[THE WRITER'S LIFE] An Italian Sabbatical

Last year, my husband Angelo went to Italy for six weeks. We called it a sabbatical because it sounded better to our friends and family who would have thought we were crazy if we told them the real reason: he needed to go back to his hometown and reconnect with the Italian part of himself. We’re not big planners, nor are we independently wealthy, but it was a trip he needed to make since he was sent to the United States as a child to live with strangers over 50 years ago. We have been back for visits, but that only started a little over five years ago. Those trips were short, packed full of events and over before we knew it. As Angelo spent more time visiting, the need to spend a significant time there began to develop. It became clear that the time was now to make it happen, and so we did. Don’t ask me how, but we pulled it off. He rented a small apartment, let the family know he was coming and spent six weeks living as he might have had he stayed in his town instead of coming to the US. He returned six weeks later transformed.

Within a month, he was talking about going back, but this time, he said, he was taking me with him. I didn’t object.  Honestly, at first I was just humoring him, because how could we possibly do it again? We hadn’t suddenly become independently wealthy; he’s a therapist, I’m a writer and neither one of those jobs is a real rainmaker. I also work part time in a program we created to provide supervised visitation through a state grant program--none of the words in this sentence translate as “huge income.” But as the months went by, I could see that he was serious. When he started telling me about the great fares he was finding I had to start taking his little plan seriously.

Let’s just fast forward six months: I am writing this on my new Dell laptop sitting on a plane headed to Naples. We’re calling this 7-week trip a sabbatical, too, but for both of us this time. We’ve rented an even smaller apartment but, it has a big terrazza with a table just perfect to sit at with my new computer (an extravagance to validate this decision) and write. Angelo plans to spend much of his time with family and friends. He established a posse the last time he was here and basically their typical day consists of looking at apartments for sale, giving Angelo their critique and heading back to the square for caffé. I also hope to finally learn some passable Italian.

The thing we learned when Angelo went back was that sometimes you just have to take a leap. I feel like I’ve been taking leaps all my life, only to scramble back up the ledge when something unplanned came my way—finances, family obligations, emergencies.  But that’s the thing about leaps; there isn’t just the one. We take hundreds of them every day, tiny little leaps of faith that show up as taking a step forward when our common sense is screaming, “Wait!” This trip is definitely a leap of a much larger scale. Besides all the usual considerations (money, work, house, cat) I didn’t realize how much I was going to miss my kids and grandson until I said good-bye to them this week. They’ve left me for months at a time, but I’ve never left them. What I have left for months at a time is my writing. Now, Angelo and I have created a space in our lives for me to devote hours and hours and days and days to it. This is an experience I can’t imagine how to even conceptualize, much less plan for. In my head I am going to write a book about the differences and similarities between living in Italy and the US. I also hope to finish (or significantly put a dent in) one of two other books I have in progress. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve never done this before and it means a big leap for me. Again. It’s too bad I had to go all the way to Italy to do it.

Or maybe not.  

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Comment by Elizabeth Stokkebye on September 2, 2016 at 2:49pm

Oh, so familiar as I who am from Denmark have a leg both here and there, too. And yes, this knowledge of two cultures creep into my writing. And I'm glad - then I can be in both places. In Europe, of course, it is common to take weeks and weeks off to do your thing - just think of the maternal leave of one year in Denmark (for both fathers and mothers). I think it is absolutely great what you are doing! Enjoy! 

Comment by Trudy Swenson on August 31, 2016 at 7:50am

Definition of sabbatical: any extended period of leave from one's customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.

Definition of leap: to spring through the air from one point or position to another.

Savor the fresh perspective. May it be transformative!

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