Enthusiasms. R.C. paid me a compliment yesterday—or at least I took it as one—by observing that I appear to have a history of plunging fully into whatever new thing has captured my interest. The observation came after I mentioned in passing how much I had enjoyed living in New England for the first couple of years of married life to Debbie, particularly because of the opportunities to ride bicycles; early on I stumbled onto a great book that was roughly the equivalent of Roadfood for short bike tours, and that we had probably ridden about thirty of those tours while there.
Thinking back, I can come up with a fairly long list of interests that I approached with just the same sort of enthusiasm, starting at a pretty young age. Some of them, like computers or listening to music or contemplating contemporary culture or reading theology or reading history or writing clearly, are interests that continue. Others, like bike riding or watching movies or electronics or listening to jazz or reading science fiction, have long since been neglected. Quite a few are flashes in the pan, usually the result of trying to jumpstart an interest in something because I think it would be somehow beneficial to have such an interest—classical music, say, plus a long list of others that I would be embarrassed to admit.
Some have lain dormant for a long time only to come back in surprising ways; I was an avid photographer in my teens, then didn’t touch a camera for thirty years, but now I find that the skills I developed back then are very useful in the graphics design work I need to do for Draught Horse Press. Some have cooled off significantly after the initial ardor, but remain a background interest that I keep up at some level, partly because I find it helpful in doing my work or living my life—business management is one of those, and computer technology is becoming another.
I don’t mind the waste of effort or resources that are often involved in these enthusiasms, because I don’t consider them a waste. I find it useful and worth money to learn that I don’t want to pursue a particular interest, or some aspect of it. And I also know that I will occasionally hit upon something important in the process, something whose value far outweighs the cost of the entire pursuit. This is why I never hesitated to stock my books with computer reference manuals that I didn’t need at the moment—I knew that there often comes a time when being able to quickly find one answer on one page of one of those books would be worth more than ten of the books themselves. And I can name single insights I’ve found in other books that are worth more than the combined cost of every book I’ve ever bought.
There’s a danger in taking this approach, of course. Repeatedly plunging into passing interests can keep you from developing depth in a particular area; worse, it can feed one of the diseases of the age, an unquenchable craving for novelty. I probably couldn’t have rebutted such a criticism twenty years ago, except to say that I was aware of the danger, and now all I can offer is the historical evidence—many of those enthusiastically pursued interests have provided continuing benefits, and some of them have become new and important parts of our lives.
Regular readers of this weblog have been following one particular example for awhile now, our adventure with playing music. I’ve offered these stories in more or less real time, knowing that there was a very real risk of embarassing ourselves by having the entire thing turn out to be a flash in the pan. And if you look back and piece together the story so far, you’ll see that there have been some dead ends, some mistaken assumptions, and some unfriutful efforts. But I’m hoping that further along I’ll be able to make a case that not only has this been a justifiable path to follow, but that it has yielded surprise after pleasant surprise. We probably made sacrifices we’ll never understand by choosing to proceed quickly and enthusiastically rather than slowly and cautiously. But I’d argue that speed doesn’t preclude deliberateness. And I’d point out that a fifty year old man has things to consider (like the years remaining to him) that tend to tip the balance towards not running any risk of dawdling.