Last week I wrote a long brain-dump on the notion of following our passion and making creative passion the center of our livelihoods. While I was working on it, this came across my Facebook feed:
If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at least go to just after the 3:30 mark, just so you can hear his voice and see his face. If you want to know what the expression of creative passion looks like, this is it.
What this video helped me see is what a lesser place this world would be if only those who made creative passion the center of their life’s work were the practitioners of it.
According to the BBC, this priest, Father Ray Kelly of Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland, is a trained singer with 3 albums to his name, but singing is (obviously) not his primary calling. He sings “to make a few bob for local charities.” He says, “I enjoy singing but I wouldn’t want to do it full-time–I love what I’m doing as a priest. The way I look at it is, it’s a gift one has, and if you have a gift you use it.”
Ever since seeing him, I have been acutely aware of all the gifts being used in large and small ways around me every day. This weekend Cane and I went to small, free music performance at a local eatery. There were about 15 of us there, lining a small hallway
The singers had great voices, great stage presence. I closed my eyes to listen, and I could hear no significant difference between their voices and the ones I might hear coming through Pandora.
“Talent is a key ingredient, for sure,” I said to Cane, “but really there’s so much more to becoming a star, that particular kind of big success. Because there are so many people who have the same kind of talent who never get rich or famous from it. It’s also luck, and connections, and resources, and a drive to achieve at that level, in that way. It requires a set of skills and qualities that have little to do with the creative talent.”
As we listened, I became so deeply grateful for all the “small” musicians who’ve entertained me throughout my life–the ones who play at bars and restaurants and weddings and parks. I’m not a concert-goer because I don’t like music in large venues with big crowds, and the price of tickets to such events are so often more than I’d like to spend. I like to take music in with other things–food, friends, scenery. Without musicians willing to play in small places for small audiences for little (or no) pay, I’d likely never hear live music, and that would be a loss.
I have been wanting, since I started working on that other post, to see the new documentary about Amy Winehouse (sadly, every attempt to do so has met with misfortune). Though I haven’t yet seen it, she keeps coming to mind as I consider these questions about gifts and passion and what we do with them.
I keep wondering how her life–and the lives of so many others whose talents were so large when they were so young–might have been different if we broadened our ideas of what it means to live our passions, to use our gifts, to be “successful.”
At the end of the trailer, we hear her voice: “I’m not a girl trying to be a star. I’m just a girl who sings.” How might her story have ended differently if she hadn’t become a star, if she had remained “just a girl who sings,” if we honored and celebrated all the small kinds of creative work as much as we do the work that garners a huge audience and prestigious awards?
Early this summer Cane wrote a blog post of his own that elicited a strong reaction in his jiu jitsu community, “Confessions of a hobbyist black belt.” In it, he doesn’t just defend the hobbyist, he makes a case for the importance of the hobbyist:
What is often missing is the voice of the hobbyist. The student who has a full time job, maybe a family or other demands and chooses to not dedicate the bulk of their life to the art. This is where the vast majority of people who study Jiu Jitsu live. Either by choice, circumstance, or necessity we are part time grapplers. We enjoy the art as much as anyone and aspire to be the best grapplers that we can be but we are realistic that we don’t choose to train in a way that will make us the next world champion. This is the realm of the hobbyist.
It’s okay to be a hobbyist. There is no shame in it and it doesn’t make you any less of a Jiu Jitsu student. Everyone has their own role to play in the art. …We need people who are successful parents, professionals, educators, tradesmen, students, doctors etc. These people give the school a wonderful diversity and richness that it wouldn’t have if everyone was full time athlete. … Each has an important role to play in creating a rich tribe that nurtures everyone’s aspirations and respects everyone’s path through Jiu Jitsu.
I couldn’t agree more with him. Each of us who practices any kind of creative art has a role to play, and we all make a contribution to the lives of others when we do it. My challenge to you today is to notice all the small creative gifts that you encounter in the next 24 hours, things crafted by those who’ve earned no fame or fortune or even a small paycheck from their work, and to think of what your world would be like without our creative hobbyists.
For me, I wouldn’t have the blankets on my sofa, the art on my walls, or the words in my blog reader. I wouldn’t have the table I’m sitting at to write these words, or the food I’ve eaten while gathering them. My world would be colder, bleaker, quieter, and I’d be hungry for so many things beyond food.
What would be missing from yours?