Natasha M. Freeman on writing '#ImStaying: Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds'

06 September 2020 - 00:00 By NATASHA M. FREEMAN

Published in the Sunday Times (06/09/2020)

I walk in the world seeing stories. Listening to others through their words, through their body language, and so often through the things that are never actually spoken. Intention, as nuance, is as powerful as a spoken word. Our stories - collective and individual - exhibit in contrasts of subtleties: gentle exchanges, compassion, anger, protest, and action that can unify or divide us. We are the waxing and waning of our collective and personal growth, on the walk through human history.

For me, a book about the #ImStaying movement - over a million South Africans struggling their way towards a collective identity in post-colonial, post-apartheid SA, gathered in a space of kindness and storytelling - wouldn't be about immigration, as the hashtag name of the group was often misinterpreted, but would explore the essence at the heart of our humanity, and what was drawing people to the page in the first place.

Over a million South Africans in a period of a few months liked the Facebook page, which is still growing. The #ImStaying movement is the inspirational true story of everyday citizens sharing their lives between politics, statistics, and between the psychological body language of a country growing out of its past.

There was little that was simple about conceiving and writing this book in just over four months. The night of the death of my beautiful mother-in-law, I signed the contract to do so, juggling parenting, school, and the arrival of a global pandemic that would lock down the world. But when we are driven to tell a story that is a piece of the greater human tapestry, the story itself becomes a balm. The grace of a moment fuels each morning.

What I learnt about myself as a writer is that notes truly can be written anywhere, at any time, and prove useful - and that I am very good at scrawling: on grocery store receipts, pieces of foraged paper, chalkboards, the back of my hand at a stop light.

As an author needing to add a chapter about lockdown during lockdown with no space to escape, with homeschooling, and with no freedom to run to sort through thoughts or expel frustrations, I realised a good cry can help. Or burpees. Star jumps, maybe not so much. I learnt there is no such thing as balance, there is only coping and survival.

I learnt and relearned that in each other we find the brightness of life, shining through the cracks - the stories shared on the #ImStaying page are a kindness unfolding. There, the unconditional sense of family became a space of relief and healing. The very thing that was bringing South Africans together was helping me to walk too, through the experience of writing about it.

#I'm Staying: Good Thoughts. Good Words. Good Deeds, by Natasha M Freeman, is published by Penguin, R190