Andrea here. Today, I’m taking a break from talking about research topics to muse on . . . well, The Muse and what kindles our inner fire.
So what sparked the idea? Well, my older brother and I were recently packing up all the personal memorabilia from my mother’s condo in readiness for a rental tenant moving in. As my Mom was an incredibly creative person—she recently passed away at the age of 85—it was quite a task.
Not only was she an accomplished painter and computer artist (having decided to master PhotoShop and her Mac at age 78) but a talented photographer as well . . . here she is—at age 84— getting ready to go up in her friend Morgan’s plane to do aerial photography. (She also had a pilot’s license but let Morgan do the flying.)
She also turned her hand to a number of other crafts, including studying hand bookbinding with one of the head library restorers at Yale. Combining this skill with her expertise in photography, she made exquisitely detailed family scrapbooks. She had always taken lots of pictures of us growing up, and carefully collected a wealth of other memorabilia, like drawings and letters, to go along with the photos. Each year had its own book, and with her typical Swiss precision, she meticulously labeled events, pasted childish artwork in place, and preserved little treasures such as letters from first grade teachers, sporting ribbons, etc. So, needless to say, the process of boxing all the books and art proceeded VERY slowly as my brother and I stopped often to look through the record of our lives.
As I sat perusing the pages, watching myself progress from infant to toddler to college undergrad and beyond, the experience brought some very interesting observations into focus. I tend to be reflective (I think most writers have a strong streak of introspection) but seeing a visual record of my ”self” and my interests really got me to thinking about how we find our passion in life.
Here are a few of the fascinating things I realized:
From a very early age I loved creating stories and art. Still do. Here I am as a four-year-old, hard at work at my desk. (These days I probably spend a few more hours glued in my chair, but you get the picture!) My earliest creations were Westerns—I’ve since moved on to Regency England, but at four, I had not yet read Jane Austen.
I tended to immerse myself in a character—I loved to dress up and imagine myself in a whole other world. Still do. (The imagining part, that is. These days I forgo the Davey Crockett and cowboy outfits as I write. Sorry, no ballgown or tiara either.)
Writing down my stories, sometimes with detailed illustrations, was something I really loved. Still do. And travel always sparked my imagination. Still does. For example, my parents took me to Gettysburg when I was nine, and that summer I wrote a Civil War short story based on the experience of seeing the battlefields, and reading all about the clash of armies.
In reading over letters from teachers, awards, etc, I saw there was constant reference to books, history and art. A quote from my fourth grade teacher reads, “Andrea is the class master of history.” In junior high school, I was voted “Best Writer.” In college I won an award for best printing project by an undergraduate. It was for a book of quotations from Thoreau, illustrated with original etchings. I set the type (old-fashioned lead letters) and printed each page by hand, then bound the book using marble paper I had made myself. (I was a graphic design major, so I got to study all sorts of fun things while my roommates slaved over pre-med courses.) Anyway, those three subjects still captivate me.
And lastly, I saw that another childhood interest was archeology. (No wonder I adore the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters.) I was enthralled by the past. Still am. And I was enchanted with marine biology (Go figure that one—I had absolutely no aptitude in science, but I loved the ocean. Still do. It must have been all those Jacques Cousteau documentaries. I still dream of going on a research boat to study great white sharks . . . even though I get terribly seasick.)
But getting back to what makes us who we are, the essence of what I learned was that my childhood passions are remarkably similar to my current ones. The things that captured my imagination as a five-year-old still shape my life today.
When I talked about this with some of my good friends, we discovered that each one of us was different. Some of us knew from the start what we wanted to be when we grew up. Others needed time to find their true calling—it wasn’t until adulthood they that realized what made them happy. And some of my friends are still searching for what makes their heart sing.
It was fascinating to hear how some discoveries are stumbled upon—a chance visit to a museum exhibit sparking a passion for collecting teapots—and some come from out of the blue. My avid gardener friend has no idea why she suddenly developed the urge to dig in the dirt. As a child she had absolutely no interest in plants and couldn’t tell a daffodil from a daisy. And my mother, who couldn’t have cared less about birds when I was a child, suddenly became fascinated by them, which sparked a whole new passion for painting them in watercolors. (Here is one of her paintings.)
I feel incredibly lucky to have a passion in life. Not to speak of being paid—albeit a pittance—to do it.
So, what are you passionate about? And how many of you knew from an early age what inspired you? How many of you came to it later in life?
(I will be selecting a winner to receive a copy of The Scarlet Spy from those who comment, so be sure to enter a post!)