Do you ever watch the Antiques Roadshow on Public Television? I watch it every week with the Lovely Lady. Well…in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I am in the same room with the Lovely Lady each week when she watches it. The great majority of that hour is spent in a dormant state for yours truly. I am not passionate about most of what transpires there. That said, I do pay attention periodically.
I have, more than once, remarked about how complete is the knowledge of the appraisers for the items which they examine each week. But, as time passes, I have come to understand that their knowledge isn’t quite as complete as I initially thought. Many times, they let slip that, after their initial examination (off screen) of the item, they spent time with books or on the internet searching for information on that particular item. When one pays close attention to the facial expressions and the body language of the expert, to say nothing of listening to the sound of the voice, as they make remarks about the item, you will find yourself becoming aware of when they are genuinely knowledgeable about the subject or simply parroting some information they recently learned from a book or website. Watch the Keno brothers as they wax eloquent about a Queen Anne highboy chest from the eighteenth century, gesturing and interrupting each other excitedly as they point out features and types of wood, almost jumping up and down as a particularly significant detail comes to light, and you understand that they are passionate about the subject and could spot a fraud in the dark. They know the subject intimately, and it evokes strong emotions in them. Other appraisers simply state facts; these guys eat, sleep, and live them.
I spoke with the Lovely Lady about this blog today. You know that I care deeply (perhaps, too deeply) about whether my witless wanderings have an impact on you as a reader. I want to know that I’m making some difference, however minute, in how you view the subjects about which I write. To be perfectly frank, sometimes I know that I miss the mark. When that happens, I sit and read (and then reread) the posts I’ve written to see what I did wrong. On the days when there is an especially strong response to the subject, I sometimes do the same thing, to determine what I’ve done right. The answer suddenly came to me just a day or two ago. The one element which seems to be missing in the deficient posts and which is always present in the successful ones is passion. The posts which have incited the most response have been the ones which need no research, which just seem to flow from my heart and through my fingers to the keyboard, bypassing my head and the usual analysis of words and thoughts. I know the subject because I am passionate about it. That passion comes through to you and you let me know by commenting or liking or even sharing the article with others. Passion is obvious and contagious.
But, as I talked with her this afternoon, the Lovely Lady’s face turned thoughtful. “You can’t always depend on that passion, can you? It would take too much out of you.” Her very astute assessment hit me. I had already been considering how I would change the way I write. I would write only of things which moved me emotionally, things which impacted me to such a great extent that you couldn’t be able to help being impacted also. But alas, I can’t stay there perpetually. That type of maelstrom, that storm of emotions, drains and saps the spirit, requiring frequent periods of respite. To write passionately without an interlude would come at too high a personal cost, both to the writer and his loved ones. It is a higher price than I am willing to forfeit.
Another thought occurs to me as I write now. It is impossible to manufacture passion. One may feed it, and one may magnify its effect, but if it is not driven by a deep-seated emotion–love, for instance, or hatred–the result will not be passion, but theater. Hollywood is full of folks who are devoid of passion, but trained in drama. Broadway produces the same fare. I might be able to learn to achieve that result. But, theater and fakery, you don’t need. I want to be honest as I write. Integrity demands nothing less.
And so, my dilemma grows. If passion is what it takes to show who I really am, was I wrong to have written without it? Have I deceived you, telling you that I cared about an issue, when I wasn’t able to express that concern with intensity? Should I never write again, if I don’t feel extreme emotion about the subject? I hope it’s clear that the answer to the questions above is a resounding “No!”
When passion is not forcing itself into public view, it does not necessarily follow that passion is not present. We live our lives with passion at our core. Some folks are passionate about ecology, some about sports. A few are passionate about pets, and there are even some of you who are passionate about zombies (why, I’ll never fathom). Many of you passionate people go through your lives in a fairly normal manner, never revealing your fervor until the moment when someone mentions the object of your passion, perhaps in a derogatory comment. Then…watch out! The barrage is released, the white-hot fire that burns in your core on display for all to see. It may blast out in anger; may pour out in tears of sadness; may come dancing out in joyous abandon. But, the passion that dwells inside of us will inevitably come out into public view.
And then, I find myself wondering; how do we live lives of positive passion? It seems to me that we have a responsibility to impact our world in a productive way with the things that drive us. When we stifle our innermost feelings, we rob those around us of the benefit of our fervor, our zeal. On the other side of the coin, many of us let our ardor control our words and actions, and thereby lose any hope of having a beneficial impact on the world around us. But, explosions of emotion aside, is it possible to live a life of positive passion? I think it is.
I grew up with music. Piano lessons, family song times, ukulele lessons before school, band through high school…I was primed to be passionate about music. And, I always have been. When I moved eight hundred miles away from home and had no outlet for my music, I made some. First, I sneaked into the local university’s practice rooms when they were not in use, to play the pianos . The other, more important, thing I did was to hang around the local music shop. Records and sheet music, pianos and guitars…I was in harmony heaven there. Eventually, the old guy who ran the shop started hiring me to help move a piano now and then. I made a dollar or two, but more importantly, I got to be around music. Then, the music store moved downtown, and he asked me if I’d help move. I took time off from my doughnut making job to do just that. It didn’t hurt that I was dating the old guy’s daughter, but when I asked for a permanent job in the store, he didn’t hesitate. Over thirty-five years later, I still love my work here. Oh, I’m still passionate about his daughter, too.
If you are passionate about something, you’ll find ways to exercise that passion. You won’t have to parrot information about it, you will already have learned about it intimately. The Keno brothers I mentioned earlier don’t have to research articles of furniture they appraise every time because they are passionate about old furniture. They don’t just quote facts, they shout them from their hearts. They don’t love only the money they can make from their wares, they love how the wood smells and how the dovetails fit together.
I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that sometimes our passions run to things we need to control or avoid altogether. I remember hearing an old gentleman say one time that he had retired from the Navy so he could exercise his passion full time. Unfortunately, his passion was drinking. Full time. His family and his body paid the price for his lack of control. Sometimes, the fire that burns in our core needs to be doused in cold water to be extinguished, especially if the fire should never have been burning in the first place.
I am passionate about many things. Writing has become one of them, but the drive I have to write stems from a deeper love. I have a need to communicate what I know…sometimes knowledge of my faith, sometimes knowledge about music, sometimes knowledge about life in general. I hope that you’ll overlook those times when the writing itself doesn’t demonstrate the passion I have for the subject at hand. The fires sometimes burn white-hot, but ofttimes there is not much besides a bed of coals which is glowing with a pleasant warmth. If the heat doesn’t seem to reach to you as a reader, blame the inconsistency of my communication skills, not the source. You may be sure that the words I put into print are a fair representation of who I am, or at least who I hope to be in my heart.
Like most people, I have the ability to live, neither on the mountaintop, nor in the deep valley, constantly. Both are places where the passions speak clearly. Moses left the passion of the mountaintop with God, only to descend to the passion of the valley with idol makers. Neither was the place in which he was called to remain for long. Our lives are a fabric being woven from threads that differ greatly. The bright and colorful places are no more the norm than are the dull, dreary spots. Through all of it, we remain faithful to the passion which our Maker has placed within us, sometimes shouting it from the mountain at the top of our lungs, other times whispering the words as a prayer as we struggle through the valleys, and mostly, just talking with each other as we make our way along.
I’m happy to be making my way along that road with you folks. I’ll do my best to keep the volume under control as we travel.
You’ll pardon the occasional outburst, won’t you?
“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”
“It is with our passions as it is with fire and water; they are good servants, but bad masters.”
(Aesop~Ancient Greek author~620 BC-560 BC)
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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.