Your Only Choice
When I was a boy I believed that writing for a living was the only way I could ever be free. At that time I did not know what it meant to be both an adult and free, but I believed I knew what freedom felt like, and as far as I could tell it was the only way to live and therefore the only thing worth pursuing. As I grew up, I continued to connect writing and freedom, though my reasons for doing so evolved. First, I believed it had to do with time. You could only be free if your time was entirely your own, and how could you call your time your own if you had to begin working when someone else told you to? Only with the complete, pristine autonomy that was the professional novelist’s life would I ever know freedom.
Then I had autonomy, and it didn’t feel anything like freedom. My autonomous time felt like all the time I’d ever had in my life, both in and out of work, time I was forever having to decide what to do with. So it must have had to do with money. Modern humans needed money to survive, so if you made this money doing something you loved, you were free.
Then I had some money, and all it freed up was the tiny part of my brain that would periodically worry about money. So perhaps it was attention. We all need a little recognition; perhaps the combination of time, money and recognition would bring me the freedom I wanted.
When I had a bit of all three, freedom still felt like a promise from an absent father. It would be here soon; the next car slowing outside the window would be his. And then one day I wrote something, and as I reread it I thought, “Yes. That’s precisely what I meant to say.” And there it was, as familiar as my own reflection. It was as if all I had been waiting for my whole life was a mirror.
Writing was my freedom because writing made me happy. There was nothing more complicated about it than that. I wanted it to be more, but it wasn’t. And in that moment of understanding, freedom became merely a choice, not a pardon, not a deliverance – just a choice. The simplicity of it is humbling and confounding, and yet all the knots my mind would twist life into to find the straight rope of freedom come undone in a choice. I look in the mirror and see judge, jury, and accused and call the trial to a halt. I was never on trial, and I was always so free I could choose prison or the road.
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