I don’t think it’s the same for everyone. Not everyone requires, desires, craves in the same way. We all need to eat, to sleep, to have a secure place to let down our guard, but not everyone knows the same pressures of lust.
I used to rationalize this thought, pretending that not every person has the same interests as everyone else. Some people love football; some people love poetry; some may actually love both. But I no longer buy this diversity of tastes as adequate explanation. Lust is about hunger that goes beyond immediate need, although in its saturation of feeling it becomes an immediate need. Lust is the feeling that comes from missing something vital for too long and not everyone feels these pangs the same way.
A few years ago I was on a long car ride driving across the endless emptiness of the American West, on a challenging assignment for a complex video production. My other two traveling companions were exceedingly bright, motivated people, capable of tremendous feats of invention and exploration, profoundly curious about a wide range of things. We'd travelled many times before; to this day I have tremendous respect for them both. One of them preferred solitude to civilization; the other was more restless. The more literal one would be content never to listen to music, nor eat at a fine restaurant, nor walk on the streets of Paris. But no dullard was he. A master builder, scientist, and an outdoorsman, he had more energy and joie de vivre than many others I know, and I always pay attention when he speaks.
But after a hundred miles of exegesis on the historical development of chemical photography, my eyes were heavy, my patience frayed. It occurred to me that this was not out of the ordinary, that this was typical, the experience of many days on the road, and many journeys taken before the one we were presently on. But I think if we had continued driving all the way to the Florida coast from that high Utah mesa, not once would he have thought to play some music. I don’t think it would have happened even when he grew silent and contemplative, peaceful at the wheel, untroubled.
I missed music. MUSIC! I missed being surrounded by invention, by emotion. I missed Chopin and Mendelssohn. I missed Miles Davis. I missed Led Zeppelin.
Then I suddenly felt hungry. HUNGRY. I didn’t want to just stop and eat, set up our cookstove on the side of the road and make something solely designed to transfer energy from carbohydrates to body. I missed the invisible density of squeezed citrus, the tang of gazpacho, the sting of a sharp onion. I missed passing a beautiful, steaming platter to the person next to me at a colorful table, feeling the energy in their lusty, appreciative grasp as they took the plate, set it down, and dug in.
I bit my lip, hung on for the last dozen miles, got back to my room, and mashed ear buds into my ears.
Inevitably the most accessible subject to describe lust is sex. Like food, like music, like all things, sex is a qualitative continuum, without a perfect solution. It’s too easy to titter at the subject, and that would be a missed opportunity. My point of bringing up this endlessly charged subject is that while I used to believe that everyone was equivalently interested, I don’t any longer. Where everyone has general interests and motivations toward food or sleep, sexual experience isn’t the same for everyone. Sex interests most people at some level, but not everyone wants to give themselves over to the experience by equivalent degrees. Not everyone craves it as much or as frequently or as inventively as others. Not everyone experiences it as a connection to someone else as intimately as others. Sex is a need that has a huge potential range of desire. It's a special case for demonstrating pure desire over simple need. Almost every culture knows that sex has the potential to refract the idea of lust to the point of caricature, but to simply see how it makes fools of us all would be to trivialize it's ability to transform, surprise, and ultimately inspire. With cultural forces adding layers of inertia and taboo, people have complex relationships with their own sexual feelings, to say nothing of their own pursuits. But as a description of a hunger that goes beyond immediate need, the most physical aspects of sexual lust play powerfully on our senses and our thoughts.
In it's many forms, lust has to do with defining a sense of power. In its most pernicious expression, this is power over someone or something else. Perhaps that’s always what power is, because power is always comparative—it's always one thing over another. But in a less destructive sense, lust can be about feeling your own sense of power in terms of your own saturated feelings over ordinary malaise. It's a sad fact that many people never learn how to access their own fully saturated feelings. They never learn how to FEEL. They may have appetites, but I draw a distinction between lusty appetites and plainer, more ordinary versions. It's these saturated feelings, however, that suggest the great power and potential of the emotion. In our intense desires, we discover insights into our own creative processes. In our own profound feelings of desire, we feel ourselves fill with emotion and invention. Barriers fall by all sorts of machinations in order to satisfy our lusty desires; we find ourselves straining to hold out if deprived. Like the dearth of music in my endless car ride, it wasn’t simply a wish to rock out and crank it up, but a visceral need to experience sensation that would return a measure of my own version of humanity to me.
There’s a reason so much art has to do with love and sex and desire in its many forms. Lust empowers us to short circuit intellect so we can access other forces.
Deep at work on an art project, I find myself most in touch with my own lusty desires. I taste food differently, I hear sounds differently, I crave human contact differently, I see colors as if through an amplifier. Lust, therefore, is all about feeling alive. It’s decadent in its way, and often selfish to varying degrees, but that selfishness for sensation often blossoms into a more sustaining passion, and from that passion ideas begin to grow. When ideas grow, they get communicated. It’s an interesting paradox: with roots in selfishness, we gain the potential to cultivate complex thoughts that can be shared. Considering that most complex thoughts generally refuse to stay confined (“Information wants to be free”) intensely selfish feelings of desire can become the sparks to propel the distribution of shared experience. When I want to eat, I’m motivated to find good food. But sharing that food with others makes the experience so much more satisfying. As a creative person, that transaction with others, powered by intense feelings of desire and emotion, are often at the core of discovering how to turn middling work into acts of invention and expressive life.