One of the things I like about language is how it can become specialised. Last year I learned (a little) of the language of archery. This year, I am learning something of the language quilters use (interestingly it is very American, even though quilts predate the US of A). The other day I attended the formally titled Melbourne Pen Show at the equally grand Malvern Town Hall. It’s not that I am a collector of writing implements, but I was not surprised to learn there is a specific language for fountain pens, along with various debates regarding history and quality.
There was a stage when I was growing up (and it still might exist) where almost every girl was gifted a calligraphy set of some kind. I know I was. Not sure why, but regardless of whatever skill (or lack there of) I possessed, it sparked something I still feel when looking at codices or incunabula. I like the frisson of the history with these items, the weight of time on them, and how, with learning the secret languages of their creation, they become more familiar. I recommend following the Rare Trades Facebook group if you want a dose of this.
It is more than helpful to at least attempt to understand the language of these arts if you want to base a narrative around archery, or swimming, or paper cutting, or the vellum making process, or, for that matter, the use of a Aeromatic Parker pen. Just saying. In fact I have a short story involving early book making I am yet to find a home for. And I work up this morning from a dream about a quest involving a pen…that will hopefully become another story.
What was my point? Not sure, but I’ve noticed how some of these specialty languages enter into modern parlance. And I don’t mean bulls eye – that was not a thing in the archery tradition I was taught. What you want is to hit the Gold. But I feel like a bower bird, attracted by the new glittering words I can use, without really being gifted the enthusiasm to continue any particular past time.
Perhaps that is my passion? Collecting glowy specialty phrases to sprinkle through stories?
This expedition certainly reminded me about the value of enthusiasms. Pen collectors knew their stuff, held friendly debates, and told how they funded their work and retirements with the discovery and trade of precious writing utensils. They spoke about what made pens beautiful, and also valuable. And yes, I was reminded that I’ve heard this same passion before. I’ve seen the insider smiles, the knowing glances, and the happy recognition of shared interests. I saw it with the archers, I saw it with these pen people. Members move comfortably in their in-group, with their language and implements. I’ve circled their crowds, admiring their dedication, but from the outer I am but a witness to camaraderie I am not a part of.
These days I am pondering what I am passionate about, and what if anything, I should do about it. What should my future look like if I do realise I am a true enthusiast of…..any number of things I have always liked a bit. Can I just join the in group of art or archaeology or history, calligraphy, or culture, architecture, old books, or art, or TV or writing about any or all of these?
Intellectually, I can tell passion requires and provokes boldness and effort, yet I’ve lacked the single-minded focus required to spend a life looking for writing tools or shooting bits of wood and metal into hay bales. Increasingly, I agree with Tim Minchin’s speech where he recommended:
passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.
As a bower bird, flitting about all the shiny things, I am certainly on the look out.