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I remember, when I was about twelve years old, asking my mother why other kids did not seem to be very interested in the archaeological study of Wales around 500 to 600 AD. I thought that this topic was fascinating, and once I had exhausted the usual resources of encyclopedias and the few useful books at our small local library, I had moved on to learning about it on the internet. I collected my notes in a Microsoft Word 95 document, using a special Celtic font to convey their extreme importance. I was sure that this was the foundation for my later work as a famous tweed-clad archaeologist.
My mother, to her credit, did not laugh at me. She never did, not when I handed her an essay on variations in dapple grey coloring in different breeds of horses, based on an assignment that I had given myself, not when I took every book on Templars out of our used bookstore and hid them under my bed for frantic late-night research, and not when I forced her to try a truly regrettable attempt at Medieval British cuisine. By this time, she was very used to my propensity for living, eating, and breathing my interests. When I had to make and wear what I thought was a great approximation of a 10th century woman’s robe to understand what it must have been like to live at that time, she told me it suited it very nicely. When I ate that wretched food because I was reading about what spices were available at that time and needed to understand it, she nodded and took a bite, despite knowing exactly what she was in for. So, it wasn’t until I got to middle school that I found out that other kids did not necessarily have the same…well…whatever it was that I had.
My mother thought, for a moment, then said, “We get obsessions. It’s something in our brains. When we like something, we really like it a lot. Not everyone goes crazy like we do.”
I nodded, and considered it. Obsession sounded scary, like an affliction, but it also sounded accurate. I tucked my diagnosis away and thought of it often, when confronted by obsessions that those around me did not share.
A few years later, my grandmother told me that it was because of my Italian blood. She had a lot of opinions about our heritage, although to her they weren’t so much opinions as they were definite God-given truths. Men with two first names were untrustworthy. Italian men were better able to cry while maintaining their masculinity, but were also reluctant to ever leave their mothers. Musical talent could be traced to my blood, and my uncle’s talents at talking to women were also a result of the genealogical lottery.
Given these frequent proclamations, what my grandmother said was not particularly surprising. It was a comfortingly expected response, like when she saw a police car driving by and, after crossing herself, darkly muttered that they were not to be trusted. No, what stuck with me was the wording that she used. “Our people are passionate,” she told me. “We must live with passion in order to live at all. We seek it out wherever we can, even if it is difficult, even if it is frustrating. We need it to live.”
Fifteen years later I’m sitting with my teacher at a Tango practica, watching people dance, and we are talking about how one becomes passionate about tango. I don’t know the answer yet, whether it is always innate or can be acquired, manufactured, cultivated – but I do feel something familiar. When I think about tango, when I dance it, when I listen to the music or watch couples glide across the floor, I remember all those old obsessions, those old passions, and I know that, once again, I am consumed.