Personal journal: Don’t lose your passion

I’m a big fan of passion. And I don’t mean in the steamy trail-of-clothes-leading-to-the-bedroom sense (though I am of course a fan of that too). I mean, here, passion in the sense of having a lot of enthusiasm and hunger for knowledge of, or experiences relating to, something important to you.

It could be about football. Or films. Maybe travel, comics, baking, horse riding or gin. Basically, anything that you get, in your own way, a bit geeky about. When people ask what your hobbies are, I think they are asking the wrong question, while looking for the right answer. What they should ask is: ‘what are you passionate about’?

Keeping that passion alive is important, and that the consequences of losing it are saddening. For me, personally, they are disruptive to my day-to-day enjoyment of life.

It’s happened more than once, for passion is something that I find is affected by the outside influences in my life. And each time, when it has come back, it feels like a rising tide of familiarity and warmth.

In my earliest full-time job, I wrestled spiders for archive files in a remote countryside repository, used by a law-firm to the store closed-case paper files. Back then, before cost-effective ways to digitise a backlog existed, they had over 40,000 paper files and it was my job to go fetch them when they were needed. There were weird things going on in that archive. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out there were legendary lost swords and ancient totems. There were definitely spiders.

To keep my imagination busy, I’d draw and distribute really rubbish comic strips to the guys in the company’s small IT team and some of the nerdier PAs. No example is available, and if one was, I wouldn’t share it.

I expanded to a weekly webcomic format, called ‘Of’, by the time I was starting out in the insurance industry. Drawing just under 100 episodes in the course of two years. It was better, and improving over time. But it hardly stood out from the crowd in the then-rapidly growing world of webcomics.

Episode 84 j
Webcomic Of, by me. Title: The Evil 8 Ball.

Office-work earned me money, and I while I didn’t have qualifications in either drawing or office-work, office-work was willing to overlook that. As long as I wore a tie.

A decade later, more senior and more experienced, and now working in the City with a collection of suits to match those ties, I hadn’t drawn anything in years, and Of was long-gone. I hadn’t written any stories. I was still consuming geekery and associated merchandise, but by this point I was only a consumer of other’s products.

My day was, even until recently, a long progression of dark suits on the men (and conservative clothes on the women), dark chairs, light grey tables, white walls, grey carpet, and black computer equipment. Muted artwork adored the walls, and maybe a potted plant may live in the foyer.

I was inspired in 2012, by the (successful) efforts of a colleague and mentor to get a screenwriting qualification in his spare time. I challenged myself to write and put together a daily blog (long since deleted, it really wasn’t anything special). I also wrote the odd short piece of prose, but that was pretty much it. I was usually, in the main, wondering how to get to the next pay rise and what performance evaluation I needed to stick the landing.

Straight away, I can say that the environment around me, and the people around me, impacted my passion for creativity and storytelling. For that is what drives me. I love enthusiasm in others, and I love creativity, and I love stories (in all of its forms: books, films, shows, games, music, poetry, art). But as they were all slowly removed in the years and replaced by corporate jargon and dull surroundings, the passion faded with it.

On November 2nd 2015, a woman I know – and for a time could admit to being in love with – inspired me to actually write a novel. She sent me a link to the annual writing challenge Nanowrimo, and said I should try. It was an absurd enough challenge that I couldn’t resist, and like a lightbulb switching on, The Devil’s Playbook appeared on the page in front of me.

It as self-published in August 2016. I didn’t formally dedicate it to her, though the first draft does have a dedication to friends and family. Unofficially though, in my mind, the dedication has always been this:

To Kelly, for believing in me,

And Erin, who never did.

I decided to leave-off with the dedication owing to the obvious negativity. But even that negative aspect is something important, as it was to someone who had, more than once, said that I wasn’t smart or qualified enough to write. For this reason, she was on my mind as I wrote the closing chapters of the novel. And again, when the positive responses started to come in.

The main antagonist in The Devil’s Playbook isn’t influenced by anyone I know, but the principle behind his actions are influenced by how I’ve seen people act, when they tell people not to dream and to lower their goals. Or to accept that they aren’t all that special, that they should try to just have a steady, predictable, life. Sometimes, I feel, this is an unconscious projection of the safety and surety that they want in their own life. Other times, I think it’s because they consciously want you to know that they feel more special than you, as a form of negging.

XKCD #1027, by Randall Munroe. Title: Pickup Artist.

Both sides of this are reflected in my novel, but each in their own way. They reflected in my goals today and my dreams for tomorrow. The Devil’s Playbook is a story about angels and demons, but in truth it’s much more about passion, and about keeping that passion in your life.

Within the novel the audience’s foil, Andy, has experienced the loss of colour and direction in his life. He works in an uninspiring role, in an inspiring office, and with uninspiring people. And he’s adrift. He is trying to keep his passion, just barely, alive through writing. Andy is who I nearly became, and who I fear ever being – he’s a nice enough guy, but that passion is fading.

In 2015, I was working with an inspiring guy, and knew an inspiring woman, and had just begun work on a project to update our dull and corporate office with a bright new location. I think it is no coincidence that for the first time in three years, and more powerfully than I had in over ten, that I felt creativity really flowing again, with such energy and colour flooding back in from my soundings; both people and physical.

Living in London has introduced me to a lot of career-focused individuals, and among those I’ve seen a lot of people who aren’t really all that happy with their choices, but who are pursuing their next promotion with a steady tread of determination. They are talented, skilled people. Some have been genuinely impressive in what they can do. But the sense of stress and frustration sometimes bleeds through, and I can’t help but wonder how much happier the world would be if we were all following our passions. I definitely think that mental wellbeing would increase.

That there are ways to live outside of the world I’ve been dwelling in is apparent. But the impact that exploring the idea of it seems to have on me is fascinating. I find myself thinking of dozens of things to write, things I want to draw, places I want to go, and experiences I want to have. And I find myself wondering how to keep as much of this going as possible, for as long as possible.

If you also feel the same, then find a way to keep it burning. Find the fuel that you need, so that you can fan those flames. In my case it is the colour and energy of my surroundings and the people within them that has the biggest impact.

And so, if I have anything like a daily mantra, it is the title of this post: don’t lose your passion.

Pippa1 g
Another frame from Of. One I’m particualrly proud of.

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