activism, personal essay

Freedom Now

I grew up closeted in the backwoods of South Carolina in the 80’s and became interested in storytelling around 9 years old when my father would drive me into the sticks and drop me alone on the side of a dirt road with a rifle. From there I’d hike into the woods to find a marked tree with a small plank hanging from it, about 15 feet up in the air. I’d climb the tree and I’d sit on the plank and I’d wait quietly. And wait. And wait, for some unsuspecting deer to stroll by; a deer I’d never have the heart to shoot; a deer that would graze the baited corn my dad had spread out on the ground below while I silently watched, spellbound, boring all of my secrets into him telepathically, before firing in the air to spook him back to freedom. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing at the time, I just knew, on some level, that it was safer to be the boy with lousy aim than the boy who didn’t like to hunt.

Since spotting a deer was rare, most of my time in the trees was spent making up stories. I’d while away the hours writing elaborate, prepubescent soap operas and fantasy tales that I would later act out for my friends. Writing became a way to make sense of the world and my place in it. It was how I got myself free.

This idea of freedom, this theme, this current that I tapped in the deer stands of my youth, it has woven itself into every story I’ve written; every movie, every play, every essay, filled with characters running from their pasts, escaping to the city to find themselves. This was largely born from a need to heal my wounds, to rewrite my story. 

But since Trump’s election, with the climate in crisis, with our whole planet in this grand reckoning, my understanding of freedom, my synaptic connection to that current is unraveling. What if freedom isn’t about escape – the constant running from the bigots, the bullies, the past – what if we’re running the wrong way? 

The old stories say the antidote is in the wound. The cure for pain is in the pain, says Rumi. Every day I want to lash out and denigrate anyone who supports this monster of a president and moments later want to just bury my head in the sand and hope it all goes away. Yet I know that there is a middle way, a bridge, between outrage and helplessness, between left and right, between the trauma of yesterday and the very uncertain future of tomorrow.

And we are that bridge. Our lives. Our stories. It’s precisely why you and I are here right now, alive at this particular time in history.

What if freedom isn’t the distance from our pain, but the bridge to meet it, to see it and to not look away, to not pretend this isn’t happening, but to show up and to speak our truth, no matter how little we think it matters, because in ways we individually can never understand, but in that magically invisible rippling/domino/butterfly-effect way, it matters.

Now more than ever, it matters.


* “La venadita (little deer)”, Frida Kahlo, 1946

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