimes there’s such an ache to shake up my life, to take a plunge, to knock people’s hats off, that I can’t concentrate on anything. My mind is full of a desire to wander far from the path I’ve been walking. This feeling, this longing, is always a good one, even if it drives us to distraction. From it comes change, even if it is a little one.

    I wonder, if I actually do cartwheels at work, if I’d get fired. Oh, God, let me do cartwheels at work then!

  6. Charles Tan says:

    I had my own panic attack recently. I think there’s always a temptation to go back to impractical old habits (i.e. in my case, going to the bookstore even if I already have too many books at home). But I tend to cope by seeing friends I haven’t talked to in a long time. (And my sense of longing can sometimes transform into depression.)

  7. Holly says:

    If you come to San Francisco while I am home, I would accompany you to the seaside…:)

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