Something I plan to do when I’m teaching is start each morning/class period with a brief writing exercise. I’ll have a quotation on the board, and will have the students do some free-writing based on that quotation.
And how better to get it started than to do it myself? I’m tired of writing about how hungry I was last week, or how discouraging it is to be fat. It’s tedious. It’s non-inspiring. I’d rather reach higher.
So here’s today’s thought: “Seize the moment of excited curiosity on any subject to solve your doubts; for if you let it pass, the desire may never return, and you may remain in ignorance” (William Wirt).
From time to time, I’ve felt a little embarrassed about how I can get on a jag where I’m single-mindedly focused on something. I’ll go to the library and check out 30 books on the subject, and learn everything I can. And as soon as that passes, I’ve found another thing to go learn everything about.
But I decided not to be embarrassed about it any more. It’s silly. There’s nothing wrong with being excited about things, and there’s nothing wrong in having brief, intense spurts of curiosity on a particular subject. Sometimes those brief, intense spurts turn into a lifelong love of that subject. And as a writer, no knowledge that I gain is ever wasted. Heck–as a human, no knowledge that I gain is ever wasted.
When I look back at some of my past passions, I’m greeted by the Beatles, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Geoffrey Chaucer, amongst many others.
When I turned 15, my Uncle Lee sent me a boombox and cassette tapes of all his Beatles albums. It was the first time I’d ever listened to the Beatles, and I listened to almost nothing else for the next two years. It may not have stimulated in me any great desire to study music more than I already did, but I still listen to and enjoy their music.
I don’t quite remember when my passion for Fitzgerald started. I think it was when I was in 11th grade, attending Richland Senior High School. I was always the misfit of misfits when in school, not fitting in anywhere, even with the other misfits. So I spent a lot of time alone. It’s likely that my literature anthology in school that year included a short story by Fitzgerald, perhaps “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” or “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” Whatever the story or novel that piqued my curiosity, it sparked a 5-year love affair with F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read every scrap of his writing; read about his turbulent marriage to Zelda; read Zelda’s book; read biographies and collected letters; pored over photographs; and wished madly that I could have been one of Fitzgerald’s icily beautiful heroines. I even acquired a pair of 2-foot-high statues that I christened Scott and Zelda, and carried them with me from Texas to Minnesota, back to Texas, and then to Utah, where I gave them to a roommate when we broke up housekeeping. By then I was no longer enamoured of Fitzgerald, and she really loved the statues. I do still read his short stories every now and then, but I find his novels a little tedious and much too precocious to be truly enjoyable.
I know exactly when my passion for Chaucer started. I had read and reread Bel Kaufman’s delightful book “Up the Down Staircase” since I was 11 or 12, and was very impressed by her Chaucer-loving heroine. That alone didn’t impel me to read Chaucer. However, when I was in 12th grade in Plano Senior High School, I took an Advanced Placement English class. We got to read “The Miller’s Tale,” the tale above all others that rowdy, rambunctious high schoolers would love. As an adult some years later, I wonder how my teacher got away with teaching that story, because it was bawdy and vulgar. As a teenager, though, and one who thought nothing was funnier than a good fart story, I fell in love with Chaucer instantly. I read the other tales, and studied them in college, and have begun writing a continuation of the Tales. I think that love for Chaucer that was engendered in me then is one passion that will last, even if I don’t always have as much time as I would like to devote to it. It reminds me that a few years ago I wrote Ms. Kaufman and thanked her for telling such a great story that piqued my interest in both teaching and in Chaucer. She wrote a lovely letter in return, and I have put it in with my most treasured possessions.
So I do agree with Wirt. Whenever a spark is lit, take advantage of it. For every Beatles, Fitzgerald, and Chaucer whim that I took up, how many did I leave behind? And how much richer would my life be had I followed more of those whims?