desire and other noise
clarity and solitude
hi friends, a short letter today. I wrote this in 2 hours and it is unedited :)
I’ve been moving around a lot and will continue to be out of home for quite some time. This weekend I was in Chicago, in the next few weeks I’ll be in new cities once again. One night I walked home after work, watched the snow drift softly over the city — the lights cast a blurry yellow glow over the sidewalks. I was fucking freezing but it was also sort of romantic? I do these walks all the time, in every city I live in, in every city I visit, because I crave aloneness and seek it out often. I also love the quiet. I don’t do too well with too much noise. It clouds my decisions.
Solitude is so delicious because it gives you clarity in a very noisy world. I have a million ads, or a million people, telling me what to do. When I’m alone I have to do the hard discerning process of reaching beneath what I think I’m supposed to do and grasping for what I actually want. Cities function as desire mechanisms too. New York makes you desire intensity and status, SF makes you desire thought-leadership and maybe freedom. I grew up in a place that desired order and risk aversion, and I’m still trying to figure out how much of that I believe. These aren’t inherently bad things, I’ve just become more aware of how places and people can make you believe certain characteristics are more sacred than others.
In doubt, we look to people to tell us or signal to us what is important. We absorb interest from the people we love like little sponges. I used to have this terrible habit of mimicking people I was romantically interested in, feign interest in their curiosities, squeeze myself into their interests and ideals. Like I believed in X because I was totally in love with the person who liked X. Then when I finally learned how to separate love from interest it was like lifting up a very heavy set of goggles off my face.
I know this phenomenon is only natural — Rene Girard posits that desire is mimetic: how and what we desire is learned from the desires of others. These palisades and layers of wanting are created early on from the people closest to us.
The truth is that my desires are derivative, mediated by others, and that I’m part of an ecology of desire that is bigger than I can fully understand - ‘Wanting’ by Luke Burgis
I think about the ecology, the system of desire, all the time. How it is endlessly complex. People emanate desire; you are changed simply by witnessing it for a prolonged period of time. Oftentimes, we are assigned roles in other people's stories and play that role so persuasively until we ourselves believe in it.
So I often return to this quote by Kurt Vonnegut: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
But somehow over the past few years I finally came this point where I said to myself… ok, what the hell do I actually want. What do I enjoy, what energizes/drains me? Do I actually like this person or do I just want them to like me? Do I like this thing or does everyone else just like it? Pretty basic questions, I know, but for too long I never stopped for more than 2 seconds to ask myself that. I was consumed by noise, sinking through it. When I finally started being honest with myself, it was so much easier to set boundaries. I stopped going to things out of obligation and now I can say 95% of the time if I show up to something I actually want to be there. I actually can be fully present, engaged, loving. Instead of this half-formed thing that showed up to the party mangled and exhausted for the face-value. I don’t half-ass a lot of things anymore, and I think that marks a type of freedom that comes with realizing your capacities and your desires. I used to think freedom was the ability to do as much as possible and now I realize a version of freedom is simply saying no. One of the (many) mantras of this newsletter: own your desires when you have them and never delegate them to anyone else.
Quote of the Week
“We all forget continually. The genius, because he watches himself, remembers. He naïvely remembers his dreams, he ruthlessly remembers his real experiences, and gradually, very gradually, he learns to remember the exact nature of his mistakes and successes as a man applying paint to a flat surface. And so he recognizes what others have felt but never known. Technique and genius are nothing more nor less than recognition.” - John Berger
Photo of the Week
PS: Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you celebrate love in some form, even if it is your own love (which is also the most wonderful, sacred kind).