Wanting.

I am starting to be more aware of the way things don’t work out or don’t happen. During the past few days, I wanted two things that I could not get, despite making a good faith effort. Neither were hugely important or necessary, but I still felt frustrated and thwarted.

I could respond to this by thinking that what I wanted was wrong, or that there was no good reason or point to wanting what I wanted. But if I do this, I would be doubting my ‘wanting.’

Roxane Gay just published a book called Hunger, A Memoir of (My ) Body. In 2003, Caroline Knapp published a book called Appetites, Why Women Want. This book continued the story she started in a book called Drinking: A Love Story.

Gay struggles with being fat and Knapp (now dead) struggled with anorexia and alcoholism.

One of the things I wanted that I could not get was a book by Matilda Joslyn Gage that was published in 1893. I read this book a few years ago and I wanted to read it again. Gage was one of the most radical advocates for women’s liberation in the US and wrote many books and articles that clearly delineated the problem and offered solutions. Her work was often quoted by Mary Daly in the books she published from 1968 to 2006.

In Doris Lessing’s major work, The Golden Notebook, the main character (a woman) says, “Why do I always have this awful need to make other people see things as I do? It’s childish, why should they? What it amounts to is that I’m scared of being alone in what I feel.” In another passage, this same character says, “Why do our lot never admit failure? Never. It might be better for us if we did.”

The older I get, the more I realize that my life has been hard and unsatisfying, in large part, because I want to make people see things as I do – and this may stem from the fear of being alone in what I feel. But no matter what I do, these two things will always be present. Knowing this, should I accept failure when it comes and seek simple pleasures instead? Should I acknowledge that fear is part of life and confine it to my personal story, my everyday experience, and give up on making some broad social statement that may or may not influence others?

My life is very small, yet I constantly feel pressured to be big, or at least bigger. But how do I determine what is big enough? I have written posts on this blog about the stigma of failure, (that in the US) the worst thing you can be is a ‘failure/loser.’ Winning has become the national obsession. If I am not winning now, I should be doing something to win in the future. This winning mentality permeates everything – if I leave dirty dishes in the sink I’m a loser, if I go over my budget, I’m a failure – but tomorrow, if I wash the dishes and spend less money, I will be a winner.

I recently saw the movie, Obit, about NYTimes obituary writers. The movie started out showing film clips of a man who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on a boat that was not much more than a raft. When asked about his dangerous voyage, he said, “I will either make it, or I will die.” He made it, and was famous for awhile, but in the end, (like all of us) he died.

Maybe, during this last stage of my life, I need to have his clarity. Maybe I need to chose things that only have meaning and relevance to me, and forget the rest. At my end, who is going to judge me but me? If I want things and don’t get them, so what? In the broader scheme of things, my ‘wanting’ is just part of being human. If I constrain my wants to what is possible, within the context of my actual life, and discard the compulsion to have what is elusive, I might feel more content.

At the end of the her book, Appetites, Knapp found pleasure in having a dog and rowing on the Boston River. She said that, “women live in a half-changed world, a place where appetites may be psychically liberated but socially and institutionally unsupported, and where the real social movement that fueled the first half of the change remains in the slumber that first took hold in the 1980’s fog of forgetting.”

She posed the question, “Will women decide that a half-changed world is sufficient or learn to live within its confines?”

This is a big question that I have never been able to answer.

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3 thoughts on “Wanting.

  1. There’s a lot that I relate to in this. “My life is very small, yet I constantly feel pressured to be big, or at least bigger.”. I have a major problem with thinking that I should be something else, usually in the context of work (since I spend 75% of my waking hours there!): that I should be more successful, that I should get more out of my work (I don’t have a ‘career’, I’m very much a beta, background person at work). That I shouldn’t be so mediocre… It gives me a constant feeling of discontent. It’s as if I want something that I don’t actually want: I’ve never been ambitious, but I continue to think that I should be. I really struggled in my late 30s/early 40s with realising that I probably would never be successful professionally or creatively. But as you say, at my end, who is going to judge me but me? I will keep this close and remember it, because it’s exactly how I’m starting to feel. Why worry about being successful in the eyes of others. Better to enjoy having that dog or that row on the river, as often as possible.

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