What Does Freedom Mean

By Dhyan Atkinson

In the early 1990s, I was working for an up-and-coming biotech company. I LOVED it there! The founders were interesting, funny, highly intelligent people and they hired “their kind of people” from top to bottom. Being in that environment prompted me to go back to school to become a psychotherapist and do many other creative things. I will never forget, however, a flash of insight I had one day where I suddenly realized that I had always intended, once I grew up, to buy all the art supplies I wanted and do all the creative art projects I wanted. With no one to ruin my evenings with “homework” I had always planned to be rich in free time, creativity and fun.

“What happened to that dream?” I wondered. Here I was in my 50s and I had forgotten! “They” had tricked me! By the time I “had my freedom” I had forgotten what I wanted to do with it.

That very week I bought a roll of film for my camera and took a whole series of pictures of the red and golden ash trees that were in such amazing fall colors. I also picked a number of the leaves and pressed them. Using a spiral bound blank book I made my first book called “All These Leaves Come From The Same Tree.” The pages alternated between pressed leaves, which even to this day show a dim version of their glory, and photographs. One of the pictures was good enough that I had it professionally framed and it is hanging in my living room.

"All these leaves are from the same tree"

Page from “All These Leaves Come From The Same Tree.”

I bought an old chest of drawers and slowly filled it with art supplies: A drawer of book binding and book making supplies. A drawer of embroidery threads, material, hoops and designs. A drawer of calligraphy books, inks, nibs, etc. A drawer of acrylic paints, expensive colored pencils, watercolor pencils, crayons. A drawer of sewing and quilt-making supplies. One of those jointed wooden people you can put into any position. Books on how to do all the things I wanted to learn and perfect.

I recently decided that I was spending too much time reading and not enough time creating so I have two of my ongoing projects out. I work on one of them every evening before I go to bed.

2016-04-14 09.53.01

Detail from autobiography quilt square, “stained glass window in the church I was raised in. I looked at that window every Sunday of my childhood…”

Freedom, to me, means that your bills are paid and you are not wasting your life by sitting in front of the television. You are spending time every day doing things that are creative and make your heart sing.

And by the way, yesterday I discovered pictures of my great, great, great, great (4-great) Atkinson grandparents on findagrave.com. whoI had never seen pictures of him before. I also found a picture of a young 3-great grandmother who was much older in the only picture I had of her. AND I found a brand new cousin! Her great grandmother and my great grandfather were siblings. Hooray! I spent my “freedom time” last night doing genealogy. It made me so happy!

Richard Atkinson

Richard Atkinson

(c) 2016 Dhyan Atkinson

A few weeks ago I invited writers to muse on “What was the freedom you longed for, fought for, when you were a young adult?” and “As you grow older, what purpose do you envision for the freedom that will increasingly be yours?” Dhyan submitted this as a result. Now it is your turn! See guest writers guidelines here.


About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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