The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
– Jack Kerouac
I met my ex-husband when I was 19 years old. I had just completed my freshman year in college and I was bursting with curiosity. I felt like I was in the wilderness of possibilities and I was loving the adventurous sense of exploration… interests that is.
On our first date, he asked me what I was interested in. When I said photography, he cheerfully bombarded me with names of photographers I had never heard of before. I felt equally excited, but also insufficient as I reluctantly admitted, “No. I don’t know them.” When I said that, he gave me a smile I couldn’t quite read. In one sip he finished whatever was left from his humorous vanilla ice latte, got up and motioned me to follow him without giving a hint about our future. We walked through the crimson crowds of Harvard Square / Boston, and crossed the street to the university’s bookstore. He knew exactly where he was going. I followed him upstairs, like a mouse in a maze of books. He stopped abruptly. I looked up and saw our destination – “Photography.”
He intensely selected about a dozen books, released them from his hug onto the floor and sat down on the crummy rug. I still vividly remember how my inner proper Turkish girlness peaked up thinking, “but the floor is dirty!” Then this new girl I was in the midst of becoming interjected and whispered, “Oh Basak, just sit the hell down.” I’m so glad that I listened to her.
Each book was a representative for all the photographers whom he loved and adored. He went through each and every one them, explaining to me in such rapturous devotion, why they matter and why he’s inspired by them specifically. It was like listening to a sparrow chirping on a tree, calling on to another. I wanted to kiss him right then and there.
Alas, we didn’t work out. We had some tumultuous and heart-wrenching times together. But he also gave me some of the fondest memories in my life that will make me smile forever. Like the precious moment above… where I was falling madly (is there another way?) in love with him.
See, it wasn’t about his knowing, it was his feeling. It was about his caring. It was about his… passion! I don’t mean passion as in lust, or passion as in purpose. I mean passion as in life itself… joie de vivre! Passion makes one be emotionally connected. “Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion,” so says legendary Martha Graham.
It’s also been said that passionate people are one step short of crazy. I think that assessment comes from their tendency to be hyper alert and sensitive to their surroundings, which to some can be intimidating as it makes them feel self-aware around them. But this very quality is what gives them the rare dexterity to be right there… in the moment. Their profound excitement in life, courage to feel everything in its depth is what gives them that crazy edge. That’s what makes them extraordinary. I find that inspiring.
We need more madness! Sometimes when I look around me, especially in Istanbul, I only see a blur of wishy-washy personalities, hiding in the darkness of trivial pre-occupations. Whatever happened to the flames? Burning for a cause, or a person… for something… anything? When did tiny-hearted people with superficial agendas spread like a virus…? Dim with mediocrity. Numb with indifference.
I believe the reason behind this inclination to be desensitized, this manifolding of lackluster characters, as with everything else, is fear. A deep-rooted fear of burning like a moth by other’s, or more frighteningly, by one’s own flames. But it is based on the false assumption that we will be completely consumed if we give ourselves to something. It isn’t so. “Wherever you are, be all there.” Because contrary to your fears, that’s actually when you’ll feel truly, and grateful to be, alive.
When you are on fire, that’s when life becomes glorious. Even if you’re burning with pain, feel that pain. Don’t chase it away with temporary remedies. For it will inevitably re-surface, just like a season does. But ifyou allow your passion to feel it, to explore all its nooks and crannies, you will only be stronger when it appears again. Cause this time you’ll know how to learn from it, take advantage of it.
You know, I later found out the thoughts behind his mysterious smile when I had declared my lack of knowledge on photography. He said he liked that I didn’t pretend to know and was intrigued by my “warm curiosity” as he called it. Then he added, “Hey you know what Einstein said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.”
Passion is a major ingredient in the delicate art of living. So I hope you look for the passion within you. It’s already there. Leap towards it. If you say life blew out your fire, don’t despair. You can light it up again. And when you do, don’t repress it. Harness it. In this cold world, we need your fire. And remember:
Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures.