We’ve been getting ready this week for a party, and, at this party, which is tomorrow night, I’m going to do a reading from my novel-in-progress. This will be the second time we’ll have featured such an exercise. I’m looking forward to it, and our kind and generous friends have convincingly communicated that they look forward to it too. I have a semi-polished passage selected, and I’ve been whittling it down for readability’s sake over the past few days as part of the “getting ready” mentioned above.
As I get this abridged chapter into shape for reading, I realize just how little of the novel it, or any given passage taken out of context really communicates about the work entire, or why I’m writing it at all. I thought about giving a little more of this context before the reading, an “artist’s statement” like you see pinned on coffee shop walls, but the more I thought about that, the more I realized I probably had too much to say. I don’t want to further risk exhausting anyone’s generosity by giving a long artist’s statement, followed by a long reading of fiction that I freely admit is not in a 100% finished state.
So then I remembered I have this blog. And I have my book blog. I’m not sure where to post this, so I’m posting it in both places.
People used to describe me as passionate, which was a way I liked being described. I liked to be passionate, I liked being described as someone who did things wholeheartedly and with a joie de vivre and with a smile. When I was reminded a year or two ago that this was how I was formerly described, I realzied it had been a long time since I’d thought of myself in those ways. What’s more, these days, I don’t think most of the people I know or count as friends would describe me first as passionate. A lot of other great things, maybe, but passionate probably isn’t going to bubble to the top of anyone’s list of adjectives to describe Mr. Thorn at this time.
But fuck other people, right? Even the best-intentioned! What matters, we’re told, is what we believe about ourselves. So I’ve been trying to figure out, in the face of evidence and public opinion to the contrary, am I passionate? Put another way: do I give a shit? Even a small, tiny hamster’s turd’s worth of shit do I give? Or have I just given up? Not, like, suicidal given up, but just shrugged my shoulder, put that same shoulder to the sisyphean wheel of quotidian commerce and said, fuck it, because a life of quiet desperation is better than no life at all? Is that it? Am I just phoning it in now?
It’s a hard question, and one that mostly I haven’t liked discovering the answers to, but here’s the upbeat message to this story. I don’t think I’ve become less passionate, but I do think I’ve become a lot more circumspect, and I think I’ve learned to value cooler intellect over hotter heart’s impulse. I was a rageoholic for four years while I was in a bad relationship, and it soured me to passion. Passion meant lots of tears, rage, and hotheaded impulse, regretted at leisure.
Recently my friend Nick visited and we got into a spirited debate, and it felt so good to raise my voice and to feel like I was passionate about something. But then Nick called me on the raised voice for another reason, and, long story short, I had to wonder, is that all that passion is, sometimes? A loud voice, a strident tone, and fierce exhalation, the sting of a slap, unpremeditatedly applied?
The more I look at passion, the less valuable I think the question of whether or not I have it is, and the more valuable I find the inquiry into the meaning and uses of passion. But I also find this: passion really isn’t something that finds you. Passion is something you build.
Like this book I’m writing. I’m very fucking passionate about it. Like nothing else in my life, and the closer I get to completion on it, the more passionate I become about it, and the more terrified of it — and my passion for it — I become. I am pouring all of me into it.
But the closer I get to “done”, the closer I get to that risk of having to put all of me on the stage of public opinion. It’s breaking my heart. I try to be grateful for anything that breaks my heart, that’s how it grows after all. It breaks, and then heals in a bigger size than it was before. Then it breaks again.
I am not passionate about it because I’ve put a lot of time into it, or because it happens to be about things I care about, or even because I want to be a writer, whatever THAT means. I’m passionate about it because I’m trying to write something whose every sentence means something to me or does something to me. I’m trying to write a thing where every idea I put into it, changes me for having expressed it. The truth changes you when you speak it, and if I put ideas or sentences in this that don’t change me or make me feel like a little uneasy or threatened, then I don’t see the point. I’m sorry, but anything else, for me, would be a waste of time.
So that’s one thing about this book. I’m building it because I want it to be something, an extension of me, the flesh of my soul made word.
But I also want this book to do something. I want it to make the world a better place. I want it to mitigate some of the suffering we create for ourselves through our callousness, our blindness, and, yes even, or especially, our passions. I want this book to challenge people and to make them see the world from an ever so slightly different angle.
I have no idea how to do this. I just have to try and trust that by pouring myself into this, what I care most about, my loathing for self-deception and the evil it creates, my love for all the quirky things that make human beings at once strong and vulnerable, and my belief that acts of heroism are almost always either very small acts or what doesn’t happen when we choose forbear. I want it to contain all this and more, all my hope and fear and I want to believe, I really really most of all want to believe, that just by putting as much of me out there (in convenient book form!), I can make a difference, I can slow down our crazy race to the bottom of what humanity is capable of.
I hate misery and suffering and cruelty, and I want it — all of it, everywhere — to stop, and this is the best way I know how to move that secret Thornic agenda forward. When I post this chapter abridgement in a day or three, you might just see two girls talking on a sofa (or possibly an awkward first date if I go with Plan B) but trust me when I say to you, it’s the best I can do, it’s what I’m passionate about, and it’s my prayer for everything care about and treasure.
I like to think I’m passionate about those causes, but that’s just what I like to think. What I know, however, is that I’m more passionate about this book I’m writing than I’ve ever been about anything in my life. I give myself to it a little more each day, and each act of giving deepens my passion for it, and that’s my lesson for me today, after twenty years of thinking that passion was just something I got to have, for free, just for being me. Maybe that’s true, that passion is democratic and promiscuous, but that kind of passion is no good, it’s a tramp. But this other kind of passion, the one I’ve built out of air, out of imagination and words and memory, this feels like something real, a pulsing, hot creature at the center of my private landscape, a beast that might break its chains and be free and wild in the world. It’s my child, it’s everything I am, and, somehow, much, much more.