2012-09-05

Fields of Dreams, Streetcars of Desire

What is the role of DESIRE in your life? Or perhaps the question to ask is: Is there a role for anything else? Choose a set of desires and everything in life is determined from there. The thing is, we don't choose our desires. Desires just appear on their own.

What desires are grabbing hold of you these days? What do you want?

In the 1989 film, “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner goes to see the reclusive writer played by James Earl Jones. Jones tries to chase him away, but Costner prevails upon him to go to a baseball game. They’re at the game, standing in front of the concession stand.

Costner: “So what do you want?”
Jones: “I want them to stop looking to me for answers, begging me to speak again, write again, be a leader. I want them to start thinking for themselves. I want my privacy.”
Costner (pointing to the concession stand menu): “No, I mean, what do you WANT?”
Jones: “Oh. Dog and a beer.”

It’s wonderful to see Jones’ character relax into the present. There he was getting into his familiar wind-up about people, with the unreasonable things they do and want – these people this and those people that. What a relief it always is to set that aside -- to come back to: what’s right here. Why, it’s a baseball game, with concessions in the offing. There is nothing to want more complicated than, “dog and a beer.”

Desire seems to take us down the tracks that it wants, without our choosing. Can we ever get off of the streetcar named "desire" -- or do we only switch from one to another, without choosing the switch either?

The screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play, "A Streetcar Named Desire,” is best remembered for Marlon Brando's anguished cry of desire for connection and acceptance, calling out for his wife, "STELLAAAaaa!" Brando's character, Stanley Kowalski, had hit Stella, and Stella sought refuge in the neighbor’s upstairs apartment. Later, in remorse and desire, he cries after her.

We spend much (all?) of our lives riding on that streetcar named desire. There actually, incidently, was a streetcar line called the Desire Line in New Orleans. It ran from 1920 to 1948, when streetcars were at their height in that town. The route ran down Bourbon, through the Quarter, to Desire Street and back up to Canal. When Stella’s sister, Blanche Dubois, comes to visit the Kowalskis, she describes her route:
"They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at — Elysian Fields!"
That particular route is fictitious, and will, as we learn more about Blanche, represent how Blanche’s ride on desire has led to her spiritual death – for desire leads to Cemeteries and Elysian Fields, the land of the dead in Greek mythology.

Desires pop into our heads, seemingly out of nowhere. We don’t choose our desires, we discover them. They just show up at the door, like Blanche Dubois with a big suitcase, ready to move in and start asking us to do their bidding.

And we do need them. We need desire. Desire, after all, is another word for caring about something. Desirelessness would be deep, paralyzing depression – not able to move because not able to want what moving could get. Evolution built us to want to find food, avoid predators, find a mate. Evolution made sugary foods feel good because it was better for us to eat fruit that was ripe. Fatty foods feel good because out on the Savannah 10 million years ago, we needed all the fat we could get. Making love feels good, and nurturing feels good, especially for young adult females, and chasing down game feels good, especially for young adult males, because evolution needed us to do those things – or, we might say more precisely and simply: the ones that did those things made more copies of themselves.

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This is part 1 of 5 of "Desire."

Next: Part 2: "First, Notice"