That prams and art are not mutually exclusive.

Write your way to freedom

Post by Gill Harrison

My creative writing lecturers always stressed the writer’s role as researcher. They told us to record stories, collect words, gather conversations, chop up newspapers. Observe. Eavesdrop. Write EVERYTHING down.

We were also encouraged to create a filing system to keep our snippets safe and although I still record and research obsessively, my filing system falls rather short. But my lack of organisation means I get to enjoy the spontaneous  uncovering of  lost pieces of information. Often scrawled on napkins or old shopping receipts, these snatches from another time make me feel the way I imagine a dog does upon discovering a long-lost bone. It’s like finding a $20 note forgotten in the back pocket of an old pair of jeans.

Yesterday I uncovered one of these bones, a piece of notepaper buried in the bottom of my suitcase, the below words jotted carefully in pink ink …

Yu Jie – Chinese Writer living in exile. “Where freedom is motherland lies”

How difficult would it be to write words when the very same words risk your freedom? I remember writing these words, maybe a year ago, after coming across an article in a newspaper.

This morning I became a modern-day Nancy Drew. I punched the words into Google, trying to piece my pink ink story together and uncover lost clues.  I found that Yu Jie wrote a book in which he criticizes the Chinese prime minister and after being arrested and beaten by police he escaped with his family to America. Apparently police arrested other Chinese for writing similar sentiments in online articles.

In the novel 1984 George Orwell imagined a world where writing words (or even having thoughts) had become a form of terrorism. Orwell’s Winston risks punishment by death, simply to keep a journal, to write words on a page.

I wonder if the arrested Chinese writers felt like Winston, battling through a momentous internal struggle before writing –  to risk death for the sake of their voice. Did their words flow freely or did each word meet with painstaking resistance?

I wonder if Orwell could have imagined a world where almost the opposite is true. Because when it comes to freedom with words, the country  I live in feels separated by more than just ocean from that of the countries of writers like Yu Jie. I live in a world where people write freely on (Facebook) walls, blogs, status updates, notebooks, napkins and voting ballots. Inner thoughts have become like bulls in a china shop, they run wild and erratic.

It is easy to forget about the freedom we have, perhaps because it is an abstract concept, not something we can touch with our hands. Today I’m thinking about my freedom, simply because 12 months ago I scrawled down a few words about the very lack of freedom of another human being.

Freedom comes with perspective.

[Image source]

What is the role of a writer? Why write at all?  To entertain? To tell?  To make a noise? To provoke thinking? To comment on society, as Orwell did?

What does freedom mean for your writing?

5 Responses to “Write your way to freedom”

    • Gillian

      My original plan for this piece was to work on the quote: “Where freedom is, motherland lies” but somehow it became more about the perspective of freedom. Glad you liked it!

  1. Karen [rhythm & method]

    I’ve always been a compulsive collector and researcher, but never really understood why. I think many writers are naturally curious and observant, it would be very difficult not to jot it all down. You’re right, it’s a mark of our freedom that we can indulge in these activities. Many people of the world do not have such liberties.
    Love this post.

    • Gillian

      Yep, I agree. Writers seem naturally drawn to observe the world. Probably why libraries always held a certain pull for me. I love to hide out in them, surrounded by stories. The old newspapers are especially fun – they are goldmines to the compulsive researcher!

  2. debbrightandprecious

    Beautiful and important thoughts, Gill. Freedom is a concept I think most ‘free’ people (in the West especially) cannot grasp – due to their lack of need for it. I cannot even imagine what it would be like as a writer to have my freedom (of expression) curbed. I also love that you collect things/ideas/words/stories. Kindred spirit. xx


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