Desire, Passion and the Gray Cell

So this post ties in with my previous post. I wanted to talk about what Napoleon Hill means when he says you have to know what you want. What Wallace Wattles is talking about when he writes of a strong desire. Or what is meant by having or holding an image in mind. Here, in as down-to-earth terms as I can write it, is my understanding of this.

Have you ever tried to learn to play the guitar? Steel string, acoustic guitar. If you haven’t, let me tell you what I don’t think many of the books mention. You have to cut your fingernails down to nothing, and keep them trimmed. If you have large fingers, or inflexible fingers, you have to position and hold them powerfully in place in uncomfortable ways. You will likely bleed if you are not used to hard work, and have tender skin on your hands. You will develop calluses, but it takes a LONG, long time, and then you will have these strange, unfamiliar rough bumps at the end of your fingers. So how does anyone learn to play the guitar?

Simple… They love the guitar so much, that their passion for the instrument makes them pick it up whenever they can and practice. I had a friend who lived with my family for a while, and I would often see him just reach over and pick up his guitar, to hold it and finger it, as you would if you were to play. But he was just practicing finger positions. It was an almost unconscious gesture, and urge like you would have to pick up the hand of your lover whenever you are walking together. You have to have AT LEAST as much interest, obsession and passion for the guitar to get you through learning it.

But if you really, REALLY love the guitar, if you see yourself as a guitarist, as the next Mark Knopfler or Jimmi Hendrix, well that desire is even stronger. You go to sleep dreaming of your guitar, or songs, or fingering on the fretboard. You wake up and write out a song, or grab your guitar to finger it. You go to work, and even if you work a 10 hour day and are dead on your feet, the INSTANT you get home and see your guitar waiting for you on its stand in the corner, you are almost pulled there. If you get to this level of passion, you will master the instrument, and this is the first step towards being an innovator with it. If there are any guitarists here who will pitch in, please do.

This is what “having a strong desire” means. It is something you carry with you, living rent-free in your mind, always there at the edge of your awareness. You are always thinking about it, whatever it is. Could be playing guitar, singing, dancing, painting, writing – anything creative. You are already ahead of the game, because you already know what you want to do.

However in order for you to know what you want to do you have to be aware of it. This is what “knowing what you want” means. This awareness could have come to you in childhood, when a fireman pulled you from the blaze. You knew from that moment on you would be a firefighter. Even if you were just a scrawny kid, you would try to bulk up. You would get beat up at football. You would never stop trying to become a firefighter until you first put on your uniform and slung an oxygen tank over your shoulder.

Others discover what they want to do later in life. There are no time limits – NONE. If you want to learn how to dance ballet, and you are 90, if you can still walk, move and bend reasonably well, you can learn ballet. And if you want to learn ballet, you won’t let anyone tell you no. You will simply move on until you find someone who says yes. Stephen King did this with rejection notices until he was published. Anyone remember the movie 8-Mile?

Now its been a long time since I saw this movie, but if memory serves we have this scrawny white kid, in MICHIGAN, who is passionate about Hip Hop. He wants to rap. He wants to be an MC. He wants this at a time when only black guys were really doing it. And Michigan for crying out loud! I am assuming it is NOT The Hip Hop capitol of the world. But Marshal Mathers is undeterred, and if you ever get a chance to listen to Kamikaze, there is some real skill and talent on display there.

So substitute, “Knowing what you want” with “Becoming aware of what you want.” I think awareness is the key here. That leads to acknowledgement of the desire, but then you have to move to the next step and allow yourself to pursue it. You have to accept and embrace your desire, no matter how silly it seems, no matter how many people tell you its stupid or wrong or just tell you no. No matter how many times you are rejected and kicked to the ground, you have to get back up again. Your love for this thing that you want has to be strong enough to get you through that, and through all the practice you need to get to the level you want to reach.

Which brings us to a question… What do you do if you don’t have anything you want to do with that much energy, fire or passion? How do you move from simply wanting to do something to wanting it so badly you are pursuing it? You are broke, in the projects, and you want to learn to play the guitar. How do you move from, “I would like to learn to play the guitar” to “I don’t know how I am going to get one. I will steal one if I have to. But I will learn to play the guitar!” NOT that I encourage stealing, I use this as an example of how strong this has to be.

If you can’t think of a single thing that you feel compelled and drawn to, then I am right there with you, in the exact same boat. The closest I ever got was when I went to Clark College. The person in charge of the music hall – can’t recall the exact building name – but the place where music was taught and where the practice rooms were located – they let me, and any Clark College student, come in and practice, whether or not they were a music student, as long as a room was free. I came in and started to learn piano. I really came to enjoy this time. Even when I was tired between classes and my work study job, even when it was late, if I could get some time in there I did. I miss that. But I don’t think it was enough desire to drive me to learn the piano no matter what.

I can’t think of anything I wanted to be when I was a kid, and if I did have anything, I probably smothered and killed the desire. Murdered it by ignoring it and never acting on it. I suspect at one time I wanted to be a singer. I do remember singing to the radio, and I have a deep love for music. In fact when I was living in the RV with my parents my only private space was sitting there, on the sofa, earbuds in place, listening to music. It is how I relieve the pressure of anger. It allows me to cry, something that has become increasingly hard for me to do.

A life without a passionate desire for something is like living in a dingy gray cell, gray clouds outside – no birds, no sunshine, no joy. And as you locked yourself in there, only you can free yourself! That is probably the most accurate description of my life I can give. The only bright spot in it is the content I make for YouTube. That’s it. And I have realized I may have to set it aside and get a steady job, because it is time I get out on my own. I am not sure my YouTube creative work will survive that.

Worse for me is that I have a penchant for writing, but no desire or passion for it. How the fuck do you iron out that wrinkle? How can you be good at something and not want to do it at the same time? I dunno. I have no answers. But hopefully what I have written here will clarify things for you. If you are locked in your own dingy gray cell, the way out is to acknowledge and accept whatever it is that you want to do passionately enough that it will compel you, even drive you to practice it. If you have that you have a way out, and I am happy for you.

Please get out of your cell and make your art. Do whatever it is that is calling to you. The worlds needs you, it really does. Sometimes only stumbling on the creative result of someone else’s passion do we find our own. Hell I didn’t know I had any interest in dancing until I saw some of the Step Up movies! Now I wish I would meet some pretty dancer girl, learn some moves, maybe fall in love. That’s all you’re allowed in the Gray Cell. Dreams. Nothing real, nothing substantial.

Break out. And if you can find a way to break me out, please do.

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