on being visible, internalized shit & doing *all the things,* one by one
Oh hi, I'm about to get my first tattoo today.
I wanted to share this right off the bat because I'm nervous about it. My tattoo artist said that's perfectly 'normal' and I love people who are reassuring. I also want this newsletter to be very morning-page-sque, not mulled over, very stream-of-consciousness, so let's go.
I wanted to skate since I'm 14, I bought my first skateboard one year ago and started. I wanted to sing since I'm a kid, I started teaching myself how to play the guitar and make my own songs six months ago. I always wanted to jump from a cliff into the ocean and I did that last summer at the Algarve. I wanted pink hair for a couple of years now, I dyed my hair pink three days ago. I wanted to be able to work remotely, I'm doing it as we speak. I wanted finger tattoos forever, I'm getting them today. It's been like this since I recovered from cancer. I obviously take pride in all of this, and I look back at these two years quite often and think whoa! I’m doing it, I’m actually doing the things. From realizing that I really like to live and that I like this life with myself in this body, to start taking it seriously, this life that I have. If there’s something precious that cancer gave me was this acute awareness that this life, this body cannot be taken for granted. If there's an experience I crave, as long as it is (overall) a constructive thing and it respects my integrity, I make it happen. I take myself seriously not in a grave manner, but in the most playful sense of the expression. I take myself seriously enough and I respect myself enough to honor my desires.
One by one, I’m doing all the things thus, and right before taking the decisive step, I get different shades of nervousness. The finger tattoos are definitely the thing - out of all these - that is getting me to experience more intense symptoms in my body. This happened a lot throughout my 20's. I'd decide to go for something, just to get crippling anxiety about it and freeze. Was that a sign that I shouldn’t do it? Sometimes I'd still do the thing, but in such a state of unease that it'd be as good as not doing it at all. I finished an entire theatre education at Uni in that state. I'd start to open up during classes just to have my brother ask me, yet again, whAt my plAn wAs and whAt wOUld I dO wIth thAt dEgrEE, and I'd immediately close off again. I had no answer. I know he worried about my safety and well-being but I was scared about my safety and well-being myself. Now I had to carry my worries and his worries all on my cart. I was embarrassed to confess that I had no idea what I'd do, or how I'd earn a living. I didn't know then that it was completely sensible to reply that there was no way I could know. Not before I did it. I didn't have the vocabulary to tell him that in arts everyone figures it out as they go, there's no following somebody else's formula, that we carve our path from scratch. I didn't have the confidence to tell him that I LIKED the unknowing. That I wouldn't be undertaking that path had I known in advance how it would unfold. I didn't know that it was perfectly valid to say that not only his idea of a safe career path was a myth, but that myth wouldn't serve him either, or hardly anyone from my generation. At the end of the day, we are all figuring it out as we go, and no amount of planning or manufactured stability will save us from that responsibility.
Don't you want to get curious with me? Isn't it exciting that I'm doing something that nobody in our family has done before? Don't you wish that journey of discovery on me? Can you acknowledge that I'm capable of responding to each challenge that comes my way? Can you trust that ability? Can you dream with me? Can you support me in a way that boosts my self-confidence instead of taking from it?
Instead, I graduated in Theatre for sheer obstinacy. I won't have my life determined by somebody else. That much was clear since I remember being me. But the joy of acting was gone because it was not approved of by the people I loved the most. That was not the first time I learned that the people I love the most don't always have my best interest at heart, but it was a decisive one. I carried myself from subject to subject, from exam to exam in a state of absence. Truly, I was afraid of being where I was because someone (many people) had once said that what I was doing was not right, not okay, not "useful." Isn't it interesting how that shit goes deep? How other people's voices do come out to sabotage you from the inside, masqueraded as your own? The things that I loved were unsafe. I had internalized that shit in spite of my courage to stand alone.
From my experience now, I know that I'll feel fearful of the things that are the most meaningful to me, usually right before doing them. I will question them. In some cases, I'll want to give up before I even started. Right after putting the Morning Pages Circle out into the world, I felt like giving up. All of a sudden it felt ridiculous, all of it: the idea, the interface, the monetization of my skill. Then I thought of doing it for free as I have so often done in my life and that made even less sense. Then I considered not doing it at all and that felt even worse. Then I remembered that I had felt that same resistance before taking every single meaningful step in my life: before moving to Amsterdam, before approaching that guy, before backpacking solo, before starting the blog. No matter how many times I've dealt with high levels of action-anxiety, that angst you feel before taking any type of meaningful action. That un-ease keeps resurfacing before key moments in my life, and it'll be as intense and uncomfortable as it was before. Really, what changed was my acute awareness of it, and my willingness to go beyond. And the systematic trust. When you take the step off the cliff you must trust your good judgment. And you need to be decisive in the leap because hesitation makes everything more painful. The only way out is through. Seja o que Deus quiser, my people say.
To be back in Lisbon is getting in touch with so many parallel realities and parts of me it's confusing at times. The bravery and the chickening out. Past resentful Ana and confident Ana of the pink hair. The patterns of the past mingle with the new routines of the present. Lisbon seems to mirror those contradictions back at me, with its brand-new venues filled with oatmilk drinking people on the same streets where disheveled chain-smoking locals try to veer off of dog shit on their way to work. I'm a product of both those worlds, the Anjos roughness where my paternal grandparents came from and the oat latte sweetness, which my vegetarian-leaning maternal grandma would have loved had she lived in this era. While I got to rent my Lisbon home for the month via a friend at a friendlier local price, I'm also consuming things that many locals can't. Lattes, concerts, meals outside, thrifted clothing. I’m part of the personal freedom ideology, but what personal freedom do my fellow Portuguese have who earn less than 700 euros a month working 40 hours a week? Their life is my old life.
While my Amsterdam-based friends all decide to buy houses in Portugal, my local friends can't even dream of a steady paycheck. While I'm excited by all the newness in Lisbon I also see gentrification taking over entire neighborhoods, transforming them into the next hipster paradise. While foreigners happily squeak oh my god, everything's so cheeeap!… I get news that yet another friend got evicted from their place. These contradictions certainly add to my anxieties. I know this is happening in all capital cities around the world, but some governments are better at shielding their people from the effects of gentrification than others. Portugal is especially ill-prepared. Being back here means having to take a more active role in the community and having to deal with politics (because these things can only improve at a policy-making level.) The political climate is not easier to navigate than it was ten years ago when I left. Like in other countries, things are more polarized now. The far-right has now ample representation in the parliament (think Trump meets Wilders.) I'm still trying to find my footing in all this.
Back to personal freedoms: I got my finger tattoos yesterday and immediately decided I wanted more. The pain was not bothersome in the least. The artist was kind, reassuring, and took it as slow as I needed him to. He also kept asking for consent every step of the way (gotta love Queer people.) I was a bit self-aware the first days with pink hair, now it feels like it has always been a part of me. I smile at old ladies on windowsills with confidence again, I greet them bom dia, and they greet me back. A part of my immediate anxiety has subsided. The nervousness I was dealing with felt like this ancient fear of getting shunned by my tribe (I can't hide my hair or fingers.) Will my family still accept me, what will they think of me, am I bad, wrong, bizarre. Am I gonna die. Since I left Portugal, my life has been an exercise in letting myself get seen. The hair and the fingers seal the deal. Now I'm back and present in my body.
The other day I was on a call with my brother and his family. What-a-heck-is-that-hair, greeted my sister-in-law. I'm always full of surprises, I said, and I liked my own answer. I'm sure I’m repeating that to my 91 year-log-grandpa when he sees me at our very Catholic Easter gathering which turns out to be his birthday too, this year. Will he still love me, will he still accept me. The other day as I walked in a random Lisbon neighborhood I heard a woman sharing with another woman something about voting for the Portuguese party that goes by the name EnOUgh (you know, the fun Wilders meets Trump organization.) These people tend to express themselves in a permanent state of indignation - enough is enough vibes - and the women kept repeating that: vote for EnOUgh, vote for EnOUgh almost as a guerrilla motto. As I was turning the corner I looked back to see what type of person was expressing support for that type of political organization. Her eyes met mine. She was staring at me in the distance: yes, I'm visible now. Out of the blue one of my nieces woke me up from these recollections with a question. Auntie, how many books have you published? Now, that took me by surprise. My brother corrected her: it's articles. She said, yes, articles, I said many. I realized that my brother told my nieces that I'm a writer, which surprised me for some reason. But out of all the names I use to define what I do (content creator, cross-channel storyteller, copywriter, content wizard, multi-passionate creative,) writer is possibly the most simple and the most accurate term. He reminded me of something important that I want to act on now. The book. It's time. Am I ready to work on it. Am I ready to be part of this community again.
It's time, it's time, it's time.