Needs, Wants, and Desires...

“Things are sweeter when they're lost. I know--because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, 
The Beautiful and the Damned 

Greetings Dear Ones!

A Cheeky little bridesmaid who has nipped in for a fitting just before closing time pops her gum and looks at her phone as I write up her slip.  Her gown needs to have the shoulders taken up, the sides taken in and three layers hemmed but she has forgotten her shoes so we have no idea how much. She will have to come back for a second fitting. “How soon do you hope to get this done?” I ask. “Is there a rush? When is the wedding?”

“Oh, no…” she says blithely, still looking at her phone. “There’s no rush.  I don’t need it until Friday.”

This Friday?” I say, eyebrows raised, noting with a sense of panic that it is already Tuesday after 5:pm.

She gives me a startled, is-there-a-problem-with-that look.   “I don’t NEED it until Friday,” she says again with emphasis, as if this should fix everything.  

“I NEED this by Friday/Today/Tomorrow/2:pm….” We hear some version of this almost daily.  It always sends Prudence into some sort of rampage. “Oh really?” she screeches. “Need? Seriously NEED? As in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Is this a physiological need? Are you planning to eat this gown to survive the winter? Or are you simply going to shelter in it as near to a buffet table as you can manage? Is it necessary for your safety, security or health? Is it your key to love and belonging? Esteem? Self-actualization? Do you have any idea what Real Needs are? Would you ever guess that there is a woman who uses our cutting table to make cloth, washable, reusable maxi-pads for homeless girls in Africa? What exactly do you think a NEED is, Madam? Perhaps the verb you seek is DESIRE. You desire to have this work done at your earliest convenience, if no one else’s!”  

Needs, Wants, Desires… What a struggle for us all!  You know that if I begin a blog with a quote about “desires” I must have spent the past weekend at the Vermont Sheep and Wool festival wrestling myself out of a lot of “wants” masquerading as “needs.”  No, Nancy my love, you do not NEED some Icelandic lambs no matter how silky their fleece feels to touch (nor ANY lambs for that matter—back AWAY from that beautiful morrit Shetland ewe!), nor do you need rainbow-dyed roving when you have TEN trash bags full of roving ready to spin already (yes, but it’s not rainbow…), or an antique CPW spinning wheel with a wobble… It’s exhausting to listen to my inner self begging in such a degrading manner.  She really should have been a lawyer, the way she can make cases for the Absurd, without a trace of irony or guilt. It’s like taking a toddler to Disney Land. It’s a jolly good thing my inner parent brought only enough money to pay for admission and lunch!

At the end of the day, when I return to Hermit Hollow and sit by the fire spinning my dull grey roving, I find myself very much amused and contented.  Desires are a wonderful way to tell us if we are on the right track—if we want more of what we already have, then it’s a twisted form of Gratitude, I suppose.  If you leave a session hungry to play more music; if you leave a dance looking forward to the next dance; if you enjoy your work and want to do more of it after a break—it’s quite possible that you are a Very Lucky Person indeed.  

A grandmother who recently attended her town’s Fall Fair comes into the shop.  She presents us with some pink fur and some other glittery fabric.  “I need you to make a unicorn pillow for my five-year-old granddaughter,” she says. “She did not win one at the fair and it was a disaster.  A Total melt-down. I looked at it and thought it was a cheap piece of crap anyway.  I don’t know why she even wanted it. I figure you can make her something better.”  We all smile at the little grandmother hobbling away from the shop, confident that she can make her granddaughter’s new and improved dream come true.  Prudence shakes her head in wonder. “Who says dreams have to come true?” she wants to know.   I find it endearing and also slightly naïve that this loving grandmother thinks she can edit and substitute and still satisfy her granddaughter’s longing to Win something, long after the moment has passed—kind of how my parents used to say our own home-grown beef burgers, running with pink juice between two square slabs of home-made whole wheat bread were “better than McDonald’s.” No kid in her right mind will buy that!  So many of our desires, no matter how fiercely irrational they are, are just of the moment.  Desires are like hunger pains—they come and pass all day long.   Sometimes it’s better to just go hungry.  Who knows if this kid will even want a unicorn pillow by the time we are done constructing it?

When my children were little, and especially at Fairs, I used to make them crazy by having them distinguish between needs and wants. “Darling, you need food, you want ice-cream… I buy the needs, you buy the wants.”  (They still bristle to this day when I ask if a purchase is a want or a need!) Recently, I got curious about the difference between these two and looked up the etymologies.  By now, I have read enough conflicting reports to realize I know Nothing for Certain, which seems like a very scholarly result:  It turns out that “wants” and “needs” actually were once very similar! No wonder so many children still confuse them. The word “want” as in “lack” comes from an old Norse word, vant, and relates to an Old English word wanian (i.e. wane) which meant “to diminish.”  The noun “need” comes from the West Saxon “nied” and was used to convey peril, distress, lack, necessity or hardship.  It comes from an older, Proto-Germanic root nauti- “death, to be exhausted” which gives rise to Gothic naus “corpse”, Old Irish naunae “famine, shortage”, and Russian nuzda “misery.”  It comes into English as “a means of subsistence” by c 1400.  

When these Germanic “needs” and “wants” get tangled up with the Latin “desire” is when things get interesting. (Who among you is NOT surprised that “desire” is derived from a Romance language?)  Since about the 13th Century, we have tended to agree that “to desire” is to long for or hope for something that is missing or absent.  It may or may not be a “need”—as in a Lover’s desire to be loved, a mouse’s desire for cheese, a Jack Russell’s desire to soil clean carpets… and so on.  But the old Latin definitions seem to suggest the word arises from a combination of de (meaning “away, of, or from”) and sider or sidus (meaning “star” or “constellation”).   Interestingly, the word “consider” seems to have the same root—translating roughly as “with the stars”—as in thinking about something via a form of fortune-telling using astrology or omens from the stars.  But I digress.  There is a newer theory now that an older, non-celestial meaning for “desire” is actually along the lines of “target, mark, or goal.” This too makes sense given that early humans navigated travels by steering by the stars.

As humans, we cannot escape our desires. Christians have a long history of believing that desires, especially carnal ones, were “temptations” sent by the devil to lead us, not upward, by the stars, but to Hell.  As if getting what we want is worse for us than not getting it—that we can be somehow even redeemed by forgoing our wants and “offering them up” as internal sacrifices towards points on our ultimate salvation-tally score-card.  Buddhists would have us believe that Desire and Ignorance lie at the root of our suffering.  And clearly, any grandmother who has witnessed her favorite five-year-old NOT win a unicorn pillow at a Fall Fair has indeed Suffered.  They don’t see “desires” as emanating from the stars but as base human cravings for pleasure and material goods and wants that can never be satisfied.  (The Buddhists, that is; not the five-year-olds.) Suffering is the result of desiring what we cannot have. (And also of dealing with five-year-olds.)  The absence of Desire is Nirvana.  But then, this must also be the absence of antique Canadian Production Wheels, and rainbow-dyed roving, and unicorn pillows, and cheesecake…. And… Who in their right mind wants THAT???

What if the ancients were right—that Desires are “of the stars” which guide us to who we really are and where we really need to be? We may, like the stars themselves, never actually reach them, but they inspire us to work harder, make sacred choices (sacrifices).  Of course, there are a myriad of stars and Desires. Some are not so good. It’s a good thing we have Free Will and access to homemade rainbow socks.  The journey back from where-we-should-never-have-gone-in-the-first-place can be a long one.

Ultimately, we are all “of the stars.”  The sheep’s wool I spin each night by the fireside begins as sunlight hitting grass, which turns to sugar via photosynthesis, which is eaten, belched up and eaten again multiply times by the animal, until it works its way into a follicle and turns into keratin strands, heaps of which I carve off their sweaty bodies each June.  Even the logs aglow on the hearth began as light hitting a forest and return to light on dark autumn nights.

What is our Job while we are here but to Be and bring Light in every form—from  woolen socks to unicorn pillows? And Desires light our path to Light.  What if our Desires are not hungers but instead Food? How we receive them, how we deny them, how our desires evolve as we mature and take on new wisdom—these are the ways we grow in Light and Love—so that one day, when someone meets us or our work, they feel a sense of warmth, of blessing.  Willa Cather, one of my favorite authors of all time, says in The Song of The Lark:  “The world is little, people are little, human life is little. There is only one big thing — desire.”

So… When do you actually “need” those pants hemmed? And how will having them hug your bum just right help me bring Light to this world?

Be well, my Darlings!  Thank you for your Good Work!

Loving you to itty-bitty sparkling bits,

Yours aye,