|Our Aylesbury ducks, Buttercup and Daisy who HAVE given up all ambition|
How strange to think of giving up all ambition!
Suddenly I see with such clear eyes
The white flake of snow
That has just fallen in the horse’s mane!
‘Watering the Horse’ by Robert Bly
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
Robert Bly, and James Wright, two ambitious and successful American poets have a moment of just being, and “see with such clear eyes” “The white flake of snow,” “the bronze butterfly,” the chicken hawk floating over. Wright looks back at his life of anxiety and toil and ambition, and, in this moment of stillness, feels that he has wasted it!
Ambition, according to Milton was “the last infirmity of noble minds.” Shakespeare, no stranger to ambition, one presumes, makes his dying Wolsey regret it.
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition:
By that sin fell the angels; how can man, then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?
O Cromwell, Cromwell!
Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age.
I have been thinking about ambition since reading Amy Chua’s piece on the fierce ambition instilled in her by her Chinese parents, which she has, in turn, fiercely instilled in her children.
Here are my musings on it:
On Tiger Mothers, Distracted Mothers, and Just About Good Enough Mothers
Both Roy and I were brought up to be ambitious, Roy, by a tiger mother, as I have mentioned in the post, I, by a father, who desperately wanted me not to waste my life, but to do something he could be proud of.
Around last Christmas, I think we decided that enough was enough, and like Bly thought about giving up all ambition–and, what’s more: Roy did it.
He was quite a high-powered mathematician, and he took early retirement, which, of course, was the biggest change in our family’s life. Sometimes, we can hardly believe we’ve actually done it!!
It’s now the seventh month of his ambition free life, and we love it. It takes a while to get adjusted to life without adrenalin, stress, the pressing weight of papers to write, papers to referee, books to read, and books to write–and to realize that one now actually has time to do all the things one would do if one had time. It takes a while to realize that you now have time to do the fun creative healthy things that were a waste of time before–fresh pressed juices, gourmet cooking, bits of interior decoration. And it takes time for one’s pulse to return to a slow beat–but we are enjoying the process!!
* * *
And for me, I still love writing, write, and want to write. But somehow–I don’t quite know how–after years of trying to slay the idol of writing ambition, I have done it. I am writing for the joy of writing, hoping to find readers, but am content if I do, content if I don’t. I haven’t quite reached the level of surrender mentioned in this blogger’s prayer, but you know what, I am getting there.
What helped was taking a 3.5 year break from reading and writing to establish a publishing company. And when I came back, I wrote in a different style, more transparent and easy to write compared to the pretzel like, contorted style of my earlier writing (see essays at anitamathias.com). I am wondering if those desert, wilderness years broke the idol of ambition, and returned my writing to me as pure joy, as it was in the beginning, in the land before ambition.