Saturday, June 15, 2019

"Passion" is dumb

The English language once had a word expressing romantic or apopleptic fervor, a word that even sounded like a sibilant storm, opening with a plosive, ending with softness. It denoted special extremity.

Now we have this.

My brother and I discussed the bewildering primacy of the term "passion" back when we attended the second JRW conference, many long years ago. Agents reacting to first pages, or discussing what they were looking for in queries and stories, bandied it about almost more than any other word. I began to wish it were possible to mute words on the entire internet, early in my first experience of querying.

Even when I was young (again, this was many moons ago), the word actually embarrassed me. Maybe because it still did have some power - and implications - back then. But I've never in my life said or thought or felt I was "passionately" in love with a person, and as proud as I am of my career and invested as I am in my work, "passion" is not and I actually hope never will be a word I apply to doing it. That would be ridiculous.

So The Atlantic's takedown of the absurdities we attach to job listing and hunting resonates with my cranky old heart - passionless as it may be.

Like that job, and like so many things, I spent a decent span of my twenties and thirties under the impression that I was supposed to feel apologetic. I didn't have a sexy job for which I held a white-hot torch; I hadn't even gone through specific education geared toward it. My teen years: I was a kid. I didn't know what I wanted to do or "become" and, as much as it was clear I was supposed to, I honestly didn't care enough to develop any fake passions for business or law or even the arts. Majoring in theater where I did cured me of interest in going into THAT - though it probably laid some groundwork for me as an author.

Students in the 80s who seemed into business degrees bewildered me for directing their lives at, basically, just making money - not even making actual things, or having any impact on anything. Graduate school seemed like a lot of work, so a lot of what are referred to as "The Professions" (as if nothing else is) didn't draw me for a second. School for creativity seemed oxymoronic, and yet was the only way I could comprehend to become any sort of artist, and so if there ever had been a visual or musical or other sort of artist inside me (there wasn't), I'd have killed it myself, striving for it.

I never developed a groove that had anything to do with making my living.

Beloved Ex, now. He was a different story. He wanted very much to find a way to make a living that energized him mentally, emotionally. It didn't help our brief marriage, unfortunately, because by the time a truly stunning opportunity came for him - it meant rooting ourselves in Ohio, and I freaked out hard core, and ... yeah, I didn't want to sabotage his opportunity, but I did, AND I didn't want to stay in Ohio. And I didn't. Lots of birds killed with that boulder, and that boulder ... welp, it was passion, in its way.

For me, life's always been lived outside of any office. I make friends, sure. I have experienced strong loyalties and many emotions, in a hundred offices from here all the way back to Ohio. But, at the end of the day, I would never have gone into any of them if they weren't paying me.

Passion's for poorly written poems. It's been no way for me to get things done.

Doesn't make me any less excellent at what I do for a paycheck. Doesn't mean I do not care. I'm not a customer service ninja (which sounds like a bad idea, honestly, what with the kill-y parts of ninja-dom - though, really, the Orientalist stereotyping of "ninja", "sensei", and "guru" is a problem, and also, why are so many of the terms noted like this?), I don't lose sleep at night dreaming naughty dreams of vendor management or the passionate joys of meeting preparation. You want an obsessive or any other kind of job-extremist, I'm not your candidate - and, honestly? I think MOST PEOPLE aren't.

MOST JOBS, let's be candid, are just jobs. They're not sexy, they're not hot lovers, they're not things that get our motors revving. If we're fortunate, and have the right kind of approach, the best most of us can expect from employment is the opportunity to work a good puzzle. Figure out how best to do a thing, then do it, and feel like a rockstar for widgeting, or networking, or calming down some numbers that get uppity.

"Job" is not a word stormy with sibilance. It doesn't start plosive, but with a chop. It ends utilitarian, not reassuringly with a nice, soft N. It's short and ordinary and gets its work done efficiently, nondescriptly.

And it's one of the great words in most of our lives, when we're lucky enough to get one that doesn't beat us down but does provide security. Maybe it gives more than merely that. Great!

But work is work.

They don't call it rapture, for good reason.


Paul Lamb said...

Never mind the misuse of "passion." I'm tickled to come across the gerund form "widgeting"!

DLM said...

Hee. Pleased to be of service, though not passionate about it. (That would be inappropriate in any case - at least, if the word actually meant what it used to!) Of course, credit is not mine, I've seen nouns verbed six ways to Sunday, possibly including the pluperfect subjunctive ...