Let’s Talk Longing

An Interview with Lisa Anderson Schaffer and Mimi Young

The following is an article transcribed from a conversation between myself (Mimi Young) + Lisa Anderson Schaffer – artist and founder of Zelma Rose, author of These Three Things, and host/therapist consultant of Joy is Now Podcast. We shared recorded two juicy interviews, and the excerpt below is from episode 53, titled Let’s Talk Longing with Mimi Young. (Note, since this originally was a verbal interview, some of the text may have been lost in the transcription).

Lisa: I am very excited to talk with you about what you brought to discuss today, do you want to tell everyone?

Mimi: Yeah, so Lisa you’ve tasked me with considering what emotion would I like to, you know, put forth and to just yeah, just contemplate about and and so I arrived at longing,

Lisa: I made a lot of connections kind of in my own life and and the greater sort of culture as to why that that would be relevant now, but I’m curious before we dive in, why is it on your mind?

Mimi: I think for me, well first of all, it’s always been on my mind and it’s probably my most baseline emotion, like when I really have that chance to sit and think. Longing is… it’s more complex than let’s say anger or more complex than sadness because there’s a sense of hope and trust and faith that intertwines with something that is not there at the same time and me being born in, you know, in Taiwan and then immigrating to here, what is known as Vancouver, Canada – and honoring the indigenous peoples in this area, it is specifically the Musqueam and Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Peoples. Growing up here that has been, even to this day has been fairly white dominant, I think that it tied longing ties to this idea of home and so for me there was a leaving home at some point in my storyline and then also a need to return home, but to return home, I also have to leave home.

And then the whole definition of home is totally up for like for discussion and redefining and what exactly is home, because over there is not home anymore for me either.

Lisa: That’s fascinating there. I really, the idea of home resonates with me very deeply when I think about longing and I wonder if that’s what I was really trying to say in some of the research and the information and thoughts that I gathered to start off our discussion today. I think maybe it was this idea of home and how that sort of shifts and evolves and changes what that means that at least it has for me in my life and what I consider home and it’s a very big definition.

Mimi: It’s huge, it’s huge and it’s because it can involve place right? Like geography, but it also for me and involves food and language and blending in to look like the people around me. And then there’s also yeah, that emotional connection with other human beings and also once again going back the that emotional connection to the wind, to the mountains, to the ocean, to the trees,

Lisa: All that that just gave me a little goose bumps. It’s really beautiful. I pulled some information together to get us started, are you good if we start there? And I give it a read.

Mimi: Yeah, please!

Lisa: Okay, here we go. When I think of longing. The first thing that comes to mind is not psychological theory as you might imagine. For someone with a deep interest and study of psychoanalysis to not make a mad dash for Freud, desire, delayed gratification, object relations, melancholy, guilt and patience, when longing is mentioned is a bit odd. Longing is such a big part of early development. Attachment, separation, independence, love, relationships, longing is present. We are born longing belonging to return to the womb. The minute we leave to have all of our needs met automatically to ask for nothing receive everything. This is a longing. Yet when I think of longing, the feeling of longing. I am reminded of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is not a gentle reminder, but a formidable pull from a strong current of how I feel. When I read his work, wanting each word to last the entire page like they are floating to me on a warm breeze, slow, heavy, languished.

If I try hard enough I might catch one and get to remain in the story on ending. There is no sadness or excitement and it is different from desire. I do not wish to take action, but just to be able to sit with each page while I turn to the next. Please don’t ever let it end. I long for his words. I long for his characters. I long for his stories. It is the same way that I long for Ireland not to return for a few days, but to be able to get lost there in the green and the winds until belonging passes. However long that is if it ever passes, just leave me to the green. The rain leave me to the song of Ireland writer David Whyte in his book Consolations the Solace Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. ” longing is nothing without its dangerous edge that cuts and wounds us while setting us free and beckons us exactly because of the human need to invite the right kind of peril. The foundational instinct that we are here essentially to risk ourselves in the world that we are a form of invitation to others and to otherness that we are meant to hazard ourselves for the right thing, for the right woman or the right man, for a son or a daughter, for the right work, or for a gift given against all the odds in longing.”

“We move and are moving from a known but abstracted elsewhere to a beautiful about to be reached. Someone something or somewhere we want to call our own.” I appreciate the idea of longing being a movement from unknown to an abstracted elsewhere. An ideal dreamy place where there is a right thing for us, whether that be a relationship or otherwise. I also appreciate the idea of dancing with the right kind of peril. We find ourselves here often. There is an excitement in this manageable amount of peril. There is just enough danger. Just enough risk. Just enough desire. And I wonder how important it is for the longing to be met. But how the act, the presence of longing fills us up so much takes up. So much space leaves us less to reflect upon the things that surround us the emptiness of our real lives. Suddenly we are full, filled with something that we have constructed a fantasy. And we like being here, this dangerous edge even when it hurts. So what does this look like? What’s the hard science here?

Well, it’s pretty interesting actually. A 2020 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that prairie voles showed activity and the nucleus accumbens. The same reward center that lights up during heroin or cocaine use when reunited with a monogamous partner, I think the classic running through the airport, romantic cinematic reunion scene, the longer the animals had been paired before separation, the closer their bond and the larger the cluster of activity of this part of the brain. Scientists concluded that when it comes to longing, mammals experience a similar feel good reward center as rather addictive narcotics. Do the same thing can ring true for love. The release of chemicals in both scenarios override our systems to seek out these situations because the ultimate result while might not be pleasurable or ideal long term. It certainly feels perfect in the moment, longing helps us reunite after long periods of time in short, long and keeps us together interesting, right? And maybe that’s where my longing comes from for the words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez for Ireland a history time spent with words, characters, time spent with the country, A bond to reunite is to receive a rush a high.

Even if imagined it is strong enough to keep me in the fantasy.

Mimi: You totally nailed it for me, too.

Lisa: I love that. I was hoping we talked before that a lot of times, sometimes it’s very science based and I never know kind of where I’m going to start with the information that I share and I’ve learned to just let it go where it’s going instead of saying no, it needs to be 75% neuroscience. 25% psychology. Sometimes it’s more thoughts. So I’m glad, I’m glad it resonated.

Mimi: Yeah. I love how, I mean, we’re talking about sort of the reward centers and how it can really produce it like a rush as let’s say a narcotic can. Yeah, I think for me, longing even though it does feel like if you wanted to put on a spectrum of pain, let’s say like it’s definitely closer to pain than not, yet it is like this carrot that’s dangling in front of me.

I think a lot of it is fantasy that’s wrapped into it. And I think we attach a lot of meaning to things through our own processes of longing maybe, and maybe some of the meanings just imagined, but yet it’s we hold on to it because it’s just something that is meaningful for us, that that offers some form of value.

Lisa: Do you think that you seek out experiences or things that I don’t know if it’s encourage or if it’s produce or if it’s ignite longing,

Mimi: I don’t know if I consciously do it, but I definitely am attracted to those storylines or those energies, like, even in music, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the artist, he’s a pianist, Chilly Gonzales. And what was really interesting, I’ve been to a show and so he’s there on the piano and he’s really great live. So he’s playing Happy Birthday in the original cord and it’s set in major chords, so it sounds happy and then he shifts it in place the tune, Happy Birthday, on minor chords.

And oh, it sounds ominous, it sounds so different. There’s like a dangerous edge to it, sort of brooding and I don’t know, like there’s like something darker about it. And it kind of got me thinking because most music that I really enjoy are set in minor chords, like Philip Glass for instance, all minor, and when you think about it, his music really evokes this idea of longing if it’s like that, you know, lollypop puppy love stuff that you hear on top 40 I turn it off, that stuff doesn’t get me excited. So whether if I consciously do it or not, I do wind up there.

Lisa: I do too. And I really hadn’t thought about it as longing until you presented the idea of talking to it.

Mimi: Yeah. And then I think I say to my kids. So for instance, when my son turned 9 several years ago now, it’s just it’s insane to think that he’s turning 13 in a couple weeks when he turned 9 and we made it like a fun birthday, we always do.

And as we finished dinner and he was aware of the time and that, you know, the day was starting to approach his descent towards bedtime, he started crying. And I said, what are you crying about? What’s bothering you? And he said, “Oh nothing’s bothering me. I’ve had this perfect day and it’s almost over.” And he was just wanting to slow down time for those last few hours before bedtime. And to me that is also, it really does reference longing once again, right? Like you just you just want to keep it still the way it is for a little longer because he knows that you have to wait another year before you can, you know, celebrate a birthday.

Lisa: Yeah. The time being sort of a vehicle of longing makes makes as much sense to me as it does when you were mentioning music, you talking about the minor chord and how you feel about that really gave me sort of a container for why I there are certain Billie Eilish songs that I wish wouldn’t end.

And it’s the one off the top of my there the slower ones where her voice reaches this octave that is really, really get there through a whisper. Like Everything I Wanted is one and there’s sort of that hypnotic beat underneath it and then she’s kind of floating above it and it does induce this state of longing for me. It’s very, it’s very honest, it’s it has that edge to it that that little piece of peril, like, like David Whyte is mentioning and it does have that almost sinister, haunting quality to it that makes me want to stay.

Mimi: I know, I love that, that that sinister, like, I love that word, I’ve always loved that word, sinister. Yeah, I totally want to hang around and even if I ultimately don’t want to hang around, I need to hang around long enough to figure that out.

Lisa: Yes. Yeah. Like what is that, what is that feeling? What’s that? It’s almost like there’s a mystery that you just need to keep working on.

Mimi: Totally I find that really sexy, just that mystery, that not knowing ‘too much’ is too much until you’ve had too much and and always sort of pushing that, that boundary, that edge of the too- muchness or that darkness or whatever it is, it’s probably why I’m attracted to magic.

Lisa: Yeah. That’s so, it’s so interesting to me how sometimes things that don’t seem to have a linear quality when you really break them down can be quite linear and longing seems that way to me after, to be perfectly honest. I hadn’t thought about it that much outside of like a very psychoanalytic perspective. Having to do with the infantile experience and all that, which is a it’s it’s important. But I also like the presence of longing, like it being a part of the day and there probably is a connection to why we like being in that feeling because it it is sort of what we first experience. That’s our first like, where did where did it go? Oh, there was this place where everyone understood me and now I’m having to figure out how to vocalize and make noises and I have needs like what’s the need? Oh my God, that’s just that’s like the earth shattering beginnings of life and I imagine that there’s something deep within us that seeks out that longing feeling because we recognize it.

Mimi: Yeah. I even loved how you talked about the womb because the womb is the home, right? Like, like it’s so it’s the same thing and when when we leave the womb, there’s like the separation and that’s yeah, I think when the separation is established, then you discover, oh wow, like there’s that, that’s probably the first need is like, I want to reunite with the mother, but it’s so archetypal, it’s not just like with the biological mother, it’s just this, this this is the story that all humans have experienced since we’ve been around. And I would say even before we as a species became the species, other species have experienced this too, and it’s always gone back to the land and perhaps even in relationship with the moon, like that, longing to see her, her face, like her full frontal face in the sky and then you know how she goes through these phases, where she goes dark, you can find her and the night sky is no longer illuminated. Yeah, I think it’s all connected.

Lisa: You made such a fascinating connection to me with the moon and our early experience as people in this body. However, that’s a very wide set of bookends that possibly probably comes all the way around to meet itself somewhere, but in the very sort of wide focus sense. That’s so interesting to think of the moon of this. Again, replication, like archetypes, they’re all over how we sort of go through the same system or seek out the systems.

For the full interview, head to Podcasts + Press and have a listen to Episode 52 of Joy Is Now

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