By Rajneesh Narula
(Another in my occasional essay series)
I have often said that writing is as close to giving birth as I am likely to ever get. It is not my intention to denigrate or belittle mothers everywhere. I do not have the necessary experience or equipment to be certain, but I find that writing is the single most painful (and yet at the same time the most fulfilling) process that I have had the opportunity to experience. Whether it is a poem, an essay or an academic paper, it matters not a jot. Each is a labour of passion. This is the first principle of passion: Passion requires labour.
Passion, dear reader, is based on emotion, as distinguished from reason. It is a deeply stirring feeling that is ungovernable. It is a conviction, an overmastering emotion. Passion is something all of us feel at some level for some activity, person or process. It is like belief, because it requires faith in an intangible. Why, pray tell, do some hapless individuals train-spot, others collect lawn mowers, and yet others spend their waking hours fantasising of Demi Moore or Sean Connery?
The written word is my chosen cross, a subject about which I am passionate, be it poetry or prose, mine or someone else’s. All passions require labour, but writing (as opposed to reading) I find to be a particularly draining activity. Writing draws of my essence; It requires me to be honest with myself to extract a part of my being, and convert this small oeuvre of my existence into words, and this unsolicited giving leaves me exhausted, drained, but fulfilled. It is not all that different, I find, from passion for a woman.
As with any passion, it is an imperative. I write because I must. Not in the same way as I must eat, or I must drink, or I do the numerous unpleasant things to survive (such as filling in tax forms). Not in the physical or physiological or sociological sense of must-ness, but in a spiritual sense. Thus the second principle of passion: Passion is a primordial reaction, as opposed to an action. An action happens, like protecting your head as you fall, closing your eyes when you sneeze, or feeling homesick when you are thirsty (don’t ask). A reaction is a response, a retort to an event, to an action, and in the case of writing, to a thought. It is my desire to capture a stray thought that flutters like a feather, free, but one whose essence I feel is part of the unfinished jigsaw of my mind. Thoughts and feathers are fleeting. Just as the feather makes its merry way through the eddies in an indeterminate fashion, I wish to see my thought fly, to follow its trajectory. For every thought there is one path that feels right, and to find that particular course, one of an infinite possible feather-journeys that makes me take a thought (an action) to where it feels – in my gut- to where it should go, and to be able to follow this one trajectory again and again, at my own leisure, that makes me write.
I suffer from the fatal flaw of being illogic. My tendency to think laterally rather than logically is my Achilles heel as an academic and as a writer, but it is also (I know) my gift. Creating structure in my thought requires pain, because my mind is naturally resistant to logical discipline. But write I must, just as in Aesop’s story it is in the nature of the scorpion to sting. Passion, dear reader, derives from the Latin word for suffering. Thereby the third rule of passion: passion requires suffering. If for some reason you doubt this, may I refer you to the passions of Christ?
Lest you think that I am being pretentious, here is the fourth principle of passion: Passion does not require any talent or success on the part of the sufferer; one loves (collects, sings, writes) because one must, not because there are necessarily any positive dividends. One does so in defiance of any obvious evidence of ability. It is an exercise in masochism. It is not a thing of beauty that I create when I write; it is simply a manifestation of belief; a demonstration of ego, just as any creation manifests the ego of the creator. Most of us have loved unrequited, so the suffering element should be patently obvious. One does not need, it seems, have to be any good as a lover or a writer to be one. Talent and ambition are purely optional to the nature of the beast.
Principle number five: passion requires sacrifice. My inability to finish that novel of mine derives from my unwillingness to draw the necessary blood. I do not always have the honesty of self, the courage of integrity, the humility of shame, the generosity of emotions necessary to breathe life into my words. The words hang; they dangle, they swish limply against the disappointing and gelded evenness of my temperament and my pride.
When I am lucid and rational, I realise that all these words, these piles of papers that I scribble on are largely forgettable, just as I know that certain women whom I have loved have brought me close to self-destruction. But I did not leave them when the rational realisation of the damage they were causing, no matter how many of my friends said, ‘run Rajneesh, she’s no good for you’. But do I ever listen to myself or to my supportive friends? No. Hence the sixth principle of passion, delightful readers: passion has no perspective.
Our passions imbue us with the character of red-hot cauldrons, at least in matters related to the passion. Words like a foaming sea, froth restless, brim unexpressed, flinging flames, unstoked, untamed. We know all about these, they seethe through our being. But we do not say them, because somewhere deep down in the lava-like nature of our passion is an ice-cold kernel of rationality. We are taught as children to exercise control. Uncontrolled passions are for children of a certain age; it is cute. After that, we are taught that to give in to our primordial reactions is to narrow the gap between the primates and us. We wear Machiavellian masks to fit the fashion of our faces and our times, as we walk through a global masquerade. And we wrought words delicate that fit the fashion of our faces, of our masks, because the words bubbling in our cauldron are too powerful, too incorrect for our rational society. There is something endearing about the occasional expression, a cry, a gesture that slips out from behind the ceramic mask occasionally. I remember such moments for years afterwards, because these stolen seconds are a relapse of reason and rationality, because they are real, yet supremely moving. They are child-like, but beautiful (sometimes tragically so), exactly because they are fleeting and they might have been something that we would have done before the coming of the age of rationality. We do not always have to like them – sometimes they are violent and filled with hatred –but they move us (and sometimes scare us) nonetheless because they are unguarded, and they come out of passion. Passion’s seventh rule: Passion can be ugly. People kill others from passion of belief.
Control is probably the greatest stumbling block for passion, but passion and control are inseparable. Passion without control would result in a pile of disconnected and cacophonous words on a page. The need for control forces me to wring them into the page you see before you now. Control without passion would result in an essay without depth, without sincerity, without value, to me as the writer, and you as the reader. I would be like Spock, with convictions based on logic and rationality. I would work to satisfy my needs, no more. Control is human nature, and we cannot deny our need for order. But it is different for men than for women. I know that the loss of control is what men fear most in a relationship, and for a man to surrender his control (real or imagined) to a woman is the greatest sacrifice he can make. I have no clue what women seek or fear more: passion or control, or the ability to balance the two (This ignorance probably explains why I am single).
The eighth rule of passion: Passion is Impermanent. Diamonds and love may well be, but passion is rarely forever. Passion has its own chemistry, its own half-life, and its own life cycle. One day there, next day gone. I cannot explain why my passion for boxing, stamp-collecting or photography have disappeared, but there you have it. I feel warmly towards my ex-lovers (at least some of them), I remember that I was passionate about them, but I now feel no passion towards them.
I am not saying that life would be less tragic if we vented our passions, if we paraded through life with our emotional guts hanging out. But I believe that a life without a little tragedy, without unrequited love, without strong irrational feelings would be like death warmed over. A life without passion would be one of total control. True, there would be fewer born-again Christians neo-nazis, Klu Klux Klan members, terrorists, crimes of passion. But think of the down-side: no strong feelings, no poetry, no novels of anguish, no mad scientists devoting their every breathing moment to science, no Picasso, no Da Vinci, no Pele, no Trekker conventions, no John Lennon, no Mandela, no nothing. Passion is life. Without passion one ceases to exist in any real sense. As a brilliant poet once wrote, it would be like dying so slowly, you only think you’re alive.