Don’t let fear keep you tied up

My trip is over. It’s hard to return from travelling, shifting from spontaneous movement back into a more fixed routine. But it’s a treat to know how much I’ve been missed. Thank you followers for all your wonderful messages!


I set off at the beginning of March with a month return to New York; an unusual choice for someone who loves remote places, big countryside, quiet. But something had pulled me to the city. There was a desire to witness streets and buildings I had grown to know through cinema, and also the fact that my mother’s sister lives there.

I have seen Ruthe a handful of times, growing up. There she is, one Christmas when we lived on the farm, putting up my hair in bright clips she’d brought all the way from America. Suddenly, a fuss is being made. It turns out I have nits. Ruthe and my mother are flapping and talking in their wonderful Portuguese.

Some people say it’s an angry-sounding language, but to me it’s the crash and jingle of open expression. I stopped speaking Portuguese when I started school in the UK and began to learn English. This suited my mother because leaving Brazil had been heartbreaking: to only speak English in the home was another way to forget the country she’d left.

I have always seen Ruthe as the one person that can draw out my real mother. I love seeing them together. This is when I catch a glimpse of Sonia – the woman who grew up on Copacabana beach, who says what she thinks and loves to laugh.

Since my father retired from his overseas travelling, I’ve finally been able to discover the real him and, through that, the side to me, which until now has felt alone, without source. I wanted to see Ruthe again to try to understand the other side to me – my mother’s side: Sonia, the part she left in Brazil.


The wonderful thing about Ruthe is that although I’ve only seen her a handful of times, I love her from my whole body – not just my heart, but in all surrounding blood too. I think of her and feel every cell of oxygen in my veins reply, without condition.

It was the same for my mother when Ruthe first came to live with her and my grandparents. Mum was an only child and my grandmother warned Ruthe about her jealous nature. But the first thing my mother did when she saw Ruthe, was hand over her very best doll.

Sonia has never done anything like that, my grandmother told Ruthe.

New York gave me the chance to see how much Ruthe loves Mum. She forgives her everything in that, for her, Sonia has nothing to forgive. As Ruthe and I sit out on her porch in Queens, we giggle together about how Mum starts laughing, and then cannot stop, and then wets her pants a little, and then starts coughing. It’s the most hilarious display, but one that Ruthe has seen more than anyone else; only with Ruthe does my mother truly forget herself, and her worries, and laugh.


Ruthe was nine when she came to live with my grandparents. My mother was sixteen.

I ask Ruthe why Mum was different with her – I remember my mother’s stories of how she was always trying to read with her cousins, whining, asking her to come and play with them.

Go away, she would tell them. Stop bothering me and let me get on with my book!

But if Ruthe wanted something, Mum would drop everything. She taught Ruthe to read, put her through college. I love to hear the way Ruthe often says to me: oh my god, I owe Sonia everything!

Mum was a lawyer in Brazil, but when she came to England her degree meant nothing as it was based on the Napoleonic code. Then she fell pregnant and my father knew he had to find a home for them. He took a tenancy on a farm in Salisbury, and then he left for a project in Africa. He was away for two months. My mother hadn’t even got her UK driving license.

Ruthe came to visit us on the farm one year. My father was absent, of course. She told me that Mum had to go out and left her with my brother and I. We were upstairs playing. She was in the kitchen.

My god, Gabriela – the silence! she says, touching my arm. It was unbearable. I had to put the TV on. I don’t know how Sonia coped with it.

As for my brother and I that silence is something we’ve always known, something we love – but we didn’t grow up in Rio de Janeiro; we didn’t give up everything for fields of wheat, blowing in the wind.


Ruthe told me something about my grandfather one evening as we ate a meal in a Brazilian restaurant in Manhattan. Eurico was a man I never knew. Mum often tells me about the books and chocolates he used to bring her when he came home from work. He once danced with Eva Perón.

I asked Ruthe about when he died and she told me that he had become very afraid, of life almost, so nervous was he of dying. He used to be in his study while Ruthe and Mum were getting ready to go out, saying he was fine, and then suddenly he’d call Ruthe and say, please stay with me here – sit and read to me.


At times, I think I’ve felt what my grandfather did. A nervousness of something. For me, it doesn’t necessarily come with a foreboding of death, but I feel rigid when I’m in this state – as though I’m looking out at the world from my body, which has become a cage, keeping me held fast in a desperate attempt at safety. But counteracting this fear has been a desire to burst free, travel, perform on the stage. They don’t necessarily work that well together these two forces! In the beginning, one holds the other tight, and neither are very happy – but then the dam breaks.

This time, the water surged as I booked a flight to New York, thinking: I’ll start there and see where I end up.

As I write this, I smile at the places I did end up: on the subway, wondering why these seats aren’t taken until I sit down, realise the stink and watch the estuaries of piss, winding around my feet as the train snakes along the track. Then there was the beauty parlour! Me, with both legs in the air, naked from the waist down, having the best wax I’ve ever had from a gorgeous lady called Fernanda. Or, on a train for over thirty hours, crossing America while a man on his mobile behind me says – listen, you fired your gun, but it’s not like you actually killed anyone…


And, suddenly, I’m in a carpark in Buffalo, sitting in a hire car.

I’m humming to myself, this nervous, trilling tune because I know I have to drive – even though I only ever really cycle places, and normally in my own country. I’ve driven a car a few times this year, but I think the fact that I’m positioned on the left – hoping I can pick up how to use all the gadgets like headlights – is making me uneasy.

At some point, I just have to start the engine and go.

A little over an hour later, I’m watching the water crash down Niagara Falls as the sky begins to darken and snow falls gently. I am alone. The wind is icy and I can see the spray from the waterfall turning to slush in the air. At moments like this, I’m grateful that my fear of life cannot keep me tied up – that something greater pulls me out, draws me onwards. I have a bed for tonight, and tomorrow I’m going over the border into Canada where I’m going to drive until I hit Lake Huron. Like the thoughts of sitting with Ruthe, having my life opened up a little more, Huron County calls to me. This is Alice Munro territory. Her writing kept me going over the years I struggled to find my own voice, and now it’s time to see where her stories came from. I know Alice still lives in the area, close to where she grew up. I’ve read about her favourite restaurant in Goderich, the wonderful secondhand bookshop there. Who knows, perhaps I’ll run into her…


For now, though, it’s time to get back to work, and another year of my workshops. Currently, I’m busy with the students at City University, preparing for City Nights. The third Monday of each month they will be reading to agents at the Betsey Trotwood in Clerkenwell.

I am also running a 5 night residential writer’s workshop on 15th July with the gorgeous Anita Lewis, providing fresh, exciting food and an accepting space to explore creativity. Anita and I will be looking at how to guide your ideas from those first, messy feelings of inspiration to a tangible form that others will enjoy. We will be exploring creativity through movement, breath, food, conversation, laughter, silence, fun, rest and writing. Please feel free to email if you have any questions.

Have a look at my day workshops in Oxford, which are going to be a lot of fun this year. These include: sorry, but remind me why I’m following my breath, and it’s a writer’s life, don’t we know it!

My mentoring work with freelancers and writers continues, whilst I prepare for the Guided Retreat on the Masters programme at Oxford University where I will be teaching this year’s writers about public speaking.

I am also opening up a ‘library’ on my blog where, with help from a very accomplished colleague, you can browse ebooks. At the end of each month we’ll be discussing a new title, looking at what works with the writing, what doesn’t, and seeing what we can learn. It is part of my philosophy that a writer needs to read in order to learn to write, and also that the advice of a good editor is invaluable. Do please let me know if you are interested in having your ebook put under the microscope!


I’ve come back with new eyes, new feelings and a greater sense of my own history. The rest is up to Spring. Let’s see what grows in the coming weeks!

Worth checking out

A huge thanks to Laura’s Mess for nominating me for an award. As you know, I don’t quite follow the rules when it comes to these, but it always gives me a good opportunity to mention other lovely bloggers. This site is particularly gorgeous with it’s lush recipes and stunning photos.

Also have a look at the wonderful Nina – with words that flow like water. Her enthusiasm is unboundless and her blog a real pleasure – full of treats from super quotes to great short stories!

About gabrielablandy

Some history, a bit of fiction, with me in there somewhere.
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49 Responses to Don’t let fear keep you tied up

  1. Your posts are always a treat for me. I love the way your grandmother, and the childhood of your mother can stay alive so vividly in memories. A great read, full of atmosphere and detail

    • Thank you! I know what you mean about keeping things alive, which is why writing is something I celebrate for being a way to get the memories out of my head and into other people’s because they feel too special just to keep to myself!!

  2. Welcome back Gabs, I can feel your renewed energy from here – and it’s catching!

  3. It is indeed a pleasure to welcome you back to the fold. I have missed the feeling of being part of your life and your eloquent words running through my veins. I am sure you have enjoyed you break, though from the sounds of it, you will be one extremely busy young lady! Do take a moment to catch your breath amongst the flurry of jobs you are undertaking or you shall feel that you have never been away. Epub under the microscope – yes please. I so did laugh at your legs in the air with Fernanda doing ‘what she had to do’..oh and I am guilty of wetting pants a little and coughing too…there it’s out there! Welcome Home Gabs darling…welcome home xxxx

    • Don’t worry – catching my breath is what I make my time for. I’m very indulgent on that level! Thanks for such a lovely welcome. Strange, because it feels like I never left off – but in a good way: I’ve settled back into life at home and writing, but with a new skin. As for wetting one’s pants – I thought that’s what pants were there for…

  4. Welcome back, sounds like quite a trip!

    Your workshops and all of that malarkey sound really interesting.

    • Thank you, Vanessa! It’s good to be back. I’m very excited about the workshops – they’re going to be a lot of fun. It also means that I get to work with more writers who aren’t just doing MA programs. I’ve just had The New Writer publicising them, which is brilliant!

  5. We missed you Gabriela. Welcome back. Aunt Ruthe sounds wonderful. I look forward to more posts inspired by your recent travel as I feel we’re just scratching the surface there. And your ebook library! That should be very insightful.

  6. So good to have you back ! Your Aunt is so full of life. Her comment on the unbearable silence is something I can understand 🙂
    While you were away I started a book blog, The Greedy Reader( Hope I can keep at it 🙂

    • Yes, silence is something a lot of people struggle with. I think that’s one of the things that inspired my workshops, because when you learn to be comfortable in silence, you find so much more creative fuel!! I like the sound of your new blog. Do keep at it – I shall look forward to checking it out with a cup of tea. Thanks for popping by and giving me such a lovely welcome!

  7. How interesting and exciting, Gabriela! Wish I didn’t live on the other side of the world… 🙂

    • Thanks, Fairy! Yes, I have to say there are loads of my followers that I wish didn’t live so far away because it would be so fun to work with them. The plan is to eventually combine travelling and teaching, which would be my ideal – watch this space 😉

  8. lly1205 says:

    This was very well written! And those people like Ruthe whom you love no matter how little you see them – they’re really special


  9. Rosie says:

    Hey Missy! Missed you, hope all is well, lets have a catch up soon. xxxxx

  10. killkaties says:

    So happy to see your post today!
    To me, Portugese is not an angry-sounding language- I hear conversations where ideas are bouncing back and forth, full of energy. Of course, not speaking the language at all, I just smile and enjoy the energy of it.
    There is so much in your post to praise that I’m not going to do so. Your head would grow to such huge proportions that your body would give away under the strain and we wouldn’t want that to happen now, would we?
    I like your new eyes, by the way. Were they expensive?

    • Yes you are right – there is so much energy in Portuguese. Thanks for be so considerate to my head. I have to go to a meeting in London today, and it would have made travelling on the tube a little tricky. As for my eyes – if I count airfare, accommodation, food, car hire, then I guess there were a little expensive. But SO worth it!!

  11. I’m selfishly happy you’re back. I always love your use of language with its fluidity and grace…mixed together with “estuaries of piss” on the subway. Brill! : )

    • He he – thanks, Britt! I remember submitting a piece of work once and the editor talking about the simultaneous use of control and whimsy in my work, which I’ve always remembered. I think it sort of sums me up. Carry on with your selfish thoughts – they make me feel pleased with myself 😉

  12. Have missed your posts, but I’m happy I was nowhere near Buffalo while you familiarized yourself with the controls on the rental. 😉

    I worked with a young man of Chinese descent who grew up in Brazil, and so spoke fluent Portuguese. The first time I heard a woman speaking English with a Portuguese accent I was captivated, but for some reason his accent wasn’t nearly as enchanting.

    • This made me smile, Tim. As for the car – I learnt a good lesson when I was ‘rambling’ in Portugal a few years back with a hire car. It was an automatic and I was trying to start it, but nothing was happening. I was in a really remote spot, but luckily I saw someone coming, and even though I was nervous of speaking to them, I knew this might be my one chance for help for a few hours. I managed to tell them that I was having a problem with the car and they proceeded to show me that with an automatic the handbrake has to be on for the car to start. I almost fell into the same trap in Buffalo, but then I remembered.
      I can certainly understand why you thought a Chinese/Portuguese MALE accent was not as enchanting as a Portuguese lady speaking English!

  13. What a wonderful trip! Your post evokes the dream-like sense of moving from one seemingly unconnected experience to another that travelling, or looking back at snapshots from a trip, can bring. Also: Ruthe sounds like so much fun.

    • Lisa, that’s exactly it with travelling – especially if you don’t have a fixed itinerary – where one moment creates the next, and if you allow yourself the path becomes full of a sense of powerful serendipity, which I think is what I am addicted to and why I just like to ‘head off’. Ruthe is the best. I know that she’ll be blushing like mad with this post, as she is adorably modest too.

  14. Good to have you back Gabriela! Your trip sounded very invigorating. I’ve only been to NY once but would go back in a heartbeat, I’m impressed by your bravery to just head off and see where your journey takes you- I’m a bit of a control freak so I would struggle with the spontaneity but can see how liberating it must be.

    • Thanks, Helen. I know what you mean about being a control freak. I do like security, but something also makes me want to fight that. I don’t know why, I just have to trust that feeling, and head off, and try and deal with it, the best way I can!!

  15. gotasté says:

    Welcome back my friend! I can sense it is a fruitful trip for you. Great job! 🙂

    • Danny, it was really life changing. I think you would understand that – the power that one insight can give! Can’t wait to share more of my ideas with you 😉 Hope the cooking is going well. I had a mackerel salad for lunch. I’m trying to really eat healthy at the moment. So it was spinach and chard salad. With a miso, udo oil and lemon dressing, and broken up pieces of mackerel. I was going to put pumpkin seeds on but then I thought I would have a healthy oil overload so I didn’t. I felt very pious and also very satisfied as it was tasty and filling – rich! peace, my friend.

      • gotasté says:

        Your comment already sounds amazing my friend! And I love what you are’s all healthy oil and the best thing is you are able to taste the original flavours of the ingredients…can’t wait to hear more from you too 🙂

  16. Welcome back, and thanks for stopping by my blog. New York is a city of paradoxes, isn’t it? That’s part of what makes it both frustrating and fascinating. Glad you got to reconnect with family and experience it. Isn’t Niagra Falls beautiful? In spite of the tacky tourist stuff? The falls itself is truly a wonder.

    All best wishes.

    • What is strange about the tourist stuff at Niagara, is the fact that the Canadian side and the American side are so different. Lights and casinos look across this bursting water at parkland. It’s so fun to talk about these places with people who have been. I guess that’s why the internet is a good thing. I can sit here in England and write about my experience. And then have someone across the world go: oh yeah, I know what you mean. So, thank you – so pleased to read your comment 😉

  17. Mayumi-H says:

    I saw this post come up a few days ago, but I wanted to take the time to really read and absorb it.

    There’s so much of yourself in these words and little stories, Gabriela, I’m envious. 🙂 And excited, too, because stories created with such care and honesty as yours are always make me feel well-cared for in a way, myself. Like setting myself in the arms of a trusted relative or sitter, listening to them tell me stories I can envision when I close my eyes, and believe for their genuineness.

    What I enjoy so much about this little memoir of your journey is that it’s filled with such personal insight. The adventures of a courageous woman who doesn’t have to be on the run with a gun to make me feel a sense of newness and excitement about the world.

    It was great to read your perspective on my old stomping grounds (Buffalo/Niagara Falls, where I grew up, and New York City, where I lived for several years as an undergraduate), too! It’s also wonderful to know there are still places filled with magic around us: like Huron County…but also your own Oxford. Maybe it’s magic we have to make ourselves, but your devotion to learning and teaching and sharing is a kind of magic, I think.

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • Mayumi you angel!
      After your tweet I’ve been so touched that you were giving this post such consideration. And now this beautiful comment. It’s what you say about the feeling that you are in trusted arms. It is exactly what I want to do with my writing. I want to say, look, isn’t life beautiful. Isn’t it wonderful to not be afraid and live. The other thing I learnt when I was away is that magic is love, and we can love even when we are on our own. Love doesn’t actually depend on anyone else, but simply our love of life. Thank you truly for your thoughts. I feel truly happy that what I aim to do in life has reached someone. xx

  18. Letizia says:

    I love the relationship between Ruthe and your mother; you describe it so well. It’s so wonderful to read your poetic words once again; you are a born storyteller!

  19. Warm evocative writing. I loved reading this. Thanks for the trip.


  20. You have a starry gift. Miss Sparkles.


  21. @hell4heather says:

    I had to come over and check where you’d been. You’re right – I am jealous!
    Enjoyed this very much, thanks Gabriela 🙂

  22. Loved your story and the writing and the insights as usual. And i literally drooled at the list of all your workshops, and wished I was in England, and I would be there like a shot…
    Looking forward to the pleasure of your next post

    • Aw, Valerie, made me giggle at the thought of you drooling. Lovely to know that my work resonates. I hope to be a bit more international with my talks etc in the future, so who knows… New Zealand perhaps…

  23. Glad you’re back Gabriela, I’ve missed your posts. This one was full of all kinds of richness, from your family memories and reminding me of my own trip to New York. Your experiences certainly rewarded you for breaking through your fear and it sounds as though you’ve come back full of plans and ideas for the future, good luck!

  24. Liana says:

    Great read…I could so see you. 🙂 And Lake Huron is also MY country, so I was delighted to track your thoughts across my neck of the woods. What I wouldn’t give to make it to your writer’s workshops this summer/anytime. big cyberhug….:)

  25. laurasmess says:

    I am ridiculously late in replying to this post but I just wanted to say thanks for the mention… though I didn’t expect it at all! I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you as a blogging sister and as an inspirational writer 🙂 This post is no different… warm, honest and evocative. Descriptive to the point where I actually feel like I’m there. Glad that you’re back but hoping that you’ve settled in okay. Have been thinking of you x

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