A Short Catalogue Of Things You Think You Want

Photograph of Zadie Smith

So, what is it that you think you want? The received wisdom goes that you want Fame, that we all want it now, the same way our parents wanted a good melon. But it only means one thing, it has only ever meant one thing: more people knowing you than you know people. Everything else is an accessory. Just don't bother with this thing, more people knowing you than you know people. Shun it. Put a black cross on your door. It's no fun. It's just for people who have lost something. Amputees.

What else? Well, you want Muscle Definition and at any cost. Nothing I can say can convince you otherwise, and you will get your trainer and your home gym, even though I am not alone and there are others who would like to touch you, soft as you are, in this hard city. But you think hardness is what you need to survive these days, and maybe you are right. I can't fight you (I'd lose).

Now, your mother tells me you want Something That's Comfy Like A Sofa But Doesn't Look Like A Sofa, because you hate the suburbs and you never want to go back there, but at the same time you appreciate the fact that everybody's got to sit down. This is a laudable statement. Only, it wasn't the sofa that made life suburban, and it wasn't the curtains or the carpet or the neatly trimmed flowerbeds. It ran much deeper than that. And no amount of Conran furniture and Japanese wall prints will change what's in the marrow of you.

You want it, I want it, we all want The Love Of Someone Better Looking Than Us. Maybe you have someone better looking than you sitting right next to you now, reading over your shoulder, stroking on the nape of your neck. It's like having the TV on, isn't it? Shiny, pretty, distracting. You've got human TV all the time, you lucky thing.

Of course, some of you are more hardcore than that. You want A Big Shiny Cause You Can Get Behind and, friends, I can see your point. After all, your great-grandfather got a war, so did your grandfather -- hell, even your dad got the Sixties. What did you get? Bupkiss. Or rather, a whole load of intricate claims and counter-claims, civil conflicts involving five different factions, rights that look like wrongs and vice versa. Feels like too much sometimes, huh? You'd like things a little simpler, more black and white. Well, that's over. Frankly, everyone's tired of protecting you from what some people deal with every day. Best advice I can give you is to start small. Sort out your bathroom cabinet and go from there.

Surely any right-minded 21st-century type wants to Get Sushi, Whenever, Wherever? And a Decaf Chocolate Mocha Espresso, Anytime, Anywhere? Well, want it, but know what it is that you're wanting. I read that Leonardo called it a service-station culture which takes the needs of a Fat White American and reproduces them all across the globe. No, I couldn't believe he said anything that smart, either.

Speaking of Leo, is it true you still wish to be Forever Young? To be, or to be with, The Perfect Woman? A cautionary tale: my 73-year-old father has the hots for the big-haired one off Friends. He thinks about her constantly. That is what happens in a culture that won't put childish things away. Remember: these two things do not exist. Remember: these two things will hurt you more than anything else, if you let them.

In the end, it's New Trainers you want and don't try to tell me different. Well, the good news is you don't only think you want them. You really want them. despite their three-month life span, Nike's profits and the children who make them. Because they are beautiful, because they are Art. And as we have learnt these 20 years, Art will make you do shit like that, nine times out of ten.


© Zadie Smith

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