My husband made a CD for a trip we were taking recently, and I stole it and put it in my car afterwards. This is the way of my people.
Anyway, I was listening to these songs, and I started to think about how, for me, musicians I like reach a sort of peak, and the music that follows will not ever be as good as at the peak. Usually, the apex of awesome is tied to some kind of life event or time period – for example, I’ve found that most of my favorite albums come from the time when you had to buy an album as a unit (in CD form, for me), rather than pick and choose songs from iTunes (or Napster, as we all started out). Or when videos were on MTV and there was only one MTV. So I think that I have an attachment to these CDs that I could listen to from end to end and get sort of lost in that particular language and mood. For example, Beck’s Sea Change is the best Beck album. I am already biased against future albums, even though I own several newer ones and they’re all fine – I like Odelay and I like Guero (to name one prior and one after), but neither captivates me like Sea Change. Is it his best work? I don’t know. I just like it the best. Same with Under the Table and Dreaming – for my money, it’s the best Dave Matthews Band album. Is Crash good? Yes. But UtTaD is better. To me.
But I digress. So, I think that there are definitive answers to the bestness of something, at least as far as these musicians are concerned. They have peaked for me. Weezer has peaked. I will always look at new releases from these bands that I care about with a bit of askance because I already have my mind made up, in a way. So this got me thinking about music reviewers. I don’t know how they can dispassionately review albums and music. Of course, part of the answer is that they are not indifferent – they are wildly passionate, and that’s what enables them to dissect and pass judgement. But I wouldn’t be able to do it because I’d always have my own internal rating. And I suppose some of these music journalists do as well, but they probably have the experience to turn that into a virtue, whereas for me it would be a hang-up.
But this all got me thinking – well this and something else completely unrelated – about how people who are the best at something are so because of their passion. I think caring for something counts a long way. I don’t think you get into music journalism (for example) by accident. You don’t end up a physicist for the cash flow. Obviously, to be successful you can’t just be interested, you have to be passionate – you must be dedicated, resolved and determined. We all of us are probably good at a bunch of stuff. I can cook well, but I wouldn’t make a good chef. I don’t like being near the oven because it gets scary hot, for one thing. I’m not willing to work to overcome this little hurdle – I know this about myself, and I have not to date pursued a career in the culinary arts. Also, when I was living in Ithaca between undergrad and grad school one of my jobs was working at Collegetown Bagels, and the volume of food materials was a little sickening to me. Plus, then I cut my finger tip open one morning making this guy’s bagel, and I can still feel the way the serrated blade scraped the bone. And now I don’t think I could ever work in food service again. It made my physically ill to pick up a knife for weeks. Anyway, chefs cut themselves and get burned and they just keep going, because they want to be there doing that, even if they get hurt or maimed sometimes. So anyway, we all have some skills that we enjoy but that we probably aren’t going to turn into our life’s work.
But what about the stuff that we are passionate about? Where in school are people helping us learn what that is, and getting ourselves started at it? Some of us had more sympathetic help than others, and some of us don’t know until we’re fully grown what we best love. One of my closest friends is a vet. She knew she wanted to be a vet from the time she was pretty young. I wanted to be a unicorn. And here we are. She is a vet and I am not a unicorn. I am ok with this, by the way. I wasn’t really passionate about it, I just dug unicorns. Still do.
It took me a long time to find something I was more than interested in. I’m very interested in a lot of things. I really like reading and writing. I like teaching pretty well. I love helping people, which teaching kind of falls under sometimes (I guess if you’re doing it right). I love painting. I love the twins and my husband and our life. I love puzzling over things and having a good think. I get to do bits of all this stuff most days, so I’m actually very lucky. But how do you practice for something like this in school? Who is your mentor for that? Is a better question why do we think one-size-fits-most school is a good solution to our varied and diverse populace? To back up, is it? Is it still a pretty good idea to get everyone a solid foundation in an array of subjects from a young age, then leave college up to them as far as interests go? I don’t know. I don’t know if we can get people to discover their passion in life by a certain deadline like graduation. I’m not sure why we’d want to. But I think we could do a better job of encouraging people to foster their interests early on so that they can start to figure out their passions earlier and spend more time happy. I make the corollary that if people are doing what they’re passionate about, they will be happier, by the way. And I think we could do a better job of helping people after they are done with school, if they are still searching.
To quote the inestimable Office Space, “We don’t have a lot of time on this earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way.” Although the hunt is entertaining and edifying at times.