Passion

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.”

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Reminders

Sometimes I don’t feel like a writer.  I mean, I’ve always felt like a “writer.”  I’m the kind of person who stumbles across things written about what kind of people writers are, what kind of personalities they have, but I also seek out these articles.  I read them, laugh and think:  Yeah, that’s about how it is.

But then I also don’t feel like a writer.  When I was younger I think I had this idea that writing would always come easy, but even more so, I thought I would always have time for it.  Instead I’m juggling papers, midterms, grad school applications, reading through slush piles, proofreading, and a number of other things.  When I was putting together my portfolio for those applications, all I could think was how little I had to show for myself.  I remembered all the effort I’ve put into what I’ve written and wondered, where did it all go?  I thought there was more?

With deadlines approaching, I felt resigned to do the best with what I had.  I felt less like a writer and more like a tweaker, worrying over small details in pieces more broadly wrought with weaknesses; I felt like a paper pusher.

Looking ahead to next year, I’m excited about finally focusing on creative writing.  Working on my undergraduate degree has begun to feel more and more like imposed procrastination, except in my anthropology and creative writing classes.  At the same time, I’m worrying about the coming year.  What if I can’t do it?  What if, when it comes down to it, I’m a fair weather writer?

I may not be very good at blogging; maybe I’m sharing too many personal worries here.  But I had a moment last week and the week before.  While working on a paper, I was struck by an idea.  I hadn’t been interrupted in this way for a while.  There are two things I’ve always wanted to include in writing:  my love for the south and my interest in birds.  Somehow, standing outside my apartment, these two things merged with a detail from my father’s past.  I developed this idea, rolled it over in my mind, and combined it further with an image born of them, of an ending.  I always have trouble knowing how to draw ideas I have together in the end.

I typed up the initial beginnings so I wouldn’t forget them, then moved on to work on my paper.  The next day, I added to it; a few days later, I reorganized, trimmed, specified, and rounded out what I could.  The following week I read it in a creative writing workshop.  I finally felt deeply good about something I had written, for the first time in a while.  I’m still going to work on it a little more, but I feel like it’s nearly there.

I need these little reminders sometimes, to prove to myself I’m not crazy for wanting to pursue this wonderful and frustrating profession, and to show myself what I’m working towards.  Wherever I find myself next year, I will carry the memory of them with me.

 

P.S.   For those who have completed or are working towards a graduate degree in creative writing, how did you choose the school?  In my decision, I think I have come to the issue of deciding between: a) professors with similar interests about writing content and external projects, in a program allowing writers to experiment with prose, poetry, or screenwriting, but with only set required classes; and b) classes already focused on prose, in a program which includes optional courses to focus on things like the short story.  Any suggestions?

Just a quick post

At the moment I am working on an essay for my anthropology class, so I really shouldn’t be thinking of how to update my poor little blog.

I’m still uncertain of how I want to proceed with it anyway.  Many writing blogs tend to go a few ways:  share some excerpts of writing, share tips, or just share news.  I still get a little nervous about sharing creative work on the world wide web though.

The only bit of news I have to share for the moment is that I have a conditional offer for Newcastle University’s MA in creative writing for next year, and I’ve nearly finished a flash fiction piece of which I’m pretty proud.

 

For now, it’s back to anthropology and hoping to find greater blogging inspiration soon.