I got on the plane a few days ago in Philadelphia with high expectations. It was the beginning of making my dream come true.
I dream that instead of sitting at a desk in a suburban office complex I write. I write a memoir, a heart warming, amusing and insightful memoir and I write it from my new home somewhere far away from suburbia, maybe Rome, possibly Bangkok, or even Shanghai.
But no, this time I wasn’t getting on a plane having sold all my possessions, ready to settle in a foreign city and write that book. I was simply spending the week in Italy, sightseeing and writing with a handful other people who were there to do the same things. Every dream has to start somewhere and this was mine.
I realize now that’s an awful lot to expect from a short week in a villa in Umbria.
Like the good student I’ve always been, I’d read all the homework we’d been assigned and submitted a sample of my writing to the teacher as we’d been instructed. I’d stuck to the plan and followed instructions. That approach had always been successful for me in the past. While I’m not naive enough to think I’d come back from this trip with a memoir saved to my computer desktop, it never occurred to me that this trip wasn’t the first step to making it happen.
I arrived in Umbria after a long but straightforward trip from home. Flight from Philadelphia to Rome, train from Fiumicino to Roma Termini, a few hours for a cappuccino and panino, then another train ride to Terontola-Cortona. And it was there, on the sidewalk outside the tiny stazione in the hills of central Italy that I met the others I’d spend the week with.
I was completely inspired from the start. How could I not be? I was in Italy, with a group of other aspiring writers, writing! It was only a matter of time before that book practically wrote itself and before I was the proud owner of a flat in Rome, or a villa in Luang Prabang. This was the start.
Yesterday we went to Montone, in Tuscany. A tiny walled village on a hilltop, like something out of a storybook. Sweeping views of vineyards and olive orchards. A piazza with a little cafe and a bell tower. A church with cloistered nuns. We had a delicious Italian lunch with expats from New York. A little more than 10 years ago Jeff and his wife Judith gave up their fashion business in Manhattan, bought a restored 12th century townhouse and began their life in Tuscany. They learned Italian. They started a business. They got involved in the local festivals and theater. They were Americans in Tuscany, living their dream. Living my dream.
But when I sat down with the writing group after lunch to have our class and work on our writing, with all the day’s experiences swirling around in my head, I began to think: Was I really ever going to sell everything and move somewhere far across the planet? Could I really start completely over, make friends, learn a language, understand a new culture?
To live like Jeff and Judith I was going to need a hell of a lot more money than I had, and probably even more importantly I was going to need a lot more courage. And to write the book I thought I had in me? After just a few days in the company of the other writers, I began to see that I was going to need a lot more skill and determination.
Back in Philadelphia my dream seemed simple and easy to attain. Now here in Italy I saw that it was going to be anything but simple and easy. As I sat there thinking instead of writing, I thought how maybe the trip was already a success because I better understood what it was going to take to make my dream come true, but tears fell as it seemed even further away here in Italy than it had been back at home.