What do I want, anyway?

This is a post about priorities. Thus far, I’ve moseyed through life with no particular wants or demands, being as low-maintenance as possible. Part of this stems from my rebellious nature – rebellious to a fault, in some respects. Whatever the mainstream’s doing, I want no part of it. I’ll go out of my way to do the opposite, or at least my teenage self would go that far. I’ve mellowed some with time, but not by much.

Then there’s the conciliatory-self, which I would also deem the familial face. The Emily that doesn’t want to make a fuss, take up too much (any) room or be a burden. This part is the one who resists change and won’t seek help, who wants so desperately to please others because she doesn’t really want anything.

So I arrive at 35 both very self-aware and pretty self-ignorant. I know almost all there is to know about my attitudes and motivations, and next to nothing about who I am.

It’s a bit of a (non-cucumber) pickle, and no mistake.

Specifically, this conundrum has come to the fore with respect to personal style and habits. I desire a low-maintenance, practical wardrobe because laundry is such a chore and I can’t be bothered to make/buy new clothing. All of these hindrances spring to mind, like the dog will get muddy paws on me, or  I’ll just sweat through anything nice and ruin it. Yet what I want more than anything is to present a nice aesthetic. I see others who look so put-together – not high fashion, just really nice – and I’m nearly overwhelmed with jealousy.

Similarly, I’m torn between the cheap, low-maintenance attitude I’ve taken towards my hair and (lack of) make-up, and investing the time and money so that I look attractive to myself. I’m saddled by burdens like guilt (how can I spend money on such frivolity when people are dying from poverty?), and a perverted kind of feminism (who am I really doing this for? Aren’t I just buying in to male-gaze beauty standards and stereotypes?). There’s also the Zen Taoist in me that resists the pull towards worldly appearances and objects.

The thing is I have to live in the world. I have to interact with other people, regardless of my feelings on the matter. There are times my anxiety runs high enough that I can’t make my mouth spit out a simple, ‘Hello.’ Am I not hindered enough? Can I not make life a bit easier for myself by striding headlong down the path of greatest personal awesome, and the socio-political consequences be damned?

I’ve been having a similar argument with myself regarding the Novel That Will Not Be Written. When I’ve read articles by authors about writing, a common self-posed question is, ‘who am I writing for?’ In the context of the article, this tends to be in aid of focusing the narrative ; as Vonnegut said, ‘Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.’

As helpful as that sentiment is for the text itself, I’m beginning to see another meaning. Write for yourself may not only answer the who, but also the why of writing. If life is brief, ephemeral and inherently meaningless, are we not obligated to use our time in ways that please us? For some, that might be hedonist. Then again, some people derive greatest pleasure from helping others. And while I don’t dislike helping others, I would prefer not feeling obligated to do so.

Crusader, I am not. Neither am I a Bacchanalian sensualist. What I am only just learning is that I am a human animal given to pleasurable pursuits, who desires – and deserves – to feel as awesome as others say I am. I may never become published, nor grace the cover of a chi-chi fashionista magazine, but come hell or high water I will finish what I’ve started – and look great while I’m at it.

So it goes.