Some days are tough, aren't they? Tough for no apparent reason sometimes and other times, tough for reasons that are too painful to acknowledge. There are days I attempt to bury those reasons deep inside — my insecurities, the weight of so many responsibilities on my weary shoulders, the money that's always tight and the plans that often have to be recalibrated because of that. We still have our dreams, though, and we hold on to them tightly and closely. Because dreams are possible, as impossible as they may seem as we're having them. Whenever I doubt that, I remind myself that I left my home country carrying a single suitcase and a dream, and that my dream became reality.
Art by Jia Sung, for Guernica Magazine
The other day, I was listening to Anna Flores, a child of undocumented immigrants who calls herself lucky to be from the “right” side of the border, the side that bestows automatic citizenship upon those who are born there — here — in these United States. Anna is a poet and we were both speakers at the Desert Nights, Rising Stars conference at the Virginia C. Piper Center for Creative Writing in Tempe, Arizona. Anna told me that she has three brothers who were born on the other side of the border, the “wrong” side, and that they walked across the desert to get to Arizona, but then they were deported, returned to where they’d come from even though it is here that they believe they belong.
Antelope Canyon by Fernanda Santos
Something changed on a bitterly cold evening in suburban Boston, two days before this past Christmas, at the home of a friend that was his and became mine.
I am an immigrant.
I moved to the United States at the age of 25.
English is not my native language.
But I made a career writing in English and wrote for 12 years for The New York Times. The New York F-ing Times.
I still write.
Do you believe in coincidences? I don't, but I believe in magic. And there is magic in cell phone numbers. I hope you'll read through the end to find out what I mean
There are very few moments when I wished I’d disappear, when my hope was that I’d shrink and shrink and shrink and get to be so small that no one would see me. But they happen. Tonight, it happened.
I can feel again. I know it because of the tightness in my chest and the weight I’ve carried on my back, heavier than ever before. I know it because I missed him more this Thanksgiving than I did last year. Looking back, I know it’s because grief had anesthetized me last year, locked my broken heart in a box so that all the pieces would be kept close together in one place, ready to be reassembled someday.
One year. I’ve made it. Flora and I have made it. We have survived our first year without Mike.
Together, we’ve managed to plod through the muck, gulp for air and dive under these stormy waters we’ve sailed, holding our breath, and holding it, as we wait for the storm to subside, wait for the whirlpool to stop spinning. We’re still out there, swimming. We have each other as lifesaver.
A friend of mine wrote to me the other day, asking me about how I write. He wanted to know how I was able to find out which stories make a book, and which stories are better told as magazine or newspaper articles. "When have you reported enough to figure that out," he asked, "and how much of it emerges in the writing?" It's a question I often hear at book signings; besides their interest in the story of my book, The Fire Line, readers also want to know how I found out that it was a story worth telling in a book.
This spring, I taught a seminar in short-form narrative at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. Friends of mine warned me about the challenges of teaching, telling me to focus on the good students — because, invariably, there would be students who would be uninterested, or who just wouldn’t care. They were wrong. Maybe I was lucky; my thirteen students were engaged and engaging. They were creative in the topics they selected for their writing assignments and perceptive in the details they noticed and reported. They were eager to learn and they challenged me every step of the way, in a good way. With the semester behind us, I believe that I learned from them as much as they learned from me.
WHY – AND HOW – I WRITE
The key to writing a good story is knowing what you don’t know and finding the right people and documents to help you learn it. You have a fundamental question that leads to a bunch of other questions that need to be answered so that your fundamental question makes sense. This is how I write.
Follow along with Fernanda and get occasional stories.