Wednesday, September 9, 2009

From the first weeks in England--Freedom

Note: The first essay I wrote in England, so I probably wrote it over the first 2-3 weeks. I'm thinking about adding parts of the post I wrote a couple nights ago to this for my Creative Writing portfolio/Honors Thesis. :)

Four hobbits hiked up a mountain. Okay, so they weren’t really hobbits. And compared to other rocks we’d climb in the next few weeks, Arthur’s Seat isn’t really a mountain. But we were four friends journeying together at the back of our group of 30 up Arthur’s Seat. Barefoot. I’m not sure what it was—maybe the lack of the shoes and socks I had wanted to take off all day, maybe defying the social convention of needing footwear, maybe feeling close to the land, or losing my balance and becoming in-tune with my klutzy self. Although I’m unsure at what exactly caused it, I do know that something about my naked feet made me feel free.

When Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, I’m sure the last thing on his mind was a 19-year-old girl who would, over 200 years later, take off her shoes to scamper over rocks in Scotland. Yet he wrote about freedom. He wrote that all people have the inherent right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But what is freedom? To Jefferson, it was peace, safety, and no taxation without representation. To me freedom is living life and pursuing happiness as well. Yet that is still vague and inaccessible. Upon Arthur’s Seat, I realized I really have no idea what freedom consists of. My skin stood against the chilly, volcanic rocks, while my green hiking shoes dangled from the laces intertwined in my fingers, and the wind danced with my hair in a twisting attempt to escape its ponytail. I was closer to freedom than I had been in a long time, and my heart could taste it in the goosebumps on my arms. I knew then that I don’t know what freedom is—only that I want to find out, and I want to achieve it.

In class we talk about reading landscapes, so I try. I search the pages for freedom, clues to my quest. And I find it, although it’s not seen. Freedom comes with the wind, partially perhaps, but freedom is there. The wind flies wherever it wants, and I defy it halfway, my body staying firmly put, but my soul floating away, eloping with the breeze. The wind acts how it wants. It can be fierce or playful, destructive or safe, cold or warm. As it carries my heart, thoughts and song back to the heavens where they started, the wind reminds me of both my earthly and heavenly home and frees me.

I’m away from the wind now, wandering the National Gallery in Edinburgh. There’s a painting on the wall and we’re having a stare-down. Or we would be, but the painting is dead. In fact, it never lived. So I’m the only one staring, a confused grimace pointed towards “Still Life with Asparagus.” Asparagus. Really? The bloody limbs just sit there on a plate without emotion.

Another still life. I think I’m drawn to them because they make me uncomfortable. I just don’t like still life paintings. This one is by Charour, it says, who always painted with great “stillness” in his works. Well, duh. Fed up with these dead geese and awkward vegetables and rustic table-settings, I yearn to turn back to Monet and impressionism. The fluid brushstrokes there give a fuzzy blur of emotion, beauty, and life. Only barely contained, impressionist images are free. And then another realization hits: I don’t like still live paintings because they’re exactly that—still. They’re simply paints on a canvas. The bloody asparagus are only bloody fingers, somehow trapped. Like me.

It’s hard to gain freedom when you don’t know what it is. It’s even harder when you don’t know who or what is holding you prisoner. Most of my chains are cast in iron fear. A fear of falling and intense physical pain is one. Another, a fear of waiting and anxiety, even if only for a split second. Usually when asked what I’m afraid of, I answer one of these, or nothing. But I hardly ever share my biggest fear, apparently not even with myself, since I didn’t realize how confined I was and am because of it. Links of fear of failure and emotional hurt and imperfection fuse into a chain and the huge black ball at the end is my fear of sharing my personal thoughts and emotions.

Usually people have no idea that that is me, that I am trapped in fear of sharing my soul. To my friends, I’m the giggly, crazy one who’s always hyper and good for entertainment. I’m the happy, gregarious optimist who enjoys people. And that IS me. But I’ve noticed that while I’m always open about events and people in my life, my feelings on such things hardly ever leave my mind.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that a writer and musician would be scared of such a thing. Two areas where so much emotion and thought are required and I, out of fear, refuse to share mine. Yet somehow they’re an exception. My writing is for me; I merely convince myself that no one but I will read it, even if I know it to be a ridiculous lie. And music—well, music is both a mask and a release at once. I can express myself while hiding behind the music itself. Music is, in itself, freedom.

A gust of wind carries me away to a different time and place. I stand on a stage, bright lights in my eyes. 1300 seats are below me and every one of them is full. But I can’t see them. I know they’re there, but at this moment all that’s really there in Roper Auditorium is me, the stage, and the music. There’s more irony: what many people would find terrifying and confining is exactly what sets me free. The tumor on my back is benign, even helpful. It’s the battery pack for my headset mic, either clipped to my bra strap or duck taped to my back. Most would find it uncomfortably. Instead, I find it comforting. And then I start singing and dancing and I’m the happiest, most free person in the world.

I’m not sure what it is about music. How in the world should I know the answer to a question that’s been puzzling humankind for centuries? But in high school, music is what made me free. When you soar with the music you make, magic happens. Fear departs and you become who you want to be. And that I did. After every show teachers would come up to me, surprised that quiet, little Rachel from their classes could be so alive on stage. I’d just laugh. I just stopped commenting in class in 9th grade. I still sit there thinking, absorbing, yet keeping everything even remotely personal inside. But when I’d start to sing or play piano, everything pours out in a waterfall, a flood of Rachel.

Going barefoot is not a common occurance for me, at least not anywhere besides me house or apartment. What convinced me to climb Arthur’s Seat barefoot, I don’t know. But taking off those shoes was like stepping onto the stage in high school. Yet, unlike Jive, when the time came to put my shoes back on for the hike down, my cold, dirty feet relished the warmth and support of being tied up beneath the laces. And I guess there is danger with not wearing shoes sometimes. But that danger shouldn’t keep me from ever going barefoot again. I simply need to find the proper balance of playing it safe and being the “bold and gutsy” kind of girl a friend once saw me as. And maybe when I find that balance, freedom will come.

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