I went to a hospital on Saturday for an x-ray of my back, the part of my body where I’ve carried weights physical and metaphorical and which is now, begging for relief. To get to the exam room, I had to walk the same hallways that my husband and I walked together four years ago, when we found out his end was near.
Those of you who have followed me along for a while know that I lost my husband quickly and devastatingly in 2017, 30 days from the day he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His death removed the justification I had for choosing the United States, his country, over mine, Brazil. Because of that, it got me to reevaluate my definition of home as I searched for a place that genuinely mine. It pushed me to confront the versions of me that I concocted to fit the expectations of others. Once I found myself, I gained the courage to venture beyond boundaries set by others.
And I felt free.
It’s in this spirit that I’ve started calling myself a writer.
“Writer” is a liberating title because of the many possibilities it allows. As a writer, I’m relieved from the constraints imposed by the allegiance to a single medium and its formulas. My writing is as diverse as I am, my words a malleable force shaped into magazines stories, personal essays, opinion pieces, newsletter posts and, soon, the full manuscript of a memoir.
It’s also daring. I co-wrote a musical because, as a writer, I gave myself permission to try something new, stretch my limits and embrace a challenge. ¡Americano! is opening Off Broadway on March 31. It tells the true story of a young man who discovers he is undocumented when he tries to join the Marines, and then goes on to mobilize tens of thousands of Latino voters in his home state of Arizona, giving voice to voices that must be heard. (You can buy tickets here.)
My husband used to say to me, “Do your thing,” as a way of encouraging me to follow my instincts and trust my talents.
I wished he were here to see me do this thing.
Time isn’t linear.
No minute is the same. Not every minute is made up of 60 seconds. The clock ticks, its arms move, a minute feels like an eternity. Time flies and drags on at the mercy of our emotions.
Stories flow at the same uneven pace, but in storytelling, it’s the writer who controls the passage of time.
My feet were encased in concrete as I walked through the halls of the hospital on Saturday. The x-ray technician pointed to a room at the end of the hallway — our destination. It took me hours to get there. It took so much out of me to make it there.
Once we stepped inside the room, the tech handed me a box of tissues and instructed me to inhale, hold and exhale in neat intervals, snapping a picture of my spine each time. She didn’t ask about my tears. I didn’t explain either. I didn’t have to explain.
It’s OK to cry in public. It’s OK to be vulnerable. It’s also OK to say out loud — to a friend, to a stranger or to ourselves in front of the mirror — that we’re sad, crushed, discouraged, in search of the next move that makes sense. It’s also OK to congratulate ourselves for making through another day, or for a job well done.
It’s when I allow myself to feel fully that I can write honestly, knowing that the words I put on paper are nothing but my truth.
Are you ready to write your truth?
I’m enjoying the provocative truths of Sharon Hurley Hall, a Black British writer living in Barbados who publishes Sharon’s Anti-Racism Newsletter on Substack. It gives me great insights into the way the different shades of black skin shape social interactions in the Caribbean. Give it a try.
If you’re a paid subscriber, the second installment of my short-video series “Here’s One Thing About Writing” will be landing in your mailbox on Monday. I’ll be talking about the difference between an idea and a story, and sharing tips and tricks that I hope will help you improve your practice.
By Fernanda Santos is a reader-sponsored publication. Not a paid subscriber yet? Skip a latte and use the money to make an investment in yourself.
With love and purpose,