The secret to freedom

Sage CohenProductive writing5 Comments

In the bath last night, it became clear to me that my marriage and divorce had finally and completely reshuffled in my mental-emotional deck to: past tense.  As I steeped, I marveled that another human being could change symbolically so quickly and so significantly — from filling me with joy to filling me with despair to not filling me at all–or even coming anywhere near my cup–in just a few, short years. What, I thought, is it that seized and then released me such that I was first overtaken and am now free?

When the words came, it seemed so obvious, and yet it’s taken me a lifetime to understand: Freedom is possible when you are able to disentangle what you want(ed) from the person / publication / institution that didn’t give it to you.

Meaning this: For reasons I could not perceive at the time, I chose to marry a person unable to give me what I want and need. The more I tried to get my needs met in that relationship, the more devastated I became. And even after the relationship ended, it took me about a year to unplug from the idea that this man I loved is the only person on the planet who is meant to meet this very specific set of romantic relationship needs.

Until today, when it was simply clear that I have needs, and if I wanted them met, I’d better take another look for someone better suited to meet them. Just like that, the switch flipped. When the cartoon light bulb flashed over my head, I understood for the first time that I’ve made a practice of this very principle in my writing life.

Sage The Writer focuses on two things: 1. Figuring out what I want. 2. Enjoying, without attachment, the adventure of going after it.

I have never linked outcome to these delights. Not only is getting what I want not the point, it is never as much fun as the journey towards a particular goal or desire. Such that if I submit something to a publication and it is rejected, I investigate my many, many other options and try again. No big deal. Nothing personal. What I want (to be published) is still completely in tact, despite the fact that Coveted Literary Journal did not give it to me.

Of course, I’m comparing apples to penguins here. Most of us have one romantic partner at a time, but we don’t expect a single literary journal to fulfill our every publishing need. But rejection on both fronts can touch us in our most tender and vulnerable places where we want more than anything to be visible, appreciated, celebrated.

On my dog walk this morning, I asked myself how I came to this freedom in my writing life. And the answer was this: My relationship with writing is so primary to my being, so primary to the way I live and love and sleep, that I experience absolutely no external threat. Sure, it’s nice when publications want to print my writing and even better when readers enjoy it. But, neither are necessary or even preferable in my writing process. I write because I am called to write. I write because it is my only way forward. Nothing and nobody can take that from me. And, this takes the sting out of rejection. Because I am so fundamentally sold on the worth of my writing that there is no receptor for the “lacking in worth” story to penetrate.

If only this were the case in my romantic life!

What my divorce, in effect, reminded me I already knew is that freedom is possible when we are deeply rooted in what we love–and when we move from that place. In this context, rejection is akin to dropping a pen. You pick it up and keep moving toward what you want. In fact, rejection may even clarify alternatives that are better suited for you. (Keep the pen where the cats can’t knock it off the desk and the preschooler can’t run off with it, for example.)

You may be tempted to get yourself all tangled up in grief, blame, anger, self-deprecation, or resentment when things don’t go the way you intended. But keep in mind that you are free to simply try something else. You are free to love and respect your work even more deeply. Nothing and no one is stopping you. You are responsible for the stories you tell yourself. The person best equipped to keep your sails turned into the winds of possibility is you. If you didn’t get what you wanted just yet, go find someone, something, or someplace else that would love nothing more than to give it to you.

5 Comments on “The secret to freedom”

  1. Sometimes it seems to me that most of what I see, between people, is just that — each of us trying to get from another something that the other just doesn’t have to give, because some overriding, compelling story tells us they *should* have it to give. And meanwhile so much of what everyone does have to give falls ungathered.

  2. Yes, yes, yes! This is how I am in my writing life, too, but I keep forgetting it in all the other areas of my life. This is so wise and so true and I so needed to be reminded of it. Thank you, Sage.

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