The Greeks didn’t write obituaries. When a man died, they asked only one question: did he have passion?
My boyfriend talks about passion a lot. When we’re talking about our priorities, he lists three things: work, you, and training.
He has trained in Chinese martial arts for as long as I have known him. He is the kind of person who will rave on about it until you tell him to stop, but when he talks about martial arts, his passion is visible. His eyes take on a manic love, sharp and focused, and his speech is quick.
I have sometimes, while he is talking about training, wondered if I feel so strongly about writing. I have at times been consumed by such passion; in reading a particularly moving or beautifully composed work, I feel a surge of warmth in my chest, like the collection of pressure before crying, but good. Other times, I feel more ambivalence towards it. In my personal essay for my graduate school applications, I described my desire to write as something that has always been present. Like a tree growing and developing, writing has been in each layer of my maturation—it has grown with me.
When my boyfriend responds to my worries about not having something I am so passionate about as he is towards martial arts, he always automatically replies, “But you have writing.” My relationship with writing has varied over time. Many writers have described the craft as a temptress—like a frenemy, but more intimate. At times words flow easily; you look over your work and feel satisfied, like all the ideas that have been bursting to escape have climbed from your mind to the page in front of you. Other times it is, as Emma Pass has described it, “like pushing porridge through muslin.”
Writing is, more than anything right now, a struggle. It is more than climbing a mountain and feeling accomplished at the summit; it is creating, translating synaptic firings into script on a page, making the intangible comprehendible, reworking it all when something doesn’t quite work, and sometimes finding in the end that you mistranslated most of the words anyway. To write, you must have endurance.
Sometimes writing feels less like a passion and more like a younger sibling, pulling at my shirt, begging for more time, attention, and energy, but I love it all the same.
In the last year or so, I’ve found a new passion: cultural anthropology. I feel like a cheating lover leaving writing sometimes for this new interest. To be honest, recently when I think of my own passions, anthropological study has begun to overshadow writing in some ways. Where writing sometimes flows easily, I often have to work hard to understand anthropological theories. My classes force me to refocus my view on my own life and culture. In this new analytical view, I am more present and aware.
Last semester, my ability to write anthropological essays greatly improved, with the help specifically of my Anthropology of Violence class. This semester I have been more vocal in my Anthropology of Self and Emotion class. There have been a few times when, after I answer a question about the reading, my professor or TA has remarked that it was exactly what they were looking for. These moments, I feel that same warmth I do when I have written something well, but at the same time, it’s a little different. It’s understanding both cultural specificity and universalities of humanity; it’s moving past the ethnocentrism we fall into without meaning to, sometimes without realizing it.
When I wonder if I have passion, I think of internal armchair anthropologist and writer facing one another. One says, “Write a book.” The other says, “Make it right.”