Last year on Fourth of July, I remember feeling on the verge of something.
I had spent the previous two years doing the life equivalent of building a raft to keep me afloat on some rocky, uncertain waters. I was just trying to keep my head above water, attempting to create structure and solidity in my life. I made lists, got paid, went legit, honed my priority and time management skills.
It was a necessary process I initiated pretty much after I graduated from film school and felt untethered. Two years and a lot of hard, painstaking work later, I finally created some ground to stand on.
I felt secure enough: a good citizen, a grown-up. I even felt accomplished and highly competent, proud even that I pulled it all together and kept my game tight. But…it wasn’t exactly fun. Accomplished and competent are all good things to be and feel, but they can’t be the only things.
But last year as I watched fireworks, something shifted. Maybe it was looking up in the sky as the sky bloomed above me, reminding me there was something bigger in life than petty concerns, daily routines, paying bills, a good credit rating. Life had a place for excitement, glory, grand gestures, riotous good times, big huge feelings. Each firework exploding like a wish, setting off a bomb of possibilities for life: for love, craft, stories, ideas, vitality, joy.
The fireworks last year were stunning, even majestic. The sky lit up above me, and I felt something click back into place, something that had been marginalized by a constantly mutating To-Do list and pressing sense of obligation. A spark.
It was like Jupiter returned to the universe and the stars regained their rightful gravity. The feeling of growth and expansion came back into my life; the sense that creativity was present in all areas of my life, not just on the page.
It was like I freed a missing part of myself, something I hadn’t realized drifted away. I thought about what I wanted in my life, and how I would craft it. I thought about what I wanted to light a firework for next year. About looking up in the sky again and imagining what I wanted to celebrate.
Now I think about Fourth of July, and I understand more intimately what it means to declare your independence. Freedom to, freedom from: those are easy now, and a good place to start. I want to be free TO write more stories and love more fiercely and bravely; I want to be free FROM pressing demands on my time and energy that take me away from the stories and the love.
But now I’m thinking there’s more to independence than just a linear freedom-to and freedom-from. I’ve been interested more now in ideas of sovereignty, liberation — complex energies and dynamics that fuel and sustain themselves, unleashing directed power towards something. What does it mean to reign over your life and your time? Where and how will you steward the gifts and resources endowed to you? What does it mean to be a liberated human being, and how do we fully avail ourselves of the freedom we do have, so we don’t waste it? The work of a meaningful life never ends.
Last year I made some wishes upon some fireworks, and many of them came true. But what fueled them was the buoyant spirit of possibility, the sense of a whole world open in front of you, ready for you to run riot in. Without that lift — of hope, fervent belief, faith, vision, or whatever you want to call it — nothing is possible. You need that moment when your chest cracks open and beauty spills into even the small, dark, hidden recesses of you; you need to feel like anything’s possible.
I take care now to tend to that spark of possibility, instead of letting the careworn everyday duties eke away at it. Once a month I check in with my dreams and schemes, celebrate the progress I’ve made and plan my next steps; my monthly meeting reminds me of what’s important to me and where my true north lies. I try to honor my body’s need for sleep, exercise and rest, because you can’t feel epic when you’re feeling rundown and tired. I like to hear about what other people’s visions and dreams are for themselves, because it’s a profound privilege to witness someone strive and even achieve them. And it’s a profound kindness to give someone the space within conversation and dialogue for their most treasured, highest selves to expand and dream.
This Fourth of July I hope you look up in the sky and dream something big for yourself — and dream of how the world can be a big, beautiful place for everyone despite the unevenness of privileges and rights as they play out in our imperfect society. And if even if you’re not American, I hope you look up in the stars and remember there’s a wide, wide world out there that is waiting for you to do something magical within it.
Happy Independence Day!