36 Days in Italy–The Feeling Part

2015-06-28 11.05.48We are drawn to things in life without explanation.

But my trip to Italy was rational, not emotional. I had a leftover one-way ticket from a prior flight that I felt like I should use. Why not? I hadn’t been to Florence or Venice in over 20 years. I was a college kid last time I visited, so it would be interesting to see these two cities with new eyes. (Or older ones, I should say…)

I booked my first 4 nights and the rest, I would wing. I’m always anxious before a big trip, and this was no different. The solo travel is both freeing and wearing. I’d be working part-time, so there was that. But would I feel isolated? Would I feel safe? Would it be too long, too short? Was it right to put my life on hold?

There is no right or wrong in anything, only different.

And 36 days of wandering around northern Italy was just life. I had my good days, and my bad days and every shade of emotion in between. After the first two weeks, I was tired and wanted to go home. After the second two weeks, I was scrambling to see if I could stay longer. You can put yourself in a new place, a new situation, a new time zone, even. And, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I have a pendant I wear often with this saying. I find it so innocently true. I travel because I’m drawn to it. It’s not an “adventure” as people who sort of know me like to say. It’s just who I am. My life is just different from theirs. They have families. I have places. Maybe because I find places more honest, more reliable than people. Warmer, more interesting and more soothing to surround myself with. Is that sad? Or just different.2015-06-24 06.33.57

36 Days in Italy was both a lot and too little.

I put myself in an in-between state–not really on vacation, not really living–a little microcosm of the real me. Always in motion, aiming to get there with no real concept of where “there” is. Untethered. Like usual. Because that’s me–the life I was born into, the story that was written, the one that I recite by heart like a Greek tragedy. My fate is to wander until I find my way home. The joke is. I’ll never have one. And the soonest I can accept the punchline, maybe I’ll actually have a laugh.

I’ve always said the great thing about travel is

that it shows you how quickly possibilities can become reality. You can live another life. Step off a plane, and there you are in a whole new set of routines. Or anti-routines. Either way, you’ve flipped a switch and changed your life channel. Temporarily, if you wish. This trip could’ve been 36 Days in Westport or Seattle or South of France. The scenery didn’t matter. I spent my time there like I do here–gravitating to the quiet, relishing nature, having just enough company to keep me sane and seeing in the reflections of others what it means to be alone. “Are you staying alone?” “Table for one?” “Are you here by yourself?” Yes. Yes. Yes. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t always so pronounced. But this outside observation punctuated my time just enough that I started to wonder just how alien is it to be on one’s own?

Italy is a country centered around the family.

Grown men staying adoringly close to Mamma. Brothers and sisters and uncles and cousins living just down the street, working in the same family business, sitting around the same long farm table at the end of a workday. In Italy, you are your family. Your identity, your future, your way of life is forever (and proudly) tied to family. It’s very old-world traditional in that regard. And as I wandered around, an adult orphan, I thought to myself, ” We are drawn to things in life without explanation.” At least, it’s not always apparent.2015-05-31 18.13.06

Day 29: Don’t underestimate the middle.

Everything is in the middle.

The first week I spent slowly withdrawing. This last week I spent scrambling to stay. When I look at it that way, that makes the time in between sadly emptier or less full–to put a wee more positive spin on it.

We spend a lot of our lives in the middle, don’t we? The in-between. That space before a decision. The time looking. The time adjusting. The time getting to and fro or just circling. Like Pema Chodron said, “we are always in process.”

Though we move from moment to moment, I find it hard not to bookend time. To mark the beginnings and endings. To snag momentos and mental snapshots of what will never be again. I feel a little somber wrapping up my time here. Maybe because this me time was really about putting on training wheels. The middle ground before the change I seek that’s altogether new.

The middle is where momentum builds. Where the pendulum dips before the next rise. The valley between peaks where all points of view hold promise. Where potential pools… Who knows where I’m going next. I’m happy to be in motion. Re-fueled and in a higher gear.

Day 28: Until we me time again…

It’s going to be a strange re-integration into my old hood. I might start a 30 days of retox blog next. I joke, but there’s a part of me that knows my re-entry might have a bumpy landing. Because I don’t want to be there. I want to stay here or pick up and move on all together. Someplace else where I can move forward, not settle back in.

If anything, my time away has taught me to shake the anxiety of not knowing what’s next. I’ve been here hanging in limbo space without a plan, without anything pushing or pulling me in any direction. I’m exploring possibilities–with learned patience. The kind you cultivate in a place with few people, little traffic and nothing that would qualify as noise.

How do I preserve my me-time mojo back in the hustle and bustle of the life I left on a shelf? I had a taste of that vibe the other day driving back to show my place to potential sublettors. I got riled by the mess my last tenant left, by the faucet that stopped functioning, by the lunch with the Negative Nelly. I didn’t want to be there.

The good news is, I shrugged it off fairly quickly. It came as those those feelings do. I felt them as I should. And then released them into the atmosphere like unwanted imaginary balloons.

All I can tell you is this works. If you have any hesitation about taking a retreat, a sabbatical, whatever you call it–don’t wait. I wish I could keep it going. I’d be thrilled to stay in the quiet Farmcoast another month. That’s probably all the stillness that’s left in it before the summer-house crowd returns. I could stay if the universe met my wishes, but it’s looking like I won’t get my way this time. It’s really disappointing. But I tell myself, it’s time to get ready for the next unknown chapter.

I hate the word ready. It doesn’t exist. It’s one of those fleeting concepts that people feel too much pressure to achieve–like happiness. It’s real then it’s not. It’s present, then it vanishes. It exists in momentary flashes and by the time you jump on it, it’s gone. Until it isn’t. That’s what I think about readiness.

You take it as it comes in life. The waves, the swells, the trickles, the nothings. The hellos, goodbyes, see you soons and want to see you soon but likely never wills. Those are particularly poignant.

It snowed last night and coated my view with same (yet thinner) blanket of white that sat outside my window sill when I first arrived. I took it in–like on day one–only my ahh was one of familiar comfort, not the breath of freshness it was then. Still, it’s awesome. And I want to bottle it up and put it on my shelf at home so I can take a whiff when the wind isn’t blowing my way.

But I can’t. And this time will fade just like time always does. And when the memory falls too far behind. It’ll be time to come back again. Not to Westport or the Farmcoast, necessarily. But to this thinking-doing-feeling-learning-letting go gray space…the place where possibilities dwell.

Day 24: Same as I ever was.

The “un-plan” for my 30 days of me time was to carve out space to do the things I’ve neglected for too long. Turns out I filled my time with the familiar, only with more freedom. Isn’t that interesting? Finding your lost love and discovering it’s the same as it always was. Only you were different.

Screen shot 2015-03-26 at 12.54.27 PMI’ve been writing professionally (in advertising and promotions) for umpteen years (maybe even 20 but at some point you have to stop counting.) Though I still get a charge out of the process, like everything, it can get rote.  So I took this break to teach myself that I could take what I loved, but grown weary of, and pivot. I wanted to see if a time-out could help me refresh and re-direct new energy into something more fulfilling. I’ve been thinking about ways to take my passion and skills to different outlets–and writing this silly blog has been a tiny part of my test.

The result? Same as it ever was. It’s a love-hate relationship. This, always-on-thought-to-paper process. But I’m lollygagging in the love section. What’s different is I’m not doing this on the clock, for a commercial brand or for my résumé. I like the craft. I like the performance without the spotlight. I like the kneading and rolling and shaping. Continue reading

Day 9: Passion. Possibilities. Ping!

2015-03-10 09.37.19This change of scenery has done me good. I’m happy as a clam–or quahog–out here. It took me a week to shake off the city jitters–and the WTF-am-I-doing jitters–but I think I’m settled in now. For now.

Day 9 was filled with lotsa loves. Yoga, a walk on the beach, wine and potato chips (best combo ever), some reading, some guilty pleasure House of Cards and setting up my paints to start a triptych project–today, maybe?

Dwell in Possibility - Emily Dickinon
I dwell in possibility. –Emily Dickinson

What makes me happy right now is that I see the possibilities. As a lifelong traveler, I’ve always said that what I love about crossing time zones is that you can experience how your life can change instantly–in a good way. There’s the life you flew away from and the life you just stepped into. And though it’s temporary–it’s happening, just like that. Kind of goes back to what Buddhists say about accepting that nothing is permanent. When you realize that, life’s big decisions are more manageable. (I realize that this is a very big train of thought.) Being here has shown me that my little pie-in-the-sky dream about living in the country in a converted barn with a 9-to-5 job and a box of paints and stack of books keep me company is not only doable, it’s easy and could be way cool. Add in a love and a shih tzu (which could be one in the same, says the cynical online dater in me) and voilà.

To get how much of a leap that’d be for me, you have to understand that I’m a driven career woman who has always, always been passionate about what I do for work. But now I’m thinking less about the job title and more about a new  40+-hour routine that taps into a giddy, child-like impatience to get my day on. Got me?

There’s a chapter in the Pema Chodron book I’m reading on why passion is a poison. (What?!) It’s about how your desires can get in the way of seeing clearly because you’re fixated on the thing you’re trying to get rather than staying in the moment and appreciating the now. This is where it falls apart for me… Shreds. Crinkles. Do not buy.

Passion is what makes you come alive. How could you live any other way?

Day 7: Moving into Me-town.

Florence, Tanzania and Bermuda were on the short list. But I chose to take my sabbatical in a small coastal town only an hour and a half’s drive from home.

It felt right. It felt manageable and more soothing than running around with maps and tickets and crossing time zones. I wanted to be in a restful place without a lot of outside stimulus so that I could create my own–inside myself without any format or schedule except what comes naturally by my internal tempo.

2015-03-06 17.31.41My rental home is cozy and filled with light. A wall of windows overlooks a snow blanketed balcony which, in turn, overlooks a short snowshoeable yard and narrow wooden dock that juts out into the frozen river. I look out at the view and it beckons me. The ice locking in so much potential. It will eventually flow. It will eventually release its energy. It will come back to life, likely around the same time I pack up to leave. It’s my own built-in private metaphor.

Private because I’m here on my own. But also because no one else I know really gets it. This is not about lucky me and winter vacation. In fact, it is about unlucky me and my decision to move in a new direction. It’s a deliberate, pensive choice not a frivolous escape. And because of what it looks like on the outside, I realized, I can’t share this. Nor do I really want to. Soon enough, I’ll be back in a familiar place wishing I could hit pause again.

Week 1 was hard for me to fully untether. But I’m mostly out the door now. Let’s settle into Selfishville. Population 1.

I have come to believ that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.