The Hamilton Spectator

Desire takes on many forms


LitLive is a monthly reading series held here in Hamilton at The Staircase Theatre, the omnibus event space and mini-resto. The readings are themed and on Sunday the theme was “desire.”

I suppose this makes sense, this being February and all with Valentine’s Day, the yearly celebratio­n of all things pink and desirable, just around the corner.

The readers on that Sunday night LitLive event were establishe­d writers, three from Toronto and the fourth, Anuja Varghese, the Hamilton resident Governor General’s Award winner from last year for her story collection, “Chrysalis.” The readings were, as you’d expect given the theme and the month, of a sexual nature.

Surprising­ly, given the authors probably hadn’t conspired to read similar material, the material read that night felt predatory.

In one, the pornograph­ic, possessive gaze and touch of a man over a lesbian actor in a lingerie commercial is turned on its head when the woman celebrates her body.

In another, a memoir, a young exotic dancer commiserat­es with fellow dancers over the change in audience behaviour. The internet and cellphones have diminished the magic and control these dancers once held over men — and thus lowered their wages. In a third, men desire boys.

As Mick Jagger sang, “You can’t always get what you want.”

Andrea Werhun, the memoirist author of “Modern Whore,” was frank about what a dancer wants: money and rest. It made me think of Jane Fonda’s Bree character in “Klute,” who wants to act but needs money, who wants emotional connection but to remain emotionall­y distant as well. And it made me think, too, what we mean by “desire.”

It’s not an original thought to say desire takes all forms. Money and rest are two, as Werhun pointed out.

In one of the novellas of my latest book, an 11-year-old boy who has lived in the desert sands outside Al Ain, in what eventually becomes the United Arab Emirates, desires

nothing more than to go pearl diving in the Arabian Gulf. In another story, a young female journalist, kidnapped while covering the Arab Spring war in Syria, desires decent food and dreams of poutine. Meanwhile, her brother and her boyfriend want only to know where she is and if she’s safe.

Desire, in other words, even in the month of February, is broader than sex. Heck, sales of chocolate heading into Feb. 14 alone ought to be indicative of that. And these days, there’s so much we can and do desire: reliable directions, a solid pepper mill, the new Taylor Swift album (April 19 can’t come soon enough for some people), unknotted shoulder muscles under a massage therapist’s hands, a day free of calls for air duct servicing, a minute alone to think.

In the end, the best any of us can hope for really, is as Jagger continued: “You get what you need.”

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