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.

11 thoughts on “The Passion of the Artist (And the Lover)

  1. myself

    I understand precisely what you are talking about, having been in a marriage that basically stifled my music, which I had studied since the age of 5 resulting in my going into music performance in university. When I met my ex-husband, he was into music, but not the same type as myself, and due to my young age, I was strongly influenced by this (I married at 22).
    Now 37, although having gone to karaoke about a million times in between, I am finally getting back into my musical obsession and did an accoustic performance 2 weeks back.

    Singing is a complete and utter passion for me and without it I shrivle up and die inside. Being seriously involved with someone who doesn’t understand and support that will never happen again, I lost myself , and that which was the essence of my being, for someone else. I want to be supported by that person, I want to be told how fabulous I was, even if it wasn’t the best performance I’ve ever done.

    Yes, I have a lover at the moment, but distance and the non-serious nature of our relationship is such that I am not certain if he understands it. He’s aware, even asked to hear a demo recording I did for a songwriter friend, but does he really GET it? I would hope so, but I guess I’ll find out.

  2. Beth

    Wow, Steff.

    My office is built in such a way that the wall I face as I look at my monitor is about 13 feet high. On that wall, I’ve taped quotes, printed out on 8 1/2 x 11 pieces of paper, in a grid, six pages wide, five pages high.

    One of my favorites is from the Donald Kaufman character in “Adaptation,” so we can thank Charlie Kaufman for this bit of brilliance: “You are what you love, not what loves you.”

    It’s like you said: We’re not people who write. We’re writers. That’s who we are.

    And, of course, you’ve once again said it perfectly: We need to find someone who shares that love, not in practice, per se, but in spirit.

    Your post made me think back to my past relationships, and only one of them really understood me as a writer, but at the time, I didn’t even understand that about myself. Which makes his insight all the more incredible.

    And sadly, the one man who understands me as an artist now is unavailable, which is pure, unmitigated torture.

    But it also fuels the art.

    I feel blessed every day for the gifts I have. As do you. Aren’t we insanely lucky?

  3. Beth

    Oh, and by the way, I saw both those movies in the same order in which you will see them and they both completely blew me away.

  4. Goose and Gander

    Intense food for thought, and thought that has been on our minds lately. Passion, creation, stretching, feeling. That is what some of us live for, die for and many folks just don’t get it. Its part of what makes BDSM so attractive to me because it mingles intensity, creativity, narrative and makes my brain work in the same way theater does. We need it and we shouldn’t let it go.

  5. Mad Coyote

    Thank you Steff.

    (I say anything more, it’s a three page essay. So I’m going to leave it at that. Thank you.)

  6. scribe called steff

    Myself — Well, I’m actually cool with having my lover say, “You know, I’ve seen you do better.” I want to know I’m being pushed to being the best I can be. Sometimes we can falter and forget our capabilities, coast, even, and to have a lover say, “Nuh-uh, baby, that doesn’t even hold a candle to that thing you did that night three months ago. What’s different? Why aren’t you measuring up? Is there anything I can do?”

    Nothing wrong with constructive feedback and encouragement. In fact, that’s the best person to do it for you, if you’re lucky enough to have someone who really gets it. 🙂 Good luck with yer loverman!

    Beth — I’ve seen them both, actually, hence being able to piece a thought or two together. 😉

    A quote for you, on my desk, by Richard Ford: “Writing for a living is a privilege, not a god-given right, as the opportunities are few, though sought after by many. There are years of rejection which serve as a crude winnowing process, after which those left standing are those who simply must write.” I don’t even need to look at it anymore, I know it by heart.

    We are indeed insanely lucky. 🙂 Every day, I find myself finding more inspiration in the world around me, from a commercial to an old couple sitting on a bench. I wonder sometimes how I ever couldn’t see those things around me, how I ever forgot, and then I realize: Maybe it all came apart on me so that when I finally got it back together, it’d finally mean something… something I’d never forget again. I suspect that’s true.

    G — And you’re lucky you have a partner that’s fully there for you creatively. It’s such a rarity, such a thing to seek & find. To behold and appreciate. Enjoy that. Don’t let the climate around you stifle it.

    MC — You got it, babe. But, y’know, three-page essays flatter me. That I can provoke that kind of response always gets me off. Feel free to indulge yourself anytime you like. 🙂

  7. myself


    In my effort not to be verbose, I guess I omitted what I really meant, which was that I’d like said person to be supportive and say “you were great, but…”. The “buts” don’t bother me at all and from someone who loves and understands you.

    As for loverboy, sadly I see this going nowhere, but thanks for the wishes all the same.

  8. junksibunny06

    I am in that odd stifled place right now. It’s funny, I’ve been married for 16yrs now and the things that are becoming an intrinsic part of my life he doesn’t get. I finally figured out that writing, however bad at it I am is somthing I have been missing my entire adult life. I always had this hollow feeling, like I was never a whole person. I was someone’s wife or someone’s mother but not just ME.
    I began a blog at the behest of a co-worker and now best friend and it has changed my mind set sooooo much. The second day when I told him I was writing a blog to express myself his only comment was “Really, Why?” Not only was this a blow to me, to realize that he totally doesn’t get it but I just looked at him and all I could say was “because I have to.”
    I have finally found something incredible. Something that is all mine. Something to define who I am and I love it!
    Thank you for even more inspiration.

  9. scribe called steff

    Myself — Too bad about the impending doom. Okay, glad you feel the same way. It really depends who’s doing the feedback — the right guy, the right way, and all is good.

    Junks — Hollowness is what I felt when I had the Block for the years it dogged me. Writing is a way of tunneling into yourself, unleashing things. It’s profoundly important, if it’s something you need to do.

    Don’t fall into the habit of just “expressing” yourself, though. Learn how to really say things, challenge yourself with perspectives on world events, etc, or else you might fall into the boring trap of being self-involved and all that comes with it. It’s a hard balance.

    I always, always remember I’m writing for an audience, and that keeps me from being too journal-y on here, I like to think. It’s a challenge.

    It’s great that you’re doing it. It’s so freeing, writing, especially when you have the balls to face those hard, hard moments in your life and write about them objectively. As much as writing’s a talent, it’s also a craft, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the better your skills develop.

    Enjoy the journey. God knows I’ve loved mine. 🙂

    But in fairness to your man? You’ve never been writing, so as far as he’s concerned, it might well be just a new trend you’re after. Don’t be so harsh on him — prove you love it, prove it’s important to you, and maybe he’ll see that in the proper light. Give it time. Too many people pick up new “hobbies” and then sell them as being life-changing new passions, and six months later, they’re onto something new. Your husband may just be skeptical right now, and maybe even rightly so. But you’re gonna prove him wrong, and when you do, THEN you’ll truly know how to judge that.

  10. Sal

    This piece made me feel a lot better.

    Thank you.

    You see, I just broke up with my wife over this very issue. And it’s pretty fucking easy to feel alone and selfish, even if it was my whole life at stake.

  11. A Scribe Called Steff

    Posted December 25, 2007 at 11:01 am | Permalink | Edit
    i am in the same creative block that you describe. I couldn’t say it any better than you have. Great writing. Thanks.

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