I’m home from Morocco. Been home for five days. I haven’t felt like writing which is supposedly anathema to anyone who fancies himself a writer. I’m sorry, but sometimes the spirit doesn’t move me.
I’m facing a hectic summer, something I’ve been anticipating and preparing for. One guest arriving in a few days. Guests in August and September. Another trek to Ukraine to savor my newly found family. Visits to cousins in Turin and Tuscany. Trips to Cairo, Jerusalem, Liverpool.
I’ve started the ball rolling on my return to America. A headhunter friend is 100% convinced I will find a lucrative position, one that is mutually complementary. I’m working on my CV and my LinkedIn profile. Yet, paradoxically, I’ve found what I believe to be an almost perfect job in Milan. Who knows what the future will bring, eh?
And today I stayed home for awhile and streamed movies on YouTube. The weather is iffy and it seemed like a movie day. Stumbling across Under the Tuscan Sun, I was reminded of my love affair with Italy. Not just with my family and my heritage, but the image, the illusion, if you will. An illusion that truly exists. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. I AM there. I SEE it. Now.
Is a man supposed to feel like this? That’s a sexist statement, I know. But it’s coming from a man, so somehow it’s a bit more acceptable, right? Yet this film, this damnable film reminded me of so many questions, so many possibilities, so many fantasies that Hollywood loves to create in a person.
In the movie, Diane Lane, as Francesca, plays a divorcee who impulsively buys a Tuscan villa after a debilitating divorce. The story line follows her as she pursues her new reality and tries to piece back together her broken life. As with all Hollywood movies, there’s a happy ending with smiles all around.
After clicking off YouTube, and even during the film, I found myself re-living the past year or so. The images my excitement and enthusiasm, my dreams (illusions?) jumped out–I would live the exotic life of an expat writer. I would revel in the glories of Italia. I would savor the jasmine-infused air of the neighborhoods and drink in, the langorous atmosphere of ancient towns with church bells pealing in the piazza. Wine would pass over my lips and swirl over my tongue as I tapped out visions of paradise on my MacBook Pro. I would inspire the masses. I would find true love. I would be rejuvenated, strengthened.
Is a man supposed to feel like this from a movie? Shouldn’t I be watching Terminator while knocking back a six-pack, picking at my toenails? Shouldn’t I be grunting caveman-like at the explosions in First Blood? Where’s my inner Clint Eastwood when I need him?
Instead I am feeling verklempt at the unfairness of Hollywood versus reality. I’m not remodeling an historic villa in Tuscany as I pursue a new life. I’m living in an ultra-modern mid-rise apartment in a resort town. And while I’m establishing relationships with the kebab shop owner, the waitress at the ristorante, the owner of the pizzeria and the owner of the pasticceria, I’m still isolated.
When I patronize my favorite haunts, I isolate. I sit with my laptop and do research or write. Or sometimes just surf the Net which I could easily do at home, yet don’t do at home because I want some sort of involvement–on my terms.
And in these locales everyone is respectful of my time. They leave me alone. I don’t know if they’re impressed that an autore is in their midst pounding out brilliant pontifications on the human condition in Italy or if they consider me ruefully as a tragic curiosity who does not engage.
I really don’t think I’ve been led here by a feel-good Hollywood movie. But sometimes I think I’m trying to create my own feel-good Hollywood movie. And real life never follows a Tinseltown script.
However, as I consider the factors that brought me to Italy, I have to admit that my own story is turning into a feel-good movie. I made it to Poland. I found reams of information on my family in the archives of Krakow and Warsaw. I found family in Ukraine. I learned about events in the homeland. I’m rapidly overcoming, forgetting–forgiving. Freedom seems to be at every turn.
At this point, I feel myself being pulled along, led by the Holy Spirit, as is said in Christian circles. I pursue the responsibilities in front of me while exulting in the experiences that are available. Options are offered and I have to choose. I find myself being proactive when it’s necessary and responsive when it’s required–and able to determine when each is appropriate.
Every moment cannot be a dramatization. Life is made up of the perfunctory, the timid, the monotonous. It’s not always a Moses-like mountaintop experience. I find myself propelled by stimuli, sometimes even by the pursuit of stimuli in order to jar me out of complacency. But such a pursuit cannot be relentless. I’d end up like the Pavlovian rat continually pushing a button that provides mental stimulus to the point of its own self-destruction.
If anything, the moral of Tuscan Sun is that we often get the lives we want without realizing it. It arrives in a package wrapped differently than we expect. If we are cognizant, we recognize our prayers are answered, accept it and move on. If we don’t, we continue to strive and search with breast-beating futility at the unfairness of it all.
I came to Italy with images and illusions. And, truthfully, I came to Italy with unspoken reasons. I knew I would pursue the research for the next book. But I also knew I would isolate to a degree. I knew I would use the time to grow, to mature, to pray, to decipher. And I knew I would travel and have fun.
I was concerned that people would think I was loony for quitting everything at this stage of life to pursue what can arguably be called a wild goose chase. But can we really characterize dreams as such? Do we have to paint them in different hues so they’re palatable to others? I guess sometimes we do.
So I’m here in Italy. I’ve decided to return to America. And I’m excited by it, just like I’m excited by the guests I will entertain and the remaining trips I will take. If I look at everything in that context, then this “wild goose chase” was a success. I have no regrets.
And that is the true measure of this whole scenario. I answer to no one. Why should I give a rat’s rump about anyone’s opinion? I have lived a dream, an answer to a literal prayer. It hasn’t been free of frustration and problems. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.