Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Unnecessary Desires

Due, 2011

In her interview with The Paris Review Louise Erdrich speaks of her father's wish that her and her siblings not nurse any unnecessary desires. I can see the potential benefits, but also the supreme challenge, at least for me.

I've been traveling through a mist of input and I am drenched. Each of my senses is ready to spring from its blocks. I've seen the pinks and blues of La Jolla, smelled the sea from the Sunny Jim Cave, felt the sadness of James Salter, eaten the most superb vegetable hash with poached eggs, watched the sun set from the window of a train, rode round the winding stretch of Orange County freeway by day and by night, experienced the warmth of true Texans, listened to Steve Martin read his own prose, and been hypnotized by hotel television.

Erdrich also speaks of her urge to write prose, her conflicting inability to sit still, and her humorous solution that I just might have to try. I like the part about the scarves and the coffee, but I'll probably avoid the cigarettes.

In short, there is much on my mind, possibility seems to lurk around every corner, and sitting still is only satisfying in small bursts.

There's a name for this seemingly useless poking around and preparing. I know I've read about it. It might have been described by Twyla Tharp. It has a name, something like fishing, but not fishing. I suppose the word itself is not all that important. I'm finding the act of defining rather irksome lately. Wait. Yes yes, it was Tharp and it is scratching. The action has value. It is an imperative part of the creative process. She believes this is so. I believe it too.

And as for the nursing of unnecessary desires, well, who decides what is necessary and what is not? I believe in simplicity and the clearing of clutter, but most things are best in moderation. Rigidity is such a bore.

Louise Erdrich, The Art of Fiction No. 208

An excerpt -- I highly recommend reading the entire interview

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp
An excerpt on "scratching"


  1. My goodness, did you experience all of those things in one day?

    In the Buddhist tradition that I used to study, there was a bit about "refraining from unnecessary activity." I still find it useful to think about that, when I fly into crazy chicken mode. But refraining from desire itself? If you want it, you want it, right? And it probably has something to teach you.

    I used to smoke. How I wish I still could, without ruining my health and annoying my neighbors. Sigh.

    I am wearing my handknitted scarf.

    This is a long comment.

  2. Shae, No no no. This all happened during a week. Still, refraining from unnecessary activity is exactly what I'm desiring. I love your long comment. It is just what I needed.

  3. I love all the things you find and tell us about here. I definitely couldn't stick to just necessary desires because surely we discover the world and others more by going byeond the minimum of what we really want. This post is very timely because I've been trying to write myself recently nad have a terribly hard time sitting still and getting anywhere. I'm not going to give up though and realise that writing is a true discipline that needs to be trained.

  4. I really liked that interview. It makes me want to read more of her books (so far I only have "Love Medicine" under my belt). Interesting to hear her views on being a mother and a writer, too.
    Hope the scarves and coffee work for you!

  5. first, i love this photo. looking forward to reading the erdich interview as well.

  6. Char, Thank you. I'm pretty pleased with this one.

    Vanessa, Yes, I see what you are saying. I'm planning to take a shower right now and then sit down with pencil and notebook immediately following coffee and breakfast. I figure there will be fewer distractions this early.

    Anja, I haven't read any of her books, but I am now intrigued. I'm just not sure where I'll begin.

    Thank you, Shari. I like the thin green lines. Enjoy the interview. I'll be reading one of her books soon.

  7. I saw this post yesterday and before commenting I've tried to think just what would constitute 'unnecessary desires'. And I can't come up with fact, the whole idea seems quite stifling.

    Unnecessary activity (as mentioned in the comments) that I can understand.

    I love the places you take my mind and my mouse when I visit.

  8. I read this yesterday, too, and had to let it all settle in my mind...desires and wants, needs and longings all get wrapped up in different "charges" of meaning. the best way, is desire without attachment ( a lifelong quest!) submitting the request, surrendering to the outcome. Robert Bly once wrote a prose poem about Disappointment and Desire that has given me years of contemplation!
    there is the notion of Right Discrimination that plays into desire, as much as it plays into what part of ourselves we protect, and what we reveal.

    Denise, we can count on you for compelling posts, grand questions that stir the ethers (and scratch!)

  9. i'm w rachel, unnecessary desires feels like censorship. it imposes and presumes on me. one of my favorite things to do is fantasize. i liked the "scratching" word too. my sister-in-law writes on creativity ( and i think she'd especially like that. i'll share it w her.
    Keep on.

  10. I can sense the receptiveness that you have to everyday experiences - those that can be overlooked, taken for granted.

    Here's to creativity as a way of life!

  11. Ah, Denise... I've just read your post, the excerpts, and back again to your post and comments.

    I will have to take it all in and process and think, and savor it all, and process and think some more.

    It's already been said, but I agree: unnecessary activity makes noise...but desire? Desire creates life - in all its forms and meanings, big and small.

    Loved this, Denise. Thank you.

    much love,

  12. hmm...does this mean I'm a 'scratcher'? And as for 'unnecessary desires' humpfh - you're right - who's to say what is or isn't necessary...

  13. I think I call scratching "procrastinating". When some bit of something is trying to be born I avoid it and clean my cutlery drawer and go for walks and eat Pirate Booty. When I finally stop all that it tends to spew out. Usually at midnight when I should be in bed asleep already.

    Louise Erdrich's writing is so delicious. Thanks for sharing those links...

  14. Let me know which one you read? I read Love Medicine at uni (as part of my English course, actually) and I didn't love it then - but I'm thinking I might have been too young. It's somewhere on my bookshelves, I think.

  15. Thank you for sharing the link to the Louise Erdrich interview. I loved the last bit about choosing children over hard liquor.

    I found her comments about being a mother-writer interesting, particularly how children both sabotaged and saved her. I'm going to search for the interview in its entirety, as well as pick up one of her novels.

  16. Just for the sake of argument, I am going to insist that we all nurse at least one unnecessary desire ;-)

  17. Tharp's book reminds me that I have permission to "scratch" away without thinking that it's stealing. Within reason of course.

    Can't wait to read the Erdrich interview. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Loved your last paragraph. Couldn't agree with you more.

  18. It's so fulfilling to read your words and find myself nodding because I can relate. Pondering over the moderation and balance needed in life. Thank you especially for the links and articles lately.

  19. This is just what I needed. Thank you.

  20. Rachel, If I recall correctly, the desires he was referring to were the types of desires that television commercials spark. I really liked Shae's reference to unnecessary activity too.

    nancy, I'm intrigued. Do you recall the name of the poem?

    friendtoyourself, See what I wrote to Rachel to try and explain the desires.

    Cha sen, Thank you. And yes, cheers to creativity as a way of life.

    Maria, Thank you for your thoughtfulness. You don't read lightly and I really like that in a person. I'm beginning to see unnecessary activity emerging as the true topic here. Thanks to Shae.

    Annie, Perception is reality, at least for the person perceiving.

    mosey, I cannot tell you how closely I relate to your comment.

    Anja, As usual, the books continue to pile up and I have not yet made it to Louise Erdrich, but I'm guessing it will be Shadow Tag.

    Rachael, I really enjoyed her interview. She's witty and honest and seems like someone I'd love to spend hours with in a cafe. I'm glad you enjoyed her too.

    Annje, Okay, I'm in. Today mine will be chocolate.

    Bethany, I like Tharp's perspective on scratching too. I hate feeling like I'm doing something that isn't worthwhile. She made sense of those scratching activities.

    alexandria, Thank you.

    Julia, You are welcome.