Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What Really is Passion and Do I Have It?

When a friend suggested I write a column about passion, I laughed and looked at his wife, because she knows how confused I am about it. And no, he was not talking about sex. He was talking about that quality that makes some people leap out of bed every morning like it's the first day of their lives.

Since I am incapable of mental or physical sensation before seven a.m., I'm not one of those people. I unfold and crawl out of my warm womb-nest, but only after draining the lethargy from me and stretching every sedated muscle. In fact, I am not a leaper at any time of the day about anything really.

Which has caused me to wonder: Do I have passion or don't I?

For the friend who posed this topic to me, passion is something he never had until 10 years ago, when he got his first whiff of something he realized he wanted. During a vacation, he found himself on a boat off the coast of Florida and thought, "This is what I want someday."

Although he wasn't sure what "this" would be, he was sure he wanted to be on the water as much as possible. Four years ago, at 69, he retired, settled in Southwest Florida fulltime, and founded the first continuing longterm study of bottlenose dolphins in the region. Now, he jumps out of bed every day at five a.m. like a child on Christmas morning.

But what about people like me, who are not so much zestful about something as they are chronically pestered by it?

I became interested in writing when I was about 12, but I wasn't a gifted English student. Two big red Fs are emblazoned on my memory--along with a below average English SAT score. In college I floundered from one major to the next, never considering journalism; I assumed I wasn't good enough to be a writer. But privately I wrote poems and songs and novels I never finished, because of something inside of me that would not quit.

After college I flirted at the shallow fringes of the writing world, too afraid to dive headfirst into the deep end. First I worked for public relations firms and then for a film producer as a script reader.

To test the water a little further, when I was 24 I took a job as an editorial assistant for a small magazine here in Naples, Florida, eventually going on to became an editor and writer for various Florida lifestyle publications.

But during those years I felt an unceasing ache inside of me that said this wasn't the kind of writing I wanted to do.

The problem was, I wasn't sure what kind of writing I wanted to do. By the time I was 45 I had started but not finished 12 novels, as well as submitted 21 essays to my local newspaper, all of which were rejected. The longer I witnessed my creative writing going unpublished the more I doubted my ability.

And then I got a vision of myself at 80, full of regret for having never taken a chance on one of my dreams. The pain was so wrenching I made a promise to myself: I would write and finish a novel no matter how awful I thought it was. So I did, and then I re-wrote it five times before sending it out to agents and other writers, who told me to rewrite it again. And I have.

The latest agent called it "competent", so maybe there is hope, which I'll need to get through re-write number 12.

In the mean time, that nagging ache flared up, so I queried my local newspaper again. And now this column is published there.

As terrified as I am to be swimming in something that sometimes feels like the middle of an ocean I am grateful, because that haunting feeling isn't there anymore.

Maybe that means I'm doing what I need to do, at least for now. I do know I have a sense of contentment about this part of my life that I haven't felt before.

And although every time I sit in front of my computer I worry I'll have nothing to say, a small voice inside of me keeps urging me on, telling me not to give up.

Not even on that silly novel.

I guess that is passion.

QUESTION: Are you passionate about something and, if so, how are you honoring it?

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