A Crime of Passion

February 21, 2010
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An unadorned painting lies on the floor. Its edges are delicately curled, the acrid smell of the drying paint wafting with silent purpose through the stale room. A man stands over the painting, inhaling the scent of accomplishment and, perhaps of greater importance, personal satisfaction. The elusive, 2-dimensional figure below him meets his stare with a vague expression, her smile compelling but enigmatic. As the man may or may not be aware, he has created a masterpiece.

In the dim, oppressive confines of a small bedroom, a woman sits, pen in hand. Before her, on a teetering, paper-strewn desk, rests a small book, its pages crinkled like rotting leaves and gracefully lined with the galvanic descriptions of a “hideous phantasm of a man.” The woman’s thoughts are dark, electric, but she is startled from her pensive stupor by a knock that echoes through the room’s thin door. Standing, the woman gives a slight shake of her head, mentally brushing away her reflections on the supernatural premise of her finished novel.

A man carefully lowers himself into a tub half-full of tepid water; but it is not the temperature that diverts his attention. The water swirling around his bent knees rises almost imperceptibly as his body breaches its surface. Noticing this, the man’s expression, a curious mixture of interest and astonishment, shifts into something akin to euphoria, and he leaps from the tub. A jubilant cry precedes his urgent descent from his bathing room to the teeming streets of Syracuse. As those who witness his naked journey will later attest, the man has just made a mathematical discovery. “Eureka!”

These three people, despite being separated by centuries, interests, and lifestyles, are intrinsically connected by the possession of a common trait: passion. Like countless other artists and mathematicians, their lives seem to have been dominated by the pursuit and consideration of those subjects by which they were most inspired; they thrived on the continual indulging of their interests (and in doing so, happened to garner great fame). As they would almost certainly agree, a world without passion would be lifeless, deprived of some essential spark that gives rise to laughter and the sort of perpetual joy that buoys one’s spirits in all manner of situations.

Especially in recent years, it seems as if society’s values have become skewed by a sometimes overwhelming slew of expectations, which no doubt parade through the minds of today’s youth: Green flags held upright by a cluster of stilted teenagers with dollar signs for pupils; “Make money!” A marching procession of suit-clad businessmen and women; “Be successful!” A band carrying cymbals that clash together at the most inconvenient of moments, with a ding like the irritatingly shrill ring of an alarm clock; “Decision time!”

There is a fine distinction between the world’s seeming expectations and those of the heart, an incongruity that appears to grow more pronounced as a person ages. As the past exemplifies, passion is a quality that should be integral to success and happiness, but it appears that the world has redefined its classification of these terms. What a person wants, what they are passionate about, is weighed against what is expected of them, and the result often seems to be dipped in favour of the latter. Is some divine entity adding an overweight elephant to that side of the scale? Because it just does not seem to add up.

As this is a troubling concept, I sleuthed around my peers, insinuating some casual queries into the rise and fall of conversation.

“So, why did you decide to study – insert subject area here – after high school?”

One of my friends replied, voice laced with a disconcerting amount of seriousness and a slight intonation that seemed to suggest her answer should have been obvious to me, “Well. I want to make money.”

At the time, I could not think of a more depressing response.

As I turned to my second victim, I was a degree more hesitant. To my surprise, he seemed rather nonchalant about the entire matter – the raising of a quizzical brow was followed by a half-hearted shrug. “I don’t know. Can’t think of anything better to do, I guess.”

Evidently, my earlier assumption was proven incorrect, as there can be almost nothing more disheartening than a teenager, at the cusp of adulthood, with a rare opportunity to actually influence the direction of their lives, choosing a path based on the offhand acknowledgment that they do not have “anything better to do.” How can anyone, adult or adolescent, be truly content without the knowledge that they are pursuing something that is close to their heart?

It is true that interests can be transitory, but that very fleeting intangibleness is an essential part of what makes them so valuable and precious. And indeed, perhaps the often unpredictable nature of passion’s onset is what makes it so difficult to maintain and focus on. It is questionable and vaguely unattainable, this pursuit of one’s dreams. Still, I would claim that true happiness, the kind that is more a continual sense of contentment than a passing rush of feeling, is much more likely to be achieved when one chooses to focus their life on what is most dear to them, rather than what is most endeared to them by others. Essentially, passion and the pursuit and preservation of one’s interests are crucial to leading a fulfilling life.

Passion is the motivator behind great works of art, literature, science, and a cornucopia of other successes in various subjects; it is not limited to a single focus area. In fact, if a person’s greatest aspiration is to achieve poker-playing success and supremacy, they should make it happen. Adversely, if someone is inspired by contributing to humanitarian causes, they should nurture and support the growth of that passion. If a person feels strongly about a certain subject or focus area, to the extent that they are willing to approach it with determination and a “won’t take no for an answer” mentality, they should let (almost) nothing hinder their climb up the gradient slope of dream-pursuing.

If an interest is truly a ‘passion,’ it should never be allowed to wither, to become something only fondly remembered as a childhood dream, a tree that once stood proud and strong but which time and maturity have shrunk to a brittle, emaciated twig. The ease and frequency with which passions, be they for writing, drawing, music, or mathematics, can be eclipsed by other, apparently more imperative, more urgent, and more attention-consuming, concerns is extremely disconcerting.

Life, for many people, seems to be dictated by a sort of natural order of things, a progression of tidy, predetermined steps: a free, relatively unhindered childhood, followed by a moderately more controlled foray into organized education, which is continued for many years, after which a lengthy attempt is made to conquer what is commonly and sometimes bitterly referred to as “the real world.” Blink but for a moment, and one might find themselves ensconced in the plush but boring chair of a moderately prominent investment agency; this manner of blitzkrieg living – rushing through life with an almost aimless, fast-forwarded mentality – lacks a desirable medium between passion and purpose. Where is the kind of enthusiasm that burns with an intense, wilful intent, that consumes and drives, and pushes those it affects not only to shadow their dreams, but to do so with the compulsion and fierce determination of an Olympic athlete?

If I were to enumerate the fundamentals of valuing passion and allowing it to possess some reign in life in a manner of specifics, they would be thus: create something with a similar affection and meticulous attention to detail as Leonardo De Vinci did when he spent more than five years painting his famed “Mona Lisa;” express something significant with the level of profundity and imagination that Mary Shelley employed, most notably when writing Frankenstein; feel the burst of elation and sudden knowledge which Archimedes experienced upon discovering a method for determining an irregularly-shaped object’s density. Create. Express. Feel. And if success is stumbled upon in the process, all the better.

In a society that seems to be percolated by an increasing preoccupation with the economy, obscure politics and a straightforward, honed-in concept of “getting things done,” maybe it would benefit people to take a step (or a giant leap, even) back from their hectic lives in order to re-evaluate their priorities. This is not to diminish the importance of considering those issues, which are certainly relevant; rather, it encourages the most Disney of principles: follow your dreams. And possibly, as people seem to have forgotten, it is as beneficial as reading a newspaper or attending a party to steal moments of passion-seeking from their work-ridden days – perhaps even “to see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of their hands, and eternity in an hour.”

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EvenMe said...
Feb. 25, 2010 at 4:59 pm
...Wow. This blew me away. Nice piece of writing! :D I'm jealous!
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