I went to Maryland over the weekend for the marriage of a dear friend of the family. It was a wonderful opportunity to renew old friendships, catch up with people I care about and have a general good time. Late in the evening Duer sat down next to me. The last time I saw him was at my son’s wedding, over four years ago. Duer is a serious amateur photographer. Although the weekend’s bride and groom had hired a wedding photographer, Duer, the step-dad of the groom, was photographing as well, working with vigor and enthusiasm. By the time he sat down with me, the evening was well on and the Johnny Walker wisdom was running high, as Leonard Cohen says.
I had my trusty little Leica wrapped around my wrist, my camera bling of choice. I’d been, throughout the evening, hunting for intimate shots, hoping I might make a photograph that the hired-gun missed with his shoulder-breaking hardware. The last time Duer saw me, four years ago, I was holding the same camera, working in the same fashion. “Man,” he said, “you and your Lieca. It’s film, right?” I nodded. “Black and white, I suppose,” he said above the din. I nodded again, smiling. “Man, you have a passion. I admire that, a real passion.”
There’s passion, then there’s passion. There was an article in yesterday’s New York Times, Sports Section, called The Mets’ Bat Whisperer. Accompanying the piece is a picture of Carlos Beltran holding a bat to his ear. The caption reads: “When Mets’ Carlos Beltran receives a new box of bats, he likes to listen to them as he gently taps them. He divides them into game bats and batting-practice bats based on the pitch.” It is an understatement to say that Carlos Beltran has passion.
Steve Ballmer of Microsoft recently told the graduating class of the University of Southern California that passion is “the thing that you find in your life that you can care about, that you can cling to, that you can invest yourself in, heart, body and soul.” Ballmer was echoing Joseph Campbell and his famous admonition to “follow your passion.” But I fear Campbell’s sage advice has sadly lost some of its punch. Sometimes simple truths wear out in the usage. Ironically, they can get lost in the shuffle of things. But not always, and not for everybody. I interviewed a canoe maker a couple of years ago, Rollin Thurlow. He makes canoes by hand up in northern Maine. Rollin has passion, like Beltran has passion. Nothing is lost in the shuffle for these types of people. I aspire to that.
That to me feels like the core of it all; that passion is the pursuit of, as well as the practice of a discipline. That is what Duer was suggesting, I think. My camera is a tool, as the bat is to Beltran. I know it well and as a good tool will do, it responds to my need without complaint or effort on my part. Part of a passion, I sense, is the seamless nature it affords one–a pursuit without hinderance. Words for the writer, oils for the painter, ideas for the scientist and so on. Satisfyingly, I recognize in the pursuit of such efficient elegance as passion affords, the nature of the thing itself.