Monday, March 10, 2008

About Focus, Passion, and Risk: Passion

The first time I heard the word “passion” in reference to me, I was stunned and flattered. It happened this way. I’d signed up for a writing class at UCLA extension. This was back in the late-eighties when I was finally trying to write again and Real Life and two children had derailed me. Giving it another shot. I’d written a screenplay that proved I knew how to place words on paper, but discovered I had no idea how to tell a story. I didn’t get structure. So I decided to go to school.

But as Real Life always finds a way to thwart our plans, we were going on spring break, taking our kids up to the mountains to ski and I had to miss the first class. I sent a letter to the instructor asking him to please not drop me. I wasn’t all that familiar with extension then, and didn’t realize if the school's got your money, you can miss the whole course and no one cares.

I spent an afternoon composing the note. After all it would be the instructor’s introduction to me, and I wanted to get off on the right foot. I don’t remember exactly what I ended up with, but it was light, a little humorous, and short, all things I knew should bring me a little slack for not appearing at the first class.

And it worked. The instructor wrote back that he looked forward to having me in class and was impressed with my passion for writing. Passion for writing? How had that come across? I was surprised, but pleased. I couldn’t wait for the class. I hadn’t thought I had it in me to be passionate about anything. Little old conservative, dull ME?

It was a great class. I worked hard, my writing improved, and the instructor encouraged me to enter the Diane Thomas competition sponsored by the Writers Program at UCLA extension. I did, and didn’t win, but I found out that, indeed, I had a passion to write.

I never thought the word “passion” had any relevance to me or my world. Even though I wrote fairly well, majored in English, had placed second in a high school writing contest sponsored by the Atlantic Monthly, I didn’t feel I had the “IT” factor. The best I thought I could expect was to write a good letter and have fun with the hobby of writing screenplays. But somewhere in the back of my mind—or was it something buried in that intrepid muscle pumping blood somewhere deep in my chest—I felt I could have “IT,” IF I worked hard enough, couldn’t I? If I learned some of the skills, at least I might develop some “it,” albeit not in capitals?

So “passion” came with the actual “doing.” Taking a class, getting good feedback (as well as developing a thick skin to repel the bad feedback), and focusing on the writing itself. I’ve been distracted from writing off and on since then, but I haven’t abandoned it in twenty or so years.

It’s taken me a long time to accept who I am and what I can do, to understand that the passion was always there, but might have gone undeveloped if I hadn’t made the conscious effort to focus on the skills needed to produce a structured, polished piece of writing. I’m still not there, but I “get it” now. As Curt Rosengren says on his website, “Passion is the energy that comes from bringing more of YOU into what you do.”


Jane said...

Wow, sis - I knew the passion was always there, even when I was little! It had nothing to do with school or mom or dad or anything but YOU and your creative writing vibe was ALWAYS there for the rest of us to admire. I am glad that you finally were able to recognize it in yourself. Because it glows! You just weren't raised to believe that YOU glowing is a good thing. Which it is.

And on another note, Julia went to the hospital last night to rule out Appendicitis - which was definately ruled out. She is borderline having an ulcer! Can you imagine? It's from her Dad's side of the family - they all have bad digestive tracts. My poor girl! She's fine though - especially since there is no surgery to be done. :)



Sarah Hilary said...

Good for you, Gay! I think many of us feel the passion inside, as it were, but it takes time and courage to put it out there - have it seen and appreciated by others. By the way, I rec'd The Breach on my LJ, I loved it so much!