Absence makes the art grow stronger: On the artistic importance of longing
I secretly love reading self-help articles written by people who have no formal training in telling you how to live your life.
In my scavenging for these articles on such sites like Huffington Post, The Frisky and any bubbly-logo'd site aimed towards my demographic, I occasionally come across posts condemning the act of longing. "Longing prevents us from fulfilling our dreams and moving forward in life," they say. If we’re stuck in the past and long for people, places and things that are realistically unattainable, then we will never truly enjoy our lives.
These articles often hit home for me, because I realize that I’m a person that does indeed live in the past and not “in the now.” I long for my childhood, places I’ve lived, places I’ve never been to, my family, my friends, people that I miss. I’m constantly suspended in a perpetual state of romanticism. I also realize that all of these factors play an intricate part in my writing. They are daily inspiration and reoccurring themes and fodder.
I long for my childhood, places I’ve lived, places I’ve never been to, my family, my friends, people that I miss. I’m constantly suspended in a perpetual state of romanticism.
This observation led me to wonder that without longing, would half of the world’s greatest works of art, music, literature and cinema even exist?
F. Scott Fitzgerald had Ginevra King, a beautiful teenage socialite who dumped him due to his lower class status. Leaving a large psychological impression on the young man, King appeared in various forms (along with his future wife, Zelda) in Fitzgerald’s writing (Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby and Isabelle Borge in This Side of Paradise). It is even speculated that the famous Gatsby line, “Poor boys shouldn’t think of marrying rich girls,” was muttered by King’s father. From the Princeton Weekly Bulletin: “King remained for Fitzgerald an archetype for the alluring, independent and upper class woman, ultimately unattainable by someone of a modest social background like himself.”
Charlie Chaplin had Hetty Kelly, the first love that shot down his marriage proposal and died shortly thereafter, much to Chaplin’s devastation. The child-like innocence of Hetty and their relationship would remain a fixation for Chaplin. She was arguably the inspiration for many of Chaplin’s heroines and also represented the “ideal woman” that he continually looked for throughout his life (i.e 16-year-olds). Chaplin noted in his biography that he, “…. could not assimilate the full tragedy of [her death]… I felt I had been robbed of an experience. Hetty was the one audience from the past I should have like to meet again.”
Daniel Johnston had Laurie Allen, the object of his affection and the muse who helped inspire a great deal of his work. Though the two were only acquaintances, Johnston wrote "over 1,000 songs" about Allen in addition to crafting poems and artwork in tribute. In the lyrics to "Laurie," Johnston laments how he could never be with Allen but, "Laurie, sweet, an angel dear is here with me today. Not a person, but a memory with me will always stay." During the SXSW screening of the acclaimed documentary about Johnston’s life, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, the producers brought Allen onstage. Johnston freaked out and fled the theater, paced the sidewalk and then disappeared before he and Laurie could speak.
James Ellroy had his mother, Geneva Ellroy, a rough-around-the-edges Angeleno woman who was brutally murdered when Ellroy was 10 years old. Ellroy admitted that her presence haunted him psychologically and sexually for years, becoming inspiration for his writings about 1950s Los Angeles crime and causing drug habits, voyeuristic tendencies and unhealthy relationships. Much of this obsession and behavior is chronicled in his memoir, My Dark Places. The author spent years on a quest to discover his mother’s killer, even speculating that the Black Dahlia killer murdered her (though it was never proven).
Do you finding yourself longing for the past? Does it inspire or debilitate your life?