The Passion of the Artist (And the Lover)

I’ve been thinking of artists and passion today, and how important it is to keep that passion alive, whether in life or in love.

I saw the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line last night and came home wanting to write about the importance of having your passions appreciated by those you love. For some reason, I’ve been unable to put it together in a way that works.

This morning, I began thinking of another movie coming to that same theatre I so love here in Vancouver, the Hollywood, a classic theatre from 1937, which has been owned by the same family for all these years. I’ve seen movies like Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz there, and secretly covet the knowledge that they all aired there first-run, all those decades ago. These days, it’s a second-run theatre that specializes in great double-bills for the low, low price of $6. (Add to that real butter for the popcorn, and you’ve got yourself a winner.)

The other movie coming soon is Capote, and I’ve been thinking a good deal about it thanks to a conversation with The Guy. You might wonder what Capote and Walk the Line have in common, but they’re both about artists and how destructive the quest for one’s art can be.

Cash was very nearly destroyed by his music, as a result of his first wife being unable or unwilling to appreciate or support his craft – something as integral to him as the air he breathed. She fought him on all things musical and demanded he be the cliché man-about-the-house when he was no longer on tour. He felt like he was living a lie, and lies are as destructive as any force of nature can be.

Capote, on the other hand, one of my life-long writing influences, sacrificed everything to tell a story he predicted would change the way non-fiction was written forever. He was right about the impact of his creation (In Cold Blood), but failed to see what being unwilling to compromise his story would do to him as a man, and what it did was destroy him utterly. He never wrote another word and succumbed as a bitter, angry, heartbroken man to the diseases of alcoholism and loneliness.

I was a writer with writer’s block for six years. Anyone who tells you writer’s block is a myth doesn’t know what they’re talking about. What it is, is simply the failing to know yourself anymore. It’s the failing to know the route inside yourself, and they don’t sell those compasses. I believe that once you’ve overcome writer’s block – true, heart-wrenching, long-term writer’s block – that you’re stronger than it is, that you learn more about yourself than you ever would have otherwise, about the dark places inside, and the block will never happen again. (Not to me, anyhow.) But it destroyed me then. I felt dead inside and out. I hated my life. I wonder sometimes how intentional my two life-threatening accidents really were, whether I subconsciously sought an “easier” way out of my pain. I’ll never know.

For some of us, what and who we are is simply not negotiable. I am a writer, a woman, a photographer, a lover, pretty much in that order. Even as a failed writer, I knew it was all that I was – a writer, but a writer without the words, a writer with the failure to realize her potential. Today, if a lover ever tells me to stop talking about writing, I’d be out the fucking door like a shot.

When I was seeking out men as The Queen of First Dates, the litmus test for me was my writing. Did they get it? Did they care? Were they intrigued? No? Buh-bye, and thanks for flying Air Not in This Life.

Our passions are who we are. Our loves are who we are. Our actions are who we are. Our dreams are what we aspire to, and thus who we are. We absolutely must be appreciated on those levels, for if we’re not, we become shells of who we possibly can be.

Too many of us have to face the reality that we don’t get the support we need in our lives. Too many of us settle for lovers who don’t understand our visions, who don’t push us in the directions we need to travel in.

Instead of saying, “Wait, I deserve better,” we somehow begin dismissing those dreams, those loves of ours, our passions. We tell ourselves that it’s OUR obsession, not theirs, and we shouldn’t inflict it upon them. We somehow justify the segregation of who we are in those quiet moments in the dark of night with who we’re supposed to be in the light of our relationships. We compromise.

And we pay the price no one should ever have to pay.

Capote and Cash are perfect juxtapositions of what could have been and what was, in the face of artists sacrificing for their art. Cash finally had his first marriage end as a result of his destructive behaviours, and was ultimately saved from that destruction when he was finally able to act upon the passion he’d long felt for June Carter, who saved him from himself by becoming the love of his life. So much so that when she passed away in 2003, he’d follow her to the grave inside of four months later. The bond of love sometimes transcends death, for the lucky and the few. They were of that number.

Capote (seen here in a photo taken shortly before his death) had to choose between fighting for the life of a man he’d come to love, or praying for his death by execution, a death that would make his book a best-seller and give him a writing angle that would be unparalleled. The execution inevitably happened, with Capote looking on as that neck snapped and the body dangled from the gallows, and despite then finishing what would be the crowning achievement of his literary career, it destroyed the man.

This is what art can do. This is what passion is.

A few years back, I lost all my passion. Every bit of it. I don’t know if it was due to the adversities in my life or due to the writer’s block, it’s really a chicken-or-the-egg non-sequitur that I’ll never solve. I know the result, and there are nights I still remember the hollow I’d become, and marvel at the changes I’ve seen since. I drank to excess every night. I numbed myself into oblivion with drugs and irresponsibility. I cut myself off from everyone in my world. I didn’t give a fuck about anything or anyone except the pain I felt. I wallowed in it and never rose above the surface. One day, that began to change.

Now, passion is all I have in the face of an uninspired bank account and a not-so-rivetting lifestyle. But the passion is all I need, and I’m more content than I ever dreamed I could be. When you rediscover passion – for life, for love, for art, for nature, for all of the above – you realize how incredibly disposable the rest of your life really is.

But it isn’t something you can acquire externally. It comes from within. Your external choices, though, can impact how much of the passion you can embrace. Does your lover share your passions? No? That’s an obstacle. Does your work encourage your passion? No? Another obstacle. Does your life allow for you to pursue that passion? No? A greater obstacle. When we amass enough obstacles, we choose to avoid the struggle it takes to keep passion alive. It’s easier. Thus, we coast. We meander meaninglessly through life, and ultimately, we succumb instead to avoiding death, not celebrating life. Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’, like the man in Shawshank Redemption says.

I’m happy I’ve found someone who seems to get what I’m about, on every level. It’s such a challenge to find that. It’s so easy to cloud the issue with silly things, like we like the same movies or we both play baseball. At heart, what are you? Does your lover understand it? Do they appreciate it?

If not, you’ve got to ask yourself if you deserve – no, need – more. I know I did. For the moment, I have what I need, and that’s a start.