Something about being in another country with mostly people you don’t know and maybe a few people you do know. And you don’t speak the language. And the pace is different than your regular one, time has shifted by six hours and you eat meat and cheese and tomatoes for breakfast. You eat dinner until 11 or 12 at night. You talk more than you ever talk and you write more than you ever write.
That’s what the simplest parts of me noticed about being in Tuscany at a writing retreat. Doing different things and doing them in a different place and even doing the regular things differently, that they grate against the part of me that feels most at ease and most comfortable when it does the same thing over and over again. When it kind of snoozes along and doesn’t make a fuss.
It’s the part of me that plays solitaire on my computer. It sets up my coffee the night before. It puts the car on cruise control and says The Serenity Prayer and tries to buy the same underwear I bought the last time because they fit and they didn’t wear out too fast. It knows where most of the Starbucks are and orders the same thing every time when I go there.
I’m not unhappy with this part of me, in fact, I’m grateful that somewhere in my forties I got okay with creating some routines and rituals and that I could appreciate and feel more solid as a result of.
But I have needed something more.
And this trip was just the ticket. It began as a writing retreat that I would lead with several partners in Tuscany, a trip that would hopefully reboot my own writing practice after a year of slogging through the aftermath of an awful accident that included missing last year’s retreat.
The retreat was a beauty. The farm where we went is cinema material, rolling hills and vineyards and olive groves. Warm Italian food and breezes and people – Sebastian and his son Malcom, the owners and their staff - gracious and kind and generous. The weather, deep heat with a thunderstorm coming on schedule to help us celebrate Mary Shelley’s birthday.
The writer’s who came brought their hearts with them and I brought mine. We sat in circles and wrote from our senses – poetry and songs and eulogies and essays and epitaphs, memoirs and short stories and plays – we listened to ourselves and we listened to each other.
And somewhere in there, somewhere in the stirring and the boiling, the writer in me began talking again. When we asked what she wanted the others to know about her she answered, “…that I am a therapist by profession and a writer by choice, that I am a mother, that my parents are gone and I am both lighter and lost-er as a result…” and when asked what she didn’t want others to know about her she wrote, “… I don’t want you to know how angry I have been this past year, how envious I have been of other people’s ease and simplicity of pleasures, how dumbed down I have felt without my own …”. She talked and she wrote and she read and she listened.
It was really good to be in her company. I had missed her.
We are such interesting creatures, us humans. We both encompass all possibility and we can slog about in circles, doing the same thing over and over and over, seeking comfort while looking around to see what’s changing. In this way, I am no different, especially when things are hard. I, like most everyone, reach into that old bag of tricks to soothe myself to sleep.
But I also like to be awake. And Tuscany woke me up. This morning it woke me up early, 4am actually, still on Italy time. It said, “Wake Up, come on, it’s time to get up, hey what’s for breakfast, I’m hungry, what do you want to do today, I wonder what time sunrise is now, bring the coffee over here and get back under the covers and let’s write something before the day has a chance to grab hold”.
So I did.
Thank you, Tuscany.