What she wants

Throughout our seemingly endless and recursive life-decision-planning discussions, Gimli kept circling back to this question: “But what do you want?” We would talk and talk and then he’d say, “I’m still not getting a clear idea of what you want.” And I would feel so stuck because I couldn’t see why not.

In our life-coaching conversations, my SIL commented more than once “I’m hearing that you don’t know what you want.” And again I’d feel stuck and bewildered because I just couldn’t see why she was saying that.

I just want everybody to be happy.

This is what I say when pressed, more often than not. I want everybody to be happy and content. But does this just mean everybody else? Or am I included in “everybody” too?

There have been times in my life when I was very, very clear what I wanted: where I wanted to go to college (I only sent in one application), my major, my internship program, volunteering afterwards. I knew I wanted to kiss Gimli about a year after we met, and then I knew I wanted to marry him a year after that. I knew I wanted to get a PhD in Anthropology – although I can’t necessarily say I absolutely knew I wanted to go where I ended up going. I knew I wanted to have kids. I knew I wanted us to come to Albania. And now I know I want to go to Colombia.

Gimli keeps asking me if I’m doing a Gift of the Magi thing in postponing the academic career I once said I wanted, and really at a gut level this question makes no sense to me. It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to me to be going a different route right now. It did feel like a sacrifice – one that I have grieved – to agree not to return to our home in Virginia. But the life itself, and the work – I’m terribly excited about it.

He wrote me this in an e-mail, and I still tear up when I read it:

[During the orientation for the new job] I could see you feeling valued for who you were – feeling that you belonged and had something to contribute – it’s different from when I see you sort of crinkle up in that sort of “I don’t want to bother anyone with my presence” that I see you do here sometimes – such as when I suggest that you ought to have coffee with Zana or Fjoralba.  Or that “I’m faking it so that the evangelicals won’t turn on me” that I’ve also seen at church with the subsequent self-loathing after that.  Or the “I don’t want to spend the time and energy finding real friends” that I’ve seen you sometimes lapse into here.  At the leadership seminar, it felt to me that you felt that you could be real, and that even real that you were worthy of love, and that you belonged and were competent.  Seeing you like that was wonderful emotionally for me.


So my SIL suggested that invite myself to the conversation. Ask myself, Self, what do I want? Because that knowledge is there; I just need to access it.

I love the imaginative work she prompts me into doing. I had no idea what life coaching was going to be about. Her approach, at least, is very right-brained and gestaltic, all about exploring symbols and metaphors as a way of unblocking creativity. I imagine that it’s not unlike what a good tarot reading might accomplish. Or contemplative prayer. It’s powerful stuff.

So after our last conversation, I tried a new approach to my daily to-do list. Instead of writing down tasks, I wrote down the answers to the question “What do I want today?” Things like: to feel rested (so I took a nap this afternoon), a clean floor (I mopped), a new idea (I read several chapters of social theory and almost immediately had an idea of approaching data analysis succinctly). I could see and feel myself in motion, not spinning my wheels all day and then feeling annoyed that I had accomplished nothing of substance.

And I wrote a poem, of sorts, pulling together some of the imagery I’ve been working with as a result of her prompts. Hesitantly, since I know there are actual real poets whose blogs I comment on who might read this, I’m posting it here:


What does this woman want?


Ask the lady in red.

Invite her to the table

With her knitting needles, her books

ablaze in flames that do not consume.

See her serious eyes, set between

Smile lines and worry wrinkles

Strands of silver in her hair.

She is wiser than you know.

She holds wisdom in her womb.

An lotus blossom opens

At the base of her skull,

Behind her neck.

She is a brown-skinned warrior

Spear and fishhook made of bone.

She is clothed in llama wool.


Ask her what this woman wants

Today, this moment, even

In this lifetime.

She will know.


13 Responses to “What she wants”

  1. KeAnne Says:

    I love the idea of approaching a to-do list with “what do I want today”! I’m going to start using that. It is so hard for me to say what I want sometimes. Women seem to be particularly bad at that.

  2. Tarable Says:

    This post made me think about myself and what exactly do *I* want… I can’t remember the last time I contemplated what I want. Like you, the first thing that comes to mind is for everyone to be happy – which often means sacrificing my own happiness or pleasure for that to happen. It can’t remember the last time considered what I want.

    Also, love the idea of making your to-do list in terms of what you want. I will try that this afternoon I think!

    Also also… wicked poem.

  3. Rachel Says:

    I love what Gimli wrote and I love your poem.

  4. jjiraffe Says:

    “What would you like to do today?” What a lovely question! I like that you chose to learn something new. I don’t know if you read my post about Martha Stewart, but she always tries to learn something new everyday. I loved that bit of advice.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      I did read that post! I was looking for a new idea related to my research – in part to push myself to read something academic. It worked too 🙂

  5. Heather Says:

    This is a beautiful post. What your DH wrote is so precious and true, and your poem is so amazing. I think it isn’t always easy figuring out what you want. For me, deciding to stay at home was a big decision. When I prayed about it I got such an affirming answer: it would be ok no matter what I decided. In the end not really liking my job was the thing that swayed me. But now I’m realizing I made the right choice (reading this child care book). Don’t beat yourself up about struggling with a decision; it will come to you.

  6. St. Elsewhere Says:

    Well, your SIL is doing a good job.

    Sometimes, we feel like we know ourselves too well. Sometimes, we surprise ourselves with how much we are lost about ourself. I love your poem. In this lifetime, I too, want to know what I want.

    Can you give me your mail id, in case you do share it with bloggy peeps? If it is apparently mentioned on your blog, I am going to use the excuse of being an airhead and not being able to figure it out, and if you do not share it, I would not mind that either…

  7. Heather Clisby Says:

    We’re going to feature a snippet of this post on BlogHer.com LIFE home page today and link back to the full post. For more info, please contact me directly. Congrats!

  8. Adela Says:

    Your post made a tear run down my cheek. I am in that very struggle now. I will try your technique with the to-do list.

  9. Joy Says:

    This essay truly resonates with me. I had a ‘past life’ too as an academic and have also grieved it as I let it go when I chose to migrate and focus on family life. I still don’t know what I want, what the next step is. Or should I say, next BIG step is. So I do appreciate the ‘to do list’ approach, thinking of what I want in simple, more manageable terms rather than just long term, grander plans. Thank you for this post.

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