Driving home the other night, I remembered an exchange I had with a student back when I was teaching rudimentary writing at the local community college. I was giving instructions for their research paper and telling them that at least one source had to be from someplace NOT the internets. “Go to the library,” I told them. “Actually walk in the building, go to the desk marked ‘Reference’ and ask them for some help if you don’t know what to do yourself.” I then launched into the story of how my roommate and I worked throughout college at the main undergraduate library in the circulation department and how often we called on the librarians for help to find out things you can now find out just by calling up Google. Ah, the olden, olden days.
But, as I railed on about how these librarians want to help people find things, not only want to help, but live to help, one of my students piped up with “Well, they’re just freaks.”
At first, I was taken aback. Then I just kind of stopped for a minute, looked at him and said, “yep, they are. They’re freaks about research and the storage of knowledge just like you are a freak for drag racing, she’s a freak for gardening, he’s a freak for guitar, etc., etc.” I knew what my students were each freaks for something because that was how I got them to write at all, by getting them to write about the things that got them excited about their lives, about their days. “We’re all ‘freaks’ for something,”‘ I told him and the rest of the class, “or else we’re just putting in our time on this earth.”
When I added that I was a freak for the written word, well, that just made me super-freaky (now that sounds familiar, hmmm). But, he got it. We all have the thing we are passionate about and for and it is what drives us forward in our lives, I think.
I thought about this conversation anew as I had the television on this afternoon, watching Federer lose a tennis match. I never watch tennis, but I was trolling for background noise today as I worked and the tennis match seemed the thing to watch. I’d heard about Federer’s unmatchable talent so I just wanted to bear witness to it for once. And, well, Federer and the guy he played, not bad to look at. At all. But Federer lost. (Perhaps I should not watch him ever again–sadness ensues at the thought.) But the thought came to me that Federer must be a freak for tennis. How else could he put in all the hours it takes to be that good. How else could he stand to do it, even if it is just sheer talent?
So, when people are great at something and recognized for it–in sports or acting or law—we don’t call them ‘freaks’ we just call them accomplished, talented, super.
I still own that they are freaks, too. But “freaks for” rather than just freaks.
Here’s another story from about that same time. I took my car to a place to get it cleaned. It was a place where they wash the cars in one area and sell stereo and other equipment in the place where you wait for your car. If you can afford it, you can get the car detailed. I just had mine washed, so I sat in the waiting room. A stream of young men came through the waiting room and I listened as the young proprietor talked to them about their needs and wants. He was speaking a language foreign to me; I won’t begin to replicate it here. But under it all was his passion for the thing he loved. It didn’t matter to me that I had no interest whatsoever in ever getting any of the things this young man was selling, but I listened intently as he prattled on about it. What mattered to me was hearing his excitement about giving people what they wanted and the best, at that.
I told my students in that class that they needed to write what they knew and loved, just as every writing teacher has ever told me. I told them the only truth I know for sure: the passion comes through, no matter the subject.
I love that those guys in that car shop were freaks for something. Anything. I have learned to respect the freak in each of us, even if it isn’t about something that matters to me. Everyone benefits when we find that thing and when we encourage others to do the same for themselves. And moreso, we all benefit when we take the time to appreciate that someone loves something so much–be it research or car audio or words that spread out on the page.
Now go, and be freaky.