Recently I spent some time in the car listening to Die Empty: Do Your Best Work Everyday. Author Todd Henry built a career advising creative people on how to be more creative.
I was expecting a message that would inspire me to spend more time writing historical fiction.
I’ve written two books about the time of Charlemagne, the Middle Ages before the days of knights and tournaments and castles (800 AD). When Charlemagne ruled ¾ of Europe, he didn’t have a castle because of the difficulty in getting food over snow-covered and muddy roads. Instead, his court migrated among over a dozen manors, each one stocked with the food he requested.
Die Empty’s early chapters give examples of people who have achieved success or renown but feel unfulfilled.
“Humans, it seems, are wired to find satisfaction by adding value through toil.” Happiness lies not in wealth or even in getting recognition from others, but in following your passion.
Great stuff, I knew I should bring Desiderata, Agnes and Pippin into my daily life again.
But, then, Henry got down to defining “passion”-- it’s not what you want to do the most, but what you can’t not do.
As much as I love writing fiction, the last eight years are witness that it’s not what I can’t not do. As a retiree, I have time to do what I must do.
Contributing what I can to our four generation household may be my greatest passion. The first months after my oldest granddaughter and her daughter came to live with me, I’d burble to friends, “I thought I was happy before. I really thought I was. I did.” There was joy in plying skills that I’d forgotten. I mend the stuffed animals, start seedlings, and sing the songs my parents sang. I even started the new infant dancing before she could walk.
But I spend more time working with a political team.
There’s a lot in politics I don’t do. Others attend school board, city council or legislative meetings regularly, testify at the Statehouse, and watch Congressional sessions.
I work with a team trying to make Idaho politics respond to what people want.
I came home from my first meeting with the Canyon County Democrats feeling good. It hadn’t been inspiring–we reviewed how each precinct had voted in the general election–but I’d met people with knowledge and commitment.
We want to make a difference. In meetings we don’t spend a lot of time talking about values–even though they’re why we’re here–we talk about what we can do. I write this column because a county chair once asked me to submit some “evergreen” columns–ones that won’t sound dated being published for months–and then the Idaho Press encouraged regular submissions.
In some activities the team shares our message with many–letters-to-the-editor, a website, advertising, a booth at the fair. With other activities–door-knocking, phoning, texting–we focus on individual voters and their concerns.
The latter is important where Dems are attacked and demonized. Person-to-person talks help others realize that we are concerned about community, opportunity for all, and natural resources. We want everyone to have a quality education, a living wage and a say in our government. We are not the rioters in the street any more than Republicans are the Proud Boys.
In Die Empty Henry says two other things I find true. “Your understanding of your ‘sweet spot’ develops over time...” And “cultivating a love of the process is the key to making a lasting contribution.”
You learn to understand and love what you can't not do.