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.
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”?
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.
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.