I think I can't convey what corresponding with you means to me without first explaining my relationship to waiting. (What's correspondence, after all, if not mostly waiting, punctuated by brief bursts of activity? Like our universe. Mostly empty space, which is never really empty.)
For as long as I can remember, I seem to have been spending every moment of every day waiting for... something. A hundred times a day I would check my phone, and I never understood what it was that I was checking for, what I could possibly find there that would end, for good, the need to keep checking.
In truth: one waits all one's life for an email, a letter, a text message, a phone call that never comes. The sender of that awaited message and the content of that message may be different for each person, but one thing is always true: the message each person is waiting for is precisely that which would fill the big, gaping hole in the bottom of their heart, which every human has. For some, that message says You are loved. For others it says, I forgive you, or it says, You're okay, keep going, or it says, You belong here.
Or maybe the message is from the beloved, from someone for whom you're bursting with love, but who has never shown the slightest interest in you. And that message you're waiting for is the message that comes out of nowhere one day and it's from them, confessing to you that they've loved you all this time, that they only avoided you and never wrote you back because they were afraid that if they did, they would fall hopelessly for you and they didn't feel ready for that, etc...
The message that I'm waiting for—I don't know exactly what it says (if I did, I wouldn't need to wait for it), but I think I know a little. I think I know that, for me specifically, it says some variation of: I need you to do something for me. I need you to get to work on this. It's someone asking me to do something hard, maybe to make something, build something, carry some burden, fight for something.
How do I know that? I guess I believe that if you pay attention to yourself, you know what it is that's missing. You can't always have it, but you can name it. Name what's missing; draw the shape of that hole in the heart. Maybe that's all I've ever been trying to do?
To hear that someone needs me to do something—I want that even more, I think, than I want to hear that someone loves me. If it were enough to be loved, I would be content to spend my life being an object of admiration. But to be needed—not in the sense of "I need you," as in mere presence, but in the sense of "I need you to..." as in, do something—to be needed calls for some form of action, narrows the many things I could do down to exactly one that I must do. It focuses, it propels me in a single direction. Maybe it has to do with becoming an agent and not an object. The single direction is toward that task which may or may not be worthy on some global value scale (or perhaps not even worthy at all), but that which is in need of me specifically. The message I'm waiting for is the one that would reveal the task that most needs me.
Of course, whichever message it is that one is waiting for, the message never arrives. It never arrives, by definition it can't arrive, because that's what it is to be human: you spend your whole life waiting for an explanation. Another name for the message that one is waiting for is the message that never comes. They are one and the same.
If you're lucky or determined, you manage to wrest some meaning out of what you have around you, and plug the hole that way. But after some time, the question becomes: how long do I keep waiting for it? How long before I accept that maybe, just maybe, no one is going to call, no one is ever going to come looking for me—because no one needs me? And then the question becomes: if I accept that... then what do I do with myself, when no one in the world is asking me for anything?
This waiting gives my mind time to drift into that most irrational of pursuits: to ruminate on why the message I'm waiting for still hasn't come. (Irrational if I hold to my proposal that it cannot arrive by definition. It's like asking why it's not tomorrow yet.) Most of the reasons I come up with have to do with my perhaps not being worthy of the message. I do wonder, from time to time, if I'm simply a dull person. I do wonder if I feel more special than I am and if I'm delusional to think that you should see anything of interest in me (much less need me for something). I do wonder if I'm expecting too much from life which means I'm guaranteed to be unhappy and it's my own fault, etc. You of course understand that I'm not saying these things to elicit a response from you, because we both know fears like these aren't the kind that can be assuaged by assurances from an other. They're my—I don't like the melodrama and connotations of "demons"—but maybe we can call them my daemons*. They live with me, alongside me, they keep me company, they make me sad, but the sadness makes me human.
In the meantime, I understand that the task that most needs me—it may be that no one is asking me directly or personally for it, but that doesn't mean it isn't needed. It's just that no one could know yet that I am the person to ask. How could they know, when they've never seen me do it? Not only would they not know about me, they may not even know what they need, or be able to express it, until they see it manifested in their world. It's a bit of a Catch-22. Whatever my task is, it will feel pointless for me to do it until someone is asking me to. But no one will ask me to until they've seen me do it.
Even if I should make it past that bind, there is another one waiting. Once they've seen me do it, people may ask me to do more of the same over and over again for the rest of my life. Whereas I may feel that what I really need to do next is something else entirely, but I won't know what that next thing is, all I will know is that it's not what anyone is now asking me for, and so—it never gets any easier. We are perpetually walking into the unknown. The only consolation (and it's only a consolation if I can believe that it's true): the fact that no one is asking for the thing, which is what makes it feel pointless to do, is precisely part of what makes it worthwhile, makes it more needed than anything that anyone could know to ask for. My task, as Schopenhauer would have it, is to hit the target that others cannot see.*
But back to that question: what is my task, exactly? What I'm starting to think: it's none other than what you do when you realize that the message will never come, that no one is ever going to call. When it finally sinks in that really, truly, no one is paying any attention to you at all, and no one ever was. (Depressing—or is it freeing?) Yet you decide you might as well live for something anyway. Or at least pass the time in some tolerable pursuit. ("You have two lives, and the second one begins when you realize you only have one."*) This moment is the movement from waiting to not-waiting. What you decide to get out of bed for at that point—what you decide is worth spending the next five minutes, hour, the next day on, even if no one else cares—that is your task. By watching myself go through this movement, I answer my own question. The only way I've found through the Catch-22 is to do something that matters to me enough that I can work through the apparent pointlessness.
For me, I guess it's writing letters. It's what I've always done, whether or not I had anyone on the other end to read them. No, it doesn't usually feel important, yet it feels necessary. Kind of like how your own breathing doesn't always feel like it's important to the world; yet you go on doing it, because you exist. Correspondence is my inhale and exhale. Having a recipient is always nice. In the absence of one, I would make one up. So you see, you have always existed for me. You have always seen some light in me that I can't see in myself. The message I'm waiting for will never arrive for me, but a letter from you would be like a tiny seed of that other letter, the letter-that-never-comes.
She's probably already forgotten all about it, but C. once described me as tender. She wouldn't have known that that one little word was the one I most needed to hear about myself from someone else. Because it's the one thing I have the most trouble believing is true of me, yet is the one thing I most want to be true of me.
As a noun, tender is a form of payment, as in "legal tender." As a verb, to tender something means to offer it up. "Perhaps I'm not interesting, but I am the only thing I have to offer, and I want to offer something."*
And I will continue to offer what I can, for as long as you'll have me, for as long as you'll see something worthwhile in me.
daemons See Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass.
"the target that others cannot see" is from the passage: "Talent is like the marksman who hits a target which others cannot reach; genius is like the marksman who hits a target … which others cannot even see." Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation.
"You have two lives..." This is often attributed to Confucius, but wrongly, I'm guessing, because no one knows the source text.
"Perhaps I'm not interesting..." Charlie Kaufman, BAFTA Screenwriters' Lecture, 2011.