You've got your passion, you've got your pride
But don't you know that only fools are satisfied?
Dream on, but don't imagine they'll all come true
When will you realize
Vienna waits for you?
Vienna, by Billy Joel
At some point in middle school, you are asked to take stock of your talents to decide what profession you should pursue.
I could write songs. I could be a songwriter! But songwriting isn't a career, it's a lottery ticket.
I could draw. I could be a graphic designer! But hell, there's no money in that, right Erin?
I could solve problems. I could be an engineer! But who wants to sit around doing math all day, right Joe?
I could draw - and solve problems. Aha! An architect!
And I could draw.
I've drawn the Roman Coliseum in conte crayon on pastel paper. I've drawn the backstreets of Pittsburgh in charcoal on newsprint. I've drawn the bones of dinosaurs in white pastel on black paper. I've drawn the naked guy who modeled for our drawing classes with pencils... of varying hardness. Yeah, that happened.
When we cleaned out the garage to prepare for living abroad, I found my bin of drawing supplies from college. That was the last time I had used them.
I reassembled a set of loose pencils in order of hardness from 4B to 4H.
I gave Oliver a conte crayon to try out, and felt a pang of longing as I watched the rust colored wax spread across the page with his careless gestures.
I fussed over which pens to throw away and which to keep. I tried each one on the paper Oliver had colored to see if they still worked. "When are you ever going to use those?" Erin asked. I kept a few and threw the rest out.
We put all of the colored pencils into a bin for Oliver. He has a while to go before he reaches the age where such things are no longer needed.
I could write songs. Good ones.
But I've gone months at a time without listening to songs that I've written and recorded. I've gone years without recording songs that I've written. I've forgotten how to play songs I've written before ever recording them. I have songs that I started writing in middle school and haven't finished.
Then I'll stumble across a song demo I'd nearly forgotten about, and an hour later I'm relistening to every track I've ever recorded. My love of songwriting swells back to the surface, and I float on a wave of nostalgia.
Suddenly I remember why I don't listen to my music. I can't stand it.
Not the music - well, maybe some of the rougher vocal tracks. What I can't stand is the love I have for it. I can't stand knowing that that emotion is inside me, that I can care so much about something - and do so little about it for so long.
We get used to saying no to our passions, our desires, our very selves. We make them memories at worst, or hobbies at best. They are the answer to "what else do you do?" rather than "what do you do?" As we chase the phantoms of material fulfillment, we shun the visceral things that fulfill us the most.
Ever since I said yes to living abroad, I've noticed something.
I've started saying yes to my music again. I've started saying yes to drawing again. I now have a possible future, however temporary, in which my passions can be given the full attention they deserve.
Saying yes to these passions of mine has awakened other interests as well. I'm writing. I'm dreaming up business ideas. I'm conjuring building design concepts.
I am passionate about architecture, but pursuing this single passion as a profession has cost me all of the other things I'm passionate about. What would happen if I spent a year pursuing all of my passions rather than just my profession?
Could one, or all, of these passions become a new profession?
Maybe that was the point of the middle school exercise, to pick the profession that would best accommodate your passions. But that's not how it works. The passion must come first.