A Sense of Yearning
Since I was a child I can remember experiencing bouts of melancholy that are perhaps more accurately described as a sense of yearning. These moments seem to come to me more often in the fall, which has always been a reflective time for me. I keep a journal – have for years – but only write in it periodically. When I thumb through the pages the most common entry dates are between September and November.
I recently read a book that offers a possible explanation for my seasonal ruminations. Gretel Ehrlich sums up my thoughts most accurately in The Solace of Open Spaces. She writes:
All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite. We feel what the Japanese call “aware” – an almost untranslatable word meaning something like “beauty tinged with sadness.”(Ehrlich p. 127)Perhaps I become reflective in the fall because it is the time of year when the passage of time is most apparent. As each new day blooms, I am aware that another day has passed. My yearning stems from a desire to capture the passing days – or rather, to return to an earlier time.
In Black Sun, Julia Kristeva discusses the idea of a lost thing as the reason behind melancholia. She tells us, “My depression points to my not knowing how to lose – I have perhaps been unable to find a valid compensation for the loss?” (Kisteva p. 5) Kristeva’s thing defies an absolute definition, but I see a connection with my sense of yearning in a section where she notes, “Kant asserted that nostalgic persons did not desire the place of their youth but their youth itself; their desire is a search for the time and not for the thing to be recovered.” (Kristeva p. 60)
I find this concept interesting because the focus of my recent work and writings has centered on the idea of place and our physical connection with place. Until now, I believed my interest stemmed from my attraction to the landscape of my youth. Is it possible that my fascination with place actually represents a longing for a specific time (or even an earlier self)?
Rebecca Solnit observes in As Eve Said to the Serpent, “Landscape’s most crucial condition is considered to be space, but its deepest theme is time.” (Solnit p. 48) While I have been considering my connection with place (my earliest home), I have actually been considering how I interacted within the space of the landscape at a specific time (my childhood). I chose to concentrate on my physical experience because, as Diane Ackerman claims, “Our senses connect us intimately to the past, connect us in ways that our most cherished ideas never could.” (Ackerman p. xvi) My physical (or sensory) experiences create memories, which in turn can represent time. Memory is recorded time.
Furthermore, in their groundbreaking book, Memory: From Mind to Molecules, Larry Squire and Eric Kandel maintain, “Loss of memory leads to loss of self.” So, if landscape’s deepest theme is time – time that is recorded by our memory of experiencing its space – and our memories build our perception of self, then it can be reasoned that landscape can represent our identity; our shifting identity of self.
I believe it is also possible for this identity to travel beyond our life span, powered by the vehicle of our imagination. As a child I use to love to listen to my grandmother’s stories about growing up in the very home we lived in. I would walk barefoot along the cool dirt paths in her garden with my denim skirt swishing around my legs – imagining I lived in the “olden days.” Of course, my play romanticized the time. My grandmother’s world (as I created it) was much more attractive than my own. This is not so uncommon. Rebecca Solnit declares, “Our culture is pervaded by nostalgia for things that may never have existed.” (Solnit p. 1) We imagine the lives of earlier generations as simpler than our own. Much like the promise of a peaceful afterlife, time provides distance from the discomforts of reality.
Ultimately, I believe my yearning for an earlier, romanticized time is actually a longing for a return of innocence. It could be the innocence of my youth, before pubescent and/or adult concerns began piling up. Or perhaps my desire should be traced back over time to the concept of original sin – the innocence of our species. We all have fantasies of simpler times because as we shed our naiveté we can’t help but see death on the other side of beauty.