Tell me, what is it you desire?
I read and finished Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage by Heather Havrilesky last week, which is my favourite book on marriage I’ve read so far. I say that as someone who has lived inside a marriage for 13 years and never quite seen it depicted in pop culture the way it actually feels - the steadfast sexiness of it. The lols and tears and shit (literal, metaphorical) and diamonds (not literal, very metaphorical) wrapped in a comfort blanket.
“I wanted my book to capture the middle of a marriage: Each day, you wake up and you look around and wonder if you can scrape together more joy from what you have. If you feel like you can’t do it, you tell your spouse the truth about that. You look for your love and you make some time to feel your love, too. You talk openly about how to honor your deepest desires, together and apart.”
I’m not going to talk much about this book here as my book vibes issue is coming !!! (suffice to say, read it) so I’ll instead point you to her latest Ask Polly column, which was almost an epilogue to the book as well as an essay on desire.
As is always the way, the universe served me up some perfectly synchronous content as that column landed in my inbox, after Catherine pointed me to Philippa Perry’s three part BBC R4 series on Desire, which I promptly binge listened to. This series is wonderful - short and sweet but with so much that leaves you questioning everything.
Some notes I made whilst listening - desire in relation to others is exchange, about not knowing what you want and having the confidence to use the relationship to discover what it might be, it’s evolving. How much do you think about what it is you desire? Being able to name desires is important… when left unnamed they can become obsessions and can oppress. Desire is rooted in instincts. Desire makes the world go around. Two different kinds of desire - desire to create (connection), desire to consume (distraction). Our neediness is the best thing about us, it’s the medium of connection, the drive to connect. NEEDS . WANTS. CONNECTION.
I have an interesting relationship to desire. To me, to desire is to be alive. Desire is life! And yet, it’s complicated. I struggle with people who I deem to have no or little desire, particularly women (obviously all this screams more about me than them! I’m working on my judgment!) but the flip side to that is that I think desires can usually be distilled down to something pretty… simple? Like, please desire! but do it right!
I told you, it’s me not you and I’m working on it.
Holding these two ideas can leave me conflicted. It’s actually played out perfectly in this episode, where 89 year old artist Sara Banerji talks about her husband as having lost all desire for, well, anything. He is essential bedridden and doesn’t even talk much anymore. As I listened to her describe her husband’s lack of desire, I felt (or projected whose to say *eyes emoji*) her quiet pain. It’s definitely a fear of mine, to be partnered to someone without their own desire for life.
And yet at the end of the episode, she checks in and asks him what it is he desires. His answer is so simple and soft and pure that it made me cry. His very small, quiet desire, voiced aloud, both floored and confronted me.
He does desire, but it’s a desire for what he already has. Nothing more. A desire for a small thing that is actually, his everything.
And there I’m left thinking, What if this were enough?*
There is a wise, grey-haired woman inside me standing quietly, with a wry smile on her face. She believes, knows, deeply understands - THIS IS ENOUGH. She watches the waves and her children and holds the hands of people she loves and makes some art. She knows these small desires make a beautiful life. YES. THIS IS ENOUGH.
But there’s also a sexy young punk inside me too, and she looks over at older me and scream laughs THIS? THIS IS IT? She thinks that bitch is crazy with her quiet desires! Has she even seen the internet? Does she know all the things she could dare to want RIGHT NOW?!!!
I could talk about desire all day long. About how I think that sweet lil punk inside me has been skewed by patriarchy and feminism and capitalism and yes, the internet, and that old wise owl has a deeper, historical knowing that has been fobbed off by so many, for so long. About how I know my truest desires right now are small and full and align with my values system, and how I’m 95% fine with that. About how we balance the quiet and gentle desires, with the loud and adventurous ones. About what your desires are and where they’ll lead you and what it all means.
So tell me, what is it you desire? How does that make you feel?! And what do you think it meannnnnsssss?!!!!
Shares for the week:
So many good newsletters this month - Rayne Fisher-Quann on complex female characters and the era of the era,
Lora Mathis with an exercise in looking, and Adrienne got me thinking about whether it’s possible to show up whole, or possible for others to see it. Plus can we talk about this, which Adrienne wrote in the Now Now newsletter (I can’t link you! Don’t hate me!) which makes me want to weep slash make art from it:
And you; where in your body does magic live? Where does your skin tingle? Maybe thinking of yourself as a witch creates some tension.. Let me ask you this:
Have you ever put a child to sleep by touch?
Ever made a lover come?
Ever taught a lesson and heard a student speak the exact words you were thinking out loud?
Ever laughed until you cried with a beloved, missed friend?
Ever make a healing soup from a grandmother’s recipe?
Ever been naked in the moonlight?
Ever cried alone, or decidedly not alone, in a dark theatre?
Ever caught the sunrise on film?
Ever had a first kiss?
Ever thrown a tantrum so loud your throat got sore?
Ever stood arm in arm with masked strangers protesting in the street?
Ever stripped on a mountaintop?
Ever found a killer dress, with pockets, that’s a color only you can slay?
Ever sat in silence with someone and it was comfy?
Ever whispered a wish into the wind and had it come true?
Ever get blurry-headed and need the chill of winter air to snap you out of it?
Ever screamed til you were red in the face and they still loved you after?
Ever look at yourself in the mirror and love you?
Ever take to the page until the pen runs out of ink?
Ever trust from an unknown place inside of you so sacred that even you aren’t sure it’s real?
*insert gif* You’re a wizard, Harry
The latest from Hayley Newman is already my favourite, A MUST READ IMHO, despite only being in my inbox for the last 2 hours. On the vibes discourse and the death of sex:
I’ve started thinking of this quality as sexlessness. I’m using sex here as a euphemism for the natural arousal that attends life in 3D, sexual or not. It is the antithesis of the gamified pleasure we pursue online, which has now infiltrated our values offline too. Consider beauty, which is today often understood as a set of objective, imitable, purchasable characteristics, rather than a quality experienced through movement, context, subjectivity, mystery, actual presence. Technology will naturally favor the former because it is itself a set of objective, imitable, and purchasable characteristics, and even moreso because it values efficiency above all. The techy pursuit of immediacy and frictionlessness which have become hallmarks of modern progress are comically at odds with genuine pleasure. Here my use of sex becomes more literal: Imagine it without friction.
I became fixated on the death of sex only recently, while discussing, ironically, the debate around whether to have kids. Is it too on-the-nose to say the conversation around procreation has become totally sexless? Studies, data, biological clocks, cost-benefit analysis. As if imitating computers ourselves, we imagine that with enough information we can spit out a definitive answer as to which path will be “advantageous.” But that’s not really how life works, or how meaning is measured. Not everything can be explained on paper. As my therapist once put it to me, “Having kids is not logical.” There is no amount of data-driven rigor we can apply to procreation that will change its fundamental nature. It is not an intellectual pursuit. It is an instinct, and we are animals.
When I think of the dominant trends of the last five or 10 years, most of them engender this same lack of humanity: personal branding; biohacking; virtual reality; reality television; fillers and filters; botox and plastic surgery; being extremely online; corporate activism; minimalism; cancel culture; labels for every type of person and personality; two-day shipping; ghost kitchens and ghost stores; e-books; cryptocurrency and NFTs; smartwatches that remind you to move. Each one feels empty and sexless in its own special way. And they all trace back to the digital panopticon, the hyperobject of all hyperobjects, bleeding into our social fabric in every way imaginable. One way to view the irritating state of things is as a kind of collective sexual frustration.
The women I create are flawed and difficult, but they have people around them who truly see them, and are loved for it. Most importantly, they come to value themselves, not solely for what they can do or bring, but for who they are, alone.
‘Til next time bbs,