Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Interests and Passions

It was one of the greatest and most important discoveries of my life, and I only learned it when I was already in my mid to late twenties.  This lesson changed the course of my life -- no more -- the very way I experience life -- as few other lessons have. And it concerned the theme of today's TNT blog: Interests and Passions. I learned it thus...

I was, as I wrote above, already well into my twenties. My life at the time, like most people's at that age, was comprised as much of ritual, habit and grind as anything else. A not quite yet budding career. Learning the ways of parenting. Finding my way as an adult. And doing all of this on very little money and, seemingly at least, with very little opportunity for growth and excitement. Then came the visit to the Carriage House.

The said Carriage House was at the Shelburne Museum in Shelbourne VT. The Carriage House was, as I remember, a large barn like structure filled with literally hundreds of old horse-drawn carriages. Hardly the 'stuff' it would seem to fire the imagination of this then young man. But it did. Oh, it did! And therein lies a story and the lesson.

I was visiting the museum with friends -- "older" friends -- that word in quotes because those "older" friends were then considerably younger than I am today. And one of these friends was a man of remarkable curiosity. He was a carpenter by trade, but inside was the spirit of a writer and a teacher. Everything, and I mean everything, around him grabbed his interest. So when we walked into that Carriage House we did not just walk through quickly, giving the myriads of carts

and carriages a cursory look -- something I would have done -- in and out in 7 minutes -- but instead stopped and looked carefully at each and every one.  There was a truly old man there -- a curator? a guard? whatever, who saw my friend's interest and came over. "If you have any questions about the carriages" he said, "do, please, feel free to ask."  And so my friend did. And what could have been a cursory pass through a museum exhibit became an hour plus long walk into a fascinating world that was completely unknown to me and until then seemingly uninteresting.  Carriage making. Carriage design. Life in the carriage era. And to my absolute surprise I found myself completely entranced.

Suspension systems? Oh yes, those old carriages had them. And some were quite ingenious.  Weather protection?. Comfort?  How did 'my lady' get relief on a long trip where there were no rest stops?  Again there was an answer - a fascinating one - and it was right there, hidden under 'my lady's' plush leather seat - a toilet, dropable blinds for privacy, and a 'dump system' that would be appreciated by the owner of any modern RV.

Now, over forty years later, I still remember some details about those carriages - but that was not the lesson I learned that day, the lesson that so much changed my perspective on life. What was was this: That the world is full of interesting things and interesting people. Things and people that we might pass right by. Things and ideas that can fire our imagination. People full of passion. People like that unassuming, easily passed over, old man in the carriage house.

What that meant, I realized -- and this is no small or unimportant thing -- is that we need never be bored. (Well nearly never.)  That guy sitting next to you in the doctor's office -- the one trying to find something to hold his interest, just as you are, during an interminable wait... What is his interest? His passion?  What not strike up a conversation. Ask and learn.

I recently faced just such a situation only to find that the 'old guy' (no, it wasn't a mirror) ;-) sitting across from me was a fellow sixties music buff -- one who had actually seen the Beatles live at Shea, one who had heard almost every name sixties band - bands I'd only dreamed of hearing - and who knew their music inside and out.  Once that subject came up his up until then dull eyes began to shine; he became animated. When he and I were some half hour or so later called in for our appointments we were both, I am sure, equally disappointed.

I was never in my youth a "motor head" - I enjoyed cars and motorcycles, yes, and had put on many a happy mile driving and riding them. But really interested? No. Passionate? No.  And then Jan, my wife, bought me a Ducati for our 25th anniversary. Suddenly this bike, so full of of brilliant engineering, so gorgeous of design, caught my interest, and having become a person of passion I dove into the lore of the machine with all my heart.  I started
researching it. Writing about it. And more, took the trouble of posting some of these articles of enthusiasm on the web.

Then one day a letter arrived - a letter from Ducati's CEO. He had
A very animated Dave Van Epps, then Chief of
New Product Development at Ducati, shares his
enthusiasm with Jan at The Ducati Musuem,
Bologna, Italy

discovered my writings. (I never learned how) and all of a sudden my small passion became an opportunity I had never dreamed of.  I was asked to be a regular writer for and for several of the company's books and magazine. "Back Road Musings"   The next thing I knew Jan and I were on our way to Bologna Italy to represent the company and to share our now shared passion with other Ducati owners and enthusiasts at a large, week-long, company event.

Later something similar happened in my life when I took the interest, and decided to share my passion, for my own sixties experience as a music maker. Yes, just as the interest and enthusiasm of the carriage fanatic had fired my interest and enthusiasm all those years ago, now my interest
"Hey, Let's Go Now!" - Recorded
in the `60s,  released in 2011

and enthusiasm fired that of others. I suddenly (and with complete surprise) learned that my interest and enthusiasm for The Abstracts -- my "forgotten" sixties band with but one not-quite-a-hit record -- was shared by others. Many others! And not just here in the U.S. but in Europe as well. Published interviews followed (The Abstracts - An Exclusive Interview), then -- most amazing of all -- a record album. Who could have foresaw all this happening? Certainly not I!

I somehow suspect that I am far from alone in having such experiences. I equally suspect that most if not all of the truly happy people I have met over the years have discovered this almost magical, hidden, truth: That the secret of a life of meaning and satisfaction is hinged on those two things -- interest and passion -- to our giving ourselves in to both of them. Not our having a mere 'bucket list' of things that we check off with the spirit of "been there, done that," but true involvement in life, in the things that enliven our sprit and fire our soul.

I learned this lesson when I was already in my mid to late twenties. Some, I am sure, learn it earlier. Other's later. But learning it is key.  Interests. Passions. Those things -- the sharing of those things -- is the very meaning of life.

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