Monday, November 13, 2006

I Don't Want to be a Passenger in My Own Life

This week's Sunday Scribblings prompt was the above quote by writer, poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman. It immediately struck me as a truism. Who really wants to be a passenger in their own life? However I'm sure a large number of people are. I saw my parents get carried along on a tide of passivity for many years until the purchase of their house by their local council provoked them into action. Up to that point they didn't do things, things happened to them. Avoiding decisions was in itself a kind of decision, with its own consequences.

It's accurate for me to say that I don't want to be a passenger in my life. I've always wanted to be in control. However there's control for clutching, fearful reasons, and there's the kind of control that is assertive and positive, and takes you to the kind of place you want to go. For a long time I acted out of a need to protect myself. I'm taking larger risks now. Freedom is a good thing, and trying to predict every eventuality doesn't lend itself to freedom that easily. The proverbial happens sometimes. Deal with it!

I'm grateful for this week's Sunday Scribblings post because it led me to Diane Ackerman. I started out thinking about the prompt by trying to find out a little more about the writer.

So what do I know about Diane Ackerman? I know she was born in Illinois. She has an MFA and a PhD from Cornell. In her non-fiction she explores neuroscience and the poetry of the brain. She describes the natural history of her garden. She writes about play, creativity and transcendance. She also writes about endangered animals. However this is only part of what I know about Diane Ackerman. I find it difficult to write about what I know here, because my reactions to her writing are centred in my gut and difficult to put on paper (or iBook screen). My reactions are based on things I know instinctively and not borne of the rational mind. Diane Ackerman writes about nature with the same relish and juiciness that I admire in the writing of Barbara Kingsolver. This is a woman who loves. This is the kind of woman who is wise enough to describe herself as an "earth ecstatic".

When I read:

Look at your feet. You are standing in the sky. When we think of the sky, we tend to look up, but the sky actually begins at the earth...

I am reminded that all things are connected, that the binary distinctions we make between things (in/out/up/down/good/bad/real/unreal) are arbitrary at best. The sky is not separate from the earth. My body is not separate from the earth either, nor is it separate from that of my husband, my neighbour, my cousin. We are all of the same matter - the same floating particles combine to create us all.

When I read:

If a mind is just a few pounds of blood, urea and electricity, how does it manage to contemplate itself, worry about its soul, do time and motion studies, admire the shy hooves of a goat, know that it will die, enjoy all the grand and lesser mayhems of the heart?"

I am reminded of the time, as a nervous forteen year old, that I pondered the nature of existence right into my first panic attack. I could not fathom how the ethereal mind, thought, the soul, could possibly be connected to the physical brain, particularly mine with its acqeductal failings and surgical corrections. Surely we must be more than just our flesh, but how is the flesh and how is the mind/spirit? Where does one start and one begin? These are questions that still puzzle me. Binaries again fail to compute.

I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.

Self-explanatory - I want a rich and broad life - not a life lived on the narrow line.
And finally:

It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies within.

The world or this life. Both have their peaks and their chasms, their deep oceans and gentle streams. I can't explain either, but I want to continue exploring both, and to mine their secrets from their deepest seams.

To end - a Diane Ackerman poem. Again, the writer has said it all for me. This is my mantra made into the ink flowing from another woman's pen.

School Prayer

In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,

I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.

Poem from I Praise My Destroyer. Vintage Books.

1 comment:

sarala said...

Beautiful post and incredible poem. I had never read one of Ackerman's poems before. I like that you turned the prompt into a review of Ackerman's work. In reading other posts, I haven't run into anyone else who did this.