If ever a word carried enough heat to virtually burn through the page, this one is it.
Even the least extreme definition is hopping with intensity: “Boundless enthusiasm” or “the object of such enthusiasm”. When people speak of their passions, this is often what they mean – a sport, an art, or some other activity that they feel too strongly about to insult by labeling it a mere hobby.
That strength of feeling typifies passion, so much so that it is first defined as “a powerful emotion”, the primary examples listed being “love” and “joy”. And we so ardently love our passions precisely because they bring us that intense joy. Our passions make us feel more – more alive, more invigorated, more free.
“But,” as my Wilderhark king of the night so elegantly put it, “every coin has two sides.” Passion can denote love and joy, certainly, but also (definition 1 continues) “hatred, or anger”. People are said to fly into a passion – “an abandoned display of emotion, especially of anger”. And isn’t it interesting how quickly a cloud nine high can transition into fury? Small wonder that love is routinely compared to a rollercoaster, and artists are so commonly categorized as temperamental: Passion is a ride that rushes you daily, hourly, every other minute to incredible peaks where there’s barely air to breathe, then throws you into a freefall that snatches that hard-fought breath away, only to jerk you toward the heavens once again. (Lather, rinse, repeat…)
Of course, if you look at where the word “passion” comes from, this breathless state will come as no surprise. Going back to the ol’ dictionary for a perusal of trivia often placed in brackets at definition’s end, I find that the word is “…from Latin, an undergoing, from passus, past participle of patī, to suffer”. In the archaic sense, this word means “martyrdom”; and will passion not make martyrs – “those who make great sacrifices or suffer much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle” – of us all? When you strongly love a thing that gives you joy, will you not suffer whatever less pleasant emotions come part and parcel with it?
“So why put up with it?” you may inquire along with Milt from my old “Name” post. Well, to put it pessimistically, you really can’t win. To engage in your passion is to suffer; to avoid your passion is to suffer worse. When you’re passionate about something, you want that thing; badly; all the time. And separation from it can induce anything from mild twitchiness to agony, even if whatever you’re doing instead is actually a lesser passion. I think I best expressed my own experience of this phenomenon in a poem I wrote (and felt mildly twitchy while writing it, because it wasn’t fiction writing, i.e. my passion):
I should be painting this masterpiece with words;
Creating colors from adjectives and verbs;
Should be a keystroke;
Make you feel that you’re seeing what you’ve heard.
I should be composing a story, not a song;
Harmonizing narrative and dialogue;
And this melody
Should be poetry;
Make your heart dance as you read along.
The urge to create’s deliciously inviting;
In a world of drudgery, this much is exciting;
I can fight the tedium
With almost any medium.
But I’ll always feel that I really should be writing.
So passion brings joy, and it brings suffering. And even in the midst of pure joy, there can be pain. If you love something or someone enough, believe it: It will hurt. There are times when I write a pair of my characters deeply in love, and I can physically feel the heat – as if I’m writing it while gulping a steaming mug of tea and sitting by the Hoover Dam in July. That “warm, fuzzy” feeling raging through head and heart is no joke, ladies and gentleman. And it’s amazing. Hurt, but welcome hurt. And that’s why we sports fanatics and artists and authors will continue to happily hop on that rollercoaster, throw our hands in the air, and scream.