There were Sundays in Seattle when I was 24 and 25 and so on that stretched out endlessly. Before I found a partner, they were often incredibly empty and overwhelming. A sky without a horizon line. Imposing shadows from unknown figures. A clock that ticked without arriving anywhere. I likened them to the works of the painter di Chirico, whose paintings of emptied-out city centers matched my inner pangs for people, activity, belonging. (Interesting that word – BE + longing.)
Everything was neither here nor there.
This weekend while visiting Minneapolis, I went to a yoga class in a part of town that seemed to be home to a lot of 20-somethings. It was a cloudy Sunday, just a tad bit cool with that cusp-of-fall feeling. A possibility of rain lingered. The houses were pretty but a bit run down. A sleazy-looking Szechuan restaurant was next to a liquor store, round the corner from a hip and cozy coffee shop. Everything was neither here nor there.
Which is what my twenties felt like. I was neither a kid nor an adult. Neither very busy nor without cares. I had a recurring fantasy about being able to move time forward – like a calendar in an old movie that flitters quickly into the future, days flying off of it to show the passage of time. Where I wanted time to land was unclear. I didn’t yet know that I wanted children, so I wasn’t longing for Sundays hanging out at the soccer park in my mini-van. I knew I wanted a partner and was a bit too desperate to find one, unclear of what qualities he should possess.
What I was wistful for was a feeling – of belonging, of safety. The feeling of not being that young girl chasing a hoop across a vacant square.
I have kids now. I have a partner. No mini van and I can’t say I exactly revel in weekends spent at the soccer field. But I feel full. Life is bursting with color and sound and possibility – even on the days when the possibilities seem to have narrowed into a very tight funnel through which only a single grain of sand can come out at a time.
And mind you, I don’t like beer — which is why being wistful is essentially being in an impossible state of mind.
And yet … I am wistful. Damn it! But it’s true. Wistful, wouldn’t you know it, for Sunday afternoons to wander around city neighborhoods and drink tea in funky shops, to rove through consignment stores, to fall asleep on a blanket in a park — something I did a number of times in my twenties and can’t fathom now. Wistful for that cafe in Fremont that’s no longer there – or so friends tell me; in my mind, it’s still there. Wistful for time to write all of the ideas that jumble around in the back of my head, waiting their turns. Wistful for matinees of foreign films in old movie theaters. Wistful for the entire New York Times. Wistful to drink a beer in a tavern – this tavern, please. And mind you, I don’t like beer — which is why being wistful is essentially being in an impossible state of mind.
“What would it take not to regret anything?” C. asked me this weekend. (Ok, I always misquote him; so let me clarify that this is what I heard, and this is what struck me, and what I found useful.) I had told him that if I didn’t sign up for a yoga conference that’s coming up in November, I’d regret it – although I can’t really afford it. I’ve been sitting his question for days now – not about the conference, but in general. What does it take to not regret? And the question – the feel of it, the emotional/internal work that it implies – is very tangential to another question I’ve started asking myself: “What would it take not to be wistful?” Wistful is essentially tied to melancholy (which has a pretty interesting medical history – people were diagnosed of melancholia in other ages and were said to die from it). It is a longing for that which is impossible in the moment. It is a pang for something different, something more that goes deep and serves no purpose other than to color gray-blue the moment in which we stand.
Late at night, one can be wistful for a plate of figs, though none are in season. On a hot summer day, one can be wistful for a misty fall afternoon in Paris. While in Paris, one can be wistful for fireflies in Iowa. It’s maddening. And a state that’s affected me since I can recall. The state of longing for that which cannot be, but knowing it so well, with the clarity of a writer’s mind. It’s a state I’m seeing that I’ve embraced despite myself and which I no longer have need for. Like someone walking out of the frame of a Woody Allen film and waving goodbye to that black & white, cozy but slightly cloying world. And here’s my parting song, the soundtrack to the path that leads away from Wistful.