The Secret Life of Desire


Donna was her name.  My first love.  Hook, line and sinker I swallowed the promise of romance.  For two years, bliss.  Then one day I couldn’t breathe for grief.  I was sinking in quicksand, alone again.

Love and Desire – they’re not finished with us until we’re going under for the third time.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the goal of Desire is pleasure.  In my experience, Desire aims beyond pleasure  to futility, emptiness, and despair.

Let me tell you another story about Desire – the lure of  adventure:

My buddies and I were heading into the mountains in an old  Volvo station wagon.  As dusk fell on top of a steady drizzle, we found ourselves hungry and tired and nowhere near our camping spot.  The dirt road was a quagmire.  Three of us had to get out and push.  The more the wheels spun, the deeper that car  sank.  The driver, Murray (I’ll remember him forever), from his enviable position behind the wheel, craned his neck out the  window:

“Remember! You’re having an adventure when you wish you weren’t having  an adventure.”

Once again, Desire led not to pleasure, but to mud.  Muck and misery.  Except that this time our pain had a context — adventure.  And we knew what adventure  was – the broken promise of desire.

Yes, Desire, that sexy beast, had a hidden agenda.

This next story isn’t mine.  It’s The Odyssey by Homer, the  oldest of legends.  Odysseus spends ten sex-and-adventure-filled years trying to reach home after fighting in the Trojan Wars.  His ship enters straits famous for the deadly  promise of the Sirens.  No mortal can resist their song, and Odysseus is no exception.

He becomes mad with Desire.

But Odysseus has learned a thing or two.  He’s living in the aftermath of failure, and  has become intimate with the nature of Desire.  He can see its consequences.  He’s  wise enough now that he no longer needs the punishing but necessary lessons that Desire offers less conscious lovers and adventurers.

So Odysseus commands his crew to block their ears with  beeswax and steer an unfaltering course past temptation.  Odysseus, ears wide open, orders himself  bound firm to the ship’s mast.  He binds himself to the mast of his higher nature!  His  sights are set on completing his mythical journey ‘home’.

Odysseus is not immune to Desire, but he has transcended Desire.

And so – so what?  (We  must always ask, So what?)

She who understands her deepest impulses can participate in  her own evolution.  And if “evolution” is  too hifalutin a concept, then “education”.  And if “education” sounds too boring, then you probably need to meet Donna and go on an extended camping trip.

Ten years should about do it.

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  1. gerry says

    “Love and Desire – they’re not finished with us until we’re going under for the third time.”

    Oh, Lord, you are correct with this line!

  2. says

    …and yet we love Love and answer to Desire like slaves. And is this not the way it’s meant to be? I can feel a blog post on “acceptance” coming up. Anyone want to guest blog on that theme?

  3. Jessica Chan says

    This is very well written. I am not completely familiar with the original story of Odyesseus myself but now I want to find out more.

    I also liked the metaphor at the beginning for love being like swallowing a fishing hook.

  4. Sarah says

    BTW PJ I changed my protagonist to a young woman – the “other woman” for whom desire had been the tripping block twice in her young life, and for the third time she nearly goes under. Three indeed.

    It took a long time to acknowledge the need for a different protagonist – it has made all the difference. Thanks.

  5. says

    Thanks, Jessica. Some people say that Homer’s “Odyssey” was the first novel ever written. And it’s still being quoted. The image of Odysseus tied to the ship’s mast has stayed with me for a long time. It’s iconic. It represents our understanding of our own limitations. Odysseus didn’t dare trust himself within earshot of the Sirens. He knew that human weakness would lead to his own destruction. So he outsmarted his own weakness. We all need to do that, and in fiction I think we see protagonists doing that all the time. Sorry I didn”t respond to your comment earlier.

  6. McGoo says

    Know anyone who heeded a warning?
    Disbelief, disobedience and denial serve desire well if we are to gain experience.
    To know or not to know. Isn’t that where it all began – with the tree of knowledge in the garden of eden. Our (allegorical) first parents disobeyed. Guess we were hard-wired before we got here!

  7. Danielle Hall says

    While I am looking forward to my extended camping trip with Donna, I fear that there will be more nights spent making smores and drinking warm whiskey from metal cups then nights of passion. Perhaps I am immune to desire. It is a pity though because I am quite fond of adventure.

  8. says

    Ah… Danielle… adventure will make short work of your small desires, such as whisky from a metal cup (which I must admit sounds damn good, indeed). Your desire gets you out the door, and that`s all that`s needed. I see much adventure in the life ahead of you. All the best!

  9. Rob Frederick says

    The opening to this really spoke to me. That feeling of being helpless to your feelings, even if there’s something inside you telling you to run. Being able to reference this to a similar experience Ihad made me feel like I knew Donna all too well. Very enticing.

  10. says

    I’ve discovered that arriving at the feeling of being helpless is actually a rare and valuable situation. Until then we’re operating by our ego-strategies, which have got us into the mess. If we can stay alert in helplessness… then I believe we’re available to magic. Most good protagonists in fiction are driven to this helpless state… and only then are they available to solutions that have hitherto been outside their vision. Study any dramatic story and see if I’m right on this. Thanks for chiming in, Rob.

  11. Chris Evans says

    “Remember! You’re having an adventure when you wish you weren’t having an adventure.” Too true, PJ. But who remembers the times when things go exactly as expected? We learn more about ourselves when things go pear-shaped. The Donnas who test us force our evolution. And are generally more fun, anyway.

  12. says

    You’re right: “who remembers times when things go (right)?” Methinks there’s a blog post in that thought. What makes us remember? I suggest that our memories are gilded with moments that have brought our minds to a full stop. Failure and disaster will do it. So will awe. Perhaps we subconsciously gravitate toward moments that are too much for our minds to handle… so we may experience the “awe-full” moment. Thanks for joining the conversation.

  13. Myla Watson says

    “And we knew what adventure was – the broken promise of desire.”

    This rings very true in my experience. Our desires may leads us to try something new or explore far off lands, we’ve romanticized in our minds, but life isn’t perfect. It is chaotic and full of turmoil. While desire may move us to act, it is the adventure we truly seek- the gritty experiences where life’s blunders unfold before us.

  14. says

    Nice, Myla, very nice. I wish I could have expressed it as well as you have.: “…where life’s blunders unfold before us.” We don’t choose to go there, but there’s the only place to be. Yet another paradox in a nexus of paradoxes that make up the human organizm. Come back to the site again soon.

  15. Dana says

    “To desire is to suffer.” We often expect that if we get what we want and desire, we will then be happy, but eventually if we do, we just want more or something different. Desire pushes us to want and want until we no longer know what happiness is. Perhaps we need to accept that when we get what we don’t want, we can still be happy and “participate in [our] own evolution.” What a powerful concept! Thank you for your perspective; I really enjoyed reading this.

  16. says

    Well, Dana, you’ve hit the nail on the head. “Acceptance.” That’s the human journey in a word. Sounds so easy and yet it requires a complete psychic rewiring. The way I see it, all our failures and suffering will eventually accomplish that transformation. But only if we desire hard enough and fail hard enough and still have the will to live on. This is what my blog is all about. Thanks for flushng the essence out onto the page.

  17. says

    What an interesting piece.
    Humans transcend desire- to a smaller degree- on a daily basis.
    As desire seems to be the veritable gas in advertisement and pop cultures neon, sexualized vehicle, when walking down the street one if faced with the choice to submit or dismiss desires in the form of shop windows, billboards, and more. For some, being tied to the mast of a ship and sailed down Granville Street would be intolerable; passing the “Urban Outfitters” or maybe a favorite bar.
    There are some desires which are easy enough to douse. The one’s above can all be ignored with a certain degree of willpower.
    But as children are raised with a mentality of getting what you want when you want it, and with the availibility of things like fast food and outlet malls rising in numbers, the ability to set priorities straight and ignore these desires may be harder and harder.

  18. says

    Thanks, Natasha. Your comment about sailing down Granville Street (in Vancouver) reminds me that, like Odysseus, we have to tie ourselves to the mast of our higher nature. So, why would we want do that? Because we see it as the psychic equivalent of white water kayaking. If we accepted the challenges of these subtle realms as sport, maybe we’d get somewhere. Like Odysseus, we’d get “home”.

  19. Redbear says

    Howdy P.J. : Sounds like a chapter from the book of my own life. Even though the hangover from the high of Desire can make us utter the drunkard’s prayer, oh God let me live thru this and I promise I’ll never do it again, then right back into the Mix master of Desire we willingly go. If there is a ‘ happy medium’ there it has eluded me for the past seventy years. Great post, very thought provoking as always.
    Happy Trails, Redbear

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