Longing as a Structure
“Writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come.”— Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus
Earlier this month, I made the decision to withdraw from my Ph.D. program.
It was something that a couple of people had warned me that I might regret. These people, my advisor among them, wished only the best for me. Nevertheless, I knew that I would ultimately regret staying.
There were many factors that contributed to this decision—among them the demoralizing defunding and dismantling of my department through a bizarrely aggressive campaign by the dean of the graduate school, the aftereffects of this dismantling that included immense loneliness and lack of support, and the distance I now felt from the topic I’d been so excited about when I started graduate school eight years ago—but I mostly attribute it to a deadening of the spirit that had once been my driving force while working on my dissertation.
As I was in the process of making the decision, I came to realize that in order to let go of the ghost that my work had become, I had to know there was something, anything, waiting for me on the other side.
It turns out that what was waiting for me was a longing.
I think often we conceptualize longing in terms of negative space, that is, as something that represents what isn’t (yet) here, or isn’t (yet) ours. But I want to suggest that longing can actually be a structure, a discipline, and an open container.
Longing has met me in my most difficult and my most joyful moments, offering connection, opening up space for dreaming and process. The desire for that which is not yet here becomes utopic imagination. I’m often not even certain what it is that I’m longing for.
It’s the feeling itself, the sense of reaching for something else, something different, something possible that nourishes.
For some time now I’ve been thinking about creating and offering my own courses and workshops, the ideas for which have emerged out of this structure of longing.
One idea that I’m excited about right now is a course on discussing and making creative work that plays with the boundary between what’s known as fiction and what’s called reality. I think a lot about this quote from an interview with filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha:
I don’t think of my films in terms of categories – documentary, fiction, film art, educational or experimental – but rather as fluid, interacting movements. The first is to let the world come to us through an outside-in movement – this is what some call ‘documentary’. The other is to reach out to the world from the inside out, which is what some call ‘fiction’. But these categories always overlap.
What questions arise from Trinh’s conceptualization of these “outside in” and “inside out” movements? What does this theorization and framework make possible for us in disrupting our assumptions of what “counts” as fiction vs reality?
This idea was also precipitated by a roundtable I read on something called speculative memoir:
What’s interesting to me is what happens when memoir — which is already strange and tricky and fraught in its relationship to memory — meets the deliberately imagined, the blatantly non-factual, the impossible. As if you’re taking a memory that’s already decayed and then tearing it up, or sewing a bunch of feathers onto it. It becomes a bit monstrous. And this — all of us seem to agree — is when it’s finally recognizable as yours.
How might fiction seem more real at times than the empirical truth? What is it about story and narrative that captures our imaginations? This course would involve writing and/or other creative practices and would offer space to come into relationship with others to discuss how these questions are emerging in our lives and our work.
Other offerings I’m currently considering involve supporting folks with their writing—I’m training to become a proofreader and copyeditor, and hope to also train soon in line editing and developmental editing. I would love to be a resource for people who want to publish their books, or write copy for their websites.
Ideally, I want to support folks who desire to connect with their own longing.
Making space for longing in my own life has only helped sharpen my awareness of sensations and what’s present in my environment. This, in turn, leaves me feeling nourished and vibrant, with a sense of greater intimacy with myself and my own desires.
What might connecting with your own longing open up for you?
I would love it if you filled out this short google form with any feedback you have on these ideas, and/or with suggestions on anything you’d like to see from me. If you fill it out by Tuesday, August 24th, you’ll be automatically entered into a raffle for a three-card tarot reading with me!