The Wistful

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I like my life and my city. I like my friends and recreations. I like writing, which has carried me for years, filling my days with purpose and happiness. I do not generally feel that I am “missing out” in the sense Adam Phillips recently described as “a protracted mourning for…the lives we were unable to live.”

So why this feeling of wistfulness? Why this sense that something important is just out of reach? Could it be a cultural condition?

As a former art student, I am occasionally wistful for: graphite, carbon paper, copper plates, and linoleum. As a daughter, I am wistful when I drive past houses I inhabited as a child. As a parent, I am wistful for tiny shoes, adjustable elasticized waistbands, the smell of baby soap and wooden teething toys. I am so accustomed to wistfulness in myself and others that it was with some confusion that I recently met an older woman who claimed not to be “a wistful type of person at all.” When asked to recount memories of hanging out with her old friend Leonard Cohen, she firmly replied: “Sorry, I don’t do nostalgia.” For a moment she seemed wise, then she seemed freakish and cold.

So while I do not want to be wistful, I accept that I am. I am wistful for a life that is inexpensive, charming and spontaneous. More significantly, I am wistful for a time when I did not feel anxious about constantly being productive, when I could make or do something without demonstrated value and feel that it was still worth doing. I am wistful for the feeling that comes with really sinking myself into something. (It’s odd that in a world teeming with electronic enticements, where one can virtually drown in imagery and product, that it is so hard to sink.) Sometimes I wonder if wistfulness could be a form of resistance, a sort of shadowy recognition of the gaps created when you give yourself over to one pursuit, economic system or social reality. In its best incarnations, I’d like to think that wistfulness is a way of kindling those alternative, imagined lives, which might otherwise vanish. Like dreams or clouds.

(Image: Paper Workshop, 1937. Via Mondoblogo)