Working with Meaning (Part Five)

In my prior post, I referred to Csikszentmihalyi describing how many people feel “Sunday mornings are the lowest part of the week, because with no demands on attention, they are unable to decide what to do….For many, the lack of structure of those hours is devastating.”  

Years ago, I read Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief and heard echoes of the same theme: 
The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty but full of possibility.”  Orlean, Susan. The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (Ballantine Reader's Circle) (p. 133). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.  

 Here Orlean is referring to John Laroche, an eccentric who has whittled his world down to collecting orchids. Her interest in him exceeds his desire to collect flowers, though. It's his desire in general that fascinates her.  Before orchids, Laroche collected turtles, fossils, 19th-century Dutch mirrors, tropical fish. When Laroche directs his passion so devotedly, so acutely, to something, he thinks of nothing else, yet when he stops, he never thinks of it again. Orlean writes: 
Years ago, between his Ice Age fossils and his old mirrors, he went through a tropical-fish phase. At its peak, he had more than sixty fish tanks in his house and went skin-diving regularly to collect fish. Then the end came. He didn’t gradually lose interest: he renounced fish and vowed he would never again collect them and, for that matter, he would never set foot in the ocean again. That was seventeen years ago. He has lived his whole life only a couple of feet west of the Atlantic, but he has not dipped a toe in it since then. Orlean, Susan. The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (Ballantine Reader's Circle) (pp. 2-3). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
A few years ago, I heard an interview with Woody Allen describing how he never considers what critics say about his work because once he finishes a film, he immediately begins working on the next one. Allen’s legacy is certainly tainted with the various allegations that have come out about him, but, for what it's worth, you certainly can’t question his work ethic. As of 2018, IMDB has Allen directing 51 films which is nearly one a year since his first film in 1965. What struck me about the Allen interview is the odd sort of faith he has. I say "faith" because Allen’s films for the last twenty five years or so, with a few exceptions, have been unwatchable, yet, to Allen, it doesn’t seem to matter.  With each film, he shows up on the set each day, pushing
the proverbial rock back up the hill. Is faith what we actually admire in people with passion? The fact they just believe, blindly at times, that what they’re doing is significant and meaningful in spite of reason or criticism? Returning to Csikszentmihalyi’s passage about Sunday Mornings, Orlean's interest in passion comes into focus: 
Why is solitude such a negative experience? The bottom-line answer is that keeping order in the mind from within is very difficult. We need external goals, external stimulation, external feedback to keep attention directed. And when external input is lacking, attention begins to wander, and thoughts become chaotic—Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008-08-18). Flow (P.S.) (pp. 168-169). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
No doubt Allen’s passion for making films and Laroche’s passion for collecting orchids “whittles the world down to a manageable size." Most people consider such passion to be rooted in desire but what if faith actually is the seed that begets such energy? Most who feel stunted by not having a passion, likely begin “collecting” or “making” something only to eventually stop because the pursuit seems illogical or futile. One initially feels interest or enthusiasm but for whatever reason, can’t sustain it. If faith actually is the seed though, then knowing something or feeling something should have very little to do with pursuing something passionately. One or both might begin the endeavor but faith transcends what one feels or knows. I’m sure Allen doesn’t always feel like going to the set or to the editing room, but he goes because he believes in it.  Laroche describes it this way: 
'It’s not really about collecting the thing itself,' Laroche went on. 'It’s about getting immersed in something, and learning about it, and having it become part of your life. It’s a kind of direction.' Orlean, Susan. The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession (Ballantine Reader's Circle) (p. 344). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.  
Orlean envies Laroche, and I suspect someone like Allen, because neither appears to struggle with Sunday mornings.

In Part Six, we near the end of our discussion as explore the idea of Work in A Bridge on the River Kwai, It's a Wonderful Life, and Citizen Kane.  


Unknown said...

It's interesting that a film production company would post something this deep, and I really dig that. As a creative person myself, I often have to have my own strong sense of faith when I'm putting myself out there, regardless of how I'm received by the outside world at times. Woody Allen is the last person I thought would be an inspiration for me, but it's some compelling points you make here.

Hugo Vejar Rueda said...

I love reading this! it´s a great topic for a documentary. Good luck with it !
Now I´m gettin to know this incredible guy, Csikszentmihalyi, Thanks a lot !