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

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The Dessert-first Life

I’m working with a new client in online education and learned this new term called flipped classroom–one that’s more engaged and more active in learning where the students own the experience, not necessarily the teacher.

I started to think, what about the flipped life as a whole? The 40-hour work week devoted to things we love, not have to do to get by. So it’s neither live to work nor work to live… it’s play for work. What if turning our lives around is literally about flipping the system? Dessert first…

This is my quest and I’m learning, it’s possible. I’m spending the next month in Italy–mostly in small towns and near lakes and mountains. I’m working 20 to 30 hours a week while I’m there but writing from la terrasse under the Tuscan sun. Fortunately, I have a client where working remotely is doable. I know this isn’t the case for other lines of work. But still, if I weren’t a writer, why wouldn’t I change my career path to fit how I want to fill my days? Why wouldn’t you? This. Is. Your. Life.

Why do we put off the things we want to do on the weekend to motivate ourselves to get through the week? What is the logic in trudging through five days to get to a two-day break, one of which is half spent preparing to re-trudge? What is this fence we put up around Saturdays and Sundays–premium time that we have to work our way up to week after week? It’s crazy. If you really analyze the norm–the norm does not set us up for happiness, for health nor for success. Who wants to trudge their way through life for small spurts of relaxation and joy?

Maybe some of us need that juxtaposition of boring and blah blah blah to fully appreciate the high points. I get the concept of ying and yang but even ying and yang is a balanced split and five out of seven days (workweek vs. weekend) is definitely weighted the wrong way.

I’m drawing the line for myself. And I’m rebalancing the scales.

I like the idea of turning things physically around. Playing all day and working at night to match my client time zone. Living in rural places but staying connected to a digital megalopolis. I’m changing my trajectory for now. Or maybe forever, who knows.

Some day I might love to trade the flight to the mountains for a front porch facing a mountain view, a short walk to the ocean or a lake and nowhere to go but the front yard. Hmm. There is an irony in traveling so far away to get closer to the idea of what I’d some day call home.

That’s what discovery is all about–to continue to venture out until you find what pulls you in. The more you seek, the more you see what fits you. And that experience alone is the sweet life.

Who’s with me?

 

 

 

 

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 25: Lucky me time.

When I tell people about what I’ve been up to in my 30 days of me time, I get things like, “Wow, aren’t you lucky.” If this all happened by chance, my luck is remarkably predictable as this is my third career break in ten years. I went to Paris in 2005, to Argentina in 2010 and, now, the faraway and most exotic Wesport, Massachusetts. (Apparently my luck arrives on a renewable five year plan.)

lucky pennyAm I lucky? To step outside of your world where the only consequence is positive is lucky, I suppose. It’s easy to judge as some selfish luxury, but really, there’s a lot of practicality to sabbaticals. And to some folks, breaks are the things that move them forward.

Stefan Sagmeister, a world renowned designer, gives a great TED talk on the Power of Time Off. It’s about how he rejuvenates by taking year-long sabbaticals every seven years. His rationale? Here’s an excerpt from his talk:

Right now we spend about the first 25 years of our lives learning, then there is another 40 years that’s really reserved for working. And then tacked on at the end of it are about 15 years for retirement. And I thought it might be helpful to basically cut off five of those retirement years and intersperse them in between those working years. (Applause) That’s clearly enjoyable for myself. But probably even more important is that the work that comes out of these years flows back into the company and into society at large, rather than just benefiting a grandchild or two.

Sagmeister goes on to talk about how time off re-ignites his work. He owns a wildly successful New York design firm with clients like the Rolling Stones, HBO and the Guggenheim. So it’s easy to see how someone with his clout can shut down for a year and pick right back up again. What about the rest of us?

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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 20: Do you like the sound of your sounding board?

My older sister was in town visiting me this weekend and apart from driving endlessly around windy back roads, we filled the miles with chit chat about anything and everything.

Screen shot 2015-03-23 at 12.59.06 AMShe and I couldn’t be more different. She married her high school sweetheart (the last of the dying breed she used to say.) Had two kids. And recently got divorced. She’s had three or four jobs in her life to my ten or eleven. She’s four years older. She’d be the first to say she’s risk averse. But, like me, she’s a do-it-yourselfer, independent and holds her own in anything she does.

I, on the other hand, am still single at 41. No kids. Decompressing from my date-a-thon gone wrong. And taking my third career break. I’ll take as many risks as I can that won’t require me to talk to a lawyer. I’ll go for broke in the name of love, passion or a really good chocolate chip cookie. We’re both strong, confident and a wee bit feisty, but she is definitely ruled by reason where I follow all those sticky, gooey feelings.

So I appreciate her different perspective, I do. I also find myself defensive and unable to answer her questions without a rise in my you-don’t-get-me tone. As emotional as I can be when it comes to decision making, I also have a fairly decent head on my shoulders. I consider the pitfalls, the worse case scenarios and practical things like how long my savings will support my me-time time out. I’m both thinking and feeling. Take that, Myers-Briggs.

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Day 17: The Dating Dilemma–Meeting a Boy in the Boonies

I absolutely love it out here. I’m considering staying another month longer if I can. The trouble is, as a single gal, the nightlife in Farmcoast consists of cotton tail deer crossings and wind chatting up evergreens by my windows. Lovely to see and hear but nothing to write WordPress about.

So. What’s a girl to do. I would trade me-time for us-time if I could find the right match, but it’s becoming an impossible chore. Where I live year round, though the square is teeming with restaurants and bars, though I’m at the rock gym surrounded by testosterone, though I’m traveling by subway and inadvertently shoved up against random strangers–it is just too damn hard to meet someone. Not to sound pessimistic, because I am the biggest believer in possibilities. But the dating game is a little like going to the mall with a fresh paycheck, finding the cutest this and that, standing in line for the dressing room, trying on/taking off, trying on/taking-off–and then walking out empty-handed because none of it fit. Maybe that’s a bad analogy because I hate shopping. Or maybe it’s the right one. Because I hate shopping. Continue reading