Latency — Corinne Manning

By Corinne Manning

Two people’s hands touching in a triangle. Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash
Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic 
orders? And even if one of them pressed me 
suddenly to his heart: I’d be consumed
in his stronger existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we can just barely endure, 
and we stand in awe of it as it coolly disdains
to destroy us. Every angel is terrifying.
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies

It can be argued that even when we decide not to like a post on social media we are still engaging with it. We cry out and the angelic click “like” or “mad face” or “sad face” and sometimes accidentally “haha” when we want the heart. Our exes scroll past it and feel superior or we scroll past former collaborators, organizers, colleagues and feel a little edge of triumph for not acknowledging the photo. The angelic order might hear but not always respond.

Through denying connection we are connecting and I wonder what algorithms are being calculated while I hover over the statement by or picture of someone I used to love.

We deny connection to each other. We tell ourselves why we should. We practice our defense in our heads as we walk to our check-in meetings about school, work, community, lovers. We have little room for one another’s feelings or to be swayed. This is part of a culture of shutting out, as a path to protection. This goes latent in our body.

I don’t understand shame fully but I feel it. It is the wall that rests between me and you, between me and more enlivened organizing, between me and the vulnerability my art offers me.

I feel shame when I smile at a stranger and they look away, shame over my desire for connection and my inability to achieve it.

So when connection happens, whoa, time catching in the cells:

The moment at a friend’s birthday party where we all break out in dance during the middle of a conversation;

or

the way she pulls me toward her naked body and I think “be present” and “enjoy this enjoy this” and “it will fall apart from here.”

For the last few years I have been seeking the distinction between desire and longing. Though there is a continuum between them we have dissolved that expanse so that we use these words interchangeably and I find this to be dangerous.

For the last few years I have been seeking the distinction between desire and longing. Though there is a continuum between them we have dissolved that expanse so that we use these words interchangeably and I find this to be dangerous.

For the purpose of this essay I call out to desire as anticipation, as excitement, as possibility; the emotional focus is on the thing we want.

Longing as lack, as fear of what we’ll never have, the emotional focus is on the experience of not having and is less about the thing we want.

If we currently exist in a culture of longing, what does it mean to revolutionize our way of being in the world, in connection with our bodies, and to each other, through desire?

I wish it were that easy.

I’m writing this dealing with persistent lyme and a number of invisible chronic health issues. There is a person I used to be who could multitask and respond to your email, and produce a reading, and make a sign for the protest, and drive you to the airport at 7 a.m. There is a person who could pause and take a picture of the books I’m reading to write this essay and post it on Instagram, without forgetting, after I take it, what I’m writing about exactly.

I make plans with friends forgetting that my family is visiting that weekend.

There was a time where I thought sex would cure me — healing, embodied, connected, sex. It didn’t.

I walk next to a former lover after a confusing period of silence and cancelled plans. The sex we had was one of those experiences with a person’s body where it feels like relief, where I felt surprise over my immensity of feeling. On this walk, the trees dripping with water and moss, we aren’t touching and she is explaining why we have to put that part of things away, that she needs to be in connection with herself. As she shares I start to retract my body, feel shame over what I feel for her, that I want us to spend a few moments acknowledging what happened as brief and special even though it’s over; how hard I had to work to stay present when we were together, but how that felt worth it and healing even if that meant I hadn’t been able to relax into the sensation of her; that I’m grieving the potential of the sensation of her. But my brain is fogging over and I can access very little except to feel the pain in my joints and the mild nausea I’m working to keep at bay as we walk in the rain.

When we part she tells me she will focus inward for the next month and I tell her to just reach out when she’s ready to connect again. She tells me that she isn’t very good at making plans. I laugh, because it was no problem for her to make plans when she wanted to fuck, and snap, “So when I never hear from you again, that’s why?”

Viruses go latent, then they resurface and we don’t know how to be or connect to each other.

Or how to part from one another.

There was a time where I was convinced something would cure me — carrying a certain crystal, meditating, therapy that connected me to my body and emotions — maybe all of this was from untended sexual abuse. These things help me connect with myself, feel desire for my present and future, but I don’t think this is about cure anymore.

The lyme bacteria has made my body an ideal host for opportunistic infections. I picture the latent viruses waking, and in all their neon desire burrowing into my cells.

I call out to who I was. I miss who I was. What’s wrong with longing for something I can’t have?

The grief in that longing is real but I want to develop a desire for who I am now too, and this path of pills I swallow every day, and the necessity to focus on just one thing at a time. To know that I have energy to do two things a day, and to honor the fact that I prioritized that disappointing walk and cleaning my living room as my Sunday activities. That if I need and crave connection, I’ll have to prioritize it, and create a space for it, knowing that my need is different than the other person’s need.

I watch a dance piece called Chasm by Grief Girls, a horde of dancers that move together as a lumpy pulsating single organism. They continually separate and bridge various chasms connecting through light, noise, selfies, and finally, again, bodies. It ends with a slow dance and one of the dancers, a friend of mine pulls me up, pulls me close.

“You’re my audience pick,” they whisper in my ear.

It’s not sexual. We giggle to each other. It feels precious to hold and be held in a way we might not in our daily lives because we need to keep our boundaries. I feel safe: a boyish femme and a femmey boi together.

“I’m gonna spin you now.”

It’s very white culture to deny connection. You can feel it in the silence around the disbanding of Temporary Protective Status, the silence around Puerto
 Rico. It’s not physically possible to be calling out, crying out constantly but I feel whiteness hosting in my body when I see injustice and don’t respond. The numbness. The cinching closed of my heart because I “can’t grieve everything”.

“I’m gonna leave you now,” my friend whispers.

We call out because connection is continually denied by oppressors. Call out culture is an exchange that is steeped in grief as much as it is anger. This calling out, this crying out, we’ve politicized to create a different kind of connection. Not between the two directly involved — the change doesn’t happen there — but between the others joining in, feeling belonging through shared pain and oppression. The ones who return the cry are the ones who have felt this too.

And within that are times where I should find myself and I struggle. #MeToo, which seems like it should hold me, incites a deeper feeling of loneliness. The calling attention to those who abuse power is something I recognize and want. Perhaps I’m scared because I’m not sure what happens next; I’m not sure it’s enough to name the people without unearthing the conditions of sexual violence and power. Or maybe it’s because there is a limit to what I can speak about — a latency — of abuse within my own family, what it means to experience this misuse of power as a child. I find a focus on revenge to be a refusal to look at deeper change. Deeper change is always painful. It means giving up everything. But the potential of the result?

How do I have desire for a possibility of getting healthy while also holding space that there might not be a cure? That I might not live to see my body cured. I will likely not live to see any systems of oppression dismantled. I will have a moment of physical intimacy only to be denied and deny actual intimacy again and again. People will deny each other connection and under white supremacy and patriarchy, white people will continue to numbly enact a myriad of violences; activists will strive to renew and connect but will be thrown into reactive organizing, will watch guard each others’ language and we will excommunicate each other and it will be painful for everyone. I need there to be a “but” or a “though”.

Did we need to be soothed like this before sexual violence and colonization? Was there a before? Will sex ever bring us there? I reach for sex but there is something else I want: That slow dance.

As I dance with my friend I don’t want them to think I’m attached. They hold me close but I keep my arms rigid, I hold my body a bit away. I don’t want them to feel how great my need is. I don’t tell the lover, as we walk in the woods, what her body meant to me because I don’t want to seem pathetic for still wanting something she no longer wants. I go out into the heartache of the world and I numb against it. Find ways to seem engaged but removed, no heart in any of it.

It’s not wrong to long for something we can’t have. I think longing can lead us to our boundaries, to the new edges that grief has lit up for us to navigate, to greater desire. It’s okay to have longing, which allows me to grieve, and to re- imagine again. But I can’t live inside of the longing as a way to prevent connection or further hurt. We close off possibility to one another when we can’t feel the possibility in our community, in fighting systems of power, in the belief that we could put an end to all violence, especially state violence.

I hesitate to use my illness as a metaphor but I can’t help but think about what lives inside of me and the fact that I am a host. I may not be able to stop being a host but how do I keep living and transforming anyway, to not give into hopelessness, to the more toxic side of longing? Vulnerability, being open to desire, has lead us here, through this essay, to consider each other.

“I’m gonna leave you now,” my friend whispers. Their body slowly disengages. Our arms drag across each other, then our fingers. I put my hands down but my friend continues to reach out as they back away. I stand on stage with the others who are left”. We glance at each other. Will our eyes connect? The lights go out.