“Default Face”

Last summer, Karen and I spent part of our vacation in the Boston area, and she showed me around her alma mater. The best part of the vacation for me was when she took back to the neighborhood where she lived for a good part of her college career, took me to her favorite haunts, one of her favorite restaurants, showed me her old apartment. She recounts those days with such a positive, fun countenance. Today I listened on a whim to one of Karen’s favorite bands from those days, Burlap to Cashmere. I’d never heard of them until we were dating, and one of the tracks on what to my knowledge was their only studio album, Eileen’s Song, always opens a bit of portal for me to experiences I never witnessed. I can piece together images of Karen with friends from old photographs, and imagine her joy and sorrow, the love and heartbreak of her college years. In short, that song gives me a glimpse into the passion that I know marked that time period in her life. That passion for life rolls over into our present, and, at the risk of sounding overly sentimental, makes me love her that much more.

I have my own musical portal to memories of my undergraduate days. A specific song for me is Round Here by Counting Crows. The song brings to mind a specific set of people, of circumstances, and thus opens a recollected floodgate to those years, the dreams, determination, and passion that marked them.

I realized today that the common word that springs to mind when I think of both of our backgrounds is passion.

I remember the encounters with people I had during my undergrad. My first experience with professional theatre, the communication studies professors that were so influential on me, the relationships, both romantic and otherwise. I remember how I tackled everything with an almost reckless abandon, and how I met new people and was hungry to get to know them, to experience their diversity and backgrounds, to add their search for knowledge and new experiences to my own, to journey together with them through that adventure we called college. I remember the joy of seeing someone from across the room, and wanting to get to know that person. I, like Karen, often wonder what ever happened to so many of those people today.

When you marry someone, you discover all sorts of things about yourself. At some point after college, even toward the end of college, I began to have more of a tendency to “go it alone.” I had always been fiercely individual, but at that point I began to notice that I just had fewer people close to me. This is a trend that continued through a good part of my early professional life. Karen tells me now that I tend to look upset or angry when I’m not; that irritated is my “default face.” This makes sense, because people are always asking me what’s wrong and why I’m upset, when in fact I’m in a perfectly good mood. The result of this, though, is that it has made me appear stand-offish when I’m not, and thus has resulted in a difficulty forming close friendships. I have close friends now that have told me that their first encounter with me gave them an impression that I didn’t want them near me, when in fact that wasn’t necessarily true. Thus, a facial expression that I don’t even intentionally wear has resulted in a social isolationism during my recent years.

I wonder: did I have that “default face” in college? If not, what gave it to me? Certainly, I could tell (and likely have here) a laundry list of experiences that have left me bitter with people, politics, religion, and the arts. So, is it a bitterness that I try to relinquish but can’t that leaves me with this “default face?” I think it is more, because what I recognize as a tragic truth is that I don’t just lack the socialization that I had in college, but I also lack the passion. In fact, it has become ever so elusive in so many areas of my life. I see the same thing at times in Karen, as we go to work in our professional lives, and come home and go about the business of life. I wonder: did I trade passion for success? Did I trade dreams for income? At what point did I become so responsible in my 9 to 5 existence that I lost the passion that came with rehearsing a play until the wee hours of the morning, or spending half the night writing because words were suddenly springing into my head? How did I end up here? Is it maturity? If so, I’m not certain that it is a maturity that I want.

Certainly, I’ve began to revert back to my truest self over the past two years, and I’ve began to re-discover some of the passion I had been ignoring. At my most optimistic, I want to believe that I haven’t really lost it, that I’ve only ignored it in my stupidity for several years. When I remember my passion during that time, however, and when I imagine what I think was Karen’s, I just know that I desperately, desperately want them back. I’ve learned lessons, I’ve “grown up,” but I think I could have done so without laying my passion by the wayside. This is a mistake I endeavor to correct now, every day. I find myself pushing against the structure of life, fighting, and refusing to allow outside expectations to stifle my passion, because I’ve come to realize that it is so much more important what has superseded it.

I am absolutely desperate to re-discover the depths of my passion.

I am hoping…I am praying…that I am getting closer to letting it be free. And, if I’m truly fortunate, it will be free today in a more pure way than it was then, and that it will infect those around me to experience it as well. That would be the best passion that I could hope for.

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