“Keep up your enthusiasm! There is nothing more contagious than exuberant enthusiasm.” Harry Houdini, the famous magician and escape artist and one of the world’s most captivating performers, apparently offered these words of advice to aspiring young magicians. I have always believed in the power of enthusiasm. We have all experienced the agony of sitting in a classroom trying to learn from a teacher who has lost all interest in his or her subject. Equally we have all, hopefully, had the opposite experience of being taught by someone overflowing with enthusiasm for what they are teaching. Even though we may not have been interested in their subject before the class, it is hard not to be swept up and carried away by the end of class. Over the years, I have always believed that if you want to achieve anything in life, if you put in the effort and are enthusiastic (and also have a decent amount of luck), you will succeed. I have specialized in Asian art history, a field that is considered esoteric or obscure by many, for over 20 years now, and when I give a lecture, curate and exhibition or write a book or article, the biggest compliment I can receive from someone is that my enthusiasm for the subject got them excited about it too. Just as I caught the bug from others in the past, I hope that I too have infected a lot of people over the years and increased general interest in my professional passion.
My other main passion in life these days is reducing waste, something that is not as appealing to most people as art might be. Yet, I feel strongly about minimizing trash and spend a lot of time and energy trying to encourage others to do so too in my monthly Keen to be Green column in our local paper, in programs I have run in the past at the library, and with the lunch waste recycling program I helped set up at my son’s school. I have been in charge of the school’s Green Dragons program for the last 5 years now. I don’t do much these days, but I do go in once a week to help the kids sort their trash into “trash” and “recyclables.” At the start of this year, I have to admit that my enthusiasm was waning, especially when I saw some of the older kids, who know what to do, just dump all their waste without bothering to sort it. However, there was one kid at the start of this school year who re-ignited my enthusiasm – a bouncy little 1st-grader called August, who was so excited about recycling that he would literally jump up and down and sing while he was helping his classmates to recycle. His favorite song seemed to be the Banana Song, sung whenever someone left a banana on the share table. His excitement spread to his classmates, who also signed up in surprising numbers to help with Green Dragons, and partway through the year, his mom even volunteered to come in once a week as a parent Green Dragon. Now, as the year passed, many of these eager 1st graders, August included, chose to spend their lunch break playing in the yard rather than recycling lunch trash – which I truly understand. But today I decided to give August a pin with a recycling symbol on it because, it was in part his enthusiasm for recycling at the start of the year that got me excited again about working with the kids and helping them to recycle their waste. Of all the infections that I have caught from kids in the last year (and there certainly have been a couple!), this was certainly the happiest.