Wednesday, July 5, 2017
In praise of enthusiasm
"I wish I was that excited to go places."
It wasn't what she said so much as how she said it.
We were walking through the passenger area at the Lime Kiln dock on Put-in-Bay, hurrying to catch the ferry back to the mainland after a long weekend with old friends. Our dog Kitty, in a burst of zeal, extreme even for her, strained forward on her leash, making emphatic, urgent noises that sounded, I swear to God, like a chimpanzee going "Ooo! Ooo! Ooo!"
As we passed the ticket taker, she said, "I wish I was that excited to go places."
On the page, that statement might seem a wry observation of the dog's boundless energy. But spoken, there was a flatness, almost a deadness to it that chilled me, causing me to pause and look back at the speaker. A standard issue young person, female variant. Shorts and a Miller Boat Lines shirt. The aviator sunglasses kids wear nowadays.
Some young people are buoyant, filled with squeals of delight and flights of wonderment. Others are languid. New to the world, they measure it and find it lacking. And they don't know about the second conditional tense. It really should be, "I wish I were that excited to go places," assuming she wasn't talking about wishing she had been more excited at a specific time in the past. But we'll let that go.
Enthusiasm is pretty much squeezed out by the time adulthood hits. Except of course for sports. And game shows. People go nuts on game shows.
I would never hazard whether people are generally more or less enthusiastic now than before. They certainly seemed more worked up in previous times The 19th century gave us over-the-top art forms like opera and melodrama. And other cultures seem to froth quicker than ours. Few whirling dervishes twirl in Protestant Christianity.
Enthusiasm shouldn't be mistaken for zeal. We have no shortage of glittery-eyed fanatics and one-note obsessives. Mania isn't excitement, though perhaps the former has given the latter a bad name. Howard Dean let loose one guttural "Hyaaaaah!" like he was driving cattle in 2004 and his campaign fell over dead.
I'm as much immune to enthusiasm as anybody. Times when excitement seems in order I tend to dull it with literary references. I remember, heading to Wrigley Field to watch my younger son throw out the first pitch at the Cubs/Sox game, I described myself as feeling like Willy Loman heading to the Polo Grounds to watch Biff play in the championship. I guess that was my way of saying I was thrilled.
I'm happy to go places, to get away, to Put-in-Bay, last April to Italy and France, last year to Japan and Washington, D.C. I'm glad to get away. But excited? Gee-I-can't-wait-to-get-there excited? Not really.
Maybe I should be grateful not to be susceptible to ardors. Many a folly has started with a whoop, hats thrown into the air and then over the top of the trench, into the teeth of the machine guns. Enthusiasm is by definition short-lived. "There is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake or an eternal fever,” Lord Byron wrote. “Besides, who would ever shave themselves in such a state?”
Still, the choices aren't continual enthusiasm or a life of sighing torpor. Maybe that teen's remark caught me off guard because I feel the same way. "I wish I was excited to go places." But how do you get that way?