Yesterday, Dick Quis, co-author of Thinking Anew, wrote, “In the middle of my book-marketing campaign, your recent question, ‘What is passion,’ stuck in my head. What is it?”
Thanks, Dick. If all the creativity coaches put their heads together to try to figure out the main question they get asked, that would be it. If there was an easy answer they’d all be millionaires, and so would their clients. For those who don’t have passion, it’s a mystery. Those who have it wonder why everybody else doesn’t. Here are a few thoughts:
Passion happens. Travelling to the Interior of B.C. when we were 18, my fellow birder Fen Lansdowne and I dropped in on S.J. Darcus, at that time the best known oologist (egg collector) in Canada. S.J., a spry old guy with a winning smile, lived alone in a ramshackle house in the middle of a potato patch. The house was chockablock with nests and eggs — in display cases, on shelves, in boxes. Two nests were in the kitchen sink. “Getting cleaned,” he said. His most recent acquisition, a nest and four eggs from a Cactus wren, rare in the area, was on a doily on top of his piled-high dining-room table. “The forty thousand eggs in this house,” he said, winking, “were all personally stolen.”
That night on the veranda, we dined on potatoes. “No butter,” said Darcus. “Can’t afford butter. All my cash goes into the tank.” He pointed to an old Ford truck that was leaning against the house. At breakfast the following morning (potato porridge and potato pancakes), Fen asked him how he got started in bird’s eggs. “I was always a birder,” said Darcus, “but when I was eleven I stepped on an egg and broke it. Since then I’ve been atoning for my sin. I blow them out pretty carefully, you know.”
“In eggs,” said Darcus, “I’m a millionaire.”
Back on the road, Fen and I decided that passion came from some sort of childhood trauma. Some people had a trauma, others didn’t. In the intervening years, I’ve had little inclination to change my opinion. When S.J. Darcus died a few years later, his eggs were distributed to several of the top museums. There was no finer clutch.
PS: Woody Allen: “I’m a little worried about my brother; he thinks he’s a chicken.”
Counselor: “Have you thought about getting him some help?”
Woody Allen: “I’ve considered that, but we need the eggs.”
Esoterica: How do you get passion if you don’t have it? With our often contrarian natures, actively stalking the Goddess of Passion can actually put her to flight. Some well-motivated folks are able to trump up a trauma, or at least magnify a glitch. A few have discovered a simple secret that is so valuable I’d appreciate if you didn’t mention it to anyone else: When you really dig right into something, you’re just liable to fall in love. You need to squeeze the paint, write the essay, build the shed, make some mistakes, break some eggs.
Born this way
by Julie Eliason, Royal Oak, MI, USA
I’ve been passionate as far back as I can remember. Maybe it’s because I’m bipolar or because I had lots of childhood trauma going all the way back to birth and infancy. I used regression therapy to heal from the trauma and medication to handle my chemical imbalance. I’m still passionate about life and usually some project that I’m focused on. Right now, I’m teaching an art class in my home studio and I’m getting into portraiture after painting intuitive abstracts for the last 40 years.
I am suspicious that I would be passionate even if I hadn’t had trauma. I seem to have been born this way.
You know it when you’ve got it
by Bill Hogue, Dallas, TX, USA
Your letter on passion reminded me of one of my childhood friends, David. We spent a lot of time together. His passion was hunting and fishing. He later became the sheriff of my home town and continued with his passion until he retired and he is still hunting and fishing. I spent hours in the woods with my rifle looking for squirrels and never seeing one until I got back to town. Had I been with David and was spinning a noise maker behind him, he would have still bagged a half dozen squirrels. But that was his passion and he was “of the woods,” while I was merely in the woods.
David and I both knew what our passions were before we were in our teens; mine was art and travel and it has never changed. I’ve learned over the years that you sometimes have to make difficult decisions to hang on to those passions, but in the long run it’s worth it. I’ve traveled around the world twice and visited 78 countries and in most of them I went to their art museums and fairs. Since the ’70s I’ve been to the Louvre between 7 and 10 times plus many other fine museums.
If you have a passion, you know it.
The art of saying ‘Yes’
by Richard Griffin, Wilton, NH, USA
At its root, passion is saying “yes” to an opportunity that life presents you. “Yes!” as Darcus did to birds’ eggs, “yes” to breaking out the watercolors, “yes” to the emotions that invite you to extreme behavior (whether of love or anger), and even “yes” to your rejection of a situation (“Under no circumstances will I ask your brother and sister-in-law to vacation with us”). We often cannot generate passion directly, but we can practice saying “yes” through our various practices and disciplines. Yes, I will get up and paint today, regardless of how I feel about it. Yes, I will spend time in my shop, even if it’s only to sweep up the sawdust. Over the long term, the accumulation of our yes’s develops into passion — which makes saying further yes’s easier.
FWIW, I find that meditation, assenting to whatever comes up, is terrific general practice at saying “yes.” Meditation has allowed me to experience more passion in many areas of my life.
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Hard wired to create
by Dorothy Siclare, Millington, NJ, USA
Thinking about passion and remembering myself as a child with pencil on paper… I would copy faces from the TV guide. As the likeness was revealed with each stroke of lead onto paper my heart would pound more and more and a feeling of euphoria would come over me. I think I was hard wired with the desire to create… drawing, sculpting, and painting. I still get that feeling of excitement when I have completed a successful piece of art.
Spuds to remember
by Eve Stickland, London, ON, Canada
My husband was a young officer in the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) at the time stationed in Windsor, Ontario. One weekend he invited me down to share his small apartment. While there, I happened to have the good fortune to meet the little old custodian, who was busy cooking his lunch in his home in the stairwell of the building. His material possessions were few, and his lunch was a sliced potato he was frying in a small pan over a hot plate. As he looked up he smiled at me & invited me to share his tasty meal. I will never forget his kind invitation! To me it was a precious gift. A gift from the heart. The best gift of all. Every time I have potatoes, I think of Nick, with his sweet smile and kind face. Knowing him enriched my life.
Art passion saved her life
by Terrie Christian, Plymouth, MN, USA
Your conclusion that passion comes from trauma may be right. It certainly is true for me. The same year that I began some intense trauma healing with therapy, I also started art school to give myself some happiness. Most endeavors are done with passion, and if I don’t have the passion for something I choose a new direction. Doing art has been a very important part of saving my life. Many have told me I should sell, but it is not about that. It is about keeping myself happy and making it a business would ruin that for me. I create for me, and sharing it with others is a wonderful side effect. Art has brought me so many wonderful friends!
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A mysterious equation
by Antoinette Ledzian, Stonington, CT, USA
I couldn’t wait to hear your feelings on passion… since to me you are one of the most passionate people I’ve ever come across. I believe a large number of artists have a built-in passion for life and creation. And I also strongly support the theory that early trauma, combined with artistic tendencies is part of the mysterious equation which fosters passion. Want to write another book! Thanks for all you so passionately share!
Just hope I don’t have nightmares about your old friend who felt the uncontrollable desire to rob bird’s nests, especially the “rare” Cactus wrens! OK, so he did distribute them to museums… Somehow there’s always good justification behind our passions!
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by Roslyn Dyson, Cumbria, United Kingdom
I’m somewhat disturbed by the story of S.J. Darcus and his egg collecting. To me, this ‘passion’ for egg collecting seems rather thoughtless. I note you call the Cactus wren a rare bird. Did Darcus question whether or not he should have taken the nest and all the eggs? I do not consider collecting, in his own words ‘stealing’ eggs and nests, to be ‘making up for having trodden on an egg when he was a child.’ Are there redeeming features to this story – or is it just a passion for collecting stuff?
(RG note) Thanks, Roslyn, and others who wrote along these lines. The hobby of collecting birds’ eggs was already in decline in the mid fifties when I knew Darcus. In those days the words ‘endangered species’ were seldom heard. We knew of rare birds but did not always realize that it was mankind who was largely responsible. Hard to believe nowadays that John James Audubon (see below) shot the birds he needed to paint. He was one of the last to see the Passenger Pigeon before it became extinct. Nowadays I know of no oologists. Curiously, the old egg collections now in museums are of great value in the comparing of current shell thicknesses. DDT and other more modern pesticides are responsible for thinner shells and less healthy chicks in some species.
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by Kathy Pigg, Bridgewater, VA, USA
This post and the bird/ egg connection came a couple days after I heard a program from This link. Audubon had a level of passion I did not know about. And I had never seen an original watercolor, which after I heard about all the variety of materials and techniques he used, I understood the character of passion. The link shows an egret and lists the materials. Passion I think came out of the character of his efforts in some mysterious way. Passion without a larger understanding of one’s purpose or place in the human sphere can be dangerous. Audubon gave us works of great beauty as faithful to his purpose as he could get. I hope to see an original one day. I hear they sparkle.
Enjoy the past comments below for The root of passion…
oil painting, 16 x 12 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Marilen Petersen of CA, USA, who wrote, “You could sum it up as ‘Dig in and discover.’ Passion comes from discovery, which comes from continuous, relentless, deep observation.”
And also Reta Sweeney of N. Cape May, NJ, USA, who wrote, “You can teach someone how to draw or how to paint, but you can’t teach them to have the passion.”