Monday, February 16, 2015

On enthusiasm

Instead of a What's Making Me Happy post for this week, I decided to write something about the importance of allowing yourself to be happy--especially when that involves being a fan.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
                                                                                  --C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I’m by nature an enthusiastic person. Even an intense one. If I care about something at all, I throw my whole heart into it. If you’ve ever been on Twitter while I’m live-tweeting an Auburn football game or if you’ve seen my recent gushing about Sleepy Hollow, none of this will be a surprise to you. Given the right prompting, I can wax equally enthusiastic about the pizza at Serious Pie, my mother’s stuffing recipe, the military merits of the Duke of Wellington, or the beauty of the Episcopalian liturgy. In my world, if it’s worth liking, it’s worth loving.

And yet until very recently I was trying to suppress that side of my personality. That suppression grew out of a laudable desire to maintain a professional and self-disciplined persona, especially while wearing my writer hat, and especially but not exclusively online. While I don’t have any truly embarrassing internet incidents in my past, in my younger days I had a bad habit, albeit one hardly unique to me, of treating the internet as a sort of diary that talks back. I overshared. I spoke without thinking first.

Once I realized what I was doing, I over-corrected. It’s good that I’ve learned that the internet is public and forever, and that I should therefore step away from it when I’m feeling ranty or needy. It’s even better that I didn’t become published until I was mature enough to force myself to stay offline at all costs upon receiving bad reviews, at least until the urge to rage and cry has passed.

But somehow as a side effect of all that praiseworthy self-control, I started holding in my passions and enthusiasms too. Part of that is my habit of defensive pessimism that I use to protect myself from heartbreak by expecting the worst--like how if the Mariners are ever up by 10 runs with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the World Series, I’m STILL going to be cautioning everyone not to jinx things by celebrating before the final out, and honey you better put that champagne right back in the fridge because remember Super Bowl 49? Of course you do.

Yet it wasn’t just a coping mechanism. Somehow I’d got it into my head--though I never quite spelled it out to myself--that I should’ve outgrown my enthusiasm by now. I’m over 40, after all. Shouldn’t have I outgrown the urge to scream for joy over a football game, or being so caught up in a TV show that I race downstairs to catch it the instant it airs, DVR notwithstanding? Is it really seemly to get a physical rush from singing Handel? And isn’t everyone kind of tired of foodies now? So I tried to deny that part of myself, or at least to keep it under a tight rein.

Only I recently realized that holding back my fangirl enthusiasm was hurting my passion for my own life and creativity. If I didn’t let myself care too deeply about the season-long real-life saga of a beloved sports team or get caught up in shipping characters on a favorite TV show, I struggled to awaken that passion when I was the one inventing the saga and the romance. And my love of cooking and trying new things in the kitchen is at least in part fueled by my passion for eating, of being That Person Who Tweets Her Restaurant Meals in the most cliched of foodie fashions.

Which is where that CS Lewis quote at the top of the post comes into play. Sure, fan-love isn’t on the same level as love for family, friends, God, or the greater good of humanity...but it still matters. It’s part of what gives joy to all those deeper loves. And there’s vulnerability in being a committed fan. Maybe some people are shaking their heads and thinking, “Aren’t you too old for this?” And, you know, FOX might cancel your favorite show, or your baseball team might miss the playoffs by one game, or your football team might pass on 2nd and goal at the one when they could’ve just handed the ball to Marshawn Lynch. None of that would hurt if you didn’t let yourself care. But I don’t want to live like that--it’s as flat as room-temperature soda that’s been sitting out in a half-drunk open can for days. So I’ll keep caring even if sometimes it makes me look like a fool or drives me to rage and weep. Life is better that way.

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