Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Wanted: An all-consuming passion

I’ve just finished reading The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes by Zach Dundas. I read all the Sherlock Holmes’ stories when I was in junior high … except the very last one because I didn’t want to live in a world that had no new Sherlock Holmes.

Little did I know there’d be Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey, Jr., and Elementary.

Dundas was that kind of kid, too. As a preteen, he founded the first Sherlock Holmes fan club for fans under 21. Now, with a young family, he decided to find out what the Sherlock Holmes mystique is all about. He visited the Baker Street Irregulars (New York’s still-active fan club from the 1930s) and London’s Sherlock Holmes Society. He met the editor of the Baker Street Journal, discovered the Baker Street Babes. He read or watched the scripts, plays, and films “starring” Sherlock Holmes. He researched Arthur Conan Doyle’s life, all the derivative literature, the Great Game (scholarly studies about Holmes and Watson). He checked out assorted 221B Baker Streets, the moors of the Baskervilles, London streets. Along the way, he discovered that FDR was a secret fan member and that a whole genre of fanfiction (“fic”) exists (which I think is kind of Sherlock porn).
The book is funny, fascinating, and well-researched, but it’s also something bigger: evidence of a quest, a mission. And I am so jealous.

Here he was with something that interested him so much, he’d invest years in it, drag his family along on his exploratory travels, meet people, attend things, follow up on leads.

I want an interest like that.

Back in 1980, I discovered my first waterslide in Spain. I ran up, slid down, ran up, slid down, all day. Then, when Sophie was 2, we discovered a tiny waterpark in Puerto Vallarta. It was a little bitty thing, but it whisked us out a tube in a whirl of water and splash. I was hooked.
After that, I found waterparks wherever we traveled. I told Sophie that if I ever had a summer off, we’d cross the country by waterpark. So then I got a job with summers off.

I began correspondence with waterpark designers, manufacturers, trade associations. They sent specs, photos, videos. We started mapping out our path across the country. Then, in the summer of 2002, we did the National Waterpark Tour. We drove 10,000 miles, visited 24 waterparks across the United States, wore out three bathing suits, and only had ten stitches to my head. Along the way, I stopped off at public radio stations and delivered commentary. We met with waterpark owners. Where we had family or friends, we’d drag them off to the waterparks, too. Tim met us mid-trip.

At each waterpark, we were the first on line at 9:30, the last out of the water at 8 p.m. Every waterpark was different. Every single one aroused our interest and delight and challenged our fears and courage. It was a summer of pure joy. I could write a book about it – and did (an unfinished one).
For years, I couldn’t go anywhere or do any speaking engagement without people asking, “So tell us, which was your favorite waterpark?”

But that was 14 years ago. And nothing has taken the place of that mission, that passion, that all-encompassing quest, since then. Many, many things interest me, but not to the level of two years of preparation and dream fulfillment. And yes, a major part was the chance to spend that time with 10-year-old Sophie.

I could sit here and tell you waterparks may be a silly passion, a shallow exercise in adrenalin. It’s not saving the world, after all. In fact, it’s right up there with surfers following waves, and they’re at least in nature. But really – the thrill, the cleanliness of water, the absence of my land-clumsiness, the variety in design. I still love a good ride, but another tour? No.

My friend Angelo has been in love with trains his whole life; in his retirement, he’s collecting oral histories of railroad folks. He’s working on a book about it. This passion drives his retirement years. I want that!

You can’t install a mission into your life. It has to develop organically from passion. I do believe you can set yourself up to be receptive, to be open to a new interest, but mostly you just have to be ready to follow passion when it emerges. In the meantime, you have interests and projects, mini-passions and mini-quests.

Where is the Big One? How do I find it?


  1. Sometimes I think I have too many things I love to be able to have a single grand passion. If I allowed one to become a grand passion, would I have to give up all the others? Does a grand passion take up all the space in your life?

  2. That's the question. But there's still a part of me that wants to stop flitting amongst the flowers and land on just one. And maybe if you have a Grand Passion, you don't care about the others.


Sharing Button