I recently saw a magazine ad for AARP depicting a woman probably about my age with a look of pure joy on her face as the ad proclaimed something like “It’s time to find your passion!”
It made me sad.
Don’t get me wrong AARP and getting older don’t make me sad. In fact, I recently gave in to AARP’s five-year relentless campaign to get me to join. I joined for two reasons. Actually three. First, members get discounts and it must be a symptom of my impending geezerhood that discounts appeal to me. Second, it came with a free gift (that I have yet to receive) of a walking bag that will just fit a tablet (cuz us old folks got game when it comes to the new technology) and some other stuff that I don’t want to put in my pockets. Since I’m walking more (a geezer issue for another day’s blog post) and don’t carry a purse (a Maureen issue for another day’s blog post), I really really wanted that bag. Third, I’m hoping that by finally giving in, the amount of junk mail piling up on my kitchen table, much of it from AARP begging me to join, will diminish.
But back to the sad part. The woman in the ad was may age, thereabouts, and still casting around for a passion. Hell, life is running out. It’s more than half over. What have you been doing?
This isn’t a knock at that woman, though. This whole finding a passion thing, I imagine, is hard. I’m one of the lucky ones. I didn’t find my passions — yeah, I have two — they found me. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life than being a journalist and writing mystery novels, and lucky me, that’s what I’m doing.
I know other people aren’t as lucky.
A big part of getting going on my first mystery novel, Cold Hard News, after decades of stalling was seeing the documentary No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese’s excellent essay on Bob Dylan. It’s a great narrative of a small but hugely important part of Dylan’s career and the big takeaway is that he was going to do things the way he wanted, no matter how anyone else felt about it and the hits he had to take. He was driven. He HAD to do what he was doing, couldn’t do it any other way.
I saw two documentaries this week that were the other side of the coin. The Prince of Pennsylvania and Team Foxcatcher both explore John du Pont’s tumble into craziness that culminated with him fatally shooting wrestler Dave Schultz in 1996. Among all the other lessons in both documentaries is the heartbreaking reality that for all his scads and mountains of money, du Pont a very lonely man who had no sense of self. His efforts to become a star athlete like the ones he collected are uncomfortable to watch (as are those athletes’ indulgence of his fantasies so they could keep his support).
He was an unformed human being. Aside from the life he took, his own was wasted as he cast around, at prime AARP age, to become someone, anyone,.
Anyone who’s grown up from the 196o’s on has heard two major pieces of bullshit their entire life: Be yourself and follow your dreams. Not that these aren’t worthy pieces of wisdom. But no one gives kids the tools to do those things and most of the other things they hear and see tell them to do the opposite.
Because here’s what else kids are told and see in action every day of their lives: Don’t be weird. Don’t be different. Want a career in music, writing, acting, art? It’s okay to dabble, but turn your mind to something more practical. Imagination is all right as long as it fits into the box set up for it by others. Kids who see the world or their place in it in a different way than standard expectations are told in many ways subtle and not so subtle that they’re off base.
It’s part of human nature to want to feel passionate about things. The fact that people are told to but then herded into society’s boring corral helps explain things like religious fervor, Patriots fans, people who can quote every line from a mediocre movie that EVERYONE in their generation has seen a gazillion times, and many marriages. People have a need to feel there are things in life that are passions, are causes, are reasons for being here, and those are accepted outlets.
If you’re really rich and powerful and no one will tell you no, like John du Pont, the inability to find a true passion goes haywire. He was raised along in a big house with a mother who had very strong ideas about behavior and social standing. The money made it a luxurious box, but it was still a box.
Most people don’t live the extremes of Dylan or du Pont. But there are many people whose lives must be dull, unfulfilled, aimless slogs through each day. They try — possibly, probably — to feel passionate about things, but something is missing.
I’m not sure what the answer is. Sorry it took 1,000 words for you to find out there’s no magic bullet. I will say this: It’s up to the person, not the world around them, to find the passion. In fact, the world is probably going to keep getting in the way if you listen to other people too much and not your heart. So maybe that’s it.
I sure hope the lady in the AARP ad finally found her passion after what I imagine is five decades of boredom and drudgery.
I wonder how many books, songs, movies, paintings, cures, inventions, brilliant thoughts and other cool stuff we don’t have in this world because someone was afraid to rock the boat, or gave in to people who thought they were silly, or told they were weird and needed to get back in the corral?
Maureen Milliken is the author of the Bernie O’Dea mystery series. The second novel in the series, No News is Bad News, will be available in July. Follow her on Twitter: @mmilliken47, or on Facebook at Maureen Milliken mysteries. Sign up for updates on her website, maureenmilliken.com.