Be Longing

by Manya Steinkoler, PhD

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     “If you don’t pick one, we won’t be your friend,” Stacey said, her sandy brown bangs dividing her white spongy forehead like a Wonder Bread crust. I hesitated. I had been hesitating for days. “Everyone has a favorite color. You have to have a favorite color.” She had mustered the troops this time. Debbie, Melissa and Paula-Gayle stood behind her, their hands folded across their chests like six-year old bouncers. So I picked one, the right one, the one I knew was the right one. Stacey nodded with reluctant approval and raised eyebrows – a strange and markedly adult nod for a six-year-old – as though at this early age she was already defending America from illegal immigration. “Magenta,” I said, giving in to what I knew would show I was a member of the United States of first grade. There. I said it. I finally belonged to “everyone.”

     “Ma-gen-ta.” Stacey carved out the consonants at me as though I had been a visitor from another planet who hadn’t pronounced the magic word correctly. And suddenly, a protracted pirouette led to a military about-face and she marched away, a line of girls following, inching behind her like ducklings.

     When I got home from school, I ran into my room and shut the door. I took the Crayola box from the closet. I fondled Mulberry, Pine Green and Brown, kissing them repeatedly. I placed Maroon and Black on the laps of my favorite dolls. I arranged Lavender, Bittersweet and Orange-Yellow in the toy china vase in the center of my tea set. I stood Raw Sienna in Barbie’s convertible car seat. “I’m sorry,” I told the crayons. “It’s not Magenta’s fault,” I explained. After some reparations – I let Green-Blue sit with Cornflower, and Mahogany lie under the blanket with Apricot – and considerable discussion, I had succeeded in making the other crayons feel better…but the problem remained. Who would have the courage to say Gray to Stacey? Who would say Tan? Who would say Black or India Red? What would happen if everyone agreed that Magenta was their favorite color and the other colors were lost forever? My mother told me her crayon box had different colors in it when she was growing up. Where did they go? What happened to them? 

     That night at the dinner table, I asked my parents whether everyone had a favorite color. My mother said that favorite colors often changed with age and mood and style. My father said one might have preferences and that preferences were not the same as favorites. My younger brother asked whether God had a favorite color. My youngest brother said that God’s favorite color was the color of his Hot Wheels cars. No one understood my sadness and sense of defeat. My mother must have noticed my distress. “Maybe all the colors can be favorites,” she said warmly. “They can’t in school!” I cried, and ran to my room, slamming the door. I hadn’t defended the colors against the Magenta Mafia. What’s worse, I was jealous of them even if I thought they were wrong. They belonged and even invented and policed belonging, never once concerned with the ones they left out. My father would call them the “Magenta Yentas” and said that I was right not to take them seriously. Later, when I was grown up and he would tell the story, he would joke that we had a “Magenta Genocide” on our hands and I was defending the “Jute” at age six. In high school, my brothers called them the “Majuntas” and the “F.U. shes” (Fuchsias). In tenth grade, when we learned about color in science class, I did the research: that brilliant reddened pink, a rose in flames was the color of 19th century nationalistic wars. Named after the Battle of Magenta in 1860 during the wars of Italian independence, the Avenue Magenta in the 10eme arrondissement in Paris was also so named in commemoration. Scientists had invented the color in a laboratory during the same period as that of the battle and to commemorate the national independence of Italy, they renamed their manufactured fuchsia, magenta. The winners don’t just choose, they even name the color!

* * * * * * * * * *

     My moral and sweet childhood story is surely not so unfamiliar. The ethical concerns of children are always passionately felt and most children face some version of such a story. I would be confronted with a more difficult problem years later – not of the box of colors, but of the hole in the box of colors.

     Crayola crayons proudly advertised the crayon sharpener on the face of the box with a thick arrow pointing towards the hole. The words, “Now with built-in sharpener!” were written in red across the arrow. 

     To love all the crayon colors is one thing – but the hole? Who could love a hole? How does this hole concern the “everyone” or “all the colors”? Do we not have favorite colors precisely to allow us to think we are far removed from the hole? That we are the superior part of the box? 

     If to be longing is the condition of subjectivity, insofar as we are subjects, we belong to not belonging in the hole but to the hole. Belonging to the hole means being able to forget it sometimes. Perhaps the psychoanalyst belongs most to the hole, belonging as she does to the as yet unsaid, to the not yet, to the part of the symptom that resists meaning, and to the resistance in all belonging. The subject is what falls out of belonging so as to join the world where he will always be longing. It is the source of the human complaint and the human comedy. 

     I came to psychoanalysis as a practitioner because of an encounter with this hole. We could say that the psychotic knows a great deal about the hole; we could say that the hole is him – not that it represents him – but that it is him. He is not a crayon, not even the color white as the presence of all colors, or the color black as their absence. He is something else. He does not belong to the colored crayons; he is the hole in the box. He thus belongs to every box as what is not the box; he is the absence included in the box, a strange and terrible kind of belonging, a pure and absolute negation. Interested as I was in everyone, I went exploring.

     I knew a man for many years who belonged to all colors because he could not belong to any. It seemed we had something in common. Yet I was concerned about the “all”; he was the all…as well as the none. Touched and wondrous, I listened to him. He spoke to me for years …and years. He explained that he had advanced spiritually, and was able to remember all the lives he had led, because he was an old soul. I was also such a soul, he told me, and would be able to remember all of my past lives too if I would only believe that such a knowledge was possible. In ancient Egypt, he had worshipped Anubis and Osiris and had been made divine; during the Renaissance, he had been a scientist and metaphysician; during the Spanish Golden Age, he had been a Moorish mathematician. He had been a Sicilian assassin, a pirate off the coast of Africa, a libertine in France, a Native American, a Trotskyite, a Jew, and a Nazi officer. When he was a little boy, his mother had told him that he was “fou,” and that he would grow up to be a madman. A bit part film actor and professional homeopath, he was aware of the organs of the body and sensitive to their workings in himself and in everyone else. He could recite Shakespeare, Moliere, Victor Hugo and Rimbaud by heart until morning without tiring; he had studied architecture and drawing at the Beaux Arts, chiropractic, osteopathy, and nutrition at medical school, theater and film writing at conservatory; he had been a boxer, a stunt man, a professional body builder and as an older man, a tap dancer. Belonging to all things and to all time, being eternal, he belonged to no one, and to no time; and although he showed up from time to time, he was never present. 

     By the time this text is published, he will have passed away from terminal cancer. He does not think I need to know when he dies because his life here was only one of many he has lived and will live. He emailed me last week to say that death had arrived and he knew it. I am sure he is right; he has never been without knowledge of the Real. 

     How do I arrange the hole on my tea set table? How do I fondle it or kiss it or include it in my crayon arrangement? 

     How does one include the hole?

     Where does the hole belong? For years the question seemed to bother me far more than it bothered him. And now he is going…in a sense somewhere no different from where he has always been. 

     What to do with the hole when I care about the box of crayons? 

     In 1958, Crayola made the hole part of the box to keep the crayons in working condition…so they can continue to write the world in color.

* * * * * * * * * *

     My five-year-old nephew showed me his box of Crayola crayons last week while he drew pictures. He calls them his “Olas!” (His nanny is Peruvian.) Today there are 120 colors instead of 64. India Red has been renamed Chestnut; Flesh has been renamed Peach; and Black has become Night Owl…as if Black were a word we should not say any longer. Some new names are worth mentioning: Beyouthful Blue, Freckle, Tropical Rain Forest, Jalapeno, Caribbean Green, Mango Tango, and Banana Mania. My nephew drew a picture for me of a rainbow in blue and orange. “Why are there only two colors in the rainbow?” I asked him. “Because Beyouthful Blue and Mango Tango are my favorite colors,” he said. “And I’m giving them to you.”


Address correspondence to:

Manya Steinkoler, PhD
English Department
Borough of Manhattan Community College
199 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007


Manya Steinkoler, PhD, is an Associate Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College and a psychoanalyst. She is co-editor, with Patricia Gherovici, of Lacan on Madness: Madness, yes you can’t (Routledge, 2015) and Lacan on Comedy (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming in 2016). Dr. Steinkoler was the co-organizer, with Dr. Michael Garfinkle, of “Psychoanalysis on Ice,” held in Reykjavik in 2014, and has organized many conferences on psychoanalysis in New York.


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