Sunday, September 25, 2011

The way it goes...

When I flew to Rome this time for a holiday, by my best approximation, it was going to be 2 weeks of bliss: the first spent catching up with my brother's girlfriend, Lani, in Cinque Terre and perhaps beyond, and the rest of the time catching up with my best friend Jen, in Rome.

Of course, the actual experience has been an exercise in the unanticipated. There it goes again, life, running roughshod over all the best laid plans, made in vain, foolishly assuming we hold the reins of this thing.

The morning after I arrived, following a brisk run with Jen (more on that later), I hastily packed the smallest bag of my adventuring life, and hopped on a train bound for Cinque Terre. I should perhaps clarify that I am one of the lightest packers I know. I can pack a month of clothing in my carry on, and have on many occasions. I pride myself on my efficiency at travel. You know what they say..."Pride cometh before the fall." They speak the truth.

I ended up in Cinque Terre (literally, 5 Villages) with no map, no guidebook, no resource save for my iPhone--which worked, much to my surprise-- a camera, and a couple of changes of clothes, and hygiene essentials. Efficient, but not very wise.

The first night was a breeze, sort of. I wandered around in RioMaggiore, the first of the 5 Villages. I easily found an inexpensive hostel, packed with single lady travelers, and had a nice spicy seafood soup, as I was feeling a bit run down. That night, I discovered that this charming hamlet where "there are no cars" was actually one of the loudest places I have ever been in my life.

I tossed and turned for hours in an uncomfortable bed, sensing illness seeping into my bones. My head was filling with mucous, and my throat was raw and angry. Meanwhile, the streets, filled with obnoxious tourists, loud Italians, and dogs apparently being tortured. I did not sleep, and when 5 AM rolled around, the street, after several hours of relative quiet, was filled with the noise of garbage collectors and mopeds. I shut the windows and managed a couple hours of sleep.

Upon waking, My head was swimming in sickness, and my body intensely achy and sore-- most likely from the 45 minute run I'd subjected my unconditioned body to the morning prior. And then began the hiking. And the sweating. I'd forgotten to bring socks, so I went sockless. I hadn't brought a towel, so I dried myself with a long-sleeved shirt. I felt less adult than I have in years.

If lack of preparation and shoddy improvisation is the mark of youth, would someone please bring Grammaw her walker- because I am ready for the luxuries of old age!

Don't misunderstand me, this place was Gorgeous, Beautiful, and Magnificent. But I was feverish and aching. And hiking. Oh, the endless hiking. In village number 4, after asking everyone around, I realized that due to a glut of late-summer European tourism (owing to a long, cold spring), there were zero rooms available for a single lady for the night. I was sick, miserable, blistered, and seemingly stranded. I couldn't reach Lani, and I was running out of options.

I found a kind waitress who offered to let me sleep at her apartment. I found a nap in the shade of a fig tree on a hillside terrace. I met a handsome Italian who led me to the ocean and swam with me. Did I mention that I was hopped up on decongestants? These various mercies were all that kept me going.

AT&T sent me a text message to let me know that I'd used "an unusual amount" of international data. Yeah, like $300 worth! Oops! My phone was retired, after I determined I would take a train to greener pastures--namely a hotel room where I could sleep. I was becoming panicked with exhaustion.

So I took a train to Bologna. And slept like a baby in quiet comfort. Next, Modena, where I attended a Philosophy festival, sampled balsamic vinegar, and visited a botanical garden. Eventually I found my way back to Rome, after the danger of transmitting some horrific illness to Jen's two young children had passed.

Since then, there have been some side trips to Florence, and daily solo excursions to art museums, parks, monuments, restaurants, unusual attractions, and just a general sense of awe and introspection. Jen is a busy busy mother of two, and so I am on my own every day for the entirety of the day. This has been one of the most personally interesting and lonesome trips of my life.

It is difficult for an American to shun structure in lieu of spontaneity, but that has been the route this trip has thrusted upon me. There is no plan. I have no guidebook. Every day is an adventure, and I am having an un-curated experience. I am trying to enjoy every moment, without anxiety or expectation. The challenge is to see things well, to enjoy being, and to be satisfied with things exactly as they are, in this moment. It's harder than you might imagine.

Just know that as I wander through each day here, I am thinking of everyone I love. Every last one. And I am feeling gratitude for living such a wonderful life, being blessed with such good friends, fortunate enough to belong to a loving family. Not everyone has the opportunity to fly to another country and wander. To feel secure enough in themselves and their place in the universe to not mind being lost- a stranger in a strange land…To not recognize this and give it some thought would be criminal. I am in the cradle of Western Civilization, relishing her ruins, and swaddled in a sense of well-being, I give thanks.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fickle Inspiration (and a vacation-borne confession)

Dear crickets who remain in my readership--- unless of course someone is actually reading (which I absolutely do not assume)--- I'm back. No, I'm really back, not just the pretend back where I post something every 3 months and pretend to be a blogger.

Because... I'm not really a blogger. I am a person who loves to write. And if a few select friends, family, and my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Pace are to to trusted, I have a nice talent for turns of phrase which has grown a bit rough, rusty and displaced over the past 13 months and could use a little exercise.

What happened? I could attribute my drop off in chronicling the minutiae of my life to so many things. Beginning with my "big girl job" working for the city wherein your trusty protagonist spent untold hours working as a public servant, paying into a retirement fund and enjoying the spoils of health and dental insurance. In short- I liked it, then I resented it, and ultimately I hated it.

It's not, of course, that I hate work, but rather that I hate the sort of senseless government sanctioned work I was doing- all the hours wasted in pointless meetings, all the restrictions imposed by federal funding, the pointless hoops I was required to jump through in order to grease the wheels of the little program I was running. But primarily the sense of loss of self that I began to experience on a daily basis, doling out my life in well-measured lumps of hours to little effect, and worse than that- little pay.

My job was in many ways pointless, and I performed it to the best of my abilities, but it made me feel smaller and less purposeful than I have made a habit of feeling in my life. When I quit last month, the sensation of lightness I experienced was startling. The sense of a yoke being lifted from my burdensome, beastly back.

And then there was the quiet end to my long term relationship with Chip; dear, wonderful Chip whom I love and adore and am so intensely grateful for. He is such a spectacular human being, and an extraordinary friend. Anyone who knows him must agree. I felt bashful for a long time, because while our demise was mutual, it was primarily my doing, and in retrospect I still feel ashamed that I let him work so hard for so long to make something work that I knew wasn't right for us both.

Shortly thereafter, I met someone who is kind and keen and generous and supportive, whom I eventually moved in with, and am still with today, almost 14 months after we first met. And this has been perhaps the larger reason for my long silence here.

It is very difficult to maintain close contact with all of the family I care for when I feel as though I am keeping a secret. And this relationship has been, in many ways, a secret. Not to my friends, or my coworkers or employers, but to some of my family. This is not the way I would have ever chosen for things to be.

You see, from the time that I was a teenager, I questioned my attractions & relationships, to their core. What I was drawn to and what I acted upon were two entirely separate worlds, and last year I forced myself, finally, to be honest about who I am. Chip and I parted on amicable, generously understanding terms, and when I met Michelle, I felt in many ways like a rudderless ship coming home to port, setting down an anchor, and making myself at home. Finally, my heart found a sort of peace I had not known before.

I cannot help the fact that I love and have sought the companionship of another woman. I find myself distressed by the notion that people like me have made a "choice" in this direction or the other.

Believe me, if there was ever a choice to be made, I'm pretty sure we would all choose the easy, simple route, where there is no need to make uncomfortable confessions to family, or to risk being judged by the outside world. Where one can simply marry and have a family of their own and enjoy the simple rights and privileges of the majority.

I sense that I could have done just that- chosen to deny my innermost feelings, married and had children and always swallowed the lingering sense of dissatisfaction that lived in my heart. But how would that be fair to anyone? I believe in honesty, and in happiness, and in the life-affirming paths that these virtues lead to.

Which is why I find myself here today, on a breezy afternoon in Rome- where I am vacationing by myself- suddenly inclined to set the record straight once and for all.

I'll not maintain my silence, and I hope not to be judged by those I love most in this world.

And I promise to write more about more interesting things than the complicated layers of a private life that have kept me from expressing myself freely in this absurdly public forum.

Dear family, I miss you all, and am thinking of you today from the cradle of Western Civilization.