Free + Responsible / by Chelsea Snow

For the longest time, I thought freedom meant not being told what to do. I thought it meant being the boss of myself and it meant not having to answer to anyone. I vilified any parents, teachers, bosses or partners who tried to take that away from me--even if it was in my best interest.

The idea of freedom took a weird (good weird) turn for me a few years ago during one of my classic "say yes to something before really considering it and then have a complete meltdown when it comes time to actually do it" moments. I was participating in a group art show at my own gallery, and of course waited until the last minute to do my work, trusting that somehow the time, inspiration, materials and ideas would just come to me. While it is true that the time, inspiration, materials and ideas DID just come to me, they showed up in a really uncomfortable way. So there I was, the day before the opening, beating myself up about not having given this project any thought. What the fuck was my problem?

The truth is: running an art gallery is so much less pressure than making art. For any given opening, throwing the party was normally my biggest stressor: would people come? Would there be enough snacks? Would the police show up and arrest me for giving away free PBR? Would I be socially inept and make people feel awkward? Probably.

But this time, a corner of the gallery was mine. I had to make something. I had to say something. I had to participate on a deeper level than I normally did. My avoidance in making anything wasn't about the making, but about putting my work in the gallery (instead of in the store), putting my name on it (instead of it being anonymous "product"), and having it mean something. 

The early evening light pouring into the building, I had exactly one night to pull this thing off. I locked the doors, cranked the music and sat in front of a pile of fabric I had been collecting: old well used/loved drop cloths, yards outer space polyester, a cut velvet mountain scene, piles of felt. I still didn't know what to do. Then this song came on. 

I looked around and saw for the first time in a very long time that I was living a life that I had created. I had a studio, a shop, a gallery, an audience, a community, a partner, a family, a purpose. It overwhelmed me. YOU ARE FREE, I heard a voice say. In that moment, I realized that freedom was no longer about not being told what to do--it was about listening, and choosing what to do. It didn't mean not having to answer to anyone--it meant getting to choose who to listen to. 

That night I stayed at the studio until very late, and made work: the mountains, the outer space, the well-loved drop cloths, the words YOU ARE FREE all becoming inevitable symbols of gratitude for a freedom that snuck its way into my life without my even knowing.

That's me: the small blurry cluster on the left.

That's me: the small blurry cluster on the left.

Three years later (to the month), I'm thinking about freedom in a new way again.

A bunch of people were shot this week in Orlando. 49 human beings with families and friends and lovers and passions and ideas and futures were gunned down in a senseless act of hatred. It has been hard to focus on anything else this week. I gave blood, I called my congressmen, I blogged and posted and cried. Suddenly "my work" was put into perspective--this dream I have of being a successful artist or teacher or writer or maker--became a small, blurry part of a much larger picture. The freedom that I have that allows me to do this kind of work is dwarfed by the freedom that I have to wake up knowing that the people I know and love were not massacred overnight because of their sexual preference, religion, skin color, nationality, sheer bad luck. And fucking gun fanatics have the fucking audacity to claim that their freedom to carry fucking guns means more? Fuuuuuuuuck that.

A while ago I made a little book called Instructions for Making Better Choices. It's twelve steps designed to help you (me), well, make better choices. Step one is to BE IN CHOICE. To quote myself, "Being in choice means knowing (on a cellular level) that you are responsible and you are free. At the same time. All the time." Not unlike being both fearless and careful at the same time (in all truth there is paradox) if you are enjoying the freedom to make choices, you must also be responsible for the choices you make. For my LGBTQI friends, family and community to be free to dance their asses off all night and love and live and kiss in public and marry each other if they want to, it is my responsibility to show up and dance my ass off with them. Happy pride week.


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