M thinks we fuss too much about things like passion and purpose. In her opinion, the activity of the moment is the passion. Looking at today, my passions have been eating toast and coffee, throwing a ball for Pekoe, cuddling the dogs, knitting, tutoring, listening to music, doing laundry, watching bad TV, and writing. Hmmm.
Facetiousness aside. I do get what she means. It's like the old adage: if you want to be a writer, write. Or, to be more psychological, your choices indicate who you are, what is important to you. The energy you put into a person or project is what gives it the meaning. "It is the time you waste on your rose..." in fact. I could take that silly list of activity/passions and say that my purposes are living a comfortable life, learning, creating, teaching, sharing and caring. It's a more generic list than the list of passions, but it's more encompassing. And the purposes can remain steady, while the passions change.
So, I make lists of my passions, or rather fascinations. I can choose to waste time on them, or I can be chosen by them. I deliberately don't say that I can be obsessed by them, because, again, obsessing is not what I do. Repetition, maybe. Many show up in blogs or Facebook posts: they have not been researched or developed, because that would be work. But if one can write about sheer observations and sound bites, here's the current list, which I shared with R.
- Details in art: feet, patterns, fashions
- Clouds and the desert SW Sky
- Pterodactyls and other fossils
- Ra Paulette: Cave digger
- Columbia River Gorge.
- Wild fires. Climate change.
- Zozobra festival and burning Man and other traditions of burning
- Dia de Los Muertos, marigold parade, etc in New Mexico
- The tradition of the luminarias /farolitos: making them, setting them out, walking the paths.
- Chimayo and other pilgrimage destinations
- Stone circles
- Andy Goldsworthy
- Beauty and the beast, variations
- Jane Austen
- Dorothy Sayers
- Georgette Heyer
- Diana Wynne Jones
- Strong girls in science fiction
That being the said, it's clear that I am, in fact, passionate about writing. In some way, shape, or form, I write every day. The question is, can I take that passion and actually create something coherent for R's imprint? I'm excited and confused by the prospect. Excited because it's new to me and has the possibility of actually being a remunerative activitiy. Confused, because I don't really know what's involved.
I'm thinking, though, that instead of writing about famous people or that earlier list of fascinations, I'd like to write about extraordinary ordinary people, people in my family, for example. Laura Ingalls Wilder is the closest model: she strung her family stories into a series of books which, while not completely factual, caught the spirit and experience of that pioneer lifestyle. All families are a product of their culture, and they all have stories that fit into the civilization's big picture. For example: women's roles changed with the advent of new careers and innovations. One result was my aunt, who, as The Flying Secretary, raced an airplane across the U.S. in the Powderpuff Derby in 1965. Women's roles were circumscribed after the War, but many had to work to supplement family incomes as the children grew older and needed more support in starting their own careers. And many wanted something meaningful to do. My Mom went back to school after we kids grew up and later took her teaching experience and love of music to start a community orchestra in a small town in IL.
There were other historical events that informed family trajectories. The Great Depression and World War II left their marks on everyone, of course. Esther, whose first husband worked at Los Alamos, left him for a woman and then temporarily left her to have a child. She lived to be over a 100; in that time frame she worked as a censor during WWII and did a similar job for 3 years in Germany after the war. Her mother supported the family during the Depression as a seamstress and a Christian Science healer. In my family, the Depression was responsible for much roaming. My grandpa played in a jazz band in Chicago during the Capone years and remembered being present for a gangster confrontation. "Keep playing," one of the gangsters growled. Dad, who as a radioman listened to Tokyo Rose, was at Guadalcanal after the Sullivan brothers got killed, and was on a troop transport that took wounded from Okinawa back to the West Coast. Mom lived through the Vanport flood. Dad went to college on the GI bill.
Then, there is the entire immigrant experience. So many stories, so many people. I remember hearing of a woman in Colorado who went crazy with the loneliness and hard work, holed up in the homestead, and held off her entire family with a shotgun. While insanity may not have been the only response, my great aunt told us that Grandma married at a very late age, mid-thirties, just to escape all the hard work of the eldest daughter on a farm.
I think I'd like to research family stories, for my family at the very least. It would be an interesting way to combine my interest in history and my attempts to find meaning in the lives that are lived around me. People have endless ways of being and creating and just living: how do we grow as a people and as individuals? How do we tell our stories, to ourselves and to others? My aunt's story is particularly tragic, of course, but it's also inspiring in its way. Her tragedy is one of mental illness within (or created by?) a stultifying society. What leads one to paranoia? What series of frustrations and attacks and sorrows brought her from the bright adventurous pilot to the ranting schizophrenic? And yet, she managed to break the mold that had been set for her, at least for awhile. She was a fighter, and it was unknown women like her who set the stage for later battles, who provided the background for the Amelia Earhearts. Not everyone can succeed, but everyone can fight.
No, I wouldn't write this for R's kids' nonfiction list. And, it's probably not possible to find all the facts of these half-heard stories. But it is possible to set that scene, that history. It's possible to find the arc of the family story. Maybe someone will want to hear it. Maybe it has meaning, in the big picture.