terça-feira, fevereiro 21, 2017

The immigrant heart...

It's the kind of subject that everyone has an opinion on, nowadays. Tip of the tongue, pro or con, Immigration is great, or Immigration sucks. Bring them in, or send them home....

Home...

What I don't seem to hear, though, is what people consider to be home... Or what is "being a true American" or a "true Brazilian" means... (lots of "..." on this post, lots of thoughts, inconclusive thoughts, sighs, "saudades", nostalgia, fear, sadness, hope.... All of them demand "...")

Let me start by what I know best. Let me tell you what being a "true Brazilian" means: My father was born in Rio, and was on a ship to his mom's Portugal when he was 2 months old. At 6, he was in a plot to kill Dictator Salazar, and at 21 he was listening to cannibal tribes in Congo, right before he hopped on a ship to Brazil. Back in Rio, he was asked: "What ID do you want? Portuguese or Brazilian?"

He said "hé, since I'm here, let's go with the Brazilian one."

He always considered himself Portuguese, as other people around him did. As I do. His accent was the most charming thing about him, and the stories he told us at dinner made me love a country I am yet to visit. Now, more than EVER, I understand how he felt when he listened to fado, sitting on our couch, eyes distant and a wistful smile to Amalia Rodrigues' voice. (he wouldn't weep, as I do when I listen to "O Bêbado e o Equilibrista", but I am pretty sure he felt the yearning those melodies brought...) He sought the smells he left behind, and brought them to our kitchen, the flavors to our table and the culture to our hearts.

Yet, he couldn't have been more Brazilian.  Especially when he bragged about his ancestors, "We descend from the moors and the jews" (note: AND... Apparently there are both Muslim and Jewish bloods running somewhere in my highly mixed veins) Dad adored this melting pot he said he descended from. It was his pride and joy, to belong to many places, and to no place at all...

Shifting to the other side of my family, we call ourselves "Italians". Yes, my mom is "nonna" to my kids, as her mom was to me. Even though my "nonna" descended from native brazilians (you mix that with the moorish genes my dad brought to the cake, and you understand my sister's amazing olive skin tone...) My great grandfather (my nonno's dad) came to Brazil on the huge Italian immigration wave (would we have called them "hunger refugees?...) and here I am, his great grand daughter pride of her "Italian side". We are loud, love pasta, place our "mammas" in the very center of the family, and all of that, because we still think WE were the ones sailing the ocean a hundred years ago. Basically, the same yearning my dad had, we feel for a culture we NEVER experienced as our own.


No one in Brazil will contest that: being a true Brazilian is being from everywhere, a mixture of a bit of every corner in the world.

I married a mixed Italian/ Spanish guy, have blond frackled kids who I placed on a ship to a different country I now call home.

I cannot conceive a world without Immigration. At least, not my world. We are ALL immigrants.

And here is where I finish my first thought... What does "home" mean to me?

An Immigrant has a split heart, has eyes always teared up and feels that something is always missing. But at the same time, the first step of becoming an immigrant is filling your heart with hope an joy. You do not throw your soul to the sea if you are not expecting to float, to lie on your back and contemplate the blue skies. You know you will swallow some water on a storm eventually, but you long for the warmth of the sun.

An immigrant cries in the shower because one picture she saw reminded her of a friend, or of the smell of a place. An immigrant smiles when she sees the flag of her country and weeps when she listens to the National Anthem. An immigrant, knows different literatures, languages, songs, foods, beliefs, Histories, and should be seen as an addition to every nation. You don't make foundue with one good cheese.

Nevertheless, embracing a new country brings new loves, new ways to see the world, new friends and a new National Anthem. After a while, becoming an Immigrant gives you a new home. So, at the end, there is nowhere to run... Your heart will ALWAYS be split, you will forever be missing someone, some place, some taste, some sound... You will forever be crying in the shower.

I wouldn't change not even one step of my History... If I stay in the US forever or for one more day, this will always feel like home to me. And I love it. Loving the US doesn't make me love Brazil less. People shouldn't make that assumption, for an immigrant's heart is filled with nuances that allow us to understand love as a whole.

Love is one, and this is what I believe home is...

For the curious ones:

Amalia Rodrigues, Queen of Portuguese Fado:



"O Bêbado e o Equilibrista", the song that brings me to my knees, for mannnnnyyyy reasons, but mostly because my sister sings it beautifully....







segunda-feira, novembro 21, 2016

Joan Baez kind’a moment: Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto

“Quando, Lídia, vier o nosso Outono
Com o Inverno que há nele, reservemos
Um pensamento, não para a futura
        Primavera, que é de outrem,
Nem para o Estio, de quem somos mortos,
Senão para o que fica do que passa —
O amarelo actual que as folhas vivem
        E as torna diferentes.”
Ricardo Reis, in Odes


    So it’s Thanksgiving week, time to appreciate the harvest that fills our tables… Or so it was, in 1621. Thanksgiving now is a day to celebrate family, friends and to look with gratefulness to all blessings that help us go through life… 

    Brazil doesn’t have Thanksgiving, maybe because the Portuguese that took over our land back in 1500 were so grateful for the gold they found, they decided to celebrate back in Europe, not in Brazilian grounds, trying to keep a low profile… Being thankful for gold and all the natural resources they stole from our native indians wouldn’t be exactly well seen… Christmas has become, therefore, the Holiday to practice being grateful, even if we do it under 104 degrees while decorating a pine tree we don’t have, with fake snowflakes (which we also don’t have) and waiting for a dehydrated Santa Claus who never seems to dress up appropriately for the tropical Summer he will face.

    I have incorporated gratefulness a long time ago, when I first started practicing Yoga. Saying thanks before every practice is a very important part of the hindu culture, and it became a way for me to connect with something sacred, since I’m not religious at all. Being thankful is, to me, a way to send good energies to the Universe that has given me so much.

    I could go over a list of things and people I’m so grateful for, but I would fall into a cliche swamp I dread and a swamp is, right now, not a good place to be at… You might be drained out of it, and I’m quite happy where I am… 
    
    Yes, I’m grateful for my family, even if they drive me nuts at least 4 times a day… Yes, I’m grateful for my health, for my friends, for Skype and FaceTime  (which allow me to see the part of the family that does not drive me nuts 4 times a day, but mainly because they are far away) and of course I’m grateful for the amazing experiences I had in the 40 years of Earth life so far. My travels, my readings, my students, my teachers… Heck, I’m drowning in this swamp again…
   
    Today I want to be grateful for something different. I’m grateful for the Fall. Even more than that, I’m grateful for the four seasons. Growing up in the tropics, you end up with two seasons only: hot and cold. The nuances of change don’t happen in places close to the Equator. Living in Virginia has shown me how the ancient human beings might have felt as they watched nature taking its course. This might not  make any sense to many of my Brazilian friends, but it feels amazing to have Fall and Spring, not “less hot going into cold” and “not so cold going into hot” months. I love Fall.          
    Every day I’m in awe with the yellow leaves that contrast so beautifully with the dark brown tree trunk… In the early hours the sun cuts its way through the branches and gives us this astonishing light we miss because we are in a hurry to drive the kids to school… The red Maple leaves are my favorite Fall feature, and I love it so much for many reasons: As a kid, I would never color a tree red, and looking at a bright red tree still makes me feel like a child who broke the rules and is teasing reality with a green sky drawing. Also, the Maple tree goes dry quickly, filling the sidewalks with red piles my kids and I love to jump on… And of course, reminds me that life goes by fast, so you might as well enjoy the dry leaves pile and have some fun…

    Don’t get me started on Fall flavors… I couldn’t agree more with the Pilgrims who first had a slice of Pumpkin Pie or smelled corn bread coming from the wood oven… Harvest was to be celebrated because it’s freaking delicious. And some years (or centuries later), I thank the same harvest which opened a road to Trader Joe’s everything Pumpkin: cereal, pancake mix, chocolate, pasta, and most important, pumpkin beer! I cannot be drained off the swamp!! I wouldn’t survive without my pumpkin beer! 


    Fall brings cooler days, and slowly guides us to chilling ones… Nothing is abrupt, nothing is immediate, it’s a transition… Fall is mature, Fall is the place my journey fits, as Fernando Pessoa so well translated into words… I’m going through the beginning of my Fall in the best place imaginable, where I can have Mother Nature guide me through the years to come with the wisdom I wouldn’t fine elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I miss the sharp tropical light that made me who I am, and I can still see the contrast between the green palm trees and the deep blue sky screaming for fried fish and Caipirinhas at ocean side, but as for now, I’m enjoying the soft Fall light mixture of red, yellow and brown, showing me where I should go…

terça-feira, novembro 15, 2016

Dad, and the most tender story of my life...


I guess I should start this one by the end. Just like Machado de Assis, author of the Brazilian classic novel “The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas”, I’ll start by the end. But, not being the literary genius he was, I will be the voice on this piece. Machado gave the voice of the classic “memoir” to the deceased narrator, who feels no shame at all to look back on his mean and selfish character, and thus, trustworthy to the reader. Who can judge him now? He doesn’t care.
I wish I could listen to my dad’s life from this vantage point. He would be sitting at a bar’s table, sipping his cheap wine, nibbling cheese and salami, as he looked back on his journey here on Earth. Maybe then, I would be able to understand him better. Or at least, I would be able to see if he understood himself, at all.
“Tatiana, bring me a little slice of guava marmelade and white cheese, please…” Romeo and Juliet, his favorite dessert…
And then, on a cold summer morning, Romeo came along. Not the cheese of his sweet and salty dessert, but his first grandson, my first child and the apple of his eyes. That little piece of human being brought up something in the old man that I never felt I, as a daughter, did. He was in love. Dad laughed as a kid at each of Romeo’s movements, each of his small achievements and when his grandson first smiled at him, I saw the most pure and bright smile I had seen in 33 years. He felt complete.
Romeo was three months old when I woke up to my husband saying “your dad is sick, we have to call an ambulance”. He was visiting for the weekend, and could not get up in the morning. The paramedics had a very hard time lifting that 6,2 feet man up the stairs, lying on a stretcher. I saw his hand trying to grab the handrail, showing me how afraid he was of falling, and I can still feel my heart beating scared and realizing how fragile my strong dad was. He was 81.
He was in and out of the local Hospital for the following 2 months, and I was juggling taking care of my sick dad and a newly born son. Both men of my life need me so bad, both men of my life needing me like little boys. 
The day he was diagnosed with Leukemia we were sitting at the doctor’s office, I was holding Romeo and Dad was all smiles. He was wearing a wool vest over his cream pajama shirt, blue sports pants and worn out shoes. My father had always had worn out shoes, ever since I can remember. He liked to say that he would happily wear old shoes so my sister and I could go to good schools. And so he did. “The only inheritance I’ll ever leave you is your education”. His shoes were a statement to that.
As I was trying to grasp the image of my old, debilitated father, the same one who used to send us to our bedrooms in fear of his enraged discussions with my mom, I heard his last wish:
“You know, doctor, I don’t want to live more than one year or so. All I want, now, is to see my grandson say “vovô”” (grandpa, in Portuguese)
My answer was just like any answer should be: “Ow, Dad, stop it, you are a bull, you’ll live to see his first girlfriend”.
He shooshed me with his hand, silently telling the doctor to pay no attention to me, I knew nothing…
That same day my mom took over, even though they had been separated for many years, and they still had a sea of hurt between them. 
“He will ruin your marriage if he stays with you, and he might live for 10 more years! You have to focus on your family, I’ll take care of him.”
He looked like a boy being dragged against his will and pride when I drove him to my mom’s apartment, but I’m sure he, too, knew that was the best option. My mom took care of him as a daughter would, yet I never felt he was grateful for that… Being a deceased narrator he might have told us how much it hurt to accept his ex wife’s help. Being I the narrator, one can only assume…
Romeo started walking, I was pregnant again, he held his granddaughter many times, and I could see him fading. To hold Iolanda I had to be next to him, and he could only keep her so much.
In September 2009, we took the kids and the grandmas to a resort hotel in Bahia, the place where Brazil is Brazil at its most. Beaches, sun, music, good food, friendly people and coconut water. And a phone call.
“Dad is in Intensive Care. He couldn’t breath and the doctors think he has water in his lungs, but so far he is doing all right.”
My sister placed his clothes (same wool vest, same rotten shoes) in a cabinet, showing him where they were.
“Take them with you, Caia, I will not be leaving here…”
He was put on oxygen mask, as I bargained for a reschedule of our air ticket. As we waited, my mom and my mother in law were trying to make Romeo say vovó, (grandma) but all he could say was vovô… That’s when I called my sister’s friend who was on duty that afternoon. She placed the phone on his year and I said:
“Dad, wait up, we’re flying home tomorrow! And I have news: Romeo said vovô!”
Ana ’s voice returned to the speaker, nervous and loud: “What did you say to him?? He’s extremely agitated.”
That was the last sentence my father consciously heard, for he went into a coma as soon as we hung up.
The following thirteen days were hard to take, especially as we saw him at that bed, languishing to his final morning, on September 23rd. I was wearing a striped brown tunic over brown leggings, doing my make up for a regular day. Eye shadow on my right eye, left one undone. My brother in law calls. It’s 8:30 in the morning, this can only mean one thing. I bend down in pain, cell phone in one hand, eye shadow brush in the other. He’s gone…
We don’t do big funerals in Brazil. We don’t wear black funeral clothes, we don’t serve food and we don’t wait for relatives who are far away. I wish we had incorporated more of the African culture we so take as ours when it comes to celebrating the passage in a joyful way, but no… In that sense, we are Portuguese to the core. Melancholic and taciturn. My father was Portuguese himself, but quite the opposite. I was so confused growing up with him because he could switch to extremes in a second, but his light side was a very funny one. 
And that’s how he pranked us for the last time. We ended up choosing  a song for his cremation in such a hurry, we never discussed if it was appropriated for a funeral or not.
“You can play this one, we don’t care…”
So there he was, rising in his coffin, to the sound of The Four Seasons, a joyful piece of classical music that was known in Brazil for being the theme of a soap commercial.
I had to laugh.

“Well, he was a soap lover after all…”

terça-feira, novembro 01, 2016

O gigante que chora

"Como alguém faz isso com uma criança? Como?"

Ele disse isso aos prantos, sentado ao meu lado, abrindo o coração (e o baú de histórias) para um grupo de escritores que ele conheceu a apenas 8 semanas. As lágrimas que começaram a aparecer se transformaram em um choro doído, alto, daqueles de chacoalhar os ombros, e que te obriga fazer algo. Alguém passou a caixa de lenços pra ele, então minha única opção foi colocar a mão em suas costas e gentilmente traçar um círculo de carinho nelas. Eu queria mesmo era abraçá-lo, mas 8 semanas são 8 semanas. Cedo pra colocar aquele homem de 65 anos e porte de motoqueiro no meu colo e ninar a criança que precisava ser ninada.

Dave é um cara grande, daqueles com voz de trovão que te intimidam de cara. Una a isso o sotaque de italiano do Brooklin e você tem desenhada a imagem de um bad boy mafioso de quem é melhor manter a distância. Humana que eu sou, na primeira aula duvidei que ali morasse alguma sensibilidade artística notável, além de talvez uma habilidade para consertar motores, já que seus dedos estavam bem sujos de algo preto. Só podia ser graxa, o que mais?
Então vi que um pedaço de papel toalha molhado de tinta preta estava ao lado de um caderno com papel grosso e capa de couro e vi que a graxa que eu julguei era, nada menos, que pingos de uma caneta tinteiro que Dave usa para escrever. Sua graxa é tinta. Quem ainda escreve com caneta tinteiro? Provavelmente alguém que escreve há anos e que dá tamanha importância pra sua arte que não se importa com o tempo ou com a sujeira que ela demanda.

Suas histórias começaram a delinear uma personalidade tão complexa quanto sua escrita, que me leva às lagrimas a cada aula. Eu não sou a única, Dave chora sem medo nenhum de chorar. De todos nós, é de longe o melhor escritor. De longe! Neste grupo compreendi que não basta ter uma história pra contar, tem que saber contá-la, conectar as idéias e usar as imagens mais adequadas. Além de tudo isso, há que se ter uma voz. Não a de trovão dele, ou a rouca que eu tenho, ou a esganiçada que uma moça tem, ou a suave, sulista e saudosa da Rosie, mas a voz literária que permeia cada página de sua escrita. A maioria de nós está ainda buscando sua voz narrativa, e a do Dave não deixa que ele fuja dela: sua voz é negra, pesada e cheia de melancolia e dor. Ele diz que não "quer mais tentar pintar um quadro bonito" e eu respondo que se ele estava fazendo isso, sua voz o estava traindo: a beleza de suas palavras está no peso delas.

Foram semanas de atalhos para que a criança aparecesse no papel. Os anos em que morou com sua primeira esposa no Vale da Morte, depois seus dias de "homem das montanhas" no Colorado, as aventuras de quem não tinha laços em nenhuma parte do país e seus anos vivendo como professor de inglês na Europa foram apenas um preâmbulo pra chegar no dia da morte de seu pai.

Ele começa falando de uma professora que, em uma fase em que ele não se sentia visto em casa, viu nele um potencial que sua mãe de luto não enxegrava. O menino de 11 anos agora está em um palco, recitando um discurso histórico que, memorizado, deu a ele a chance de intercalar o nervosismo do palco (e a vontade de agradar à freira que era sua professora e única pessoa que ele respeitava então) com a lembrança do dia do casamento de sua irmã mais velha.
Ele tinha 6 anos, e esperava o resto da família se arrumar para a cerimônia, em um fim de tarde em 1958 quando seu pai caiu no banheiro depois de passar por uma cirurgia de coração. A próxima imagem é de seus familiares arrastando o corpo sem vida de seu pai para a sala e a ordem de irem buscar um padre. Não um médico, um padre. Dave corre pelas ruas do Brooklin com sua irmã e volta com o Padre, que nada pode fazer a não ser ser Padre. Sem entender como, ele escreve que o casamento seguiu, assim como a vida, e ele, aos 6 anos, não foi à cerimõnia e dormiu sozinho em um quarto escuro na casa do vizinho, sem maiores explicações e nenhuma companhia.

O texto acaba, e ele em meio ao nosso silêncio estupefato, chora: "Como alguém faz isso com uma criança? Como?"

São sessenta anos entre um dia e o outro, e a criança ainda quer saber o porquê, ainda sente medo do escuro e muita raiva pela solidão que lhe impuseram. No dia em que seu pai morreu, sua irmã se casou, ele dormiu sozinho. Como?

A empatia que me torna humana me fez chorar, com vontade de correr no tempo e deitar ao lado do Dave menino, abraçá-lo bem forte e dizer que de um jeito meio torto, tudo ia ficar bem. Eu diria pra ele que ele não tem culpa da bagunça interna dos outros e que alguém, ao longo do caminho, ia vê-lo como ele merece ser visto. Que fosse num carro no Arizona, numa cabine nas montanhas do Colorado ou numa mesa de escritores em Richmond.

Como eu não posso voltar no tempo, eu apenas escuto, entre lágrimas, minhas, dele e de todos ali tocados pela força da escrita e da memória...

sexta-feira, setembro 16, 2016

The PTA meeting

One year ago, as I was beginning my journey into this new life and not by far feeling adjusted I went to my first PTA meeting. Every detail of it was new to me, even though, having been a teacher myself, I could not be more used to this sort of event. Principal outlines general issues, teachers go through the projects you will be fencing with your kid at home (yes, fencing, not facing... It's a duel...) and parents either cry of anxiety or float around not having a clue of what lies ahead. In Brazil, we don't have the strong PTA americans have, but I had my share of Hollywood movies to know how it worked. So, theoretically, I was ready.

Nothing prepares you, however, to feeling as an outsider. I was an outsider, but felling as one was bringing back memories of my first day of High School at a new school. I so remember placing my pencil case on a desk and a girl approaching me saying "Oh, no, you are not sitting next to Fritz, he is awful! He was my boyfriend last year, and you will haaaaate him! Sit here, next to me". Marina ended up being one of my best friends throughout those hard times, and Fritz ended up expelled for putting a home made bomb on the boy's lavatory. Upscale school, let me add...

This time around, I enter a full gym of parents, and no Marina comes to my rescue. I'm a grown up mom and I shrink my shoulders to pass unseen. The "Pledge of Allegiance" starts, and I feel like a catholic in a mosque. "How do I pray that? Can I say the Holy Father?". I wish they were singing the National Anthem, instead. At least I could move my lips to "the land of the free and the home of the brave", every human being knows that emotional ending. No... No anthem.

I try to look around and spot other outsiders as myself. Maybe we can softly smile at each other, or even a "peace out" sign, followed  by two light punches in the chest, just to say "I get you. You'r not alone." No... No peace out signs.... No punches in the chest... No smiles....

I left as soon as the teachers ended their presentations, with so much information on my mind I had a headache that night.

And then, life kept on going. School started. Kids made friends. I talked. (I talk too much.) And shit  life happened.

One year later, I find myself chatting with a friend at her new house deck, after Tae Kwon do class, refusing another glass of my favorite Almond Sparkling wine (yes, one year and you have favorites...) because "I have to go to Back to School Night!"

"Oh,  no you don't! You know everything they will say!!"

"Yes, I do..."
(yes.... I do know...)

"But I have to go anyways! Save the bottle for later!"

I get to my second PTA meeting thinking of how I had felt on the previous one. I smile... We've come a long way... And I get there late.

Darn it, they must already have said the "Pledge of Allegiance". Now that I know it, I missed it!

I sit down, not before saying hello to Dana, sitting right behind me, and spotting my dear friends, throwing a kiss to Kelley and telling Mark he looked sharp on a suit. Beside me, Marcelo, Tania's husband who didn't recognize me. Zak and Eve are there too, but I if I stop to say hello to everyone I see I will be interrupting the meeting, and I feel like Sofia Vergara too much to do that. Shannon is on the pulpit, talking about volunteers, and I volunteered in the STEM program with her last year, I would hate myself to interrupt her.

Then, Os and Adela sit next to me. "Don't you want to sit next to your husband, I can move"
"Na, it's fine."

Adela and I find out we definitely could have never gone to school together. We talk nonstop. We laugh nonstop. We have stories to tell, and they cannot wait. Her apple watch rings with a SMS, from Os, next to me. "Stop talking you two!" We laugh even harder.
I whisper to her "If we were in school, we would be sitting in the back, chatting all through class, and Kelley would be shooshing us, because she has to take her notes." She would be laughing, though. Taking her notes, and laughing as hard as we would be...

I'm the last to leave the gym. I have to say Hi to Rajani, my former neighbor and dear friend. JJ is there too... Finally I can give Zak and Eve a hug, and Deb is there too... I run to catch up with Adela.

"Hey, psiu, couple, wait for me!!"

I'm the last to leave after the teacher's presentation. I'm laughing with Mrs. Jones, Iolanda's teacher who had Romeo last year. We are talking about my room mom duties.

"I already told the parents in the first session you are the room mom, and that you don't want to be called Mrs. Bettin, but Tatiana."

The school is almost empty and I am talking to Nicole at the loop. She was a room mom last year, and had some advice for me. "Don't sit next to Fritz, he is awful" "It's not so bad, use Pinterest for crafts and engaje the parents to volunteer."

Outsider is a word I have to redifine every day. I'll always be one here, but bonding shows us we are all outsiders, one way or another. And we all fit in, one way or another.

Friendship makes it all better.

My head doesn't hurt today, I sleep well and light, anxious for the my kids' new school year, and another one in this journey of our lives...




quarta-feira, setembro 14, 2016

De volta à mesa oval..

Eu já escrevi aqui sobre a Rosie, e sobre as outras mulheres maravilhosas que eu conheci no meu curso de escrita de memórias... Foram 12 semanas intensas, repletas de histórias de vida, risadas e muitas, mas muitas lágrimas mesmo... Imagine 8 mulheres sentadas em volta de uma mesa, uma a uma abrindo, aos poucos, seus corações e seus baús de sabedoria... Quase uma reunião de Avalon em pleno século XXI. Pra quem acompanhou minha saga com a escrita nesse período lembra a importância que aquelas reuniões  de terça feira tiveram no meu ajuste à vida nova. E, claro, no meu crescimento como mulher...

Foi tão bom, que eu me inscrevi de novo. Minhas amiguinhas acima dos 75 todas disseram que voltariam agora pras 12 sessões no outono, e eu estava super empolgada para vê-las e ouvir mais de suas vidas. A idéia de ter a Rosie lendo com seu sotaque sulista as histórias de sua infância, de rir até doer a barriga com a ironia da Penny e chorar de preocupação com o filho da Patsy me deixou mais feliz que pinto em dia de chuva... (ah, as expressões que eu nunca vou ter em inglês...)

E hoje chegou o dia. 

Qual não foi a minha decepção em ver que só a Becky voltou... Olhei em volta e me senti como criança em primeiro dia de aula num país estranho. "Ah, eles não têm cara de ser nem metade do que nosso grupo era. Não gostei de ninguém. Quero ir embora. Povo chato. Nada a ver. Afff" 
Todas essas verdades absolutas passaram pela minha cabeça nos primeiros 3 segundos de contato, enquanto eu via que um senhor tinha roubado o meu lugar (como assim, ele não sabe que eu sentei a primavera toda ali??) e precisava me acomodar do outro lado da mesa. Sheldon Cooper, I so get you...

Seguimos 8. O mesmo professor com cara de professor. A mesma introdução. E assim que as pessoas começam a abrir a boca, a mágica acontece. Das bocas saem as primeiras histórias, quem eu sou, por que estou ali, por que escrevo e por que quero escrever sobre a minha vida. Por que eu quero saber da vida dos outros. Por que eu sou quem eu sou. Ou melhor, "estou aqui pra descobrir quem eu sou".

A Carol é a primeira. Advogada, professora de Direito, quer registrar a linda relação que ela teve com o pai, e essa relação se deu em volta de uma propriedade na Carolina do Norte. Carol sempre escreveu textos jurídicos, mas quer treinar algo mais pessoal. Logo de cara, no primeiro texto, ela chora falando da casa que o pai deixou, e que agora ela precisa vender. Na minha cabeça limitada, eu sigo escutando sem entender por que alguém quer escrever sobre "terra" e propriedade", até que ela me dá a lição que eu preciso ouvir: "pra nós, um pedaço de terra sempre significou liberdade e independência." Carol é negra. Da Carolina do Norte. Eu suspiro e entendo, finalmente, ao que ela veio...

Jennifer pede pra pular, por enquanto, sua apresentação. Pulemos, conforme ela pediu. Deve ser tímida, a pobrezinha. Não deve estar muito confortável pra falar em público. 

A Pat é uma senhora de cabelos brancos que se apresenta como alguém que perdeu contato com sua família e quer retomar sua infância maravilhosa através da escrita. No primeiro texto, fala sobre se entender como gay aos 40 anos, depois de um divórcio e um filho de 8 anos. Fala sobre sua relação com a mãe, com irmãos e primos, pra, no fundo, falar sobre sua relação consigo mesma.

O John já fez esse curso antes, e na primeira fase, falou sobre sua infância conturbada, com uma mãe alcoólatra que fazia a manhã de Natal ser a mais feliz do ano, por que ela acordava sóbria. Seu texto me deu um soco no estômago:"Nas manhãs de Natal, minha mãe... fazia cookies. Fazia panquecas. Acordava antes de nós e punha uma linda mesa de café da manhã." Não, Tatiana. Ela acordava sóbria.

A Lisa fala pouco, baixo, e chora logo no primeiro texto. Filha de alemã com filipino, casada com um indiano, ela lança na mesa logo de cara a culpa por ter corrido de um ataque de adolescentes e de ter deixado seu primo pra trás, pra apanhar de corrente de meninos americanos que os chamaram de nazistas, por causa do alemão que falavam. 

O Dave, do meu lado, deve ter uns 55 anos, e tem um sobrenome italiano que ele pronuncia como se tivesse saído de um filme de mafiosos em NY. Um sujeito grande com cara de motoqueiro, que dava aula de inglês em Hanover e resolveu voltar pros EUA depois de 15 anos na Europa. Compete comigo e com a Carol pra ver quem de nós fala mais. Dá várias dicas de tragédias familiares, que logo enchem seus olhos de lágrimas, e eu fico logo surpresa em ver tamanha sensibilidade em um grandão com cara de mau...

A Wenda nunca escreveu. Tem uma fala rápida e agitada, assim como seu primeiro texto. Está ali por que encontrou centenas de páginas de um diário que sua filha escreveu antes de falecer aos 19 anos, de uma doença crônica, e quer entender como colocar tudo em uma história linear. 

Depois de todos, a Jennifer fala. Ela é jamaicana, e enquanto escuta o que os outros falam, tem um sorriso doce no rosto e murmura um divertido "hum hum", concordando com as falas dos colegas. Em meio ao sorriso fácil, ela diz que foi abusada pelo pai. Por isso pediu um tempo pra falar. Precisa escrever sobre tudo que passou, pra ajudar outras mulheres e ajudar a si mesma a achar paz. 

Daqueles 3 segundos da minha primeira impressão não sobrou nada. Aquelas pessoas sem graça que de cara me desagradaram todas foram embora, e de repente, chegaram outras, cheias de medo, paixão, sabedoria e empatia. Sentaram-se ao meu lado na mesa oval daquela casa do século XIX que eu amo e imediatamente eu me interessei por elas. 
Serão mais 12 semanas de choro, risada, terapia, escrita, literatura e vida. 
Muita vida. 

domingo, julho 17, 2016

Because...

It's hard to choose the language I will write in now... My heart knows all the subliminar beauty in Portuguese's melancholic words, but  my surroundings have no idea what "saudades" means... And the better I am at explaining things, "saudades" is just too Portuguese to be explained. "Saudades" has a salty taste that interweaves with the tears it breeds and comes with the sound of a good old "Fado Português". "Missing" something doesn't come close to explaining "saudades". We own it.

Choosing the language is maybe the smallest of my choices. Daily choices. "Do I do laundry now or do I sweep the kitchen?"; "Do I buy 'cage free' or 'cage free organic' eggs?";  "Do I hand wash my dishes or use the dishwasher?"; "Coconut or Almond milk on my coffee?" Boring choices my father would not be necessarily proud of...

All I am now is a result of my choices. And I have been very grueling to the feeling that I got to my 40's with no idea of who I really was. This last years have been an almost juvenile amount of crisis rolling around this question that can actually keep you nailed to the same spot until you are too old to figure it out anyways.

So I decided to understand my "uniqueness" through the small choices I make. (No, whether I use fabric softner or vinegar does not belong to this category...) But there's a catch to this. At least for me: these choices that define me, are the ones I make when I'm alone. Sola, allein, sozinha, seul, hitori de, all by myself.

Don't get me wrong, all I do make me, but most of it is related to the people around me. I decide to go early to the gym to be available to my kids later. I watch basketball with my hubbie because he loves it, but I won't watch MMA... I read about good techniques to raise my strong willed daughter, but probably I do so quickly because self help books bore me to death.

I know who I am when I watch a show about politics, or History, or the great mysteries that lie in museums or castles... Perfect Saturday night for me, after putting the kids to bed: A marathon of "Race to the White House" on CNN, followed by "The Tudor castles" in Smithsonian and "Van Gogh and Gaugin: behind the scenes." If I can wrap up the night with "The Golden Lady" on Netflix or "Civil War in colour" I will go to bed smiling. (obviously I never do that, by 10 I am drooling in the sofa while History Channel tries to teach me what might have happened to Hitler had he survived the war...) "Antony Bourdain" or "Chef's Table" make me extremely happy, but only when I have Fernando by my side. He is my chosen travel and dining companion. Hence the necessity of him, so we can dream and possibly decide on our next destination. Or snack....

I know I prefer sparkling wine while I watch all of those presumptuous shows above cited. Rosé is my choice, though, for I won't drink the whole bottle... I'll have grapes to nibble and will end with a small piece of salted chocolate.

I will write while the grapes disappear from the bowl and the words fill my screen, and I will postpone my children's bed time because I don't edit and I will not come back to this piece later. It is what it is. No looking back has place in my writing. Or my life.

I will only read if there is a hint of time travel in the plot. Oh, paradoxal you, what about "there's no looking back bla bla bla?"... Yeah, there's that... The fascination with looking back and imagining how people lived in old times. How they smelled, behaved, ate and loved... Nothing catches more my attention than the possibility of imagining myself in Florence during the Renaissance or in Ireland during the 1930's... ("Angela's Ashes" on my nightstand as we speak...) That very smart look I have in a Museum has nothing to do with a great knowledge of Art Techniques, but is the face of a person trying to set that object in the place and time it was produced.

The only thing I cannot choose is to write. Writing is more that an option, is a necessity. I remember writing letters I would never send, and writing poetry on my journal... If all of you knew Cecilia Meireles I could say that "Eu canto porque o instante existe", but you don't know her.... She taught me that a poet writes because. Just because. If I don't, I choke.

And I don't want to choke anymore.

I choose to breath.
I choose to be me.

terça-feira, abril 26, 2016

The seeding of a woman...

So I thought of finishing by talking about the beginning. If there is a memoir I should be writing at this point of my life is the memoir of my femininity. Of how I got here and where I think I’m headed to, even if my path surprises me with a sharp turn left… Maybe writing about my journey through womanhood will help me understand it better. It’s a confusing track, filled with metaphors and euphemisms that you don’t quite get at the right time.

The woman I am was seeded with the women my mom and grandma were, and is planting it’s fears and pleasures in my daughter’s heart. I wish I had better and purer seeds for her. I wish my steps were lighter on her soil, and that my love would be enough fertilizer.

I was 6 when I first experimented the mixture of pleasure and fear of being a girl. The same age Iolanda is as I write this piece. We were visiting with a friend of my father’s, and he had 2 sons. Andre was around 13 back then. He found me alone at the living room, and sat in front of me. “See how good this feels?” he said as he slipped his fingers in my shorts and through my thighs. He reached me where I felt pleasure I never thought existed.  A subtle pleasure, like a tickle.

For the next two nights I sneaked out of the family room, where everyone would be watching tv and sat at the same spot he had found me, hoping he would come again. He never did.

For some intrinsic reason, I knew I could not mention that to my mom. I was not afraid of Andre, or of the tickle I felt, but I knew there was something about it that was prohibited, and from my mom came a core energy of judgment that made me fear her answer, her looks and ultimately, my sexuality. It took me years to understand that my fear and my stiffness were not mine,  but hers. And it took me three paragraphs to see why I loath my daughter’s obsession is wearing shorts. She is six, I was six. I want her to feel comfortable in her own skin, but I dread the thought of any invasive touch hurting her soul. I see my mom’s heart, and how she did all she knew to protect me. But I also see the anxiety and chains that came along with her shield. I want my cub to be free, but for this to happen, I have to be free myself.

Sadly, the world sometimes confirms our nightmares, and I knew for a fact that men were a menace when I was 11. My mom had learned the same thing when she was 11. The moment that security guard that was supposed to protect our school grabbed my arm, I knew my tenderness was gone. I had my mother’s and my grandmother’s example, and now my final mask was ready for me to wear: I had to be strong, with no gap for being tender.

You know, that’s how it gets heavy. That’s how your face becomes hardened, and the frown on your forehead starts to deepen. The thin lips I have were born with that man’s threat.

I carried that burden through the years when I was supposed to learn how to swing my hips, or how to turn my head so my hair would flow along the sensual lines of my neck. I felt the inner fire of a sensual me, but it was too sheltered by the panic of abuse.

I was lucky to meet wonderful boys, who became caring and affectionate boyfriends. It just saddens me that it could have been lighter. A scared woman becomes an insecure woman. And an insecure woman will do everything she can to be loved. For some magical inheritance, my daughter carries that trace of insecurity in her. It hurts me so deep… I wish I could strip her of that feeling that is not hers. It was mine. I wish she finds a path where she can walk alone in such comfort, that if someone joins her, she will be delighted, but not in awe. I wish her soul feeds from itself, and not from someone else’s approval. If that is too much wishing, I just wish she won’t take too long to be in peace with herself.

It took me a while. In fact, it’s still a work in progress. The first step was to be happy on my own. In that exact moment, my husband showed up. Delight, not awe. The love I felt for him and the love I felt from him was the kind that caresses your essence, the kind that makes you lie down with a smile instead of with fear. He was gentle, and I was ready to accept his gentleness, with a fearless heart. And the passion that came with it, for the first time, faced no barrier walls.

By his side I have been learning to seek lightness. The unbearable lightness of being, to be honest. When I met him, I was kind enough to myself to be able to lean forward and feel fragile. I didn’t need to be the fortress I had been, and winding a lock of hair while he was telling a story was no longer a sign of weakness. Crossing my legs and wearing a pink dress with a beautiful cleavage would not endanger me anymore. I was safe being a woman. And not because of him. He was just possible because I was finally a woman. A woman with all the power, but also a woman with a new sense of the feminine. A woman that had begun to understand that fear doesn’t protect you from the world. Fear stops you from living in it.

From all the legacies I could choose to leave for Iolanda there is none more important than my healing. She doesn’t need my fear, she doesn’t need my weight. She needs a restored mother, a cured woman to show her she can be healed herself.


And that there is no bigger empowerment than just being whole.

segunda-feira, abril 04, 2016

My memoir piece from 2036...

It all began with a desperate desire to be heard. Or better yet, a desire to speak.
It was 2016, and I had just moved to Richmond.
Leaving my country had a bittersweet taste to it. My nomad soul craved for the adventure of living overseas, and I knew I was making the right choice for my kids’ future, but once I got here, I realized how important my close circle of friends and family was. Being away from them turned me into a quiet person, unable to use my huge repertoire of words I so eagerly gathered throughout the years.

When I could finally say “the kids are well adjusted” I knew it was time to do something for me. And I ended up at a writing class. Not a mere writing class, a memoir writing class.

I didn’t know much what to await. I knew I didn’t expect to deliver amazing pieces, since my English didn’t match my Portuguese skills, but for the first time in my life I was satisfied with low expectations. I just wanted to write.

I remember my first impression as if it happened just yesterday. I felt so small… All my classmates were ahead of me in this game of life, and had so much to write about, it felt like I shouldn’t even be using the word memoir.

And then, they began to talk. And I started to listen. And out of that writing class, came so much healing, that it was inevitable not to heal along. I needed their stories to understand my own. I felt blessed to know a little about their lives through their short weekly stories and thus feel at ease with all the changes I had gone through in that year. They had no idea back then, but they were a huge part of my adjustment period. They gave me perspective.

The first one I fell in love with was Rosie. She caught my attention the minute she stepped in the room, for she had a very modern and cool look. I loved her haircut and the way she dressed. She was 75, and could have been a catwalk model even when we met. But she really got me when she started to read her piece. Her southern accent and dramatic, paused reading could be used in a Forest Gump kind of movie. Run, Forest, Run, in Rosie’s voice, was an Oscar winner. She was seeking to be lighter in her life, and that was something I could relate to. I needed to be lighter myself. Rosie closed her eyes when we were reading our pieces, smiled when we wrote something funny and tightened her lips when it was something sad. Her writing was a graceful balance of emotions, making us laugh and cry in the same paragraph. She was a writer. I vividly remember her talking  about being a “late bloomer”, and about a “secret she was telling, that as soon as she told us, we would forget.” I never forgot it. Nor have I forgotten Rosie.

The laughs we had on Penny’s jokes are also unforgettable. She reminded me of my mom, and once in a while made fun of me, either for being the young one or for some weird English expressions I used. I loved her story on her life in Brooklyn, for she was able to show all the bliss and colors of the Brooklyn I used to watch on movies. The piece she wrote about her boyfriends became instantly a Grease scene on my mind. Penny was all about sense of humor, therefore when her piece brought us a hard moment of her life, all of us could feel  her pain and guilt. “I want my memoir to be about Joy”, she said. “I’m lucky, and being lucky is to outcome hard times in a joyful way.” Again, something I really needed to hear during those dark days of my life. Wherever you are, Penny, thanks for that.


We also had Patsy. Patsy always had a smile on her face, and from day one shared a lot of her pain with us. We cried with her. We put ourselves in her shoes, and we got to the point of hoping, from the core of our souls, that her son would find his way out of a longtime struggle. We knew that would be the only way to end her struggle.  She was not all about her story with her son, though. She was, in the midst of a hurricane, trying to reconnect with herself. I admired her courage and will power to start again, especially because I had been a grumpy bitch, complaining life was over for me, that I would never work again, etc. Boo hoo, Tatiana, look to your left side, and find some inspiration. Patsy will give it to you.

Becky was a character. She was very silent, observing more than speaking. The first impression she left on me was of a typical American lady, whose origins went back to the first settlers. As American as it gets. Then, her story started to unfold, and it was funny. She was funny. And coming from a person that looked so serious and formal, her pieces were even funnier. Each week we awaited the next chapter of a novel that could well have been a Mexican soap opera. We got  to know the pieces of her family puzzle, especially Steve, her husband, and her mom. I wished I had been her friend when she got married, so I could have helped her fight for her almost lost  honeymoon. Becky dealt with the angst and the frustration of her wedding events looking at them through writing, when she could finally laugh at them. She had a strong voice, she was a strong lady. And by cobbling the stones of her story, she taught me a new word.

Since I’m talking about characters, let me go to Maureen. I believe Maureen started that class expecting something very different from what she got. She was a talkative lady from Buffalo, with an accent I had never heard before. I enjoyed her open “as” and her “rs” that, for my foreign ears, sounded like the rest of an Irish influence. I loved it. When we first started discussing the healing process of writing she could not relate to it, for she “forgot the past as soon as it happened”. She had this light soul that didn’t carry around the weight of hard events. So, at first, it was not easy to grasp her story. She told us a friend recommended the memoir class “so she could get rid of me”,  she said laughing. When she started digging in her past, she came up with beautiful descriptions of her house, details about her childhood Christmas, but still no human relations. Maureen was, probably, the one who made most progress in that fun group. And then, one day, she wrote about her dating adventures, and we could finally, know more about her ways. We will always remember the clumsy  pretender lying on her new sofa, asking for the dinner leftovers.. She was going beyond the surface.  Maureen had done it.

In every group there is someone we have to discover. Someone that looks mysterious at first, but as time goes by, starts to surprise you as a very interesting and sparkling person. And to me, in that group, that person was Diane.
I found her very serious at first. After listening to her text about raising her kids in a countryside house, the stereotype of a nice mother and housewife stuck with me. But being life a well of surprises (oh, I can see Penny laughing at this expression…) Diane taught me not to hold on to impressions so fast. Listening to her bits of life I learned how all women are women in any age. As she read the story about her first love all the senses of a passionate woman were uncovered in  front of us. With that piece we saw her stripped of age, of race, of nationality. We saw the pure and wild woman she was. As we all are. It was as if I learned, at the age of 40, not to label people and to be ready for the amazing stories behind every human being.  It’s amusing to look back at that time and see what I kept in my heart about those people I shared 12 Tuesdays with. Diane was struggling with health issues, and to be honest, after so many years, I don’t quite remember what exactly that was. I remember she was an artist, she sold some of her paintings and the immense literary knowledge she had. And I remember girl Diane  hiding in a car to read by herself, young Diane  walking hand in hand with a sailor in New York, woman Diane facing an airplane trip do touch that hand again and lady Diane, sharing those memories with us. 

And finally, to cobble all those different needs, styles and experiences (See Becky, after all this time, I think I’ve learned how to use the verb…) we had the teacher. He must have felt like Arthur in Avalon, for the women’s power in that group was overwhelming. His name was Doug, and had some mystery to him as well. He always arrived quietly, as he should, as we, the girls, were always lively talking about some Podcast Penny had heard, or some of Maureen’s traffic tickets, and took his seat. Good morning came from us, to which he kindly responded.  I could see him doing exactly the same in his family, not interfering in his wife and daughter’s conversations, as a way to show reverence to the feminine universe around him. At first I thought Doug was a Literature Teacher, like myself. Then, I learned he was a playwriter. Then I learned he was an actor. And a singer. The man was an artist, kindly conducting us towards the art of writing. I remember the glow in his eyes whenever he spoke of his daughter. This was definitely a loving father. Lucky girl. He too shared some intimate moments with us. We saw him saying good bye to his father, we listened about his farewell to his mother (so soon, I remember) and gave him space to talk about his differences with his brother. He, also, needed healing. Maybe the memory of him I still carry with me to this day is the one of him reciting Yeats on our first class. It felt so Notting Hill to me. As if I were in a British bookstore listening to the poet himself.  Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” Became instantly one of my favorite verses.

I look back on those days with a warm feeling in my heart. I wish I knew how all those amazing people are now. I could bet Penny is still making people laugh, Becky is standing up for herself and hopefully taking looong trips with Steve and that Rosie is helping her friends by reading them her own stories. (or maybe she is strip dancing in Vegas, I vaguely remember something to do with strip tease…) I’m pretty sure Maureen is talking to a close friend and once in a while trying to find a nice company for a cold night. I’m sure Patsy found peace, and her son  is now a healthy adult. I can also guess she is now running some kind of helping center for mothers who are in the shoes she once were. Diane? Either she is reading in the quiet of a car or painting the sailor’s portrait, the ultimate canvas that glues her life into one big Museum. (I could use cobble, again, but nah…). Doug is now a happy grandfather to 4 girls, who he loves almost blindly. I can see his eldest granddaughter getting his wedding ring and asking: “Grandpa Doug, what is written here?” He then looks with great tenderness to his wife, and answers “It’s I Love you, in poets language, honey.”

They are all writing, that’s for sure. We are all writing. For this is the one thing we all had in common: the feeling that existence was better understood if it was a word on a paper.