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Holding On...Then Letting Go

Why do we create attachments to define and secure our place?

How do we recognize when to let go?

"Place represents a sentiment." Photograph by Gabriella Melo; Tillamook, Oregon

In the muddle of chaos and emotion weighing down these last few months, I've been confronted by a re-imagination of my place. I'd like to mirror my personal conflict in grasping a solid place for myself, to a deeper and more challenging exercise that is gaining, holding on to, and eventually losing attachments. As I define it here, the term place represents a sentiment more than a physical location, signifying a desire to find emotional grounding because of (or despite) shifting connections to our many attachments. I'm mostly guided by two questions: Why do we create attachments to define and secure our place? How do we recognize when to let go?

Officially, Place (noun): physical environment; a particular region, center of population, or location; atmosphere

Places can be represented by objects, such as the stuffed animals that keep us company in our childhood and make our beds a safe space. It can affirm the presence of a loved one, consider the phrase: "I feel at home in your arms." Place can be a religious symbol: "They're in a better place now."

"They're in a better place now." Photograph by Matteo Blandino; Menton, France

As a sentiment, or an emotional idealism, the act of holding on to our places reshapes into an endeavor to remain tethered to attachments that feel comforting, wholesome and seem to provide solid ground for growth. Gripping attachments to what I know or expect, for instance memories, has been the foundation of my own life. For a long time, my memory served me and gave my complicated feelings a peaceful home. Finding drive and motivation through memory transformed the past into my place. I was focused on understanding, interpreting, and representing my past because it allowed me to anticipate my feelings and feel comfortable in that certainty. Ultimately, the sentiment of "my place" is an ode to nostalgia and my expectations in that the experiences I've lived, whether good or bad, will always help me grow moving forward. While living away from home for art school, my memories of home and childhood provided a thread so that homesickness couldn't unravel my life. In relationships, memories of beautiful intimate moments which lulled me to sleep were often sweeter than any fantasy or potential encounters, making me a hopeless romantic-- says my mother; a relationship idealist--says my horoscope. And so, my place had been a state of being, a complete surrender to the remnants of lived experiences where I built structure from the fragments of my personal history.

"Memories of intimate moments." Photograph by Morrison Gong; Brooklyn, New York

But these days, all the memories I held on to feel farther away and my nostalgia has become indigestible. The cozy blanket that covered me while I gripped my attachments to the past is ripping and the ground beneath me quakes gently at a constant 2.5. Am I trying to organize my life to remain fulfilled by that place that once felt certain and safe? I am living again in my early childhood bedroom, but it feels like a stranger's room curated carefully to look and feel like the Eva in my memory. I can no longer be comfortably lulled to sleep by the remnants of lived experiences because the sharp claws of future anxieties sit perched at the foot of my bed, waiting to pounce. I once felt an invitation for regenerative longing in the fragments of my past which now sing "leave me alone."

“I can no longer be lulled to sleep.” Photograph by Luana Pedriglieri; Margate, Florida.

Though I cannot answer the first question for anyone but myself, I honestly don't know why these attachments are so necessary to define our place. I held on quite long to expectations created by my memories and desires for what they could represent, even when they proved to be lost to regret. And I guess now is when I am realizing that a new process of letting go can secure rejuvenated ground, and replenish the terrain that's been displaced. Letting go can allow the plants of the past that have wilted to fertilize new seeds. Recognizing this process means understanding that letting go of our attachment to a safe place is soft, like the bee that is pollinating the flower in my yard; it's destructive like the tall wave that washes over the street when the earth stops quaking; it's funny, like the memes your friends will send to help you laugh through the pain; it's sad, like when music stops making sense for a few days; it's comforting, like a glass of hot chocolate in Florida when it's finally winter (58 degrees). Most of all, letting go makes room for finding a new place, a new state of being--a transition to unfamiliar structures that can tease out a sense of security in the uncertainty that abounds.

"Pollinating the flower." Photograph by Micheal Ortiz; Denver, Colorado

Attachments: finding comfort to grow through expectations.

Letting go: a transition towards trust in the uncertainty and growth despite the intimidations of the unknown

Letting go of my nostalgia will not be easy. It's the way I chose to walk through life, work, and love. I can barely recognize those memories that provided me comfort, but still I linger in their aura hoping they will one day come back to me with offerings of peace. Letting go is an act of blind trust.

"Blind trust." Photograph by Pamela Solares; Denver, Colorado



Featured Photographers

*For this essay, I've asked friends to share images that they feel represent nostalgia, melancholia or the process of letting go of the past. I selected images to pair with my writing to create a visual poetry connected to my words. The phrases in quotations are not the titles given by the artists.

*Saudade is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one cares for and/or loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never be had again. It is a Portuguese term. I included it as it influenced a lot of my initial defining and reflection for this essay. I want it to represent a longing for the past to be a comforting presence, even though in the transition between holding on and letting go, the past can become a sad burden. Especially, longing for a past that will never exist again.

*Linked to this essay is Jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp and pianist Dollar Brand's song "Left Alone," from their 1978 album "Duet."

Some more music I heard while writing this essay:

1 Comment

Ariana W
Ariana W
Oct 04, 2021

Thank you for writing tthis

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