Somebody wants something

by Wolf Pascoe on December 21, 2011

It’s not say what you want. It’s get what you want. If nobody wants anything,
stay home.  —  David Mamet

Mamet in theaterOf everything I’ve ever read by Mamet, his little dictum on the essence of drama is the thing that sticks.

Somebody has to want something.

If not, there’s no story. If not, stay home, put the book down, play Monopoly.

I’ve read too many tomes on writing that take 50,000 words to say the same thing, and not as well.

What is it about stories?


You can mess with them, add distractions, leave out details, leave it to the reader to connect the dots. But you can’t mess with somebody has to want something. When somebody wants something, I’m listening. So are you. It’s in the DNA.

Listening for what?

The meaning of life, of course. Whatever story you believe is what you’re giving your life to.

If I know your story, if I know what you really want, then I know what you’re giving your life to. And I want to know what gives your life meaning because maybe it will help me find the meaning in mine.




When Nick used to wake up in the morning, the first thing he’d do was come into our bed and nestle between us. He wanted that more than anything because that triad meant his whole life.

Now he doesn’t do it anymore. When Nick wakes up now, he goes downstairs and listens to his latest Redwall book. He’s got a new story. He’s a warrior now. It’s what he’s giving his life to.

I can enter into Nick’s new story, but only as a warrior.

“Dada, sword fight,” he says when I come down.

And the duel is on.


Moses at the Red SeaTry to hear the name
Ha Shem has for things.

There is something in the story,
Ha Shem taught Adam names.

We name everything according
to its outward form.

Ha Shem names it according
to what is inside.

Moses waved his stick; he thought it was a staff.
Inside its name was “dragonsmoke.”

We thought Lincoln meant “agitator against slavery.”
In the hereafter they call him “He who believes.”

No one knows her name
until her last breath goes out.

— Rumi




I always try to listen for story. It’s not easy. Usually what I’m listening to is silence. It takes me a lot of silence to come up with a story.

As with names in the Rumi poem, the real story isn’t always the obvious one. I’m never sure if the story I come up with is real or fake. Sometimes all I get is, “Did you floss today?”

Here are three stories I’ve been listening to lately. Maybe some are true:

1. This blog

What’s the story here?  Someone trying to be a better dad, a better parent. Not by buying the best diapers, but by clarifying his actions.

2. Occupy Wall Street

Occupy signThe thing that really interests me here is that a good part of the struggle seems to be over narrative. The initial criticism of Occupy Wall Street, for example, was a literary one:

“They have no program. We don’t know what they want.”

According to these critics, Occupy failed its creative writing class. While Occupy bided its time, the opponents of Occupy came up with a story of their own. That story was, “Those bums are a public nuisance. Get them out of the park.”

That was good enough for a scene, but not for a whole play. It turned out Occupy was only in its first act.

3. Jung and God

Jung’s father was a preacher, and Jung was raised with a lot of brimstone. As a result, he was terrified of God.

When Jung went into the American southwest, he watched a Navajo group dancing before sunrise.

“What are you doing?” said Jung.

“We’re dancing to help God bring the sun up,” they said.

“Suppose you didn’t dance,” said Jung. “Would the sun not come up?”

“Why would we do that?” The chief said. “We have a partnership to honor. We’re in partnership with God.”

This was new to Jung. This was one hell of a story.



Leave out what you know



Bill Moyers on How Wall Street Occupied America. Here’s someone who wants something.

Painting credit: Detail from “Destruction of Pharaoh’s Army” by Philip James de Loutherbourg.



What are you giving your life to? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

pamela December 21, 2011 at 7:51 am

What a great question. What am I giving my life to? I think I am giving my life to the inside.


Wolf Pascoe December 21, 2011 at 12:45 pm

What a lovely answer.


Kristen @ Motherese December 21, 2011 at 10:34 am

For the last five years I’ve given my life (my body, at least) to growing children. The question now before me is what I give my life to besides them. I like the idea of giving it to stories, to reading them and writing them.

Thanks for asking the question.


Wolf Pascoe December 21, 2011 at 12:46 pm

I want to read those stories.


Jenn December 22, 2011 at 12:13 pm

My insides melt when I read your posts. I give my life to my sons and husband and my patients. It is hard to balance at times but this goes to my five year plan. My focus now is more on my family, specifically to help my sons grow emotionally and intellectually through the teenage years. Then in five years i hope to expand on my work with more time to focus on research and outreach for those that suffer with pulmonary fibrosis. I wish I had more time to do something to help our country but I will vote for your law to eliminate money from politics. Pretty sure the founding fathers never would have imagined there would be career politicians either. I did participate in bank transfer day!


Wolf Pascoe December 23, 2011 at 2:48 am

I give my life to my sons and husband and my patients.
So beautiful. All this and bank transfer day too!


Privilege of Parenting December 23, 2011 at 2:15 am

I thought of you last Tuesday when my son had to have a small surgery, about what you’ve taught me about going under and coming back, and I had trust in the surgeon and in the anesthesiologist. And into the waiting area came a girl who needed her ear re-made, and then a man who was a ringer for C.G. Jung. He was there for a procedure, but I don’t know what. I wanted my kid to be okay and he was. Later, I was so relieved that I felt sick.


Wolf Pascoe December 23, 2011 at 2:50 am

I’m very glad that this worked out. I’m not sure what I’d do if I had a ringer for Jung as a patient.


Privilege of Parenting December 23, 2011 at 3:44 am

As a psychologist, that would present a real challenge to me as well 🙂


BigLittleWolf December 23, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I come here for your clarity which is generally multifaceted and wrapped in a story. What better way to find our own lessons?

I never expected to be a parent. I never understood the sort of flourishing that it could mean. The purity of it – even through twenty years and a few challenges. Yet I wouldn’t say I give myself to my sons or to my parenting.

I give myself to my writing because I always have.
I give myself to my “better” self because then I can give myself better to my parenting.

As for the rest? Learning. Love. Reason.

What a beautiful storyteller you are.


Wolf Pascoe December 23, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Until I became a parent, I never realized how much love was possible. Or how much vulnerability.


Barbara December 25, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I give my life to the path that was laid before me before I was born. Each day I’m challenged with discovering a new bit of that path. (Keeps life exciting!)


Wolf Pascoe December 25, 2011 at 2:31 pm

A little like dancing the sun up.


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