Tuesday, January 18, 2005

after the storm

A blizzard warning was in effect yesterday for most parts of the Maritime Provinces, and although Fredericton didn’t get the lion’s share, there were still low temperatures and blowing snow, low visibility and all the rest of the wonderful things that make it hard to get around in January. Patti and I bundled up in our hallway (isn’t it grand, all the layering you get to do in the winter? Sweater, scarf, mittens/gloves, longjohns, boots) and, heads down, feet persistent, walked to school, meeting Janice along the way. So yesterday was all about snow, and cold wind, and the avoidance thereof. It was also all about rosy cheeks and smiling at passersby despite the cold. No doubt they thought me crazy.

I was thinking today on the walk home from school (the sun shining, the fresh snow all blue shadows and blinding-white patches) about interests versus passions, about what I was going to have for lunch, about economic reasoning, and about not slipping and falling. Let me explain two of those. The street I walk along is flat, but it intersects several streets which run straight downhill, and steeply so. On a day when the snow is either slushy or so fine it squeaks underfoot, (which covers nearly all winter days), I’m terrified as I cross these down-running streets, terrified that I will slip, hit the road, and slide on my butt all the way down the street, which let me tell you is far. Fredericton’s hill has no idiosyncratic bumps or hillocks. Between the highway industrial area and the ‘plat’ (downtown flat area), it descends at a steady rate, looking when all lit up by traffic like a rollar coaster. I don’t know exact distances but it is long. This hill is something you quickly get used to, but that doesn’t mean you have to love it. In any case, if some day I lose footing at the crosswalk and whiz with ever-increasing speed towards the St. John river, I’ll let you know. It’d be quite the adventure, if I could dodge the cars!

In any case. So I was picking my steps carefully, bundled as I was in my massive felt-wool winter coat with my scarf obscuring most of my face, and thinking about making a list of mediocrity. As in, what are the things about which I’m not passionate, at all? The things I couldn’t care less about? I starting compiling some: dentistry, snow removal (when, where and how it happens), opera (I like it, but know nothing about it). Then I got to thinking: if I met a dentist who liked opera at a party, I wouldn’t turn around and leave if I were introduced to him/her. I’d ask some question, generally expressing some interest. It is partly born of politeness, and partly of curiosity. I like to know about people’s lives, about things I previously knew nothing about. “Oh really,” I’d say, “So tell me about opera houses you’ve seen.” Or I might ask about drill technology or bizarre cases of gum disease. This is the difference between interest and passion, I realized, tucking my coat hood closer to my face as a gust of wind and snow came up around me. Interest is slight, it’s trivial, and it’s somewhat accidental. It’s like short-term memory: it allows you to make a decision about further pursuing a subject. If it doesn’t pass the test, out of the brain it goes.

Passion, by contrast, is a force, it is a cohesive energy that causes you to make connections between things and seek out information with intensity and drive. And the things that are neither, we rarely think about. It’s like trying to see the negative space rather than the chair, in a free-drawing class.

More things I’m not interested in (in my day-to-day life, you understand, not if I were to meet you at a party, and you were to inform me that this was your passion):

--criminology (which is why it’s been so interesting to have Patti and Michelle as room-mates, as that is their major) and, as related topics: forensics and those TV shows where the cops are tough and the crime scenes are grisly and tough to watch.

--malls, and most of the things sold in mall stores, except for some clothes, boots, books and the Body Shop.

--the complicated rules of most organized sports.

--the intricate details of music notation. (Though, this could change, with a good teacher.)

--Jane Austen novels.

(**Disclaimer for the List of Mediocrity: None of these things are necessarily always going to be on the list. That’s what I mean by meeting someone who can teach you the passionate side of something. No doubt, I will be made to find some interest in Jane Austen novels, and with any luck will meet an English professor who can show me a good reason to stay up all night reading one.**)

What’s on your list of mediocrity? I won’t be insulted if it includes organic food, or poems, or trees or languages. Honest!

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