Friday, January 15, 2016

If You Go Chasing Rabbits

In the land of the free and the place where we worship dollar bills, passion rules.

All of my life, I've heard that one must "find her passion" in order to be successful. I understood that to mean I had to find something that engulfed all of my being. It would be the thing that overshadowed everything else you did, including your relationships, your sleep, and your health.

For example, if your passion is making money, regardless of morality, feelings, or anything else human and humane, then this is the country in which to live. I know somebody like that - a successful businessman who by most measures has it all - money, mostly. To my mind, he is not so passionate about nor rich in other things, like family and friendships, or knowledge about anything other than business. But if making money is your passion - and it seems to be the passion of many in this nation - go for it. You have the government's blessing and the envy of many.

Finding my passion and going after it, I was told, was the only way forward. But no matter how hard I looked, I couldn't find that singular thing that would drive me.

So some of us do not necessarily have what many call passion. I don't think I have never found my passion, and I know many people who don't have a passion. My passion, if I have one, lies with intangibles - learning, education, relationships. My writing has been my basic passion, but even there, I haven't had a passion to write anything particular, not poetry or novels or short stories, though I have an interest in all writing forms.

I have had a bit of a passion for news reporting, I think, in part because it is so varied. Chasing after a story is rather like being a hound dog going after a rabbit; you scrounge and search and sniff until the thing comes together and you have something to report.

But even that passion was like birdshot - it scattered in multiple directions. I liked to write about everything when I was freelancing steadily. I enjoyed writing features, I didn't mind writing sports, I covered schools, courts, and government.

I ended up as a government writer as much through happenstance as passion - I have a low immune system so the school systems kept me sick. School buildings are full of kids germs and they sneeze and snot all over everything.

Government, at least, has a more controlled environment where people make a pretense of washing their hands. They wear suits and generally stay home if they have the flu. So I settled in there and learned all I could about the topics I had to cover (at one time I knew the zoning code in my county as well as the zoning administrator). I discovered what I could and could not do with the state's Freedom of Information Act (once a powerful weapon, now a subject of disdain among a certain party in particular, the one with the initials GOP). I figured out how to write ledes to articles that drew a person in and weren't consistently boring. I won awards for the work, so I must have done okay with it.

But passion? I never considered it a passion. I would stop writing at a moment's notice if a family member needed me. I (almost) always answer when my husband says he wants me for something.

Maybe my definition of passion is faulty. Is passion simply going after one thing, singularly, and working and working at it until that is all you see, think, and feel? A place inside you where everything else is secondary - including family, who must understand that this passion comes first?

That kind of passion eludes me. I put family and friends first, because that is where my morality lies. Nothing I did came in first - because I was not passionate enough about it to make it a priority. And up until recently, I lamented that as a loss. It frustrated me because I floundered.

Then I ran across a speech by Elizabeth Gilbert. She titled it "Flight of the Hummingbird: the Curiosity Drive Life." I listened and had one of those "aha" moments.

While I am not necessarily a hummingbird, I am a rabbit (oddly enough, my Chinese animal) who runs around looking at everything.  Like a rabbit, I run around in circles nibbling at carrots and lettuce and spitting out tomatoes.

The deer is my animal totem - because they are curious, inquisitive (yet very shy) animals. Like the deer, I sniff at everything. I stand and look to see what I can see. And I see it all, the entire forest, from the earthy smell of loam to the sight of leaves undulating in the wind against a brilliant blue sky.

My life is one of curiosity, not one of passion, and I have decided that is okay. Not everyone has to be guided by their passion, or led by it. Not everyone must spend time chasing  after one single thing.

To be curious is to be the jack-of-all-trades, the person who knows a great deal about a good many things. Maybe I will never master the art of writing the novel, but my goodness, look at what I have written about in the last 30 years. Basketball and football games, hot air balloon rides, the history of my locality, profile pieces of important people.

I have met with governors, delegates, and senators, ducked under desks during heated meetings, watched time crawl like a stranded worm during dull and boring discussions, enjoyed seeing children go from being all teeth and arms to fantastic human beings, angered some folks and bewitched others with my words. Mostly I educated those around me and kept my community in touch with itself and the things that folks should know and understand if they are going to live in a place and be happy.

It takes a curious person to do all of that - to learn zoning and basketball, school systems and courts. It takes a bit of daring, too, to ride in a hot air balloon, or a two-seater airplane, or stand close to a burning building, camera in hand, watching as pieces of blazing wood fall around you.

When I heard Gilbert's talk, I felt liberated. Losing my newspaper work because of my health problems has been traumatic, and I wasn't sure what else I could do. But engaging my curiosity instead of finding my passion frees me to do, well, anything. I can try anything that strikes my fancy. It gives me permission to start and not finish a story because I grow bored with it. Being curious allows me to try different forms of writing, to change the settings on my camera to see what will happen, to look for new ways of healing that go beyond the norm.

Being a curious person allows me to chase rabbits. Thankfully, there are a million hares out there for me to hunt down.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo, Anita, I could so identify with this post on so many levels. Like yourself, I was also a former newspaper reporter which gave me exposure to many things, including sports, but only as a photographer of high school games. I am uncertain as well of my passion, because I have a curiousity, often fleeting, of so many things. The problem is finding the time because often my attention span is short. My biggest regret about ageing is that the time grows shorter so I am never in a rush for anything. Indeed life is too short for us curious folks. Your writing was very well done and it seems to me, it IS your passion.

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