“My habit, when I take on a new client, is to learn what I can of them, so that I can tailor my offerings to their tastes.” -Mary Robinette Kowal, Forest of Memory
When I was a kid someone told me that when you keep snacking and snacking and still feeling hungry, you’re probably thirsty. I remember thinking about that. Sometimes it worked: I’d drink a glass of water and that would seem, ahh, like what I wanted. Sometimes it didn’t. I also ate because I was bored. I ate because people around me were eating. I ate for the joy of it, the potato chip crunch, the crisp apple kiss, the sweet mumble of ice cream. For other wonderful reasons. I’m snacking while I write this. But still, when I was reading Forest of Memory, that moment came back—maybe because it was an early experience when knowing what I wanted felt all muddled up.
I wonder what you want, in reading this. Why you’re here. Mary Kowal’s hero starts the novella by wondering that in specifically economic, transactional terms. What am I selling you? I wonder that, too. On Monday I’ll start teaching a new University course, and it’s expensive to be in that classroom. What do my students want? What can I offer? Beyond the insistent (insidious?) capitalism of that framing, there’s also this idea that I know. That I know what I’m seeking, and you could tailor your offerings to my tastes. Sitting here tonight, I’m struck by how little that describes my actual experience. I go for a walk and sometimes realize I want to be on my hands and knees, picking up ginkgo biloba fruit (and then realizing how hard it is to wash that stuff off. Not sure I wanted that part). I want to be left alone and then, when I’m left alone, I so don’t want to be left alone. I want to be out meeting people and then sometimes I’m overwhelmed. I suppose in an overarching way I want to be connected, to engage, to live in community, but in particular my wants aren’t clean lines and preferences. They’re more fluttering leaves and flowers and twigs from dozens of different plants, growing together in the corner of an abandoned lot. And I realize I like that. I don’t know what I want you to offer. I don’t want to say give me this. I guess I wonder, How are you? What’s going on? What’s here?