Charli Mills continues to prompt us with her posts of elegiac elegance. I highly recommend you read her prompts and flights of fancy even if attempting the flash fiction writing isn’t for you.
This week it is on the subject of freedom, in part because of the recent Scottish referendum.
September 17, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) let freedom ring in your story.
If there’s one thing that is clear from this referendum (apart from its interminable duration – the Canadians called the Quebec referendum a few years ago their ‘neverendum’ which feels apposite for this event too), it is that freedom, the right to choose, imposes its own tyranny. We heard many stories of the strains on families split by having yes and no voters within an otherwise harmonious group. Similarly in workplaces. The strain on those perhaps going against the majority in the group cannot be underestimated.
I suppose this is because this sort of freedom isn’t an absolute. It is conditioned by context. As in the relationship between Donald Woods and Steve Biko in the book whose title I have stolen. How free is Woods, hemmed in by an apartheid system he comes to hate? How happy is he with his choices? Biko has few, if any, freedoms and little choice but there is a sense of a greater contentment, knowing what he can and can’t do. You see, when you have the freedom to choose you have the freedom to be wrong.
My parents, in their later years, worked a neat trick by turning themselves into our children. They stopped wanting to make decisions – on holidays, on purchases, on house maintenance, on health care. ‘Do you think…?’ ‘Should I…?’ ‘What would you…?’ It was the fear of getting it wrong (as well as the joy of having someone else to blame – I always wondered if the Scots really wanted independence; after all they wouldn’t be able to blame the English any more).
Freedom isn’t all it is cracked up to be, perhaps. This sort of freedom isn’t a personal anarchy where it comes with no consequences. Those who are oppressed, those who have no choices long, understandably, for simple freedoms that we take for granted. The right to live the way they want to. But, as I say, this is conditioned. By the ability to afford that life, by the needs of others who want to live a different life that might conflict with the choice made.
Once you accept the risks that come with choice; once you embrace the fact of choice and realise that life isn’t an experiment and there is no control running alongside so you can check to see if your choice was right; once you do this that is when you begin to live life to the full. It may not be fun and it may not be perfect but it is your own.
In microcosm my journey from writing contracts for clients to writing fiction for myself embraces this acceptance. As a lawyer I wrote and wrote but I gained little personal satisfaction from even the most skilled document. Why? Because they were never my own. There were so many others, inputting. The client, the other lawyers and their clients, my colleagues. When I started my first book in 2006 – my first piece of creative writing since I finished my O levels in 1973 – I was excited and not a little scared. Why? Because now it was just me against the blank page. I had freedom to write what I wanted and it was really rather scary.
So give up regrets, abolish guilt, say tootle-pip to fear. Make a choice and off you go. YOLO as the Lawyer and Vet might say (at least when they aren’t asking what they should do next – they’ll learn!)
Cliché time: Life is not a rehearsal. Choose to embrace it and don’t waste your precious seconds on those who try and constrain or contradict or limit you. The link here is as powerful a testament to that philosophy as I have read recently – written by Charlotte Kitley, a Huffington Post blogger when she knew her death was imminent. I commend its sentiments to you. And if you don’t cry then you’re one tough cookie.
Here’s the flash
The price of freedom
‘When will you drop this vendetta, Mary?’
That’s what Paul had said. It wasn’t like she was free to choose. She hadn’t asked for an illegitimate half-brother contesting their father’s will. She had been patient, tried to explain. But all Paul had said was, ‘What about me? What about Penny?’
It hurt, the suggestion she was dragging them along. She wanted to say it was her problem and she would sort it, but the gaunt look on Penny’s face told a different story. Her father had created this prison but she had taken her family inside with her.
This is a continuation of a series of flash pieces. If you ant to know how we arrived here, you can click here.