15 November 2022 | BY ANDJELKA JANKOVIC | Life
I belong here, I belong with you, and all of our questions belong here, too
It tastes like melancholy jazz or a raspy blues song playing at the back of a bar while no one is listening. A warm red that swishes around your mouth. The chill of a breeze, grazing you unexpectedly. It would be the colour of your mother’s handwriting.
I feel it in an instant when I see a mountain, or a fireplace, or a cabin in the mountains with a fireplace — throw in a Bon Iver song and it feels like I’ve been punched in the stomach.
I thought I knew longing until it devoured me.
Like a wave that hits you out of nowhere and suddenly, you’re swimming for your life.
It was a Saturday night and I was alone. I had just seen my friends for a picnic in a park about an hour from where I live, with no car to get back home. We had all said our goodbyes and went our different directions for dinner. I was standing there on a street corner as the sun was setting, wondering what I would do. I had zero plans.
A subtle panic came over me.
Normally being by myself does not bother me, in fact, I seek out beautiful aloneness. I also love connection when it is right and real, but I protect my solitude.
On this particular evening in early spring when the air was just balmy for the first time, I was thick with a heaviness I could not place.
I got out my phone (that old trick) and wrote a message to meet up with a friend who lives nearby, then I deleted it. I opened an app, spent less than thirty seconds checking for an invitation to hang out, and then I closed it.
I put my phone away, sat down on a planter box in someone’s front garden and asked myself – what exactly was this feeling?
Excitement, anxiety, loneliness — I know them well, but it was none of those.
Could it be melancholy or sorrow? No.
And then it landed. It was longing.
Longing is the biggest clue to the life you want.
For your beloved.
For your country, a plot of land, an environment.
For something you had just yesterday or have never had before.
To come to love after so much time without it.
It’s how Rilke says, “I am made of longing” because sometimes it sure feels like that. A nameless ache can follow me around, sparked by a song or a scent in the air, unexplainable for days.
It was rising in me now, cinematic even; like the beginning of a saxophone solo. This longing was coming in strong.
Would you even believe
when it finally happens
how easy it is to feel
without any proof
that love may be, could be,
longer than time. — Alex Dimitrov
I suddenly realised all I wanted was the ease of ready-made plans with someone, my person.
I sat with this new feeling, on said planter box in a neighbourhood I used to live in for many years, talking it out.
And so I considered: do I, at this moment, go towards or away from myself? This is the central question of solitude.
Longing is a creative and spiritual practice.
Every time I think I have conquered longing, I reach a new threshold.
I started walking towards the main street where the city begins, having decided that the night would take me somewhere and I would take myself out.
I spotted a special place that I hadn’t been to in a long while – a Parisienne meets Perth natural wine bar, the kind of place that drips in chicness and coupledom.
I walked up to the counter and after realising they now take bookings, I replied: “No, just a table for one please”. The waiter looked at me with that face that says ‘ain’t gonna happen’, but it did. There was one free table that I could have for one hour; a candlelit nook.
I no longer pray—
I ache, I desire,
I say “yes” to my longing. — Chelan Harkin
I was seated and the waiter took away one plate and one set of cutlery and offered to hang up my coat. I always love the elegance of having your coat hung up for you.
There is great beauty in eating out alone, I find I can’t take my eyes off people that do. This is something I have been doing actively for almost a decade of my life, ever since I landed on my first night in San Francisco on a bar stool in a vegan Mexican restaurant in the Mission.
So many of us are starving for life and have no idea until the end when we look back and see the uneaten banquet. — Atticus
I don’t really like the word ‘single’ when it comes to labelling someone. For one, the alternative ‘double’ doesn’t make much sense and as I always like to remind people — you are not alone, you have yourself.
Something to ponder: Are you alone, or are you aloneness?
On this particular night with self (linguistic note here), I decided to celebrate with gluten and ordered an incredible homemade sourdough bread with just-churned butter that tasted like cheese and an insanely good white bean dish that makes your soul dance, as I did in the seat.
A glass of rouge in hand, with beats that made me feel like I was in Morocco and olives that tasted like I was in Tuscany.
This was peak date night success.
Am I a loner? No, not intrinsically. I am the most introverted extrovert I know.
Did I want to share this with someone? Yes, sure. But this other person has to feel as good and freeing as my solitude.
But the longings come and go. It’s important to know that this is plural because there is more than one.
The thing is, everyone is not you.
The longing is this.
To burrow my head into a sturdy chest and make a home in a rib cage. Forehead kisses. Warm skin. Reading our books while it rains. To lie on the grass and listen to music with you.
The longing is for friendship on fire and intimacy.
The longing is for soul meets body.
The longing is frightening.
I didn’t know the shape of my longing until it stepped into the light.
I wish someone took a portrait of me that night.
It was breathtaking.
I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the centre. — Kurt Vonnegut
In all that hunger and yearning, I surprised even myself. There is a soft strength in being your own companion. In being able to hold yourself, to comfort and celebrate, when no one else can.
The night beckoned. I left with a bottle of red in my basket and continued walking past loud restaurants, neon-bright bubble tea shops, and a cool streetwear party that I got to the door of and then detoured right.
I reached a bookshop that I had forgotten was there and walked in.
When was the last time you had two hours on a Saturday night to just look around books? It was sublime. I made my way through all my favourite sections and then ended up standing on a stool to survey the poetry section.
I opened a collection with a weighty textured cover to a poem by r.h Sin that read:
There’s a type of beauty in solitude, but you have to be okay with being alone to witness it.
Wholly mother of perfect timing. This was it.
Witness your own solitude.
I know that humans have longed for communion with each other and the divine (found in the awe of nature) since the beginning of time. I know no scientific evidence goes that far back but I feel it to be true.
Whatever you are longing for, there is someone else out there longing for it too.
The longing to be seen and known and understood is real. That longing also includes ourselves.
I bought seven books that night (SEVEN!), it was a thrill and something I’ve always wanted to do.
It is beautiful to be alone; but it is also beautiful to be in love, to be with people. And they are complementary, not contradictory. When you are enjoying others, enjoy, and enjoy to the fullest; there is no need to bother about aloneness. And when you are fed up with others, then move into aloneness and enjoy it to the fullest. — Osho
And then I learnt that your longing can be your creative offering.
In the excellent book Bittersweet, Susan Cain shares how longing and sorrow make us whole — sparked by the phenomenon of why so many of us love sad music. Susan explains that longing comes from Old English and means ‘to grow long’ and longing also comes from the German langen which means ‘to reach and extend’.
Susan goes on to say that your yearnings are sending you messages, and ‘whatever pain you can’t get rid of, whatever joy you can’t contain, make it your creative offering’. That ache could be your life’s work (here you go – Cozy Longing).
I started to see longing in a new light. That it can be a virtuous offering.
I remember watching the final episode of Everything I Know About Love (based on the book by Dolly Alderton) and there is a poignant scene when the mother of the main character Maggie picks her up from the airport after she’s just flown back from New York from a whirlwind love affair that has left her feeling high and confused. They are sitting in the car outside her flat and the mum offers this advice:
“You want the person you love to feel like peace”
I’ve never heard it put so well.
Maybe that’s where all my longings lead to.
The bookshop was closing and it was getting late. I missed the 10 pm train by one minute and so I sat people-watching and a wave of nostalgia hit for when I lived in the East Village and waited for endless subways in many different emotional states across the city (living in Manhattan is nothing like the movies, by the way).
I love witnessing those small moments when you think no one is watching — flinging arms of goodbyes just before the carriage doors open, a slumped head sleeping on a lover’s shoulder, someone reading an actual book, and the sincere tiredness of everyone just trying to get home.
To be truly settled in your solitude could be a myth.
But that night I was.
I thought this story would be about the courage to be alone, but it’s not.
It’s about how our longings never tire.
You can feel joy and loneliness at the same time. And solitude is sexy and occasionally sad.
That you can be really good at being alone, and still want to be with your human.
Whatever we long for — something or someone or someplace — we are in essence moving towards it.
Longing is our inner world calling us out.
May something comfort you—a mockingbird, a breeze, rain on the roof, Chopin’s Nocturnes, a kiss, or even me—in my chilly kitchen with my coat on—thinking of you. — Ellen Bass
We think we are far away from it, but we’ve never actually been closer.
This intersection can be hard to live in, and great trusting is needed.
And so I have been asking myself in the deepest way possible: Why this longing? Why now?
Your longings live through you.
Befriend them. If anything, it’s a very interesting conversation to start with yourself.
I found myself there again just the other night — while cooking a mushroom pizza outdoors over a fire I had just made with fallen wood I’d gathered on a mossy hike.
I was a witness to my solitude and it was beautiful.
It felt something like peace, and I was more than okay.
My grandmother once gave me a tip:
In difficult times, you move forward in small steps. Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes.
Remove the dust.
Write a letter.
Make a soup.
You are advancing step by step.
Take a step and stop.
Rest a little.
Take another step.
You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more.
And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.
— Elena Mikhalkova
This spectacular image is by Nick Banis of a 300-year-old acorn tree growing through a cabin in the Netherlands. Hello treehouse!