Grocery stores are passionate about the freshness of their produce. Car manufacturers are passionate about the design and fuel economy of their vehicles. Lawyers are passionate about their clients' cases. Teachers are passionate about the academic success of their students. And the list goes on and on and on. Pick a vocation or a hobby or a calling and I'll guarantee you'll soon discovered a plethora of passionate people pouring their plentiful passion into everything they do. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of writing. I can't tell you the number of times I've seen the word passion on author's blogs or heard the word used during interviews. Quite frankly, it's starting to make me a little nauseous.
Now, before I am accused of being a being a pernicious prick for pissing in the passion pot, let me take a moment to state that I really have nothing against passion per se. What irks me is our rather limited contemporary conception of passion. When most people hear or use the word passion, they think of it in two ways:
1. as a strong desire or love, often with underlying sexual forces intact
2. an strong enthusiasm or zeal.
Is there anything wrong with Oprah Winfrey having an enthusiasm and zeal for producing television programs? No, of course not. Is there anything wrong with writers who have a strong desire to write and feel energized, excited, and full of joyful excitement when they sit down at their desks? Once again, no, there is inherently nothing wrong with that except it's bullshit in the sense that it paints a very limited, incomplete and misleading picture of just what passion encompasses. This limited notion of passion has created a generation of people who believe they have failed as human beings because they cannot perpetually exist in a state of smiling nirvana as they pour their hearts and souls into their passions. Unfortunately, most of them are unaware that there is more to passion than that.
There is a darker and more shadowy side to passion that rarely gets any airtime on television or shelf-space at your local bookstore. To discover what the dark side of passion is all you need to do is examine the etymology of the word itself. Our modern word passion finds its origin in the Latin pati from which later came the Late Latin words passio and passionem which was then incorporated into the Old French in the tenth century to describe the suffering and physical pain Christ experienced between the night of The Last Supper and his death. By the early thirteenth century the sense of suffering and endurance was extended to martyrs and, eventually, to suffering in general. The word was incorporated into the Greek from Latin to form the word pathos meaning emotion, pity, or compassion. In fact, it is only through these forms that the original meaning of passion survives in our minds. When we feel compassion, we don't want to seduce someone. Nor do we feel particularly zestful or enthusiastic. Rather, we feel and experience the sufferings of another. The modern definitions of passion as sexual love or enthusiastic devotion appeared some time during the Renaissance and since then the original meaning of the word as signifying suffering and the endurance of suffering have become archaic and have all but evaporated from the contemporary mind.
So, why the crap lesson in etymology? Well I, for one, like the archaic definition of the word. It contains both a mystery and a hidden truth I think most passionate people would be wise to discover. Passion is about more than desire and enthusiasm; passion is about pain and endurance. If you engage someone or something passionately thinking passion is nothing more than love and enthusiasm, you are setting yourself up for a horrendous disappointment and are sure to wake up to a mind-numbing surprise one day.
Being a grinning fool who jumps up and down on a sofa proclaiming his passion for the world is not enough. Passion demands suffering. Freely accepted suffering. And the endurance of that freely accepted suffering until the end. If you cannot deal with that side of passion, you are not truly passionate. Of course, most people opt out of passion when they begin to suffer. It's understandable, especially in our pleasure-pumped world. In fact, it's perfectly reasonable; after all, reason is the nemesis of passion. Say your marriage has become dull or boring and efforts to bring the passion, the desire, and enthusiasm back have gone nowhere. Reason will tell you to call a divorce lawyer and find your happiness elsewhere whereas passion will demand you stay and endure. The same goes for writing or anything for that matter. Real passion starts where suffering starts. Be strong enough to endure and you will understand the meaning of passion. The mystery will be solved; the hidden truth, revealed.