The Anatomy of Longing

I saw “The Social Network” last Tuesday.  I loved it.  Great script, endearing characters, interesting presentation of intellectual property rights issues – and plenty of that mysterious sheen of Hollywood magic that makes reality at once so real and so very larger-than-life. It’s that Hollywood magic that gets me every time.  Gets me, these days, into a state of familiar longing—the same longing I feel when I see a great performance, watch an Olympian going for gold, or even hear a friend get really excited about a project they’re working on.  It’s a longing to achieve and to feel the heady rush of achievement in process.  It’s a longing to let the greatness I sometimes feel simmering inside of me burst out – not in due course of the years of work and patience it will inevitably actually take (assuming “the greatness” is more than a narcissistic fantasy of youth) – but nowNow like Mark Zuckerberg, who brought his genius to bear on the world at age 22; now, like the makers of the movie, who, whatever their respective ages, just released his tale to great and growing acclaim; now, like my ultimate object of envy (/lust ;), James Franco, whose life represents the supreme transcendence of any normal limitations to human productivity.  (I use the word “represents” because I refuse to rule out the possibility that Franco’s life as we know it is in fact just one giant feint of performance art.)  At any rate, the truth is, the sky is (and always has been) the limit to my dreams and schemes.  I put it best and most honestly a couple years ago when I wrote: “I plan to live to 100, and there are so many different things I desperately want to do/accomplish in my life that I will be thoroughly disappointed if I konk out any sooner.”  Well, I’m 24, I’m going for greatness in the only ways I can cobble together one day at a time, and with still 66 years to go, my patience is timing out.

Part of what I crave is just the adrenaline of the process, and part of it is the pure excitement of having something important to show for myself.  I miss the rush, the surge, the feeling of being in the moment and passionate and “on”– on because you have no choice, no time to spare.  I had that sensation back in my days of ballet when I was on stage, performing; I had it in college when deadlines piled up at the end of the term and the all-nighters multiplied from once a week to every other night; I had it in debate every time I stood up to deliver a speech, my gut literally shaking, hands freezing, my whole body somehow sweating and cold at the same time. Then I miss the excitement – the satisfaction really – that comes with the successful conclusion of all these adrenaline-fuelled efforts. I had that satisfaction when I pulled off the triple pirouette; when I got the all-night essay back from my professor with an ‘A’; when I found myself (rare as these moments unfortunately were) on a roll in debate, effortlessly spewing words while my insides continued to quake.  In my moments of longing now, it’s all of that targeted intensity and reward that I miss.  Life in the “real world” is arguably just as intense, but in a much more diffused way; the stress of the struggle to keep my job, pay my bills, etc. is just always there, in the background.

There’s also something particular about film, when it comes to sparking this routine craving for acute intensity.  I still dream of writing essays that will re-shape society in centuries to come, of staging a Mika musical, of directing my own ballet version of the Nutcracker, of running for political office as the first candidate ever to actually answer the goddamn questions, of producing the Daily Show…the list goes on.  But the dream that keeps coming out on top, tugging me along through life, shaping what I do with my time, is the dream of making movies.  So when I see one that strikes me, all my usual impatient longing is intensified.

Intensified, and laced with anxiety.  After all, the road to any of my hoped-for futures is pretty long and hard.  It’s also uncertain.  So who knows?  I might never get to my Oscar, or, for that matter, write my philosophical treatise.  I’ve got plenty of dreams to choose from, but none of them are exactly easy fall-backs.  So everything may fail.  Maybe the best I can hope for is to approximate the fate of the master, as depicted in an article I read last fall: “Fitzgerald was not one to give up on his dreams; if he had, he could not have written so beautifully, so penetratingly, about their loss.”  But of course, the chances of following in the footsteps of F. Scott himself are equally fantastic.

If nothing else, then, I’m left with the solace of my favorite words of all time, from Eugene O’Neill: “I see life as a gorgeously-ironical, beautifully-indifferent, splendidly-suffering bit of chaos, the tragedy of which gives man a tremendous significance … what I’m after is to get an audience to leave the theatre with an exultant feeling from seeing somebody on stage facing life, fighting against the eternal odds, not conquering but perhaps inevitably being conquered. The individual life is made significant just by the struggle.”  And really, I guess my longing is just to feel that struggle – alive and intense inside me.  As long as I accomplish that, I can probably count success.


Filed under Opinion & Essay

2 responses to “The Anatomy of Longing

  1. lee martin clancy

    Yes, and we know it’s the nature of our struggle that truly defines our accomplishments and empowers our success. But when we allow the struggle to consume our lives and a picture of success digresses to the resistance of the moment, what is it then that fuels our persistence. I would like to think that it’s the ability to appreciate those random instances like meeting someone beautiful under the thick lure of Bach cello suites resonating in a hollow subway station.

  2. I’d like to think so too. :)

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