Friday, July 8, 2011

When Wish Becomes Will

One of my favorite words is "free"-- it is part of so many wonderful words and phrases: free spirit, freelance, carefree, free will, free gift with purchase, free to good home, free to be me, freestyle... and, of course, freedom. Janis Joplin sang, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." True enough. When you've hit rock bottom or banged your head against a brick wall or been told "No, you can't do that" for the hundredth time, maybe that is the moment when you're truly free.

I watch my 19-month old toddler experience the world around him. Everything is new and exciting, I watch his eyes widen in wonder at the simplest things, hear him catch his breath at every new discovery. He is untamed, a wild thing. He seems most free after his bath, when he's scampering about on my bed like a monkey, naked and joyous. It's in those moments when I realize how free his spirit truly is-- without self-doubt or worry or concerns about the future to bog him down and box him in.

I forget what that kind of freedom is like, though I call myself a free spirit. I forget that the external voices of judgement and the internal voices of doubt don't control me unless I let them. It's the way of things, I suppose, to forget our limitless potential and the limitless possibilities available to us. I know I forget mine all the time. I say things-- or nod when other people say things-- that deep down I don't even believe. Things that begin, "I'm too old" or "I really can't" or "Maybe" or "I wish." Words can be as limiting as fear. Often, those words are nothing more than expressions of fear. And freedom is squeezed into a smaller and smaller space and labeled a luxury.

Limitless-- it's a daunting word. Exhausting, even. If my life is limitless and I'm not taking advantage of it, what does that say about me? So I put the obstacles in front of me, look for the road blocks most likely to slow me down, put the limits on myself where none need exist. And then I complain about feeling constrained by time and exhaustion and pregnancy and the baby's schedule and the husband's career and life in the suburbs and publishers who aren't acquiring what I write... and... and... and...

Freedom is scary, freedom is about exercising free will. It's about letting go-- not holding on. It's about making choices and not just letting life happen. It's embracing the moment instead of lamenting the moments I've let pass me by. I lose myself in my writing, in my child, in my daydreams. Those are my moments of greatest freedom-- when my world shrinks to the words on the screen, the small hand on my cheek, the mental shift from "I wish" to "I will." That's my freedom. What's yours?


  1. It's so easy to forget that the things which seem like constraints are actually the result of our choices. Remind yourself that you deliberately decided to have children. They're evidence of your freedom, not the obstacles they sometimes seem.

    I think that "Bobby McGee" is over-quoted myself. That line is really intended to be ironic.


  2. As a young man, my dream was to be "free" of my nine to five job, so that I could dedicate myself to my writing.

    But I understood so little about myself back then, and now I realize that my very nine to five job allows me the freedom to write what I love to write.

    I also realized that my job keeps me from crawling back too deeply into my own head, a sometimes dangerous tendency I've had to fight my entire life and a possible hazard of writing fiction.

    So, strangely, my job is a big part of my sense of freedom...

  3. Thanks for your comments, Lisabet. I don't see the children (well, toddler and baby on the way) as obstacles, that was one of the points I was trying to make: that I might use the baby's schedule as an excuse for not being able to accomplish my potential on any given day, but at the end of the day the time I spend with his is very freeing-- and ultimately inspires me in a way I wasn't inspired before having children.

  4. Craig ~ I completely understand what you're saying and I think we may have discussed it before. Having unlimited time to write is actually very limiting-- the time itself becomes an obstacle. Structure, in the form of a job or children or family routine, seems to provide a kind of freedom to the time that we can claim as our very own. I also have the problem of slipping too far inside my own imagination, to the detriment of my mental health, so while I may struggle a bit with the balance required to maintain family life, social life and writing life, I think I'm wildly more productive than I would be if I had all the time in the world to create.

  5. Good post, Kristina. One of my older colleagues at the university took early retirement at 55, moved to the West Coast that she loved (she originally came from England), then stared at the walls, trying to write. Years later, she wrote an essay about that difficult time, when she realized that teaching & writing are actually very compatible, & she felt cast adrift in her "freedom." Eventually, she found a balance between writing & other activities.

  6. Kristina - while I'm a parent, I'm also an advocate for childlessness, and borrowing nieces and nephews. I'm so there with you on what children bring to a writer. When was the last time you crouched down to watch a line of ants cross the sidewalk? If you did recently, it was probably because a child did it and you followed his/her lead. Nothing shows you the world anew like a child.

  7. Jean ~ I think that's so interesting about your colleague and early retirement. And it goes back to what Craig was saying about his own career providing a certain kind of freedom. Thanks for your words!

  8. Kathleen ~ I'm also an advocate for childlessness-- it's hard not to be after spending the first 42 years of my life childless. :-) But you're right-- children do change the way we look at the world. I think the parenting aspect has helped me let go of a lot of stuff I used to hang on to. Which in a way is also very freeing.