Follow Your Curiosity

“It is beauty that will save us in the end.” — John O’Donohue

How many times do we tell our kids to “follow their passion.” But who really has a passion for anything — especially at the beginning? “Passion” is what other people think you have when you “Follow Your Curiosity.”

People might think I followed my passion for writing, or for science, because I just finished a 320-page middle-grade novel called Veronica and the Volcano. But here’s the funny thing … I don’t have a passion for either.

I followed my curiosity.

My book started as a bedtime story I would tell my daughter Madeline about a young girl who lives on the side of a volcano, because Maddy loved volcanoes. She wanted a new story every night, and soon, she wanted a new one every morning too, on the 25-minute drive to school.

But let me tell you: It’s not easy to tell a story for 25 minutes every morning. So, I started researching volcanoes. I read Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa. That made me even more curious. I started reading the books in his bibliography too. I learned about lava tubes, about blue lava, about St. Elmo’s fire. I read first-hand accounts of the eruptions of Mt. Pelee and Tambora. My stories for Madeline got better. The book was born.

At first, I thought I was writing a poem. A few thousand words later, I decided it was chapter 1.

The secret to writing a book is this: Write What You Know AND Follow Your Curiosity. In every scene of every chapter I weaved my curiosity for volcanoes with what I know best: my family and friends. The characters are based on real people in my life, like Captain John of Lake George, NY who captains the iconic steamboat the Minne-Haha, and his son-in-law Officer Steve, and, of course my daughters, Madeline and Elyse.

A strange thing happens when you follow your curiosity. Soon what you’re curious about becomes what you know. It’s a beautiful cycle that has no limit. It is the essence of human potential. Einstein said that imagination is the greatest force in the universe. He followed his curiosity about ticking-clocks and light beams to imagine that a star could bend light and that gravity itself is the curvature of spacetime.

We are no Einsteins, but we imagine our own worlds. Words create worlds. Our kids hear stories every day, whether they are reading books or not. They hear mean stories about how some people are less than other people. They tell themselves stories about how they’re not good enough. And in time, those stories take root … we are the stories we tell.

So give your kids stories to fight back with. Tell them soaring stories, stories that make them curious, stories that reward difficulty and pain, stories that shine a light on the marginalized, stories that prize kindness, stories that revere nature and this most mysterious place we call the universe.