But then I put my hand back down. He listens to sports radio, which from what I can tell is 24-hour coverage of guys talking about games, match-ups, plays, players, coaches, and owners. None of which is generally of interest to me.
Except that this was five days after the Patriots’ victory in the Super Bowl, and as I listened for just a moment, I discovered the two guys currently on the air were going over every single moment of the last five minutes of that cliff-hanger game.
It can’t have taken them five days to get to this part of the game in their deconstruction of the Super Bowl, I thought to myself. More likely they’ve been rehashing these same five minutes ever since Monday morning.
And then I had to listen, because their glee and delight and enthusiasm were just so infectious. My conscience told me it was time to switch to NPR and immerse myself in a solemn, important discussion about Cabinet picks, but this was just too much fun, these two grown men waxing exultant over the same split seconds of football just as they no doubt had done dozens of times in the past few days.
It reminded me that this, after all, is what I like to do best in my work life: listen to people talk about wherever it is that their passions lie.
Years ago, in a journalism course, an instructor told us, “You got a guy with a passion? You got a story.” My career has borne that out ever since, both as a feature writer for newspapers and magazines and, more recently, in my work helping people to write their memoirs. Any time someone is discussing something they’re passionate about, I’m instantly drawn in, and I become passionate about the same topic just because of their enthusiasm.
In the car that day, it was football. But the next weekend, my newspaper editor asked me to cover an automotive technology competition. Automotive technology? Me? As long as my car starts up when I turn the key, I know all I care to know about it. But no sooner did I start interviewing the teenage competitors, high school students who are studying automotive technology at their vocational high schools, than I became convinced that nothing in the world could be more interesting at that moment than advanced braking systems and tire pressure sensors.
The week before, I’d interviewed a ten-year-old cooking prodigy, and for that hour, I’d become fascinated with compotes. Another time recently, when I was working on a memoir with a couple in their eighties, the husband went off on a very long monologue about metallurgy and how it relates to the properties of crystals – the subject in which he earned his doctorate in chemistry and then built his career.
“No one wants to hear about that!” his wife admonished him impatiently. But she was wrong. I wanted to hear about it. I wouldn’t have picked up an article about the same subject and read it, but because of the passion in his voice when he described the molten metal and the crystals it formed, I wanted to hear all about it. And I wanted to write about it, to test my ability to communicate that same passion in his voice through text on a page.
You’ve got a guy with passion? You’ve got a story. That journalism instructor was so right. My career has borne it out ever since. Cooking, crystals, automotive technology, the Super Bowl. Talk to me about what you love, and I promise I’ll listen.