This past August, my family sold the house that I grew up in.
My dad had been living there, but passed away almost two years ago (it will be exactly two years at the start of December).
The process of emptying out the house in preparation for sale entailed two summers of heavy work, both physically and emotionally.
Most of the truly arduous work occurred in the summer of 2017. This past summer, all that remained to be done was the removal of a variety of items, both large and small, located in my dad’s garage and work bench—his two favourite areas of the house.
Thus did my mom and I find ourselves sifting through various car parts, shop tools, pieces of wood, sheets of metal, hazardous household automotive materials, and a wild assortment of random items, from old, unused coffee cups, to old power cords, to an old lawn mower engine that had been partially cannibalized for the repair of some other machine.
It was A LOT of random junk that would be immensely useful to a technician who never knew ahead of time what he’d be called upon to repair. Not unlike a cook keeping a well-stocked pantry of spices, gadgets, and different sizes and shapes of cookware and bakeware.
However, at one point, my mom remarked upon her dumbfounded disbelief that my dad had accumulated so many workshop materials.
“It was his passion, working on cars and fixing things,” I said absently, my back turned while in the process of making adjusting the lock on the garage door.
“Yes, but you’re not supposed to ignore everything else while following your passion,” my mom countered.
To which I immediately asked myself, Aren’t you?
Passion’s push and pull
Part of my mom’s remark was owing to the overall clutter of the space around us. The other, larger part, though, pertained to my dad’s notorious penchant for spending all hours at his work bench fixing things—evenings, weekends, and up to the last possible moment before the start of meals.
It made me think of myself and my writing—made me wonder if my single-minded focus and unswerving devotion toward it is, at heart, something I either learned or inherited from my dad.
I’ve written before about how writing is one of the most important things in my life. Outside of my personal relationships with family and friends, and my day job that necessarily supports me, writing is THE most important thing in my life.
It’s the thing that is always on my mind, and to which I always return whenever I have a spare moment.
I’ve structured my entire lifestyle to sustain my writing. I only watch TV on weekends to give myself time for writing on weekday evenings. Two of my four weekly visits to the gym are early in the morning so that I can write through my lunch hour on those days.
During the last two weeks of October, circumstances required me to put in 31 hours of overtime at my job, which is almost a whole other work week. To accommodate this, I was forced to let a few things slide at home, and you can bet that my writing was not one of them.
Similarly, when in the midst of strong writing inspiration, or some manner of writing deadline, even if self-imposed, I neglect housework, sacrifice sleep, let my mail—and dishes, and unfolded laundry—pile up, and subsist on takeout rather than taking the time to cook proper meals.
I’ve turned down perfectly good social engagements in order to stay home and write.
Lain out in black and white like that, it sounds pretty obsessive. Maybe a little pathetic.
But it also sounds like a fairly familiar tale of the sort of people who achieve greatness—the stories of how low they started out, the sacrifices they made along the way, and how even on days when their doubts were at their darkest, they kept working and striving for success.
That’s because despite any ongoing hardship or discomfort, it’s actually rather comforting to be so beholden to a thing, your life flows around it and encircles it like water.
It at once gives you a sense of deeper purpose and something to do on a daily basis that you don’t even need to think about.
It’s always there, sighing its siren song in your ear, demanding your attention, pushing and pulling you higher and further.
Really, it’s just life with meaning, and the meaning of life.
What do you do to accommodate your life’s passion?
5 thoughts on “On Pursuing Your Passion”
So many resonances. Your poor mother! It is lovely to be obsessive about something, not so much fun for the person who is hand-maiden to the man who is always hard to get to the dinner table.
I just sold our family home out from under the three kids – they all said ‘fine.’ We gave things away with both hands to many people and good causes, sold only one or two things. Maybe it was just the one, the almost new lawnmower.
I like your ability to put your writing first. It is healthy of you, and gives you a center no one else can touch. Yours, all yours.
I’m not writing regularly yet. It drives me crazy. My pov character for the current scene has started to nag (I love writing him).
But I’m also attempting some pretty scary new things in this book, and they need their time to mature in my brain before being vomited onto the page. I spent the other morning watching featurettes on Youtube of the making of some Bollywood movies – and that’s now in the fermenting mess.
It wasn’t just the move; it was taking the risks. I’m still here, still willing, still wanting – and still battling health and lack of energy. God willin’ and the crick don’t rise, I’ll get there. Soon.
Keep at it – aiming high has its costs, and you are paying them willingly. Looking forward to the results.
My dad was notoriously difficult to get to the table. We used to have to give multiple warnings of impending suppertime – 20 minutes, 5 minutes, t minus zero. He would get really annoyed if not given the proper notice because he hated eating cold food. Luckily we didn’t have to be constantly running up and down stairs because my dad installed a buzzer system that sounded in the garage and at his work bench, so we just had to buzz at the appointed intervals. He could buzz back to acknowledge, if his hands happened to be free.
Give yourself more time – as much time as it takes. You’ve just carried out a major undertaking; it takes time to bounce back from that. Besides, it can be valuable to take an extended break, to let that pressure build. When the time is right, you’ll know it. But until then, remember to enjoy your new situation. You worked so hard to get yourself where you are now.
Thanks, Janna – you understand. At least your dad used those warnings, so I wouldn’t consider that in the realm of those who ignore the calls to the dinner table, but instead in the cohort of those who use their time to the last minute. Unless he underestimated how much time it would take him to be ready to eat. My dear husband tells me he’s ready to go to dinner when he hasn’t yet tied his shoes. I am hoping he will buy slip-ons!
As for recovery, I’m back in the saddle. But I forgot I had to figure out a major plot point – what are the scenes I need to develop to give a reader a brief but accurate view of Andrew’s current movie, and I’m having to figure that one out. It didn’t get done before the move, and it’s holding me up because I demand that scenes do triple or quadruple duty, and it’s important because I only get three short visits to illustrate a movie filmed with an entirely different environment. The MOVIE isn’t important, but the people and the reason for being where it is ARE. I’ll get there.
I’m back to blocking the internet, and spending time talking to myself on the page.
Wow you sure are dedicated Janna. I often go weeks without writing a word. Not that I have other great tasks to keep me away from it.
But I’ve suddenly created more time for myself anyway. Instead of trying to run in the evenings when my energy levels are low I’m setting the alarm and am getting out there in the dark, before people wake up. So my evenings are freer, if I choose to use them productively 🙂
There’s no right way to do it, Roy. Lots of writers go long periods without writing and then unleash a torrent all at once like you did during your recent writing retreat. I think such a retreat would be largely wasted on my productivity-wise. For me, consistent small amounts are all I’ve been able to offer for years. I always say that my greatest writing asset isn’t my word counts or plots or prose (although prose is number two), but my discipline.
Have fun on those early morning runs!
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