I’ve been staying in a place that’s full of windows. It’s high up, and there’s a view of everything that’s below: the Hudson, boats, runners, and distant skyscrapers.
The passing of the day is different when you’re living somewhere with lots of windows. You start to notice the more subtle rising and dimming of light: a poignant brightness in the morning, a duller buzz in early afternoon, and at around 5:30 in the evening, the windows present a wild spectrum of quickly changing pinks. Come 7:30, the light is that reflected from streetlamps and other windows.
The room I’m sleeping in has two big windows. Every time I return, I stand in front of them, almost unconsciously, and look out. I don’t focus so much on what’s outside, but more in just staring.
I’ve had more time to read since I’ve been here, and I have voraciously. I began Eileen Myles Inferno, which is really a poem-novel. It’s beautiful.
She writes a lot about desire in the book, desire for others, for the poem, for herself:
“Then I saw the other woman again and I knew that whatever the outcome, I would make my desire for her abundantly clear and I would unleash every excess of power in body and soul and mind to convince her that my aim was true and I would have her. Not forever, just for now. It was the desire at the center of the universe, this was the beginning of the love for which I had not died. I was climbing over the rampart of my own death. It was the life. If passion was a substance I would say it is dark brown and then blood red. It’s like wet grass, tons of it soaked in mud. It’s warm and it stinks and it’s unaccountably and endlessly good. It’s thick and it goes on for miles and it isn’t so much deep as bottomless and it holds you in its grip, you never drown. And then it goes. It’s gone.”
I’m sitting in a bar drinking my third beer when I come to that section. It, mixed with hops, stirs me so intensely I look around. I feel the need to pull someone over and say, “Hey! Read this with me.”
But the heads are all bent downward, staring at the screens of phones or one of the many televisions bolted to the wall. I can’t find a pair of eyes.
When I get home, buzzed from beers and passages, a strong urge to watch Rear Window pushes in. I haven’t seen it in years. The sticky hot of NYC and living surrounded by massive glass panels probably helped prompt it.
But I didn’t expect to read that movie as all about desire. Jimmy Stewart’s character, the protagonist Jeff, can’t summon desire where he’s supposed to. It’s most evidenced in the emptiness his attempts to gaze at the ideal woman/life bring forth, in his lack of motivation to “heal”, regain movement. He’s searching for something out the window–is it just him, I think he wants to know, or is there nothing to really want.
Jeff’s resistance to his life supposedly lies in confusion about whether or not to marry the wealthy Lisa Fremont, the ease at which she lives her life a conflict. She’s high maintenance, she wouldn’t want to or be able to travel, interfering with his career as a photo journalist. But none of that actually unfolds beyond their hollow fights–it’s Jeff who doesn’t want to travel, leave. He actually doesn’t want his lens pointed at far away locales, but at the one closest to him.
The bright glint of the movie was not whether the neighbor murdered his wife, but where the stake lied in its significance. That wasn’t why I was watching. Ultimately the facts of the missing woman are irrelevant. Jeff’s decision about marriage to his wealthy girlfriend and her ability to “change” were left unaddressed. By the close of the film, the inter-personal conflict is not really resolved. Rather, the inertia is even greater: Jeff ends up with two broken legs, Lisa’s paint suit a sham: she picks up Vogue again.
In watching the film, I’m agreeing to live in Jeff’s apartment and I never leave. It becomes uncomfortable, a strange place of non-action that’s struggling, but yet won’t go out through that big window. Rather, it chooses to look cautiously, and I do so with it.
To not want what you’ve been told you’re supposed to pushes up a kind of terror–more so than freedom. What’s there instead, and maybe they were right all along?
But then there are the moments it is there, and it feels just as Eileen Myles wrote: it’s thick and it goes on for miles and it isn’t so much deep as bottomless and it holds you in its grip, you never drown.
15 was when I first experienced desire–I wanted someone to claim me. The experience was a shovel that turned the earth over. It was new to want something so much it felt like I’d break apart if I didn’t get it. But the possibility of it coming true felt like living, like what life was supposed to be for. It felt like it was making me come alive.
But now I’m in the latter part of Eileen’s passage, “and then it goes. It’s gone.” Yet instead of someone else, I want me, I only want to desire myself. It’s a very different kind of desire. It feels like being in that big room in Rear Window, my leg in a cast. It’s lonely and I’m not sure how to move or where. I watch because I don’t want any of what I used to but am awed by how many people do.
There was someone I was friends with for a long time and our friendship was mostly about the desire we felt for each other that we’d never pursue. It was like rubber that kept getting stretched, longer and longer, but never snapped. There were lots of logistics, legitimate reasons for the lack of snap. But more, I think we preferred it stretched. He was so desired, and he gave in so often, I think it was nice for him not to.
Once we stood in a record store, laughing in front of a stack of old VHS tapes, and then he looked at me very seriously. He didn’t say anything yet, but just touched his chest and the side of my arm. He finally asked, “Why didn’t we?” It was the only time he ever addressed it.
“But we did,” I said. I think he understood and even agreed.
I saw pictures the other day relating to another life, long after him. They were of the stone church, a fence along a dirt road, his hand around her waist, her head bent backward. For the second time, I had wanted that more than I’d wanted myself. I hovered, completely ready to jump in at a word. He resisted though, kept me behind the line. But for quite awhile and now, there’s been nothing. I have no desire for it anymore. I didn’t feel glad but confused.
The summer he came, she sent me a letter. A few weeks before, I’d gone to visit her and we’d gone out drinking and I told her I wasn’t so sure about him coming. I was scared. “He fucked me up,” were my exact words. They were violent ones for a love that had been so gentle.
But all the desire, the wanting with no resolution, had begun to kill me, to fuck me quite rightfully up. With it, I was locked in that big room in a wheelchair, not knowing where to go with my desire but also not wanting to leave, waiting.
Before he arrived, her letter. She reminded me about what I’d said to her that night –specifically the words I’d used–the being “fucked up.” She included a quote from Jean Luc-Nancy she’d dug through the notebooks in her garage to find:
Love represnts the ‘I’ to itself as broken…To the “I” it presents this: that the subject has been touched, breached, in its subjectivity, and from now on it is for the time of love broken or cracked, however slightly. The break or wound is neither an accident nor a property that the subject could make its own…for as long as it lasts, love does not cease to come from without and to remain not outside but outside itself, each time singular, a blade plunged into me that I cannot disjoin because it rejoins me.
I felt not whole, as the quote addresses, the feelings I had for this person separate from me but simultaneously necessary for my existence. I was fucked, divided, cracked, and had no ability to bring any of it together. But I felt alive. I didn’t understand where I fit in the midst of a love and desire unrealized yet didn’t know who I’d be were it to go. There’s a possibility I think Nancy proposes: perhaps the split is necessary. Perhaps it’s part of desire and love: it helps divide you into new pieces of yourself, positions something new in between.
But desire and love are not the same. At that time, I thought they were. I felt love too, and I still feel love for him. But not desire, and not desire to move the love anywhere. In The Inoperative Community, Nancy writes:
Desire is unhappiness without end…it is infelicitous love and the exasperation of the desire happiness. But in the broken heart, desire itself is broken. This heart is no more unhappy than it is happy. It is offered…
It calls up Rear Window again, that space where nothing can happen, but everything is. The place of intense feeling with the inability to move towards and the hesitation to do so. With the man in the photo and before with the one in the record store: I offered and waited, or offered and chose to stay on the side of the offering, well-secured by my desire.
And I saw things, like Jeff does in Rear Window, that were valuable. Eventually, for reasons that are not easily tangible, I stood up and left the room. But how do we mediate the amount of time staying in and looking out? And towards what do I go, when there isn’t someone, something outside to offer to?
I’ve been concerned I’ve lost desire because I haven’t found something and where to present myself.
But perhaps this is desire, too: the motivation to understand an urge, even a lack thereof, to claim something you believe could be yours, even if it’s the understanding. This is why Jeff is still in his chair, looking out the window with bated breath at the end of Rear Window. That desire has become the only air that can fill my lungs.