One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Landscape of the Bed of Longing

I feel on-my-knees grateful for the people in my life. I don't know how to articulate the depth of that gratitude... I mean, I can barely scratch the surface of the meaning my family, friends and community make of my life. I feel the same way about my home, the landscape around my home, the dogs, cats and chickens in and out of my home. And I most definitely feel the same way about being a writer.

by Thiemo Muller
 But--or maybe And is a more appropriate conjunction--And, at the same time, this sense of longing has taken up residence inside me...somewhere near my heart, lodged against the curve in my ribs. I feel it in my heartbeat, I feel it when I breathe. I know the reasons for it. There are a few. For now, and for here, I will say that some of it is about wanting to sell a book, wanting to work with an editor, wanting to feel that collaboration and build a story in that way, and wanting to finally see my book in print and share it share it share it with the world.

My longing for this experience is intense. So intense that sometimes, for short bursts of time, it blocks my view, and blocks my other sensory capacities, of other details in my life. Do you know what I mean?

I've been contemplating this longing for the last few weeks.  I have noticed that there is a tendency to do one of two things with longing.  One is to try to push it away. And I think the most common way to accomplish that is to transform maybe, let's say, you turn it into jealousy (she got that and I was supposed to get that and I'm probably entitled to that more than she is, damn it...) or into denial (I never wanted that, and even if I did, which I didn't by the way, but even if I did, I certainly don't want it now...) The other is to allow it to consume you (I feel this longing so badly and so deeply that I think I, in fact, AM this longing...where are my hands and feet and heart and mind?...they have been taken over by the body-snatching longing monster...)

But what about just letting

When my sister, Callie*, was diagnosed with cancer she had, not surprisingly, a deep and loud fear. I remember sitting by her bedside during a few of her chemotherapy sessions and listening to her talk about it. She told me she knew she couldn't push her fear away. She told me she knew, also, that she couldn't let it become her either. And so, she said, she was learning to sit with it...pull up a chair, invite that ole' deep and loud fear to sit, not on her but next to her.

A chair for her fear.

I mentioned this idea to two of my friends** while I was contemplating my longing one morning (and by contemplating it I mean, on this particular day, having a total crying breakdown about it...sigh...what can you do?!) and one of them said, You need a bed for your longing...a place to tuck it in, let it be, while you get on with being you... The other one came over later that day and gave me this:

An actual bed for my longing! Isn't it awesome?  A beautiful purple bed with cozy white feathers to rest upon...

So here's the other part of my contemplations: longing is not a bad thing. It might not be the most comfortable feeling in the world (think a slightly-too-sharp object stuck under your rib), but if it is given a place to call home, longing kind of smooths itself out, and is even kind of sweet-looking as it rests there... Longing is not a bad thing at all.  It lets us know what matters in our lives. It indicates our dreams. It reminds us that we have hearts and minds and that they are beating and buzzing all the time.

The trick, for me, is to let longing hang out while I sit at my computer revising my picture book for the 12th time, or writing a new chapter for my middle-grade novel, or or or...

And now that it has its own happy home, I can do just that.

One more contemplation: It feels good to talk about longing. I have a hunch that if we writers, especially, talked about it more we would feel better.  Pure longing, no more, no less. What a cool topic for an SCBWI conference, perhaps?  Or for a conversation between blogs? My amazing friend Sarah posted this worth the read...

What do you all think?

With gratitude,

*Callie, by the way, kicked cancer's butt, as she likes to say. I think it's been four years now that she has been cancer about on-my-knees gratitude...

**Thank you Alice and Stef...


  1. Tam,
    Thanks for posting this today. I so needed to hear it. I’m still in the place you are—writing, revising, receiving rejections (waiting now for one editor’s 3rd response), and trying to work on new projects. But deep down I feel that longing and its negative companions—lots of self-doubt and sometimes jealousy lurking underneath my true happiness for friends’ successes. A friend told me recently maybe I need to let the longing go because grasping at this goal might be keeping me from getting it.

    But I like your idea of giving it a soft place to rest so it doesn’t consume me but allowing it to be. I may be making a little nest for my longing ☺.
    Thank you!

  2. Beautiful piece, Tam! And I'm so happy for Callie.

  3. Thanks, Tam. Sounds very Buddhist to me, this sitting with your longing or tucking it into a soft bed. So good seeing you recently!

  4. These are some beautiful words, Tamara. This idea of long-term longing is something I really identify with, and what to do with it has been troublesome. Rather than letting it foster doubt in the face of rejection, I will let it lie, put it to bed right next tot he keyboard, and let it fuel the next draft, and the next one . . . So happy for your recent contract, and so happy you wrote this post.