Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Improg word: Active

Hayley and I have our own two-person, long-distance writing group. The best thing about it is that we don’t have to worry about putting up with people we can’t stand—you know, the guy who reads from his endless science fiction stories, or the woman who puts down everyone else’s work but doesn’t produce anything herself, or that person in the corner who is always sniffing.

A few weeks ago Hayley came up with the idea of an improv blog—an improg. The original plan was that we would send each other an envelope full of slips of paper, each with a single word on it. At a designated time (hey, Hayley, remember the plan to designate a time?), we would each pull out a slip and write something about that word. These first pieces would be just to see how well it worked (hey, Hayley, remember the plan to see how well it worked first?). Then we would get someone (Shirley, probably) to give us both a word periodically and we would have fun seeing the different things we came up with for that word—and let you have fun reading them.

Well, Hayley’s envelope to me hasn’t even arrived yet, but I guess she’s received mine, because she’s started without me. And, being the beloved take-the-bull-by-the-horns person that she is, she’s posting already on her blog. Obviously, the improg has been launched!

Since I don’t have Hayley’s words yet, I’m going to steal the one she used today: active. Due to my busy life and resulting chronic lack of sleep, I can’t remember what words I sent her, so it’s as much a surprise to me as it was to her. You can see what Hayley wrote about this word in her post.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to live an active life. I don’t mean the kind of active life that my town’s rec center talks about in its slogan. I’m thinking more of the difference between an active and a passive approach to life.

The stuck-in-a-rut person I mentioned in my previous post lives a sadly passive life. She’s got a lot going for her. She’s retired, financially secure, and—while she’s no spring chicken—relatively healthy and mobile. So she’s got the time, money, and ability to do just about anything she wants. But she does just about nothing. Physically and emotionally, she’s the most passive person I know. She will do nothing that someone else doesn’t suggest and organize. She is so risk-adverse that she won’t even try a different type of pasta.

She’s always been like this. Even while working hard and raising kids, she lived her life as a reaction. And she’s blamed every problem, every bit of unhappiness, on other people. Granted, her life hasn’t been easy. But nobody’s life is easy and everybody has faced hurtful circumstances and people. We can passively accept the hurt they cause and let that rule our lives, or we can actively learn and move on.

Being passive isn’t necessarily the same thing as being weak. This person wields her passivity, using it, paradoxically, as a form of control over her life and, through guilt, over other people. She doesn’t have to make decisions and she doesn’t have to take responsibility. She can peg the blame for anything that’s happened to her—from not learning piano as a child to not being able to knit anything complicated to the fact that her family hated her cooking to missing a movie she wanted to see—on someone else. She didn’t learn piano because a teacher told her she wasn’t talented, not because she didn’t persevere. She can knit only basic things because no one ever showed her how to do anything more complicated, not because she wouldn’t pick up a book and learn like other people. Her family hated her cooking because they were picky, not because she was a boring cook. She missed the movie because no one invited her to go, not because she didn’t invite them. She always has a ready-made excuse to stay in her comfortable but oh-so-boring rut.

How much better it is to be active! To me, it’s not so much about wresting control from someone else as it is about using what you have to make the best life you can. I’ve been wondering lately what this person’s life would be like now if she’d lived it actively instead of passively—if she’d taken the difficult but valuable experiences she’s had and used them to grow stronger and wiser. Instead of being unhappy, unfulfilled, bored, and scared, would she be content, satisfied, engaged, and strong?

My sister-in-law, one of my favorite people and one whom I look up to in a lot of ways, told me a story about a woman who wanted her husband to stop at a blueberry stand. Every time they’d pass it, she’d say something like “Oh, look, blueberries!” or “Those blueberries look good,” but her husband, not realizing what she wanted, would drive right past. The moral of the story is that if you want them, get the damn blueberries yourself.

So, as part of my Year of Living Differently, I’m looking for the parts of my life that I’ve been lively passively. There are definitely some blueberry stands that I’ve been whizzing right past on the hectic road of my life. If I want those damn blueberries, I’m the one who has to make it happen.


Hayley Townley, Breast Cancer Survivor Extraordinaire! said...

HI! I just wanted to clarify that I DID send those words. In fact, before Christmas. I guess I sent them on the slowboat to Canada. In the meantime, we will just keep working off YOUR words.

I always love reading what you write. If I have a dozen emails, I always save yours til last!

isabella mori said...

great idea! stumbleworthy ...

i'll also tell a blogging friend of mine about it who writes a blog about ideas for blog posts.