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

36 Days in Italy–The Thinking Part

2015-07-05 08.50.15We Live to Tell

If a woman goes to Italy for 36 days and no one is around to see it, did it really happen?

Maybe that’s why I Instagrammed my solo trip through Italy…to ensure it’s existence. Each photo, a footprint that left traces of my path. I even Facebooked little anecdotes when I was in the mood. (Yes, Instagram and Facebook are also verbs.) And as I wandered and snapped pictures, alternating from my iPhone and my pocket camera, I wrote silly captions in my head. Documenting. Framing. Storytelling.

As I took my passeggiata day, in the vein of an Italian evening stroll, processing my trip and what it felt like to be back, I came to the conclusion that life is lived for stories. If all of us are here for human connection, that moment only happens when a storyline begins. If language is the foundation of culture, how we live is ultimately defined by what we say. In some ways, we are what we say we are–our stories are how we make meaning for ourselves.

“Dear Diary, You’re dead.”

2015-06-04 14.35.55I brought one of many travel journals with me. I think I opened it and wrote one entry somewhere in the first two weeks of my travels. The thing is, I cannot write for myself anymore. Our world–big and small–lives another life online. Privacy is dead. The knowledge that I am writing for an audience, even if my audience is anonymous and isn’t physically present, changes how I talk to my inner self. Hilarious or tragic? We are–any one of us who has a social media account at all–accustomed to having a 24/7 audience whether we call them followers or friends or connections. Even the definition of a selfie is about putting oneself on stage.

Say What You Want to Mean, Meaning from What You Said

And so I’ve come back to this blog to share my travels. And I asked myself why. As I asked myself weeks ago why is that I’m spending precious moments of my trip posting inane comments about this and that on Facebook. To tell a story, to share a thought, to communicate–is to create meaning, structure and purpose. (I also just like to write–both for and not for a paycheck.) We put words to what we want to matter. We shade experiences with emotion through language. Mine are words and Instagram pictures. Yours might be music and tweets. Videos (or Vines) and postcards or Pinterest pins. And in this case, the message is the meaning.

Making Moments into Memories

I also remind myself over and over that everything in life is fleeting. And travel teaches you that sad lesson each time you return from a trip. But our photos and posts and stories help us hold on to moments a little longer. Cementing memories. Producing proof. Saving little pieces of ourselves to share over and over again.

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 16: Are we having fun yet?

Am I? Why, yes, I am.Screen shot 2015-03-17 at 7.48.53 PM

In fact, I’ve expanded my definition of fun.

For example, (I can’t believe I’m going to admit this) talking to myself while I’m running makes me laugh. There’s no one around me–no need to be self-conscious. So I can be the crazy lady alone in the country who has conversations with her invisible blog audience, out loud while running in the middle of the road against non-existent traffic.

I stay up late, get up early(-ish), burn the candle at both ends but rarely feel tired. It’s my time. I like the idea of staying up just to play back-to-back word games on my iPhone. There is nothing pressing about tomorrow. But claiming the highest score in Scramble? Very urgent.

Seeing the sky in all of her moods–changing in color, light, cloud formations–is pretty darn enjoyable. Sure, I notice it in the city but out here, I have front row, center seats all the time. And I don’t have to sneak in my snacks. I get wowed by the window sill with dinner and a glass of wine. The repertoire is always worth it. And the encores keep comin’.

What else amuses me? Seeing how long I can make random meals out of one trip to the grocery store. You know what they say about a country mile. Since it’s a chore to go to the market, I’ve been maximizing my ingredients. I am the Iron Chef of eggs and English muffins. Pasta three ways? No problem. Melted cheese, sprinkled cheese, sliced or grated… (Hey, how you serve it makes the difference between Italian or Mexican.) Pot roast for dinner can be hashed for breakfast. Liquid lunch? Why not.

Matter of fact, I’ve discovered me-time Happy Hour, Monday night wine and cheese and post-run pear cider. There’s never a line at the door and the tab is always open.

No, no, no. Get that she’s-drinking-alone-in-the-middle-of-nowhere image out of your head. I am under a way different kind of influence. (But it is Saint Patrick’s Day today, so it’s possible that might change.)

Screen shot 2015-03-17 at 7.46.43 PMI think 30 days of me-time does call for a toast. To taking time off–except it’s not even really time “off”. I’ve been more “on” the last two weeks, actually. How ’bout I raise a glass to the headstrong girl inside me who said, F-it. The one who quietly stood up in the middle of a 5:00 meeting on a Wednesday and decided there was someplace more fun she should be.

Cheers to that.