Sunday, March 1, 2009

What Do You Want?

Last night Laurie and I had dinner at a Durham restaurant, Revolution, which opened last December, spending a good bit more money--$85 each, for drinks, appetizer, entrée, and dessert, including tip—than we intended to, but enjoying the excellent food along with the excellent conversation. The place was booked solid—we ate at the crowded bar—and our waitress said the place stays busy, suggesting that the local restaurant-going crowd has not been much affected by the economic crisis.

The place is one of those concrete and stainless steel places with hardwood floors, sleek rectangular design, with large television monitors surveying the activity back in the kitchen. (I just found out online that it’s the official VIP spot for the Durham Performing Arts Center.) Laurie and I shared pork dumplings and steak tartare for starters. I had lamb and she had beef for the entrée. Dessert was apple crisp with rum raisin ice cream for me, and salty chocolate pie for her. Definitely a place we’d both like to go back to, once we restock our checking accounts.

Our conversation covered a range of subjects—movies, home ownership, love, children, writing—but a good chunk of it was spent on discussing the question of what people want—people in general, our friends, finally ourselves.

Our answers to the question were complementary—she wants inner peace, I want to experience my present life vividly with few guards up.

In effect, we want the same thing. To be at peace is to be in tune to “the now” and, as Laurie and our friend Shane put it, to say “yes” to life. To be open to possibilities, to choose not to define too certainly what you want the future to be or what you think will make you happy or fulfilled is, on the other end, a path to inner peace.

I have of course been in situations where I needed something—a job, for instance—and so wanted a definite outcome to my actions—but on the whole I’ve lived the last 35 years of my life doing what pleases me or serves my sense of who I am moment by moment and discovering later, almost by surprise, where that takes me, good and bad.

Do I want love? Sure, if it comes. I have had (and lost) love on several occasions. I know it’s a mixed bag of elation and vulnerability, excitement and loss of control, joy and jealousy. I feel sorry for anyone who has never known love, but I also pity anyone enthralled with the idea of love to the point of an addiction to numbing, overly calculated nonstop relationships—what some call the “game of love.” I’m not good with games.

Do I want money? Of course. But only if it comes from being who and what I am and permits me to remain myself—which is less a matter of not changing than a question of whether I make my own change or let outside factors overly influence it.

Do I want to be alone? No. I need people—if for no other reason, as tools by which to sculpt my life. Alone, I am the rough material—the marble slab—but people (and events—chance, comedy, tragedy)—are the instruments of change and growth, through conversation, argument, assistance, opportunities, love, resistance, etc. As an extreme introvert, I fantasize life on a desert island or in a vessel in outer space, but that’s fantasy, and it always involves an unrealistic self-sufficiency and a number of “cheats,” such as the ability to conjure up a fantasy sex partner at will.

In college, I determined that I would read and study as much as possible (I do genuinely enjoy books), but if someone called up with an idea of something we could do together—and it was affordable and otherwise feasible—I would always abandon books in favor of human experience.

What do I want? I want inner peace. I want to avoid ruts, routines, narrowness of vision, knee-jerk reactions to a rapidly changing world. I want openness—the liberty to be true to myself, regardless of consequences or the judgments of other people. I want love and friendship, not for their own sakes, but for the joy and challenge of the moments shared with other people. I want enough money to carry on. I want to do good—I would like to be the person whom other people feel that their lives are better for knowing and being around.

I want to gather moments and impressions for my stockpile of memories, which are the raw material I use to make the meaning of my life.

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