I wanted a horse. I wanted a lot of things and I never reached for them. I wanted to study in Mexico for a semester (too much effort?). I wanted to switch majors and train orcas and dolphins at Sea World (this was before Blackfish). I wanted to win a debate trophy.
When I was eleven I finished the last page of a novel, closed the book, and lay for a beat on my plaid pastel comforter. I knew I would never read a better story and also, I wanted to write a book that made somebody feel like that, too.
I didn’t get a horse; I got a cow. I got several cows. My dad was a corporate engineer but he dreamed of starting his own farm and ranch and so he signed up all five of his kids for 4-H. I won’t lie; I loved 4-H. I loved waking early to feed my large, stubborn, ugly-cute heifers. I loved training them, and blow drying their hair after baths with special dryers made just for cows, and hauling hay. It was a weird, strange world and I loved it.
But I still want a horse. I still want to ride a wild horse that tames only for me, to tangle my fingers in his wild mane and leap onto his back and race for miles. I want to be humbled by living and working next to his beauty.
These are the things that have always lit me up: writing and communicating and working with animals. Did I work at horse camp? No. Did I pick a journalism degree? Also no. Did I try to find work as a writer? Intern at a place that hired writers? Start a blog? Write? No. I stopped trying at debate because it was hard and I wasn’t very good at it.
It’s a funny thing, to have privilege—and not use it.
Was I too interested in safe, or too focused on what I might regret? Did nobody tell me that I should do what I loved and the rest would follow, or did I not hear it? Is that sound advice? I don’t know. But I do know I am 33 and I still don’t have a horse. I have four kids and a mortgage and a blue Expedition that has 203,000 miles on it, but no horse. These other things—kids, husband, house, job working from home, Expedition—these are all things that many, many people want. I want them. But I also want a horse.
Is it safe to want?
We moralize everything. Our food. Our babies (is he a good baby?). What we want. Maybe before we can acknowledge what we want, we have to stop moralizing what we want.
In a podcast interview this year, Emily P. Freeman talked about making decisions. She shared a story about Jesus and Bartimaeus. Jesus asked the blind beggar, “What do you want from me?” Emily used the story to highlight the importance of facing what you want.
But. Maybe. Also. Do you think that before we can get clear on what we want, we must own that we want?
I am, of course, asking women.
Is it safe to want? No. But what if it’s holy to want?
It seems that it is simpler to be a man who wants. Men are expected to want. They are lauded for wanting (we call wanting a lot of things “ambitious,” in a man). They want money and leadership and sex. We clap our hands and call them “go-getters.” We completely exclude them from the “can I have it all” conversation, because, of course they can.
But it’s different, when you’re a woman. We call women “nourishers” and hyper-focus on their uteri: Do you want children (but it’s not a question)? How many children? How many more children will you have? Are you going to stop having children now? We choose, culturally, to see women as givers, not wanters. If they’re allowed to want, it’s in the context of helping.
When I navigated my future career and life at age 18, I was holding it up to the family I felt sure I’d want some day in the future: Will this career leave me in debt in case I want to be a stay at home mother? Will this career take too long? Will this career make it difficult or complicated to have children? Was I ruthlessly pragmatic or anxious to line up my wants with what I thought I should want or hyper-focused on a fear that I would regret something one day? I don’t know.
Is it safe to want? No. But what if it’s holy to want? What if it is good and right and holy to desire, and what if our desires are clues to how we’ll push back the darkness in our unique ways, in own little corners of the world? What if we lived in a world where women became their full, wanting selves and the darkness didn’t stand a chance against the force of their fires? What if we gave each other permission to want?
I’ll go first: I want a horse.