Saturday, 5 February 2011

"What do you want?"

Naming blog posts with quotes - starting to become a trend. But, you know, I like doing it, and I think in terms of quotes and references a lot, so it's fitting as well as being a relatively easy way of coming up with titles which I think sound interesting.
So, for this one, we're back on Babylon 5 again. It's not a particularly big spoiler (Which is good, because I hate giving people spoilers) to mention that this question has a certain significance and people's answers to it are very significant. This is true in real life as well as on the TV show.
It's what TVTropes calls an 'Armour Piercing Question', a question which will, so to speak, get past the armour of the questionee, perhaps prompting some sort of revelation as they realise the answer. Because the point, as J. Michael Straczynski mentions a couple of times on the commentaries, is to repeat the question regardless of the trivialities by which the target attempts to evade the true question, until eventually you reach the truth. And of course we are to a significant extent defined by our particular wants, which is why it's such an important question, why people may try to avoid answering it properly, and why when they finally do answer, it may change their views somewhat, as they realise the significance of the truth they just uttered.

So why is it the title of this blog post? Because it is a question which I have great difficulty in answering. Not so much in the sense of it as an armour piercing question. In that sense, I imagine I could come up with an answer, after some thought. Of course, such an answer would likely be intensely personal, and as such I wouldn't mention it in a blog.
Nor do I mean it in the sense of basic things, direct questions, like "What do I want to eat?" or "What do I want to write my next blog post about?" I might take a bit of thought to reach an answer, depending on the question, but I can come up with an answer. What I can't do is generalise it. I can say what I want to eat, but I can't identify the pattern in it. I can't pin down my preferences, tastes, whatever you want to call them, the inherent rules in my mind which cause me to make the choices I do.
Now this is kind of moving away from "What do you want?" and more into the territory of "What do you like?" But the two are rather connected, since I don't want things which I don't like. My preference determines the things I want. It's possible I could've come up with a more fitting title, but this one works well enough.

So, a specific example. Let's talk music. What music do I like? I don't know. If I want to give a shorthand, the best I can come up with is maybe "Everything except rap and metal." But the thing is, I do like some rap, and some metal. And there are things I don't like which are neither rap nor metal. Partly because I don't know what all the different musical genres in the world are, but also because there are things, in a genre I like in general, which I don't like specifically. Or at least about which I am indifferent. For example, I was once at a gig, and the first support act just couldn't hold my attention. It was decent rock stuff, not too dissimilar to the headline act I was there to see, I could recognise on an intellectual level that they were good musicians, playing well, but it just didn't interest me. And conversely, I once went to a gig to see one of the support acts, loved all the support acts, but was rather "Meh" about the headliners.
So it's inaccurate. I can give specific instances: I like David Ford, The Dawn Chorus, Duke Special, Gilbert & Sullivan, Pink Floyd, Kate Rusby, Muse, Beccy Owen, Beethoven, Mahler, The King's Singers, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Vocal Spectrum, Queen, etc, etc, etc. It's a very long list, and also a very diverse one (I was deliberately jumping from genre to genre to illustrate this point). But I can't come up with a full account of my musical preferences. It doesn't help that I may be uncertain what is what genre - and of course some music can rather defy genre classification, genres mix and influence each other and so on. Other than the tautological "I like what I like," I can't pin down my musical preferences in a manner that is wholly accurate.

It's much the same with books, TV shows, films, etc. I mean, I can say some things I definitely like, sci-fi and fantasy being obvious instances, but my tastes run from Shakespeare to Gaiman to Dickens to Pratchett to... you get the idea. I'm trying not to turn this into just a bunch of lists of my favourite things, but examples can be illustrative.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who has this problem. But equally I'm pretty sure not everyone has it. I'm sure some people's preferences can be much more easily summed up - they like some genres but not others, etc.
I'm sure I had another point to make on this subject, but I've forgotten what it was. Maybe it'll come back to me.

Changing the subject and returning to my title, it's also something I've been thinking about lately in more general terms. What do I want? For the future, for my life. And the reason I've been thinking about it is partly because I don't think I've ever thought about it seriously before. I just fell into what was expected and easy. I went to school, carried on for sixth form, went to university for a degree. Now I've been out of that for a while I have to make decisions about this sort of thing. So what do I want to do, or perhaps more precisely, who do I want to be? (This reinforces the Babylon 5 connection of course, with the counterpart question "Who are you?") When I was young, I always wanted to be an author. Or an artist. Or an archaeologist. An athlete. Maybe an actor. The fact those all begin with the letter A is coincidental, but amusing.
So how have those worked out for me? I'm a terrible artist, and I'm iffy on the amount of physical work required for archaeology, not to mention I don't have the right education for it. And I never really put in enough effort with training and so on to reach top-level athletic ability, even if it were possible for me to reach that level. I can act a bit, though I don't know if I could make a career out of it. And I can write if I put my mind to it. Also, a more recent desire is to possibly be a singer (A classical one). I can sing pretty well, though again I don't know for sure if I could make a career out of it.
Related to this is a thought I've had increasingly over the past year and a half on the subject of becoming various things such as actors, singers, etc. Based partly on the obvious question which can be put to anyone criticising some item of popular media (I'm sure people can think of examples). Namely, the question "Well, could you do better?" Of course, many people will believe that they could do better. In some cases I could be one such person. But of course, the follow-up is "Well, do so then." And this brings me to my point. One kind of gets stuck with the idea that people who can make a living as writers, actors, pop singers and so on are somehow 'special'. But the thing is, no-one starts out special. They start out as normal people. So if you want to do one of these things, why not just do it? Make yourself special. It can be done, otherwise all those other people wouldn't have managed to do it. This is a point of view I try to hold by, when I remember.

I do of course have a problem with this, since my answer to the question "What do you want?" as far as it pertains to possible careers and so on is rather comparable to that of Caroline Farrell on Dollhouse. "What can I say? I want to do everything."

Final point: Because I'm finding myself quite liking this whole blogging thing, I've thought that maybe I might do something a bit special for sort of landmark posts. Starting close together, and obviously getting further apart as I continue. So, first landmark: 5 posts. That is, my next post.
So, what I'm thinking is, inspired by the trend on the Playground at the moment for posting videos of yourself (Which, granted, I started this time round) possibly answering questions, I will do another such video. The question is, what shall I do in it? I may not use all suggestions, and some may end up in the post rather than the video, but I want suggestions, given either in the form of comments on the blog (I think I'm going to open up the comments to anyone, so people won't need an account) or a message on whichever website you know me from.
So, the question is, "What do you want?"


  1. What do I want?...
    I want to live just long enough to be there when they put your head on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favours come at too high a price. I'll look up at your lifeless eyes and wave like this. Do you think your associates can arrange that

    now if only i could figure a way to display my name...

  2. I have similar issues dictating what I want to do in life - I'm far too fond of keeping my options open for my own good in tht respect.
    I have a few things I'd like to do which are feasible, though. I could write, perhaps, if my prose finds an audience, or go into academia, or if I ever get irritated with what's happening in this country to a sufficient degree I could go into politics.
    What I want, though, is a hazier question.

  3. @Anonymous: You could select the 'Name/URL' option instead of the 'Anonymous' option.

    @Rufus: It's Red Mage syndrome!

  4. i tried that but i don't have a URL and it won't let me leave it blank.

    i have to choose between Betty and Veronica.