Pursuing the expatriate life in Italy–“Vagabond Heart”–thank you, Rod Stewart

It’s 12:30 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I’m not sure why. I didn’t have any espresso. I did eat an éclair dripping with chocolate from my favorite café. Perhaps that was it. But that was hours ago.

As usually happens when I can’t sleep, my mind started working overtime. Suddenly I felt the need to write. I got my computer and brought it back to bed. All the better to fall into slumber if my writing bores me to death.

I started evaluating this move to Italy. Something I’ve done a number of times. I suppose I have to make sense of it in my mind. When one looks at this decision, it could plausibly be seen as nonsense. After all, I quit my job in 2013 to promote a book that had little chance of succeeding. And right before I was to return to the world of nine to five after my self-imposed one year time limit, my brother offered me this apartment in Italy for free.

So I gave myself another one-year time limit to make this “experiment” work. The odds are stacked against me, I know. And if I have to return to Oregon after a year, I will have missed out on two years’ worth of income and Social Security contributions.

Yet, with each decision, I had no doubts. I pulled a Nike and “just did it”. I still really don’t have doubts. I just have questions.

Why, at the age of fifty-four did I take the plunge to promote a book and pursue my writing? Why, did I decide to come to Italy? Was it truly to embrace my heritage and be closer to my family? I’m not spending that much time with them. Part of the reason is that I don’t have personal transportation yet. I was also getting settled, and the holidays were upon us.

What is it that is propelling me to go on this journey? This expedition? This flight of fantasy? Is it more the latter than anything?

Where did I get this desire to suddenly explore and travel? My biological family traveled quite a bit. When I first met them I marveled at how often they had traveled overseas and the many different and exotic locales they had visited. It opened up vistas for me. Yet I didn’t really consider travel until I came to Italy in 1997 for the first time to meet my extended family.

But there is a difference between a desire to travel and a desire to chuck it all. Before this “flight of fantasy” I went on a binge of discarding things, things I didn’t expect to discard. Mementoes that had always meant so much to me. Things from my past that I had clung to as if to remind myself that I existed. I did it willingly with no sense of trepidation or melancholy. And I don’t miss these items.

It was as though I was preparing myself for this journey without realizing it. Or was Someone else preparing me?

I’m now living in a one-bedroom apartment in a seaside resort in Italy. Yes, I’m ten minutes from the beach. Yes, the weather in January has been gloriously sunny and sixty degrees. Yes, I’m swooning over the food and everything incredible about Italy. But I’m amazed at how I’ve changed.

I don’t want to go back to an 1800 square foot house where only one third of the space was used. I’m not interested in yard work—mowing and edging, trimming and weeding. I don’t want to empty gutters, clean the roof, and replace the furnace vents. I’m tired of Weed n’ Feed, Miracle Grow and Round Up. I don’t have the time and the energy. And I’ve lost the interest.

I never thought I would turn out like this. Of course, nothing says I will remain this way. But I always assumed I would be conventional. When I got out of high school, I assumed I would do like many in my family and most families—go to college, graduate, get a job, get married, buy a home, have kids, have grandkids and die. Of course, I knew that I’d never have kids since I was gay and I knew I’d never get married, although I still had that on my list (and it terrified me).

Then I met my family and a world of possibilities opened up. When it comes down to it, I don’t think I’ve ever been that conventional. I wore Elton John-style platform shoes in a high school in a rural farming town. I always lived for today and never planned for tomorrow. I do what looks interesting or what I want and, while I do care what people think, in a way I don’t. I guess I care about the opinions of those I love. But screw everyone else.

And even then, I still do what I want. My posting from a few days ago was hardly conventional. Railing against a powerful institution like the Church is not something most people do. Everyone will state emphatically that I have a mouth—and I use it. Sometimes to my detriment, sometimes for good. But I’d rather risk stepping on some toes than say nothing at all.

So I’ve dumped the lifestyle of acquisition and accumulation and adopted one where I’m living on a shoestring. And I’m so much happier. I feel like God has been harping on me, slapping me around, doing the Macarena on my heart to get me to listen. I wanted the desires of my heart but didn’t know what they were. And I think I’m slowly getting them. Was I overcompensating with materialism? Was I one of those “keeping up with the Joneses” types?

It’s funny. I have so much more time to myself now and I’m trying to figure out what to do with it. I start my Italian tutoring next week. Two times a week for now. I’ve joined a health club. I’ve started hitting the towns around here to take photos. I’ve started planning my trips to Ukraine and Poland for the next book. Yet I still have lots of time.

So I wait. We’re supposed to “wait on the Lord”. I’m not forcing anything. I just want to “be”. I’m tired of schedules, appointments, meetings, reports, luncheons, seminars etc. But it feels so weird to just “be”.

I don’t know why I’m on this particular path. Did I choose it? Did it choose me? Am I a little too obsessed with this adoption stuff? Or do I need to do this? And if I need to do this, is it for me or for someone else?

I’ve had a number of people tell me how much I inspire them, either to write a book, pursue their dream or step out of a comfort zone. That means more than silver and gold to me. Will anyone make the jump? Maybe someone will and that person will change the world and I will have made a difference by proxy.

I still, though, wonder why I am on this trek. Why don’t I see anyone else on it? Why am I cursed (blessed?) with the desire for this journey of self-discovery? Why can’t I be satisfied with the status quo? Wouldn’t it be easier to remain in Oregon and follow conventionality? What’s wrong with a house in the suburbs, a nine to five job and conventional behavior? I had it before.

And where will this lead? I said earlier that I’ve never been that conventional. Yet, I’ve always been somewhat conservative. I did high tail it to Southern California after graduation from Oregon State with nothing more than a suitcase, electric typewriter and three hundred dollars. I was driving a Chevy Chevette and I had no promise of a job.

But I’ve still been very cautious for much of my life. I’ve always been afraid to really step out and do something drastic. Quitting work to pursue a dream in Europe qualifies as drastic in my book.

Yet I’m not frightened. I feel propelled. There’s something intoxicating about the concept of “possibility”. The possibility of the unknown. I find it oddly stimulating. In the past, I always wanted structure and a foundation.

Now I’m flying without a net. With no guarantees. But then, how many guarantees do we have in life? It’s just me out here. I will succeed on my own or I will fail on my own. But even if I fail, haven’t I really succeeded?

I get bored easily. I think that’s one of the reasons I get so excited about what might happen. And even if there’s a day when I am bored, I can hope a bus or a train and visit a town that’s 2000 years old. I’m pricing flights to different locales because I don’t want my time (if it ends up being limited) to go by without tasting the delights of Casablanca or Jerusalem.

Like I said, I don’t know where this desire for drastic change came from. It seems to have percolated from nowhere. When I look back, many things happened in the past five years and I fully believe that all these situations worked together to bring me to this place. They influenced how I was living my life, what I wanted from life and what I didn’t want. And they liberated me.

I don’t want to be constrained right now. Maybe I felt that I was burdened by too many things and too many people. Did I have a Savior complex whereby I was of the belief that it was my “duty” to help everyone else?

I think I mentioned that my counselor told me several months ago that I will now have to figure out where I belong. Without that identity of helping people, where do I go? And why did I feel that I had to have that I identity? Did I adopt it so I wouldn’t have to face life? Was it easier to have a life of servitude than certitude? Or platitude?

Now I have only myself to care for and it does feel odd. I miss being a shoulder to cry on. I miss it when someone would call to talk. I guess I miss being needed.

Oh, my. That was a God moment. I was essentially free-associating and that “being needed” popped out. I needed to be needed. I’m not needed anymore by anyone. I’m only needed by me. And I always denied that aspect of my psyche because the Church always preached that. And look at the damage I’ve done.

This is why I was railing against the Church. Sometimes the Church damages people so badly and then goes merrily on its way. Well, thank God, I’ve fled and emerged victorious.

Now I have the chance to take care of me without the burden of guilt. After all, if I don’t take care of me, who will? I no longer have a partner and the prospect of finding one in small town Italy is futile.

So maybe this is a survival game. Maybe I need to be content with needing myself. Maybe I have to learn to be comfortable with myself and love myself. Then I can truly be free. “The greatest of these is love”. That’s what Christ said. And if you’re not loving yourself, how can you truly be happy?

I’ve hit another mini-epiphany. I haven’t had one in quite awhile. Thank you, readers, for being there. If I didn’t have this blog (an ersatz diary), I wouldn’t have written this and wouldn’t have had this revelation. I would have lain awake in bed until I fell asleep and if anything of value had come to mind, it would have been forgotten in slumber.

Onward. I’m still wide awake but perhaps having some greater knowledge will help ease me into sleep. I feel like I know more of why I’m on this trek. I feel like I know more of why I’ve acquired this vagabond heart.


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