We Are Cartographers Charting The Unknown, The Unseeable, The Impossible To Predict, Blindly Mapping Our Way Into An Ever-Evolving World

July 3, 2010

In my writing, I am acting as a mapmaker, an explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed. • William S. Burroughs

If it were possible to know the date and hour of your death, would you want to? And if you had no choice about the knowing, how would your life be different? A student posed these questions to one of my classes last quarter.

I’ve been thinking about all the things each of us wants to do and never seems to get around to and all our reasons for not doing the things we say (or secretly wish) we could do. Would knowing the date and hour of death add urgency to the quest for accomplishment or would accomplishment seem futile in light of mortality?

Would you still want to leave a legacy of some sort or would you prefer to live in the multiple moments you have left, taking chances, indulging in everything that’s bad for you but wouldn’t kill you—at least not yet. Feelings were mixed in class. Some folks said they’d buy a motorcycle and bungee-jump and climb Mt. Everest and daredevil their way toward death, knowing that it wouldn’t come before its appointed time. Others immediately thought of all the salt and sugar and fat and carbonated delights they could indulge in without worry.

Still others would focus their efforts on making a difference in the world or on making the most of their talents. In response to a question from interviewer Barbara Walters, Isaac Asimov said that if his doctor told him he had only six months to live, he’d “type faster.” You’ll probably find this quotation somewhere with six minutes instead of six months, but as Asimov reported in Asimov Laughs Again (1992), Walters’ question was “six months to live.”

For some of us, work—at least the work we feel were born to accomplish—is a driving force, pushing us forward even as we are uncertain where to go or what to do with its relentless urgings. Life’s requisites of building and maintaining relationships and earning a living take time and energy, and it can be difficult to make or find or create time for the things that seem like self-indulgence. But if you knew the hour of your death, would you try harder to fit them in?

Where do you hope your map of life will lead? What are you doing to get there?

We may go to the moon, but that’s not very far. The greatest distance to cover still lies within us. • Charles DeGaulle



  1. Hello Zinn,
    As I was looking through your blog posts trying to find one that fit, this post came up. I think the kind of reflecting you asked of us is a perfect fit for the concept of mapping. I look at where I’ve been and peer ahead toward where I’m going. Without further ado, may I present my reflection.

    This past year has been the most intense year of schooling in my life. I do not even know where to begin. How does one sum up a ferocious blizzard? It was terrible. It was powerful. It was beautiful and sublime. It turned my social life into a barren wasteland. I weathered the storm and come spring I am stronger (and a bit rounder) for it. All joking aside, my time in the MAT program reinforced my desire to be a teacher and prepared me for the career I am ready to begin.

    The things I can do now without breaking a sweat that terrified me a mere six months ago is ridiculous. I loathed evaluating student work to the point of complete avoidance and denial. Not that grading is a pleasant task, but it does not fill me with the same amount of bone chilling dread anymore. I spend less time having to explain my directions over and over again because my assignments are not as convoluted. These examples are symptoms of a fundamental shift I have experienced as a person and a professional. I have developed a strong sense of my own capabilities. Learning to trust in myself and my judgment when creating curriculum, managing a classroom, and grading has been my biggest areas of growth this year.

    I came to this program with a passion for teaching, enough previous experience to know this is what I wanted and the determination to make it through. What I will leave this year with are the tools and techniques I needed to make the most out of my future.

    -Mandy Engler

  2. Your passion is so evident, Mandy, and I know that students will benefit from it and from your wisdom and creativity. W-OZ

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