My shrink has been warning me for five years at least that as I approach those “golden years” I should find some things that I do and want to do just for myself. Otherwise she seems to suggest I will just dry up and become even more bitter and cranky than I already am. It’s a life and death matter. But I remain uncertain about what she means—what is this thing I want to do for myself. I suppose she means something like a hobby, maybe, collecting stamps or bird watching.
But I remember—when was it? 15 years or so ago or maybe longer—she started hounding me at every session. What do you want Neek (she is French so Nick comes out Neek); what is it exactly that you want? This question just drove me crazy. It pissed me off. I understood the words, but not what they meant exactly or how they might apply to me in particular. What I wanted, I had learned over my childhood, was not a matter of any significance.
I don’t remember my parents having ever been interested in what I wanted, except as in “what the hell do you want” and “stop bugging me” because you can’t have it since money doesn’t grow on trees and if wishes were horses beggars would ride. If wants come f rom wishes I was pretty much horseless. So to drag out the metaphor I became a foot soldier, one of those Roman Legionaries that just march along, do as they are told (because their lives depended on doing that) and took pride in wanting next to nothing. Sure I needed a few things, that was a matter of survival; but wanting things, well, that was a damn luxury I could live without.
So when my shrink said Neek, what do you want, the question struck right at the heart of who I am—a person that might need some things, but want nothing. I would rant and rave about how wanting stuff just got you screwed anyway. Want stuff and you are going to have to live with the pain of not getting it. You were going to fail. And then I would go all Buddha on her and talk about how desire or want was just the road to suffering. Or maybe existentialist and talk about how our beings are contingent and how wanting just led to increased anxiety in the face of a fluid and unpredictable future.
I was a tough nut to crack alright. Fact was, while she was plenty smart, I was smarter and could pretty well thrown up an effective road block to anything she might say in this vexed area of Neek, what do you want? But all unconsciously my brain went to work on the problem and finally I copped to the idea that maybe she wasn’t asking me about what I wanted in the future but what I wanted right now, at this instant. I didn’t know what that was either, but gradually it dawned on me that maybe she wasn’t asking me what I wanted in some big way, like whether I wanted to live in the USA or Canada, but like, “right now I want to scratch my ass.”
Time was I would go on this semi-rant with my students—to make some sort of point I guess—that we had all become such unnatural creatures that we no longer knew even when we wanted to sleep or when we wanted to eat or what we wanted to eat. We ate by the clock, we slept by the clock, we move and breathe by the clock. So all this thinking on wanting led me to the conclusion, that much of what I did was not the consequence of my wanting something but was the product of compulsion.
I was driven, but I did not drive.