On Tuesdays and Thursdays I teach a lawyer, a university professor of Civil Law.
Today I took a huge map of the US with me and asked if I could talk about the American Civil War.
We talked for over 60 minutes. He listened intently and asked pertinent questions. He concluded that it was a pity that most people in Europe have never heard of these events.
What keeps surprising me however is how immersed I can get into something.
It’s not sex, it’s not the same feeling as when I sink away in a woman’s beauty, the game of inching closer to her, seeing her defenses drop, getting the back and forth of flirtation going, etc, but it does put fire in my belly.
I understand where my passion for women comes from, that’s a no brainer.
I do not understand where my passion for history, languages, economics, politics, literature, etc, etc, etc, comes from. My earliest memories are connected to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and following a group of Italian tourists around to try understand at least some words of what they were chattering about.
I suppose I got the passion from my father. You could say that my love for these topics is an expression of my love for my father. Perhaps all are passions can be traced back to the love we have for a person connected to the topics we are passionate about. Perhaps all passion for anything at all can be traced back to love.
If you want to go deeper into this I am also sure that as a small child I thought that I could save my family from poverty by knowing a hell of a lot, by knowing more than anyone.
Knowledge by itself doesn’t do that, but as a child I thought that lots and lots of factual knowledge would lead to money, status, a bright future for my family. And it totally impressed adults.
Most of it, I realized later, has no practical use. Other than teaching it to others the monetary value of it is fairly non-existent, unless I could write a bestseller on one of those topics.
The immaterial benefits of being passionate, of being sucked into something, is that you can escape the monster that is every day life.
Like crawling into a cave and see the giant monster walk right past you.
I own about 150 books on the American Civil War alone. I’ve read about 100.
The topic is always with me.
When I feel particularly down I can think of some situation a general got into. It’s also why I am able to teach English. I have the Civil War to thank for that.
In the morning I listened to a 90 minute talk by an economist on taxes. I was very sceptical about what he was saying, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can’t tell you why though. I’m not an economist. No matter how much I read and think about the economy nobody is going to take my ideas on this topic seriously. I don’t have the right degree. All I know is that it drives away the all encompassing feeling of boredom I so easily experience.
A big downside is that I’m absorbed by so many things that I find it hard to stick to one topic or even one voice when I’m writing.
The biggest benefit is that it’s a door I can open and walk into. Today someone was willing to spend an hour with me in that room. That doesn’t happen so often. Most of the time I’m alone in this room.
I remember that in the worst periods of my life I could still take a book on some topic most people find ridiculously boring and useless and I could dull the pain. It worked way better than alcohol.
At the same time I feel like for long stretches of my life I wasn’t living. I was hiding from life in books.
Like when I was a teenager a good friend, perhaps my best, would come to my house and ask me to go to a concert. I don’t understand how he managed to keep asking because I always said no. He would stop by, we would talk about the war in Vietnam or buddhism or something like that and he would go to the concert, hook up with girls, and I would stay home. On some nights I watched certain romantic movies or war movies again and again to feel something, to make up for not experiencing much first hand.
And I still do it. I work. But you could say my work is a hobby I get paid for. I hardly experience it as work. It’s just the administrative part of the travelling aspect that exhausts me. I could do my job for 16 hours non-stop every day if I would never have to travel or do any administration. Aside from that I absorb facts. I don’t see myself as particularly intelligent. Far from it. I’m just a sponge for facts and languages and I happen to have an unusual amount of empathy. Which works out fine as a teacher, therapist and to some extent as a writer. But that’s all I am. I don’t do anything else.
It’s kinda ridiculous, but it’s all I am.
It’s like in that opening song of the series ‘The Affair’.
I have to be the wave that I am and sink back into the ocean.