Latent Lollygagger: Defining Desire

This month’s theme is Desire.

The word desire is often used as a synonym for “want.”

We say, I desire sleep, I desire ice cream, I desire my partner, I desire to quit my job and write, I desire a baby, I desire to travel, I desire a new car, I desire cheese for lunch, I desire world peace.

This trick of language can cause us to misinterpret and think that desire is just a matter of checking things off a to-do list, of thinking about it as “what will I do today?”

But desire is not the same as goal-setting.

For me, desire is that inner spark, that stirring in your gut that sometimes you can’t exactly translate, but it’s urging you into new, scary, bigger places.

Merriam-Webster says desire is “to long or hope for,” “to express a wish for,” a “longing or craving,” or a “conscious impulse toward something that promises enjoyment or satisfaction in its attainment.”

It is something long-term, something that might not be easy to attain, and in fact some of the steps needed to attain it might not be pleasant. It may require sacrifice and hard decisions.

And it might not always be clear what the “something” is that is “promising enjoyment or satisfaction.”

Ok, I’ll stop being theoretical and bring this into the real world.

Our pandemic world.

Our hyper-connected world that seems to be full of tricks and tips to use this time wisely, to learn a new skill, to write or produce art, to organize the house, to work on our relationships, to talk to friends and Zoom and take online classes.

It is the peak of what is crazy about our world that it seems like all we should be doing is making pandemic to-do lists and filling what used to be busy times with more busyness.

I’m a to-do list fiend. I add things I’ve done to the list in order to cross them off. It’s immediately satisfying to get that little rush of dopamine that comes from completing something.

To be clear, to-do lists aren’t in and of themselves the evil monster here. They’re an important tool to break down big desires, like “I want to write a novel” or “I want to decrease my carbon footprint” into little tasks like “write 300 words” or “buy a cloth tote bag.” But they’re a means to an end, not the end itself. They can become a very myopic way of viewing the world, our lives. They are totally addicting, and can quickly turn into lists of what I “should” be doing versus what will bring me in line with what I desire.

It’s a fragile balancing act, between needing the accountability – I won’t always “feel like” doing the things that are in line with my overall desires – and wanting to “listen to my body.” Sometimes, Tuesday morning, Erin isn’t super sure about getting up to run and write, and instead feels like keeping her pajamas on and scrolling through email and Instagram and rolling right into work.

But that’s a short-term plan. It may make me feel immediately better and slightly luxurious to lounge around and float and call a day of emails productive, but it’s a trick.

There is nothing I desire from life that will come by filling my time with shoulds and busyness.

There’s a lot to unpack as to why I fall to the siren song of busyness and to-do lists and always needing to be “doing” something. Anything, to fill the time in a way that appears to be productive and useful.

And there is a lot more time these days. There is no end date, so the time stretches like taffy in all directions, causing things to slow down and speed up in physics-defying ways. We are both antsy to “get back to normal” and fearful of a new normal that we can’t possibly predict.

So we do what we’re trained to do: we fill the time with stuff. Productivity. To-dos and projects.

What if we all used this time to be still enough to figure out what our desires actually are?

(A note for those who are on the front lines, who are still going to work, who are suddenly parent+teacher+caregiver, whose mental illnesses are rearing their ugly heads: I understand the luxury of time is not yours right now. But anything I say that involves what we “should” be doing right now I think still applies. Your pandemic does not have to look like that “12 ways to make sure your child comes out of this a genius” article.)

It’s uncomfortable for me to sit in stillness. Silence. There is always something more to do, something more that should be done.

I turn over that list in my head, usually in the morning after I wake up but before I get out of bed, all that needs to be done, and then wonder why I don’t “feel like” doing any of it.

Often, the things on my list that seem the hardest to do are the things that bring me in line with my desires—spending time free-writing, going for a run, reading a book—but that don’t seem to be in line with what I think I “should” be doing according to…


The composite “they” that rides on my shoulder, judging my every move. I constantly defend myself to them, explaining my logic, my rationale. Pointing out that I’m right, they’re wrong.

Feeling the need to defend makes it hard to make space to be in line with my desires.

Being in a position of defending my desires brings anxiety and depression, or at least gives them a very comfortable place to fester.

Using this time to tap into my inner desires—without needing to act on them right away, or turn them into a to-do list—is uncomfortable and hard and sometimes, honestly, seems to much in the face of a worldwide pandemic.

But it’s soothing to remember that, in all of this, the one constant is the fact that that inner spark is there, urging me on. Sure, it may be cryptic, but paying attention to it and nurturing it, rather than trying to cover it up with busyness, even in the midst of busyness, is how we retain our humanity when the world is falling apart.

What does desire mean to you? What do you desire right now? Comment below or on my Facebook page.

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1 thought on “Latent Lollygagger: Defining Desire”

  1. hi, So true…. For me it can be a desire or a wish or wistful whimsy…. i have to prioritize and be realistic…. And desires also change and evolve…. and, just being is not on the list!!!


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