Monday, August 3, 2015

The Best Souvenir: Avventura Italiana Parte Quattro

Vacation re-entry is a bitch.

I'm not talking about jet lag. I mean the difficulty readjusting to my "normal" life after spending14 days disengaged from my everyday concerns.For the first few days after we returned from Italy, I woke up and had to remember just exactly where I was. There was a slight sense of disappointment when I'd realize that I was back in my own bed, in my own room, my own house. Traveling to Italy was fun and exciting and, well, a true vacation from my "regular" life. Not that my regular life is bad, but during those 14 glorious vacation days I was able to literally (and figuratively) unplug in a way that I rarely do at home.

The main reason our vacation was so idyllic was not because of what I packed and carried along with me, but because of what I left behind. 

Travel can bring out my fears ...
I made a conscious effort to travel light—only the two allowed carry-on bags. But I also determined to not take my laptop. It's hard for a freelancer to lay down her work and walk away for two weeks. Not working means not getting paid for said not-work. Sure, I tried to line up as many projects as I could for before and after the trip, but during those two weeks, I didn't do a smidgeon of work (at least not the kind that provides monetary compensation. A writer is always working, after all.)

So I intentionally left behind my laptop and I also deliberately resigned my fears about not working, not making money while I was in Italy for two weeks. That was not easy.

Of the "things" I carry with me, fear is my heaviest, most cumbersome, exhausting possession. In fact, fear has kept me grounded for many years, and not because I have a thing about heights or planes crashing. No. I fear that if I am not working the world (as I know it) might end. Funny thing though, no matter how hard I've worked, I've never felt I have "enough" to be secure.

In the days when I worked in marketing for Turner Network Television, I made a nice salary. I was single, had no car payment or mortgage, no kids, no commitments at all. And still I felt I didn't have "enough" to be financially secure. I was always balancing precariously on the tightrope of fiscal uncertainty. Why?

... or my child-like sense of wonder.

In 1995, when I quit my well-paying job at Turner and thrust myself into the great unknown I traveled for three months and drafted off my savings. When returned to Atlanta, I began to freelance as a copywriter and that's pretty much what I have done for the past 20 years. Sure there were a few short-lived stints where I held full-time jobs, but mostly I've managed to stay afloat by cobbling together a living together as a free agent, taking whatever assignments come my way.

Some days I'm busier than others. I'm not very good (read: lazy) at "networking" so I don't tend to cultivate a lot of new clients. The ones I have are all gained by good ol' word of mouth. Some days I really do not know where my next mortgage payment will come from. But finally after a cumulative 20 years of freelancing, I'm finally learning to lean into the unknown and be okay with it.

While I was in Italy, I took things as they came. We had an itinerary and a schedule of when we needed to be in one city or another, but I really didn't know what would happen going from Point A to Point B. There were lots of stops along the way for gelato, and a good amount of time spent just ambling through ancient, cobblestone streets. We didn't see the inside lot of famous basilicas, but we did wander around the little neighborhood churches with our mouths agape at the tremendous beauty and grandeur of even the most minor feat of Italian architecture. And I didn't scrimp or worry (too much) about what we were spending along the way. I wasn't foolish with our euros, but I didn't fret over every purchase — which I sometimes do at home, if I'm really, really anxious. (And, honestly, that happens more than I care to admit.)

The truth is this: Life becomes easier when I realize that I am the author of my fears, frustrations and anxieties. And as the author of these maladies, I can simply refuse to pick up the pen and write them. Or better, I can write a new script for myself. 

Instead of being fearful about not having enough, I can be so, so grateful about ALL that I have. When I'm not pinning the blame for my unhappiness on someone else, I am free to decide to be happy, or at least satisfied. That's huge.

Earlier on in our trip, we stayed in a 14th century apartment in a farmhouse in the Tuscan countryside about an hour south of Bologna. It was a gorgeous setting and we loved it there. Our hosts were an American woman, Jayne, and her Italian husband, Francesco. They were incredibly generous and hospitable. As we cooked dinners together, Jayne taught me about life in Italy.

On our last night there, as we sat around their table having eaten way too much pasta, roasted chicken and anchovies wrapped in fried sage leaves, Jayne shared a saying that summed up my trip: panta rhei. It's an ancient Greek phrase that literally translated means "everything flows."

For Jack, pante rhei comes naturally.
Depending upon how you interpret it, panta rhei can mean "go with the flow" or let go of a fixed idea or outcome; or it can imply impermanence, as in everything flows, all things change, nothing is ever the same from one moment to the next, even though we think it is, or — often — want it to remain static. I rather like the combination of the meanings (both of which are quite Buddhist.)

Panta rhei! All things change! All things flow. Might as well go with it, because to not go with the stream means constantly fighting against reality. And that's the one thing that will always make me nuts. So to me panta rhei means embrace what IS because what IS is pretty darned good.

For the remainder of my time in Italy, I embraced the spirit of panta rhei. I let go of my idea of how our vacation was supposed to unfold and allowed myself to enjoy what was happening. I ate a lot o' gelato with the realization that I would never again have that exact moment in time with my son and my honey.

After 14 days in Italy, my suitcase was a bit fuller then I left home. I bought a few souvenirs along the way: glass beads in Venice, a bright colored scarf, and a linen dress in Sorrento. But the best memento of the entire two week excursion was that simple phrase: panta rhei.

Now that I've been back home for a few weeks, it's easy to start stressing over work (or the lack thereof), and bills to be paid and all those "regular life" concerns. But when I wake up each morning and realize that I am not in Sorrento or Ischia or Tuscany, I try to also recall panta rhei and vow to take life as it comes.

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