On Wanting

22 Apr

I.

The problem is wanting.

Sometimes I think that the trick to living a happy life is to stop wanting things. If only you could not want anything, not even happiness, then you could be happy. But then you end up wanting to not-want, which is maybe one of the weirdest paradoxes ever. How does one achieve a state of not-wanting? I could probably ask one of the many pseudo-Buddhist white ladies that I know, but to be honest, I’m not sure that they’d have a good answer. They’d just tell me to maybe read the Bhagavad Gita and then meditate, but I’ve already done both of those things, and no dice.

The main problem with wanting is that sometimes you actually get what you want, and in some weird way that actually feels worse than not getting it. Like, what if you get what you want and then you’re still sad? What if you get what you want and it just doesn’t feel as good as you thought it would? Do you then A) start wanting something else or B) actually try confront your existential sadness crisis, since it seemingly cannot be solved by fame or love or material objects?

I guess that choosing option A is how capitalism works. You want and want and want but then nothing is ever enough so then you want some more, and then everybody makes money off of each other or whatever.

II.

I wanted a kid because I thought that having one would be like taking on a massive, life-long project. I liked the idea of being able to shape a person. I thought that if I just knew the right things to teach my kid, then he would end up being an artistic, scientific super-genius. Honestly, though, I don’t know why I believed that I was the type of person who knew all of the right things to teach my kid, but I thought that probably I could just learn from all the mistakes that I’ve made in trying to be a good human being. Then if I taught him to do all of the opposite things to what I did, probably he would turn out perfect.

It’s weird having a kid. Like, one day you’re just sitting in the hospital, minding your own business, when suddenly you’re handed this little bundle of raw potential. And you’re supposed teach this totally empty, blank little creature about how to live in the world, but the truth is that you don’t even know how to live in the world, so how can you act as a reliable compass for someone who can’t even hold up their own head?

How do I explain all of the arbitrary rules of life to him? Like, when I make dinner but he doesn’t want to eat his dinner because he’s still playing, what reasonable basis do I have for saying that my desire trumps his? Because I’m bigger? Because I earn the money that keeps him fed and clothed and housed? Because I can pick him up and carry him over to the table and force him to sit down in his chair?

I mean, the real reason is, of course, because his still-developing brain lacks the necessary critical thinking skills that he needs in order to competently make decisions for himself. If it were up to him, we would play with his train set all day, pausing only to eat cupcakes, and never go to bed. Which would be fine, if no one ever had to worry about going to work, or paying rent, or getting scurvy.

But I guess that what I really need to know is how I am supposed to train him to be a polite, conscientious, productive member of society without sucking all the joy out of him. He has all of these things that he thinks would be fun or good to do, things that seem perfectly natural to him, and here I am telling him to ignore all of his spontaneous wants.

Like, how do I teach him not to burp at the table or play with his food or splash in the bath without making him second-guess his every want or desire? On the other hand, I can’t send a kid to school who thinks that, for example, throwing toys or saying rude things are acceptable behaviour. And while, yes, all kids burp and fart and think that it’s hilarious, probably those aren’t things that future employers are looking for. But do I want to raise a kid who is exactly what future employers are looking for?

Where do you draw the line?

Maybe raising a kid is really just about teaching them to want the right things? But who gets to decide what’s “right”?

III.

Whenever I meet someone and they ask what I do for a living, I say that I’m a yoga teacher. Then I pause and say that I’m also a freelance writer (I think the word “freelance” makes it seem more legitimate, although to be honest most of what I do is blog about my stupid life).

Then, as soon as I say the word writer, I stop talking and gauge the other person’s reaction.

Because when I tell someone that I’m a writer, what I’m really doing is asking, Do you think that I’m a writer?

And then depending on how they respond, I think that they’ve either said yes or no.

I have no issues calling myself a yoga teacher, because I paid $5,000 and spent a year learning how to teach. I even have a certificate with my name on it that tells everyone that I’m a yoga teacher. I don’t have any certificates that tell people that I’m a writer. I don’t even know what the criteria for being a writer are. According to some people, it’s being published. According to others, it’s being paid to be published. And then some folks think that if you write, no matter whether you write for an audience or not, well, then, you’re a writer. But if you go by that logic, then isn’t everyone a writer? I mean, wouldn’t you consider anyone who’s ever made a grocery list or left a note for someone or sent a quick email to be a writer?

The problem is that I want so badly to be a writer.

IV.

How would you even live a life without wanting anything? How would you ever get up in the morning, or go to work, or write a blog post about want?

Why would you ever procreate if you didn’t want a hilarious, incontinent, miniature version of yourself?

How boring would it be to eat food just because it kept you alive and not because you loved the taste and smell and the satisfaction of filling your stomach? How awful would it be to get dressed just to protect your body from the elements and not because you love the colour, fabric, texture or cut of what you’re wearing? How sad would be it be to have a kid just because you feel as if you’re under some kind of obligation to perpetuate the human race, and not because you wanted a sweet, stinky little bundle of wriggly joy?

What kind of a life would you live if you did things only because you had to and not because you wanted to?

And if you were to get rid of that want, what would fill you up instead? How would you spend your days? Would the absence of want truly make you happy? Or would it just make you feel emptier?

I don’t really have any answers, so I apologize if you’ve made it this far and thought that you were going to have some kind of epiphany. I’m not very good at epiphanies, anyway. I don’t think I’ve had one since I was about eighteen, and even then, it was kind of a pitiful epiphany, to be honest.

I do think that it’s important to find the balance between wanting and not-wanting, and I think that it’s hard not to fall into any of the tricky traps that desire sets up for you, and I think that a lot of the times our wants set us up for misery.

I’m just not sure how to find that balance.

vintage-beautiful-womanhood-magazine

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21 Responses to “On Wanting”

  1. Kaya April 22, 2013 at 2:33 am #

    I feel like your a writer when you do it consistently and with a conscientious effort to do it very well.
    I feel like you are undoubtedly a writer when what you write consistently resonates deeply with many people.
    Yours does.

  2. Cynthia French (@onegirlTO) April 22, 2013 at 3:07 am #

    I’m not a writer, but I’m a reader. And, I like to read your blog. In fact, I like to read your blog enough that I paused my intention to watch Buffy kill some vampires in order to read this one. And, I have to say that it was worth it.

    I only started following your writing here (and tweets) recently, and I’ve already told a few people about you. I always describe you as a writer (and a feminist too). I didn’t even realize you taught yoga. You are a very powerful writer, in fact. I’ve cried a few times, and laughed, certainly (and what is reading for, if not to feel something?). And, I’m guessing that by telling others you are a writer you will convince yourself that you are.

    But, I totally know what you mean about the writer thing because really I would love for someone to know me as an artist. Or a musician. The difference is, I’m not making art or music right now. You are writing though.

    Now I’m going back to Buffy. ‘Cause I want to.

  3. AmazingSusan April 22, 2013 at 3:07 am #

    You have a child; therefore you are a mother. You love, fear, want, need, wonder, learn, risk, fail, seek approval, succeed, bleed, despair, delight, laugh, cry, live, die; therefore you are human. You write; therefore you are a writer. Whether you excel at it or not is another question entirely 😛

  4. maha69 April 22, 2013 at 3:38 am #

    Reblogged this on maha's place.

  5. Abigail April 22, 2013 at 3:38 am #

    I’ve been thinking about the double-edge of desire lately, too. I am fascinated by my ability to sabotage my own happiness, because it is hard to feel and believe that what I have is enough, that who I am, right now, is enough. (And now I am remembering, coincidentally, that I had a yoga teacher a few years ago who would make us say, “I Am Enough” with every breath. Apparently it didn’t take.) I think the wanting to be a writer is a real bitch, because there is no sense of final arrival. When you publish your novel, (which I feel confident you will), you will probably feel ecstatic for a long second, and then you will begin to want another success, a better success; you will worry about being a one-hit wonder, or a no-hit nobody. (If you’re anything like me, anyway.) I wonder when, say, Margaret Atwood finally felt like she’d arrived as a writer. On the one hand, desire makes me write. Which is good. On the other hand, desire makes nothing that I write feel good enough. Which totally blows. And wanting tends to snowball. I had my most successful post last week, in terms of view and shares, which felt great for about a day, and then I began to feel a sense of paralysis, because now my expectations for myself and my blog are even higher. I’m feeling competitive WITH MYSELF. Sigh. All this to say… I feel you.

  6. Mari April 22, 2013 at 8:08 am #

    I’m a white lady who sadly doesn’t know as much about Buddhism as she’d like to (and ceratinly does not call herself a Buddhist), but this is how I’ve understood this thing about wanting:

    It’s not about getting rid of wanting, it’s about letting go. Not clutching and suffocating what you love and those you love but being with them, loving them and letting them go. What I do know a bit more about is Christianity, where this is also a very, very prominent theme.

    The point is, what really carries us through our lives isn’t the fact that we want things so much, it’s the fact that we love. You don’t want to be a writer because you want to be a writer so badly, you want to be a writer because you love writing so much. And I want so badly to understand this as regards my own life as well as this blog post. Believe me, I’m great a the clutching and so bad at letting go. But that’s the way we’re built I think.

    You certainly are a writer, there’s no doubt whatsoever about that. You write regularly and your writing reaches a lot of people, more than a lot of published writers do. Your blog, though you are “just blogging about your life” touches a lot of people, well it definetly touches me. On a regular basis. I’m also looking forward to all those books you’ll write and publish, if that’s what you want to do.

  7. Julie April 22, 2013 at 8:32 am #

    What a conundrum . . . by the end of reading your post, I had a couple of thoughts.
    1. This girl’s a writer. What does that mean? She expresses herself, her thoughts, her emotions, her being through putting words on paper/scree/whatever.
    2. Maybe the key is to recognize and accept our desires, but not to let them completely rule our existence. That all goes back to balance, like you said, and I have to say that I am by no means the one who has conquered that thing called Desire. I’m really terrified actually that I’ll never be satisfied with anything, and that I’ll just always want more or different or better. So,
    3. I think it comes down to finding a place where we are happy with where/who/what were and all that stuff, and where we also recognize our goals and where we want to go and what we want to do, because that’s being human. . .
    I think?
    In any case, this was a great read, and thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. adhesiveslipper (@adhesiveslipper) April 22, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    I. I’m all about wanting things. I am unashamedly materialistic, and also semi-ambitious. There’s a fine balance of learning to dearly appreciate what I have in life, while also constantly wishing I could go to the toy store and buy ALL THE LEGOS.

    II. You’re doing your best, and that’s all you can do. When your kid is grown up, he will appreciate that. And then a therapist will pick up the rest of the slack. This is not meant as a judgment, just an observation about my own life and nearly all my friends.

    III. You write, so you’re probably a writer. If getting paid to do something is the only indication of what you DO, then technically I am doing absolutely nothing with my life, and I can’t accept that.

    IV. “Pitiful Epiphany” should be our band’s first album.

  9. Elle April 22, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    You have answered your own question….
    A child that cannot burp play with food and what ever next?….splash water in the bath?
    All these things can be done, must be done for play…it’s where it’s done….at home…and surely
    It’s what you want, wanting the best for others….”what goes around…” etc
    Just teach to play and laugh, I did and the rest? It comes from humour the most valuable part of life….
    Humour a cushion for life….

  10. Writer / Mummy April 22, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    Love this post and all the comments. It’s comforting to know that we’re all wandering around wondering what it’s all about. I think wanting is fine as long as you don’t sit at home just wanting and not doing anything about it. I want to be a writer, an author. So I write. Some days, though, I just stare at my Amazon report to see if I’ve had any sales and wonder why I haven’t and get wrapped up in really really wanting some. That’s not good. The way to get more sales is to write more books!

  11. scotsman April 22, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    I enjoy what you write. THAT makes you a writer! As for the kid, relax: he’ll learn what’s important by watching you – and if THAT thought disturbs you, then he’ll learn good stuff …

  12. willowmarie April 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    I’m not sure anyone knows “for sure” for long…here’s to the mystery.

  13. art & life notes April 22, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    You made me smile this morning by finishing off your post with the phrase “pitiful epiphany.”

    My wife and I have stumbled across the idea that life is about loving relationship – Loving God first, and then loving people. This comes from the Torah and then from Jesus. Accordingly, I’ve noticed that my most fulfilling moments, experiences and creative accomplishments all have to do with community and loving relationship. Of course we carry this out imperfectly, and the ironic thing is that love is often a pain in the ass, but the fruit is so good! Love makes the universe make sense.

    Your writing is a labor of love & community which, it seems to me, you are doing to help make the world a less stupid place to be. You pour your life out for a child who may seem to be sucking your life away, but the result will make the world a better place for the next generation.

    Thank you for doing it all with honesty.

    • sparelight April 28, 2013 at 5:06 am #

      I’ve wondered much about wanting. This speaks to where I’ve discovered I want to get to in the process, as a visual artist and simply as a person. It may be according to a much different worldview than from where you see things, but I think its quite a premise. Because it ends in happiness, and in desires and needs being met fully and completely, its not just about giving them up forever for nothing.

      “But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away
”blindly” so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality
 is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very
 first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new 
self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.
The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, 
and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it.
 Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” –C.S.Lewis, Mere Christianity

  14. Sofia April 22, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    I am not a professional pianist (as in I don’t make a living out of it) but I play the piano and without it I would be sad and nothing. So I suppose I am a pianist. So I definitely consider you a writer. Hang on, I have a blog, maybe one day I’ll also start considering myself as a writer… hmmm you’ve got me thinking there. I’ve only just started to follow your blog and its really, really lovely. x

  15. The Fat Diaries April 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    Excellent piece here, honest writing truly is refreshing.

  16. angelathewriter87 April 23, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    I think we’re on the same wavelength here. I JUST wrote about the same thing! I loved this post. And I also think you’re a writer…a very good one.

  17. pengantinpelik April 24, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Got here because a friend shared your ‘Dove doesn’t give a shit about you’ post on FB (which I love by the way), but I’m commenting here because I love the way you write your long thought sequences! My thought sequences are long too but I think you write with so much more clarity than me. 🙂 By the way I think there are no fixed answers to your question. Sometimes, to question is simply enough. That’s what gives life depth and meaning, and makes it more interesting. After all, if there was an answer to every single question on earth and we knew all of them, what is left then to ponder and ruminate upon? ;p

    • bellejarblog April 24, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

      Ah thanks! That’s so sweet of you to say! Yeah my blog is either feminist rants or else rambly philosophical things like this. But you’re right, it’s nice to have things to ponder 🙂

  18. Georgina April 24, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

    I really connected with this post- I’m an artist but I still struggled with saying, writing or even thinking those exact words. I studied art so I do have a piece of paper that says I have a degree in this but I still have this belief that people don’t take this completely seriously.

    When I was studying one of the things that really shocked me was to realise that out of all these people creating great work and taking the course along with me very few of them actually believed or even seemed to want to actually be an artist. To my younger, more naive self this seemed extraordinary but I suppose in a way it comes back to wanting, loving and believing- if you have these feelings for something it ends up becoming an irrefutable part of who you are whether or not you have any kind of outside validation.

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