Passion vs Love

Posted on 08 November 2013

I enjoyed the film Love Actually. As far as romcoms go, it largely had its head on straight and portrayed more human insight than the usual Hollywood equivalent. Missing from this film was spoken use of the word “love”. No one said it, not even once. It’s a cultural joke that the British don’t indulge in fripperies such as emotional expression, but it sucked much of the soul out of that movie. Writer/director Richard Curtis must have sensed this because in his most recent film About Time, all of the major characters get to say it with deep conviction.

I bring this up because in the arts we are expected to be on fire about what we do. Scott Adams of Dilbert fame puts it well:

…You often hear (people) say that you should “follow your passion.” That sounds perfectly reasonable the first time you hear it. Passion will presumably give you high energy, high resistance to rejection and high determination. Passionate people are more persuasive, too. Those are all good things, right?
Scott Adams, “Secret of Success: Failure”

Passion here is about pure drive without emotional depth, without connection: just pathological one-pointedness. You have a goal and until you meet that goal, you are a failure. That’s why in a story it feels like such a stunning climax when the protagonist finally achieves the object of their desire. Everything is on or off, one or zero, all or nothing.

Here in Australia we recently had people deriding some of our Olympians for coming home with silvers and bronzes, instead of golds. National pride said an award was only any good if it was number one. And yet many countries with populations greater than ours were overjoyed at being in the Olympics at all.

That sort of passion can suck the joy out of any activity to which it is applied. It will drain you dry, burn you out, and crush your heart. People who opt for passion over love in order to avoid vulnerability are fooling themselves. Passion is not a straight line to success. It never has been, it never will be. Love is a much surer route to becoming a respected and remembered artist.

Novelists frequently speak of the “gestation period” of their novels. If a novel, like a child, requires gestation, then cultivating a creative career is like birthing and raising a brood of children. This is not the flaccid love that follows your heart while the sun does shine. This is a love that gets up for two am feedings. This is a love that is there when a child is sick, when a child is playing in a game or a concert, and even when a child is being an absolute monster. This is a love that understands you have to keep yourself well and mentally stable, because heaven forbid if you weren’t there to care for your best beloveds. This is a love that will stick with it decade after decade, where you regularly challenge yourself to be ever more accepting as your child explores thoughts, feelings, activities, and ways of being you never imagined before.

A creative career is a form of tough love. And part of that toughness is never ever letting anyone, including yourself, treat you with anything less than benevolent respect. A good artist looks after their tools. When you are making comedy, YOU are your tool. You respect and care for your body, your emotions, your thoughts, and your general well-being. You also treat your “babies” with all the love and respect you can, then set them free.

Moments of passion are great! And as creators we get to experience them more often than many people. You can’t build your entire life on those moments. It would be like trying to have Christmas every day. Don’t even build your life on successes. Instead know yourself well enough to be where you will most savour life: be it comedy, writing, bilge cleaning… This is perfectly legitimate because it is your life and you have a right to enjoy it in your own way to the best of your ability.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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