So I was talking to a recently acquired friend about my love affair with Chekhov. God help us all when I get to talking about Chekhov.
I don’t even know a whole lot about Anton Chekhov. I only know “Lady with the Pet Dog.”
Actually we were talking about what I would consider “good literature,” but even that was after the point of origin. We were talking about passion. Yes, that was it, indeed.
We were talking about passion, about living a passionate life, about what made one passionate.
So I started discussing literature, which, is as far as I’m concerned, started for me with Anton Checkhov’s “Lady with the Pet Dog.”
Anton Checkhov’s story is all about passion, or rather, it culminates in what I consider to be the perfect example of passion. It’s a rather unoriginal story when reduced to its plot: man meets girl, man gets girl, man loses girl, man summons courage to get her back, and the end is left open, while optimistic (at least in the mind of the lovers) it is open ended and ambiguous.
I am a big fan of happy endings; I can’t lie. I am also in some ways very traditional to the point of being prudish. Checkhov’s ending was not a neat happy ending, and his characters were actually both married to other people, the male being a “man whore” of sorts. which means that, for his story to make me transcend my prejudices, it must have done something spectacular. Which it did.
What it did, I thought, was define the carpe diem motif. What it did, I thought, was establish Gurov, the male protagonist, as a master of his fate, having thrown away a mantle of passivity and suffering and fear and having donned one of choice and power and personal responsibility for his own happiness.
Which it did, in spades, which is why I loved it so much in 2006. It appealed to something just under the surface in me.
He loved his Ana so much that he was passionate about her, I thought. I was right, I just had it colored wrong.
As I’m linking Gurov and Ana and Chekhov with passion and a previous discussion of divinity and music and such, I realized that, yes, loving Ana made him passionate, but it did not define that passion.
It drove him to his passion, but it did not limit it. His passion, you see, had its whatness expressed, bare-assed, if you will, when he’s standing in front of Ana at the theatre, and the reader knows that she knows that she knows that this is a man deeply in love with this woman. He loves her so much that he is moved to action. His action is what impressed me then, for, to me it defined the story. His action is still what impresses me now, because it still defines the story.
But now, a year and about a half later, on the brink of ending my college education, I finally got the “Lady with the Pet Dog’s” lesson, from my first full semester back at college.
Passion is the merging of two forces, the character and the influence (in this case love, but just as easily music, sex, nature, etc), which causes action. The moved (or potentially moved) character and the influence collide, and in a chemical (physical? who cares at this point?) reaction, that collision becomes an action, or rather, an event. This event is the collision which merges the two forces, and, for a brief space in time, makes them inseparable. They are not two separate forces, but rather one. One “essence” that is larger than either of them before. They are not inseparable forever, however, and when they separate, the character is now moved (can never be the same again). The essence, while essentially the same, will never be seen in the same light by the character that is now moved.
Passion is the collision, a sort of coital embrace between character and essence, and it requires action, action by which to collide. It requires for the character to seek out the essence, which is an action in itself, and it requires ultimate openness in order to achieve true merging.
Passion without action is merely distanced admiration.
When I wrote my Tool story, I wrote a scene in which the woman listens to the music at the concert, of Maynard singing and the drums beating and the guitars screaming and so on and so forth. Reading back over it, although the descriptions weren’t exactly right, I got it. I got it before I got it. She sought the music, opened up in a “became vulnerable” sort of way, and the music crawled inside of her in a non-horror-movie sort of way.
While I wrote it, I had “Jambi” playing because, if ever a song could crawl inside of someone and beat her from the inside, it would be this one.
And this past week, this really, really horrible past week, coupled with the pretty bad one behind that, simply illuminates the fact that I got it.
I “got” the story. I “got” Jambi. And I “got” passion.
And it doesn’t mean that I’ve completely shed my mantle of fear or will always make the right choices or any of that stuff. It just means that I am more willing to risk than I was before, and that is a most marvelous thing.
And this is why I love literature. It has become a passion because it literally changed my life. Part of my stressing the past week was because I was hit with the notion that in about 2 months, I will be approximately $30k in debt with a degree that is basically useless for anything but grad school. Which is my eventual destination, but it won’t help me pay down some of this huge debt that is lurking over my head.
But now, writing this, I realize, again, how very un-useless my degree is. It changed my life. I got caught up in fear and forgot the most important part–that it literally changed my life.
And I am so very, very grateful.