LEMONS TO LIMONCELLO
“I found that life intruding on writing was, in fact, life. And that, tempting as it may be for a writer who is also a parent, one must not think of life as an intrusion. At the end of the day, writing has very little do with writing, and much to do with life. And life, by definition, is not an intrusion.” – Sarah Ruhl
Since moving to San Francisco a year and a half ago, I’ve suffered from Life Intrusion. I blamed adjusting to a new city after an international move the reason for my not writing. I tried to shut up those who innocently asked me why I wasn’t continuing to do what I love most with a terse reply of “I’m just so busy.”
Forget Soul Cycle: today’s go-to-sport is complaining about how busy we are. I’m tired of being a team player in that sport. It has been an incredibly hectic last 18 months. But, I’m done with being hectic busy. I’m ready to be brain busy.
As I unpacked our 330 boxes from Rome that prevented me from finding time and energy to write, I grew irritable and impatient. Moments and stories full of delicious details and captivating characters about my new life raced past me. I resented that I couldn’t find the time to write down the scenes that spiraled out of sight and memory.
This past summer, I spent a month in Italy, and had the luxury of many languid moments to reflect on the absence of writing in my life. Gradually, I grew to see that the only person I was really entitled to get angry with was myself.
In large part, it is all thanks to the playwright, Sarah Ruhl, who helped rid me of my writer’s block. She wrote a charming book titled “100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write On Umbrella and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children and Theater.”
My title of such a book would be: “100 Essays You Need to Take the Time to Read About an Adopted Italian in California: On Nerf Guns, Kale, Italians, Rescue Dogs, National Anthems, Passports, Coffee-To-Go, Sleeping Pills, and Yoga Pants.”
Ruhl inspired me to start writing again. Privately, and daily, on my own and among a group. In notebooks scattered around home. In journaling applications. On the margins of my to do list. In short form. Long form. Whatever it takes.
I joined a writing group in San Francisco and found a community of writers whom I meet with weekly. I even delivered an essay I wrote to a small audience in a San Francisco bookstore.
I printed my own business card with “writer” stamped on it, and started handing it out when asked my profession. Telling people I am a writer forces me to produce something for them to read. I have made photographs central to my story-telling as they often help me find the narrative backbone to my essays.
The moment I let life become the center of my daily story, I felt my sense of self return. The anxiety that I’ve carried around since moving to Rome from San Francisco has started disappearing. Finally, I feel myself breathing calmly again. I have let life intrude in its aggressiveness, annoyingness and ugliness – and the combination of these tangy lemons is creating some limoncello.
So, I’m pulling the curtains shut on Act I of The Queen of Procrastination of my one-person-show. And, I’m learning from the mindful Californians who are now my neighbors and regrouping for Act II of Back in Business.
It has been a year of getting used to living in America as an adopted Italian. I’ve lived outside of America for the past 18 years, of which 10 of them were in Rome, and of which all of them were alongside my Roman husband. I’ve changed, and now see things differently here than when I left.
Some of these changes, which I intend to address in upcoming blog posts, have been tough.
But many are amusing, and continue to remind me that I live in California, a world in and of itself within America.
On one of my first mornings in San Francisco, I asked a new Italian friend if I could bring her a cup of coffee from the local café’ where I was headed before a school meeting.
“A mocha would be great,” she said, in Italian.
In Italy, if someone asks you this, you should present them with an Italian coffee-maker, preferably a Bialetti, and let it produce its magic on a stove.
Why would she want me to bring her a piece of hardware from a coffee shop?
Then, we got it: She was born and raised in Modena, and has been living in California for the past 16 years. I was born and raised in New York, and have lived in Italy for 10 years.
“You’re more Italian than I am,” she said. She then explained that a “mocha” in Starbucks-speak is a cappuccino with a shot of hot chocolate. Who knew?
A few days later, I was on the sidelines of my daughter’s soccer game, craving a cup of coffee -- again. I told a parent I was leaving the field on a caffeine quest. She told me to stay put and pointed to a foreign object that was resting on the grass: a cardboard box, made out of recyclable paper (of course) with a nozzle from which hot coffee emerged. A morning keg of coffee. A long way from an espresso at a Roman coffee counter – and brilliant.
These two snapshots offer a peek at what it’s like to move back to the United States after living overseas for many years. I’m now placed in a different category by my own fellow Americans. And Italians who have lived in America for a while don’t quite know what to do with me. I’m home now, but, not really, because I’ve never lived in California or on the West Coast. I’m dealing with not only the American versus European thing but also the West Coast versus East Coast issue.
Call it a circus act or, as Americans love to say these days, a shit show. Whatever it is, it’s worth writing about, and I’m here to do it.