I believe in the necessity of yearning. For all the times that it stalls me, leaves me stuck in a memory or a hope, there are more times when it drives me forward. Without yearning, I would not be a writer. I believe that yearning forces creation.
On the first day of my first writing class, the instructor asked us to write down our “obsessions” – those people, experiences, smells or tastes that we return to again and again. I thought of mine and for the first time, realized their necessity: they are stories longing to be told.
When I was ten, my family went on a month-long trip to Kenya and Tanzania. My memories are only random scraps, and piecing them together has not made a quilt. Regardless, they sustain me—the sound of the Serengeti at night, every animal and insect awake outside our tents; the large plastic jug from which our malaria-sick driver Augustine seemed to drink gallons of water; the hours my mother spent brushing tangles out of my hair before braiding it, like she had done when I was in kindergarten. Whether it was the surreal feeling that I was on the earth that bore me, or that I felt my parents held onto me more tightly there (or maybe I to them), Africa became the home that I long for.
I also yearn for the whole of the experience of growing up at boarding school, and for the friends who were family during those teenage years intense with angst and love, struggle, misstep and triumph. I still feel as vulnerable and hopeful as I did then, but a ten-year reunion cemented the realization that I can never return to the boarding school home that I knew, except in memory. I long for the friend who let me stay in her room for the night when a boy broke my heart; for the friends who brought me cans of soda and a book of New Yorker cartoons when mononucleosis quarantined me in the school’s infirmary; and for the friends who painted giant “Happy Birthday” signs for each other and hung for everyone to see. We sang at the top of our lungs, mostly for joy, but partly for the seeming rebellion of it, and partly to release the pain that nagged us. I long for those songs, that volume.
What I have left – what I hold on to – is yearning. It returns me to Africa, to boarding school, and to the people, places, and experiences that have shaped who I am. I believe that yearning compels us to speak, paint, write, sing, to tell our stories despite stalwart obstacles like doubt, debt, rejection, and sometimes opposition from those who love us most; it reminds me daily that the simple task of pursuing a passion is the hardest and most necessary challenge that we will ever face. And although it sometimes feels like an anchor, I believe that yearning is a compass. It is the only way I know how to live my life: by remembering and writing—always writing.
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