“Put the drama on the page,” advises my favorite writing guru, Julia Cameron. While I take her advice seriously, I surround myself with friends who—thankfully—don’t. They wear their passions, their dramas on their sleeves and regale me with stories of the exotic, the experiential, the practical and the mystical. They are always “on fire.”
Let me introduce you to my friend Jim. He used to hold a high-profile position in the Department of Defense but now works for a private firm offering creative business solutions to clients. He is the type of person who frequently tells “I caught a fish this big” stories, with one major difference: His stories are all true. Whether he’s been in Baghdad or Philadelphia, when he talks, his stories command attention. His larger-than-life tales are told with the eagerness of a curious child. More than anything, though, what attracts me to his stories is the passion with which he infuses them. Here is a man who has the right to be jaded, and maybe even should be, based on all the horrific scenes he has witnessed in war-torn zones around the world. Yet he isn’t. His curiosity about life is contagious.
“I want to travel to Australia and spend time with this tribe on this remote island,” he tells me. Why? It has nothing to do with what he does at work. “The world is so big, there is so much to learn. … How do they do what they do? Can it help us? How does biology help us? How does physics? I want to be out there and learn.”
And that he does, occasionally running away to Japan, or to Arizona to study the border patrol solution and learn how to apply those principles in other areas. He just has a lust for life and its adventures—one evening with Jim and you want to fly to the Himalayas and see what it takes to climb them, or to Vegas to see how the Bellagio really runs.
Julia Cameron advises “Artist Dates,” solitary activities you partake in to revive your artistic soul. My writer friend Lisa, whose elegant prose makes me quiver with appreciation, refers to herself as a tigress: She like to prowl alone, to look at the world in wonder by herself. I am not like that. Writing is already such a solitary process: I sit at my coffee table all day and stare at the china cabinet as I try to describe the ideal way to prepare a cinnamon-spiced stew, or recall how to select the perfect sea bass, or recount my travels to the Middle East. Eventually, the solitude wears me down and when I am running on empty, the last thing I want to do is spend more time alone.
I will go on an occasional solitary date, but mostly, I call one of my buddies. If I need the history of anything, I listen to my friend Rami. Janet has taught me how to enjoy nature by learning about the leaves, flowers and little creatures that inhabit our neighborhood. My friend Nazu, a writer, spends her free time as a clown doctor; her stories teach me humility. Randy, a New Yorker, goes out of her way to feed and clothe children she has adopted in a Bolivian orphanage. Her stories have taught me the world is not always about receiving. Andrea’s on-target advice about life and her willingness to share her experiences have opened avenues I never knew existed.
All of these friends have full-time jobs, but that is not what defines them; what sets them apart is their passion. This is what makes them different. Their varied ethnicities and backgrounds lend completely different flavors and seasonings to their tales. Their ardent fervor for life lifts my spirits and refills my creative reservoir with wonderment. They are not all Pollyannas but they do all have uplifting positive energy.
It’s true that while just one conversation with any of these people results in the birth of innumerable ideas, more important, it reignites my own passion for my work. The love they have for what they do resonates with me. Their stories hark back to the reality that the world is so big and there is so much to explore and so much to write about.
It reminds me why I write—and why I love to write.