Beyond The First Amendment by Jaclyn Lyons

A guest article by Jaclyn Lyons – blogger, student and features editor at Beyond Good Ideas magazine – about what being free has meant to her in her development as a writer, and overcoming the obstacles within herself along the way:

When I was a young child, strangers probably assumed I was a mute. I barely spoke to my own family and had to have my mother volunteer in my classroom until I overcame the severity of my separation anxiety in the second grade. I was a prisoner to my anxiety that back then was simply called shyness.

“Why won’t Jackie talk?” other children in my class would ask.

“Oh, she’s just shy,” people would say.

In kindergarten my teacher thought I was memorizing my books at home since I could read them so quickly and with ease, but I wasn’t; I was reading. I had no problem using the voice of another–in this case it was a character called Mortimer Frog–but I couldn’t find the courage to use my own. When my teacher learned that it wasn’t memorization, but an early talent nurtured by my parents, she sent me to reading group with kids in the grade above me.

I don’t blame Miss Klipper for wanting to challenge me; in fact I commend her. But when doctors or therapists ask me today if I can recall the first instance of my anxiety disorder, I can conjure the image of the speckled floor tiles of my elementary school, and remember my heart beat quicken, afraid to raise my gaze to the classroom door across the hall where I was supposed to join the older children for reading group.

It is no surprise that now freedom, to me, comes is the form of words, specifically in writing–an outgrowth of the act of reading that I learned at age of three. I still tend to communicate better on paper, but I’ve found my voice and I’m not afraid to use it. I think this is a catharsis for anyone who endeavors to write–the moment when you overcome the anxiety of sharing your work and dare to actually identify yourself as a writer.

For years as an undergraduate, I wouldn’t even tell people I was an English major for fear they’d ask about my creative writing habits, as if this was akin to a secret drug addiction. I would rather lie than have to talk about my own work; I was still locked in my comfort zone of reading the work of others. I assume my fear of calling myself a writer or sharing my writing has been worsened by my anxiety disorder, but ironically it has also become the antidote now that I bit the bullet, as the saying goes.

Freedom of expression through writing is the ultimate feeling of release for me. I can now freely identify myself as a writer; in fact I think it is one of the best ways I understand myself. We could make this broader by identifying me as an American, a female, and a 26-year old living within the context of the corresponding 1st and 19th amendments to the United States Constitution that allow me both freedom of speech and women’s suffrage, respectively.

But I’d have to point more specifically to literacy. I have the ability and the freedom to read great literature and try to mimic it by my somewhat feeble attempts at becoming an established writer. But it is important to note that freedom is not an absolute in this way for all people as it is for me, not just because I live in this country, but also in this body, in this skin, as me, simply free to be me because I overcame the fear of doing so.

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