I don’t know why it still makes me laugh so much, but when I see a cheesy motivational speaker or a #motivationalmonday quote on Instagram, I often think of Dr. Phil, and his accent, and that old ad on SABC 2: “I want you to get excited about your life!” Daytime television cringe worthiness aside, the ol’ doc had the right idea.
For most of my life so far, in most of its forms, enthusiasm hasn’t been ‘cool’. We — all of us, but a global society of millennials in particular — have spent an incredible amount of time and energy curating what we identify with, carefully rationing how much of that we share with others, and playing passionate interests off as casual ones. It’s what roughly half of our coming-of-age movies were about, and what a chunk of one's early 20s are (hopefully) spent unlearning.
We do it because enthusiasm requires something that’s become rare in a time of cynical distrust: Vulnerability. We forget that when we open up we might be seen as wonderful, focusing only on the possibility, and possible consequences, of being seen as silly instead. Silly, or lame, or awkward, or juvenile, or whichever undesirable synonym for ‘uncool’ just popped into your head.
To paraphrase writer Maria Del Russo, our obsession with nonchalance turned chillness into social currency. It has value because we accepted the idea that whoever cares the least has the most control. Sadly, there are ways that this is true: earnestly showing what you care about means this affinity can be used against you. I argue, however, that this risk is smaller than any of us have been led to believe. Take my word for it; if it happens, you’ll survive. The risk of cutting ourselves off from a world of good, of human connection and unadulterated joy, by pretending we care about nothing, is far greater.
Today, enthusiasm is its own social currency, as more of us recognise apathy and the need to control what others think of us as symptoms of insecurity or fear. You can see it in shifts like the political and social re-engagement of masses of young people across the world, even before social justice became a hot topic again. You can also see it in a myriad of little things, and it’s these that thrill me: Pop up events for knitting and embroidery, Instagram accounts dedicated to daily comics, people rediscovering their own goofiness on Tik Tok. It is everywhere, and anyone can opt in. It’s great to be passionate about what’s important to all of us, but the enthusiasm dedicated to what is inconsequential to anyone but you is, to me, the most precious kind.
It’s a little nuts to be talking about enthusiasm right now, I know. But our current circumstance, locked down in our homes to control a global pandemic, is exactly why we should. We need joy and comfort and other important things we minimise when we cynically label them ‘the warm & fuzzies.’ We need them more than usual, some of us more than ever. So now is just not the time to pretend you don’t have a bordering on obsessive love for pasta.
While cut off from some other fulfilling aspects of your life, your love for pasta could inspire the joy you need right now. Practice that love for pasta. Soak in it, revel in it, and then share it, on IGTV or in a casserole dish left on an elderly neighbour’s doorstep. Let like minded pasta lovers find you so you can love pasta together. Insert whatever your thing is, and repeat. I encourage you to celebrate your current enthusiasms, reminisce about your old ones, and discover some new ones, wherever you find yourself right now.
That is the internet’s greatest gift to us, one we are finally seeing on full display now that life as usual has been interrupted: discovery & connection, through all the incredibly specific things we somehow universally relate to. There’s a world of pasta lovers out there, just a few clicks away, waiting to show you new things and to be enthralled by your thoughts on tagliatelle. In this time of great need, don’t deny them. I may not love pasta the way you so clearly do, but I can relate your love for pasta to my love for bread — I really love bread — and I can cheer you on because of what we have in common, not rip you to shreds because of what we don’t.
What’s important to remember is that your enthusiasm isn’t flippancy. It doesn’t mean you don’t care or that the gravity of what’s happening has gone over your head; you’ve read the news like the rest of us and you’re staying home and washing your hands. Allowing yourself some enthusiasm for the little things is a way to keep your beautiful, sparkling spirit from becoming yet another casualty of this universally sad and scary experience. To think of all we will lose to this pandemic breaks my heart. It breaks again when I think that, after all that loss, there may be no hope left either, to fuel the life we must go on living when this is all over. To rebuild the essential, but also to appreciate what makes us smile.
Safety measures, service delivery and healthcare will keep people alive. Sales, and hopefully some federal assistance, will keep businesses alive. Hope is what will keep you alive. So don’t lose it. Encourage your circle, show up for each other from a distance, and defy it all for a few minutes by getting enthusiastic about something, about anything — it’s one small way to show up for yourself.