I was recently reminded of something my mother used to say when I was a little boy. I was doing little boy things, like being needy and whiny with a checklist full of all the many things I had to have, like . . immediately if not sooner.
You can’t want what you don’t have, so stop asking for it already.
I found this to be a particularly churlish retort to my obviously childish wants. Not to mention the fact that mom was being uber philosophical without even knowing it. A simple because would’ve done, but to go all Kierkegaard on my ass was plainly unfair and wholly undemocratic.
My mother’s intent was to branch out the lesson into places my formative brain couldn’t yet reach, so that I might shut the fuck up for five seconds. And it worked. The preach was graduate level, but not in a mocking sense. More to the point, it trusted my ability to play catch up with the facts. And in the doing, it took my mind off the static qualities of whining all my many needs.
It wasn’t often that I acted my age. I was sixteen when I was six, sneaking smokes and drinking mysterious potions my friends hustled out of their parents linen closets and kissing girls. I hung out with kids who were twice my age, because they were depressing as fuck and I related to that.
Granted, my understanding of philosophy was limited to wondering why it was that Leigh Ann Dence would talk about marrying me inside one moment and then flirt with my friend Steve inside the next. But a relative understanding was plenty good enough.
This particular lesson on wanting, it stuck. Because it learnt me a solid take on humanism and time management. Dwelling on the former demanded patience and humility and ample amounts of soul searching. It taught me that to want what I do not have was an extravagance to which the cosmos frowned upon.
Never mind that I tossed all of that hard earned perspective away as I got older. I became greedy in my wanting of things that were both illusory and damning in the sense of true appreciation. A cancer diagnosis in 2000 and divorce a few years later kicked my ass back to reality.
I teased this lesson I’d carried with me, and I teased it hard inside the aughts of 2000, once I had a few clean bills of health under my belt and had regained my sea legs on the dating scene. Each and every time I was met with a reminder, to go back to the beginning. To be okay with wanting what I had. Because for me, this lesson was a beacon.
It allows me to navigate my definition of happiness without falling into a place from which there ain’t no returning. This way ain’t for everyone, and thank God for that. Because this way comes at a cost. You’ll lose people. Because the world works on credit and all that great shit the stoics once penned is sold on Amazon now.
But I understand that judgement is nothing more than ignorance dressed in black. And on those days when I feel as if the people I trusted most done placed me inside the windows on Herald Square for everyone to gawk at, I let myself understand that anger for what it truly is. Knowledge.
Once you’re unencumbered from ideas that demand you to want- ideas like anger and hate, confusion and vengeance- you can actually fuse that energy into something more ambitious than a linear progression. As a writer, this means channeling the pulpy wrecks into vessels that float.
So goes the lesson.