In Which the Wanting Comes in Waves

Things resolve, and then they unresolve.

Photo credit: u2tryololo, CC BY 2.0.

2016: cutting my own hair over the trash can in my room on a whim, with all the mixed results. Standing out in the backyard in the middle of the night looking for a cat who has managed to lose two collars in two weeks, both purchased from the fancy pet store around the corner. Not leaving my neighborhood often enough to justify an unlimited Metrocard, but transfixed by the ease with which people who do have them coast around the city. Eating greens grown in our garden instead of buying them from the store. What seems like an avalanche of endings, and still, my unwillingness to write the whole year off.

Last year at this time, I was in the woods. I stayed there for longer than I planned, and then I came back to Brooklyn, and people said, “Oh, I thought you left.” It’s fair, I was gone for a long time. I don’t think that I figured out how to live in that middle, I’m still figuring it out. Things resolve, and then they unresolve.

Hello From The Middle

When I was in seventh grade, those long, crinkly hippie skirts were very in, and I owned several. For a while, there were articles in the paper about how the skirts were flammable, and I thought, isn’t everything flammable if you set it on fire? I felt very clever, thinking that, knowing I’d figured out how to avoid both having to stop wearing these skirts and soothing those around me, who might spend their days worrying about combustion via broomstick skirt. I’m sure there was another reason why those skirts were going up in flames, but at the time, it seemed clear that if you didn’t create a problem (fire), there would not be a problem (death via fire skirt.) This isn’t real, of course; problems emerge all the time that you don’t create, but the way you deal with that fact is to imagine that you can control things.

The point is, jobs go away, foundations shift, people burst into flames, all without permission, in spite of trying to save money, maintain multiple streams of income, move towards some amorphous thing that is nicknamed “safety.” Maybe the actual reason 2016 was such a mess is that so much fell apart while we were trying to keep it together, but that’s every year. Maybe it’s because it was so unrelentingly bad that we’re afraid to want something better, or even imagine it. This, at least, is my ongoing problem. I don’t think 2016 has made it worse, but the end of 2016 has made it more clear to me that something needs to change.

I made a list recently of what my ideal writing life would look like; this is what you’re told to do by writing coaches in order to focus and plan and illuminate. To clarify: It’s not that you can only write under the circumstances dictated by the list, but that there is such a thing as a personally hospitable climate for making stuff, and for me, that climate means not having a freaking heart attack every month about rent. But when I finished the list, I realized how many physical things were on it, like a long table and a big window and plane tickets and a pair of headphones that cost more than twelve dollars and will endure constant use for longer than two months. And then I looked more closely at the list, and I realized how much of it required disposable income. And that I would like some disposable income.

In 2017, I would like to feel less terrified about this realization. It means more than rearranging my financial life; it means that in order to achieve it, I have to allow myself to want it, which actually involves some serious deprogramming, because I’ve set up my life to accommodate writing, but also to worry all the time about money. The smaller the overhead, the less you have to worry, except when things slow down, or stop, even if it’s only for a week. Since I spent 2016, and probably 2015 as well, denying that I wanted anything beyond the basic — a place to sleep, money for food and rent and utilities, the ability to buy some pants if I need them. If you want more things, there’s more things you might not get, so wanting less is safer. But, as The Decemberists remind us, the wanting comes in waves. What kind of life I could have if I let myself be brave? It’s not the difference between being materialistic and not, it’s about letting myself have a vision of what else could be possible, which, in this world right now, seems like an essential thing.

Chanel Dubofsky’s work has been published at Previously.TV, Cosmopolitan, Rewire, Extra Crispy, and more. You can find her on Twitter at @chaneldubofsky.

This article is an update to The Billfold’s 2015 end-of-year series, “Our Best Selves in the Coming Year.”

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