For the record, I feel dumb writing this. It feels like I’m either writing an acceptance speech for a Rotary Club citizen’s award or my obituary.
Like any other busy professional with offspring in school and a partner with an equally bustling career, I have often found myself feeling fractured and distant from my intention. It felt like life was coasting along and things were fine, but everything was going so quickly, I hardly could catch a breath to figure out where I was going or what I was doing. A cheerful person by nature, I would often dread mornings and the onslaught of purposeful behavior that would be demanded of me.
I could carve ways to slow down, but it took thought and planning, and persistence I just didn’t have capacity for. And so my goals of learning to play piano would be dismissed in favor of packing lunches. The writing I wanted to focus on took a backseat to cleaning the grout in the shower. The running I thought would improve my energy level was shelved to make time to see another client. This was exacerbated by the fact that for the last seven years, we have been living in our 100-year-old house while my husband did the renovations. Incidentally, he is not a builder, carpenter, or contractor. He’s a graphic designer with an eye for detail, a head for spatial relations, and a love of do-it-yourself manuals.
It seemed that there were few ways to slow down that I could regularly count on. One was cooking. So, weekends would find me making elaborate meals—relishing the process, and the feeling of sitting down together as a family to linger over homemade camembert, crispy-skinned roast chicken fragrant with herbs, quick-sautéed spinach with garlic and a drizzle of peppery olive oil, and mashed potatoes creamy with butter and heady with gruyere.
Besides needing to slow down, Keith and I have always shared a commitment to move abroad, to experience something different for a time, to have our children learn that their home way of living is not everything. There is so much beauty in the world, beyond our corner of it. Keith and I always knew we’d want to live abroad at some point. I was born in Panama, and then moved to Brussels, and then the United States. Plus my father is from—and still lives on—the border of Mexico and Arizona, and my mother didn’t arrive in New York from France until she was in grade school. I think my early diet of coquille st jacques and carne asada served to create a need in me to experience something other than life in Suburbia, USA. A three-month backpacking trip through Europe while in college enlivened this desire.
We also wanted our children to experience living abroad. To learn another language, and thus a different way of thinking. To have to process on their feet and see themselves as competent, flexible people who can adapt and thrive in novel situations. To perhaps cement their vital curiosity, to fix it as a permanent trait. Add to this our desire to find a way to slow down, examine our lives. Where ever we are challenged we are learning, and I knew that leaving behind our home, our connections, our way of living would create opportunities for making realizations. Realizations that perhaps are only useful to me, but perhaps are worth sharing. In any case, the process of writing would allow me to explicate my experience and deepen my thinking.
And so I wrote my blog, Il Bel Centro. A chronological narration of our experience moving abroad, with all the attendant joys and tears, and triumphs and terrors. A window into my attempt to dig deeper, to really live, to create space to discover the things that matter to me. A year to strengthen our family which can often seem fractured in the wake of our too-busy American lives. A year to learn a language and stretch my brain circuits to capacity. A year to remove what is known and see what lies beneath. A year to find ways to the beautiful center.
Since our return in 2013, I spent two years editing the blog to prepare it for publication. The book launched in July of 2015, and though I was dead certain I would never write again, such was the intensity of the writing and editing process, a scant two months later found me in the thick of a story. This one fiction, but influenced heavily by our experience living in Spello. Seeking to bridge the divide between tradition and new-fangled technology, I decided to publish the book as a serial, much like (though quite different in style from) Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Part of my thinking is that though people claim to enjoy binge consuming media (anyone else watch the last season of House of Cards in a weekend?), what we really need is time to process. To think and wonder, to let tension build. And so I began my newest venture, a story told in stages.
This is all more than you wanted to know, isn't it? :)
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