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What do you want in 2023?

Let's talk about desire without shame

My first substack of 2023 is a lesson in following my flow. I already have a long to-do list on this fourth day of the year, but my desire, once I shook off the cobwebs of sleep interrupted by thunderstorms, tugged me away from my list and to this page. I am typing this directly into this space, not my usual writing practice of penning words longhand first and then editing as I type into the computer, but what’s a creative practice without some broken rules? One thing I want this year is to deconstruct my own rules, to interrogate my own practices and consider throwing out everything I think I know for something more present and alive.

I ask the question what do you want in 2023, not with typical resolutions or goals in mind, but desire. What do you long for these days? What do you really hunger for, deep in your cells? Stop, slow down and think about this, because I think it’s worth it. I’m not asking for your ideas based on what the world says you should want (to be skinnier, richer, more fit, etc.) but what it is that you want, really want. What pulls your insides apart with yearning? Where does your mind go when you feel restless, unfulfilled, bored, stuck? What thing or place or activity calls out to your inner child, asking you to remember, to play, to catch hold of it before it’s too late?

I was fortunate to take part in an online creative workshop Monday with the fantastic Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and one of my favorite books on creativity, Big Magic: Creative Living without Fear. Liz, as I think of her, has presented a thesis in recent years that we all deserve to live authentically and it’s up to us to seize that creative entitlement as our own human right.

I noticed in this week’s workshop that she’s moving a bit away from this idea and more towards just being, simply that it’s also OK to not create, not produce and just hang out while life happens. That the universe will let you know when you are needed, and in the meantime, just be. Doing this also requires intention and for type A people like me, it’s something that feels a bit unnatural, but I like it. Letting go is good. The list will still be there tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Meanwhile, do I want to take a long walk in the woods? Or lay in a hammock and look at the sky? Or maybe I just want to sit here and stare out my window, taking in the slice of neighborhood that is my view, the orange and white cat that just ran across the street, the yellowing grass and wet shrubs and tall pines that gently wave at me from my neighbor’s yard?

After Liz’s workshop, I found her previously released podcast series called Magic Lessons and started listening to an episode where she talks to author Glennon Doyle, also host of a podcast called We can do hard things. Glennon was talking about her writing practice of getting up at 4am and writing in her bedroom closet before her kids woke up. Liz asked her why Glennon had set this ambitious schedule for herself, what was it about writing that mattered so much that she would forgo sleep and make a space for herself to get her words on the page and out into the world? Glennon responded by saying, “I want to be known.” This made me a little uncomfortable—is this woman saying she wants to be famous? Or (cringe) that she wants to be popular? Like the adult world is just a big high school?

As if reading my mind, Liz admitted that Glennon’s disclosure of wanting to be known initially made her cringe too, but sitting with it a moment and examining her own discomfort opened up some realization, that wanting to be known is OK. That wanting to be seen is a basic human need, and let’s not shame it away, rolling our eyes and dismissing Glennon’s honesty as self-serving hubris, and her just a silly, attention-seeking woman who wants more followers and to sell more books. No, that’s not it. Being OK with her own want, the longing to name her own experience, to connect with other humans through her words and to leave something lasting, that is a beautiful thing.

I am glad I listened to this snippet of a conversation recorded several years ago between these two women, because it unlocked my own realization that’s been simmering during this time of renewal and rebirth. I have many, many wants and I always have. My mode of being in the world may be one of omnipresent, powerful want—existential, intellectual, emotional, spiritual. My life’s statement could be I want, therefore I am. I want it all, all the books, all the shoes, all the cookies, all the travel, all the kisses, and so on and so forth. It’s a train of want moving through me all the time.

I remember my older brother Cody needling me about this as a child who wrote out long wish lists for her birthdays and Christmas. “I want this, I want that and I want this too,” he sang at me in a high-pitched voice, and I felt like Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I was ashamed of wanting so much. What was wrong with me? Who did I think I was?

Cody, God bless him, no longer shames me for wanting and he’s hitched a ride on his own want these days, just dropping big bucks on a new kitchen and indulging himself with a sizable guitar collection, some that he hangs up on the wall in a designated “guitar room.” This sounds like an argument that wanting is a vehicle to pursue consumerism, but that’s not it. Yes, sometimes money is involved in going after what we want, but what I’m really seeking is the seed deep within behind that want, and how to feed it, water it and help it grow.

What we want is not something we should hide or fear or tell to be quiet. We are here for just a brief time and as we pass through, let’s celebrate our wanting as a fundamental part of who we are and something we should tend to, like our own garden of wildflowers. Yes, Cody has a bunch of guitars he’s purchased that feature prominently in his man cave, but what he really wants, I think, is to write music and express himself through song. That’s how he wants to be seen in the world.

As a practice, take 10-20 minutes and write out what you want in 2023. There are no good or bad answers. If it’s just brownies and cookies, great. Don’t be ashamed. But try to go deeper, try to connect with the child that lives in you and ask them, what is it that you really really really want this year? And for those of you in prison (I see you!) I give you permission to indulge your wants, to connect with that part of you that the state so badly wants to stamp out. You are allowed to want and even if getting what you want is out of reach, just knowing what it is and that it’s still there might be a gift.

For me I want to experience more sunsets, but to also watch some sunrises, and not just from the comfort of my house. I want to go roller skating and I want to paint with watercolors and acrylics, something I’ve never done. I want to do good work and be present for my husband and daughter and I want to be a better friend. And yes, I want you to read my words. I want you to see me. I want to be able to leave something behind that says I was here. I mattered. And I hope I helped other people realize they matter too.

Moth to flame
Moth to flame
Beth Shelburne