The Pursuit of Passion
A writer struggles to identify her true passion, and learns much along the way.
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The Responsibility Project
When I was a kid, it was easy for me to be fervent about a subject; or really, anything. In elementary school, I loved Narnia and the series of books about the magical land written by author C.S. Lewis. I had a poster of a lion on my wall that I imagined represented the Christ-like Aslan. I wrote to Mr. Lewis through his publisher and was crushed when the return letter informed me that the author was deceased. I held a private memorial for him at home.
In high school, I became obsessed with music, in particular The Grateful Dead and its leader Jerry Garcia. I spent evenings camped out for tickets, took road trips to see the band, and dressed in tie-dyed t-shirts. I could quote an appropriate Grateful Dead lyric for any situation.
Later, studying at New York University’s Gallatin Division, I learned to make holograms under the tutelage of Jason Sapan. He owned an art studio/gallery in the East Village. Holed up in his dark, insulated basement – because lasers are susceptible to even the slightest tremor – we experimented with laser light. I created art pieces while Jason advised corporate America about holograms (remember the original Visa holographic dove? He worked on that).
Today, I see the same dedication in my 5-year-old son Charles. Legos drive his pint-sized being. Author Mo Willems’ franchises (“Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,” “Piggy and Elephant,” “Knuffle Bunny”) cause hysteria in my son and are rotated nightly in our bedtime reading routine. Bath time is usually dinosaur-themed. We spend weeks pretending we are Little Einstein characters Quincy, June, Annie and Leo. Charles immerses himself in a world of play and imagination and is the better for it.
The contrast between a child and adult is a stark one, of course. Or is it? I can’t help but wonder when my desire to be immersed in “something” faded. Is it merely a product of age? Have I really “seen that, done that” and am too jaded for enthusiasm?
When I think about what I do enthuse about, radishes come to mind. Delicious, inexpensive ($1 a bunch!) radishes at the Brentwood Farmers Market can cause me to bubble over with excitement. Or if I read the latest detective novels written by Marco Vicci (“Death and the Olive Grove”) or Peter Lovesey (“The Tooth Tattoo”) I’ll babble to anyone who will listen. These are short-lived enthusiasms, though.
Should I have a consuming interest? And if I don’t, should I feel bad about it? Even in my professional life I shy away from being pigeonholed. I’m comfortable with the term “Renaissance Man.”
I took my query to Sylvia Castillo, L.A.-based fashion distributor of products like TOMS shoes and eyewear, Aviation Nation clothes, Krochet Kids, and Lauren Bush’s FEED shopping bags.
Sylvia schooled me. “I’m only good at selling,” she explained. She’s being modest. She had the courage to team up with Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, in 2006 when he started the company. She had optimism and perseverance. She stuck by the company through the launch, the bumpy refinement of shoe production, and the economic downturn in 2008. Sylvia exuded enthusiasm.
I explained my dilemma. How I didn’t feel overly connected to any one thing in my life.
“How do you do it?” I asked.
“Passion,” she said simply. Passion? Feeling hot and heavy for that special “something?” Where did I weigh in on it? Had I become a crotchety fogey?
Sylvia’s experience with TOMS had re-mapped her professional career. In 2008, at the height of the economic crisis, Mycoskie took Sylvia to South Africa. “‘Do you want to come and we’ll give shoes away?’” she recalled him saying. “It was a life changer,” she said. “If you are passionate, and (people) trust you, (a product) sells itself. The model has taken over business everywhere.”
Awed, I left Sylvia’s office in the Cooper building in downtown Los Angeles. Still, I had mixed feelings. I was mopey. I didn’t have clarity of purpose. I didn’t have a talent for selling anything, really.
At home, I sat at my computer. I reread my notes from the interview with Sylvia. I looked over the TOMS literature. Sylvia and Blake’s inspiration, their energy and passion flowed through my fingers as I wrote. As they say in the biz, “The story wrote itself.” When I stood up, the summer sky was dulling into twilight.
Listening to people talk about their passion is my passion. Storytelling consumes me. Give me an hour with a stranger and I will find out something incredibly interesting and unique about them. And I’ll come up with a great narrative for a story.
It’s not tangible like shoes or eyewear. But it is my passion.
On my computer, I listened to “The Very Best of The Grateful Dead” on iTunes. If I had been pulling out the original album, I would be blowing dust off the cover and scrupulously cleaning the disc before putting it under a diamond needle. That’s how long it’d been since I’ve listened to these tracks.
All those past passions had seemed dead to me. Jerry Garcia strummed out the chords in his identifiable style. Phil Lesh’s bass thumped along. Garcia sang, “Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world. Wake now, discover that you are the song that the mornin’ brings. But the heart has its seasons, its evenings and songs of its own.”
My past passions couldn’t be more relevant today. They once were everything to me. There is a way to synthesize past passions into present-day life. I don’t have to continue to be a devotee but I can call upon my knowledge and experience. It’s called wisdom.
The next day, I emailed a thank you note to Sylvia. Unwittingly, she and Blake and TOMS had helped me in my quest for myself. Her passion made it possible for me to identify my own.
I’m the “eyes of the world”? What a great way to describe my job and my desire to tell stories. Wake up and discover that I’m the song that the morning brings? Okay, I will. Every individual heart has a song of its own. It’s called passion.
Thea Klapwald is a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and has also written for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and Variety. She blogs regularly at Awkward Travels with Thea.