When life feels difficult, I try to look at the bigger picture. Sometimes the things that are right up in your face are out of focus and distorted. Your thoughts feel blurry and the situation feels muddled. But if you can just look beyond that, you can gain clarity and see the beauty surrounding you.
When I feel restrained by the decisions, commitments, and relationships of my life, I remember the concept of freedom within structure. Consider the traditional sonnet: it has serious parameters. Fourteen lines. Defined rhyme scheme. There are certain rules you have to follow when writing a sonnet. But apart from those rules, you can write what you like. Choosing the structure frees you up to focus on the content, not the form.
After spending a year abroad following some of my dreams, I came home to the tedium of everyday domestic life. I fell into a serious depression. "How do people stand it?" I wondered. I had a job that I didn't really like, a commute that was sucking the life out of me, and not much else to make it all feel worthwhile. The everdayness of life suffocated me. The routine was mind-numbingly mundane. I longed to live a life full of joy and wonder, but couldn't get beyond the limitations of daily life.
After a year of being home, I got engaged to the man who kept me sane when I was homesick overseas and during that difficult first year back. He says that if it weren't for him, I would have gone back to live in England. He's probably right. I'd begun to establish a life there. I liked England and had a good group of friends. Back home, all of my friends from college were strewn about the U.S. But I decided to stay here and get married. I said that this was the right decision for me because I had already done everything I wanted to do by myself.
I knew that marriage would require some sacrifices. I realized that I couldn't follow my whims without taking my partner into consideration. And I was okay with that. Having him by my side was more important to me than having the freedom to do whatever I wanted whenever and however I wanted. Besides, he's an easygoing guy and I wasn't really worried about him cramping my style.
But sometimes the everydayness of life still gets to me. Not like it did eight years ago, but it's not as easy to live a life full of joy and wonder as I'd like. And marriage, even to an easygoing guy, can be hard work. James and I don't see eye-to-eye on things like where to live (city vs. suburbs) and what kind of house we want (historic vs. brand-spankin'-new). Activities that energize me drain him, and vice versa. In other words, there are serious parameters within our relationship.
Occasionally the limitations get to me and I wonder what life would have been like if I'd moved back to Europe. Or maybe to New York City to live in a loft and work for a magazine or publishing house. What if I was free to pursue my travel and artistic dreams on my own?
When I feel boxed in, I remember the freedom that being married to James has given me. Because he has a good job with good benefits, and because he is full of encouragement and generosity, I can pursue my dream of being a freelance writer with very little worry. Being married allowed me to quit a job where I felt like a square peg in round hole and become my own boss.
Yes, I could have pursued this dream on my own. But it would have been so much harder and would have included so many more parameters. Europe and NYC sound romantic and exciting until homesickness and starving-artist, vermin-infested apartments set in. And besides, James has never tried to stifle my artistic impulses or travel bug. Just last month he asked if I wanted to visit friends in England or take a little artistic retreat for myself. I was the one who hemmed and hawed about it. He's also the one who talked me into going to the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ conference in NYC next month. And when I said I was considering going to the Blogher conference in Chicago in July, he said, "Sounds cool."
So I rejoice in the freedom within this form. My hope is that you find your very own free-form.