While having a conversation with a friend last week, the discussion moved from topic to topic till it got to the part where we talked of our plans for the evening and the weekend. Her plans were with her spouse and mine were with my writing. I said something to the effect that my music is essentially my spouse and my children, and she mentioned that she wished she could find something she felt that passionate about.
I’ve heard lots of people say the same thing over the years. It got me thinking about those things that we are passionate about. How do we discover or come to them? And when we find them, what are we willing to do, how hard are we willing to work, and what are we willing to sacrifice in order to pursue them?
For myself, and most artists and musicians that I know, the passion for our work is something we discovered early on, so the idea of not knowing seems foreign. Still, how does it come? How do you know? Is it like love? Is it love at first sight, is it something familiar that we grew up around, like a childhood sweetheart that we connect with, or is it something strange and new that grows over time? The answer is different for each person, I think.
For some people, one or both parents are artists, musicians, doctors, athletes, whatever; and, that activity is something that has always surrounded them. It was a family thing, complete with all those bonds and associations. There are many musicians where this is the case. Take all the Bach boys for example. Then you have the Mozart family with father Leopold and son Wolfgang. You get the idea. But what about those of us for whom, our passion, was something not shared by the immediate family?
For me, I have always loved music, but there were other interests as well. I was fascinated by science as a kid, and still am. So why music? I can’t explain it. I was always singing as a kid, and as soon as the school allowed us to pick an instrument and begin learning it, and, music in general, I was hooked. It was only 2 years later that I ended up in every band and choir that I could be in. My mom says it was because there are musicians on her side of the family, so some of it could be genetic. I don’t know.
One of music’s gifts to me was a social life. We lived in the country, and there were literally no other kids my age around to visit or hang out with. I spent most of my time in the woods, surrounded by nonhuman lifeforms. I’m grateful for the experience now, but then, being more of an extrovert than I am now, there were times when the isolation seemed almost crushing. Still, that isolation led to a very active imagination and fantasy life, which is a critical element when it comes to creative pursuits.
Enter music. Suddenly I had a reason to be around others after school, and I loved playing. Also, as a closeted gay kid in the Midwest in the 1970s I could express myself and my feelings safely, without words, through the notes. Music became everything to me. It was an escape from isolation, as well as a means of personal expression.
The real hero of this story, however, is not music itself, but is my school music teacher. By introducing me to music, she literally saved my life, and became almost a second mother to me. I wonder how many kids’ lives have been changed for the better by arts instructors in public schools. I’m sure the number is quite high. These teachers are some of the most valuable and undervalued people I know. They are the heroes that few ever speak of, and they do what they do because they are passionate about it.
Our relationship to our art is not so different from a romantic relationship. We become the lover of our muse, and she is a jealous lover. Everything else becomes secondary. I didn’t understand this when I was younger, but I do now. It’s also something that is very common among artists.
This relationship has been alluded to in a number of films and stories. One of my favorite examples is a music video from the 1980s: it’s a song called “Piano in the Dark” by Brenda Russell. The video shows musicians and their lovers in a nightclub after closing. What’s interesting about the video is that the human lovers are secondary to the musicians’ true and real love: the music and their instruments. You see it displayed again and again throughout the video, from the trumpet player stroking his instrument while his human lover sits beside him, to the sax player waiting for his lover to arrive; and, when she finally does, his instrument comes between them.
Like any relationship, our relationship to our passion involves trust and hard work. We need to trust our muse, ourselves, and our talents. This can be a challenge for some people. As in romantic relationships, you must trust and not be afraid to make mistakes; but, learn from them and grow.
I know someone who collects art supplies, and dutifully stores them, neatly, in boxes for years, never touching them. They are afraid to start something for fear of making a mistake. That fear can be overwhelming. This is the equivalent of someone who wants a romantic relationship, but never goes out on dates. You must be willing to try and experience things to see if they will work. Like dating, trying different things will lead you to your passion, and not everything you try will be fun. I’m sure we’ve all been on awful dates before, as well as some great and so-so ones as well.
We need to be open and honest in our work, and we need to be willing to work at it and make it our priority. If we are not willing to put in the effort, and make the sacrifices necessary for our passion, like any relationship, it will change form. Maybe it will shift into the “friend zone”, where you enjoy spending time with it, but it isn’t the all-consuming priority.
Still, not wanting to put in the effort, helps us sort out our true passion. I know someone who is a wonderful writer. He discovered, after a brief success, that he did not want to be a professional writer due to the demands on his time, and what he would have to give up in order to pursue that profession. He discovered this while hiking, which led him to his true passion. He has hiked all over the world. Now he blogs and creates videos about his adventures.
So, finding our passion really is like finding love. We must be open to it. “Date” or try out different things. Find something that speaks to you. The relationship may be casual, or it may be all consuming. There is not one correct way to have a relationship with your passion.
If you have been searching for that one great passion, maybe the search is your passion: trying and exploring multiple things instead of settling on “the one”. Nobody said you had to be monogamous in your passions.
My wish for all of you is that you find what you are looking for, and are brave enough to embrace it when you find it.