[THE WRITER'S LIFE] Writing Fatalities

Don't hate me because I'm lucky.

But maybe a little because of this picture...

This is the view out of my window as I finish up this month's blog post. I am in an airy, cool apartment in full view of Vesuvius and the Naples harbor. After colazione this morning, I am hopping on a high-speed train to Rome and checking into a hotel on the Via del Corso ,where at least part of my itinerary includes several hours of writing. Where? Oh, I don't know...a charming cafe, a rooftop terrazza. I''ll find somewhere.

Now you're starting to hate me a little, aren't you?

I am lucky because my husband is from Italy and over the last five years he has made it his business to come back here to reconnect with his roots. He pretty much has to bring me with him. What I love about coming here is that we tend to spend a lot of time in piazzas and cafes and I get to absorb the elegant and very different experience that is a typical day in Italy. Children seem to run a little wilder, shout a little louder over here as their parents chat quickly over each other's sentences and are seemingly disinterested in what their offspring are doing. Women wearing impossibly high heels, look irritated as they speak sharply into their cell phones and walk past old men who sit on benches and smile, seemingly enjoying whatever happens to be going on around them at the moment. There are displays of red, orange, and yellow fruits piled high onto wooden crates outside of markets and restaurants, and I don't even want to tell you about the gelaterias and their mounds of frozen, creamy goodness; you'd hate me for sure.

My in-laws think I am at a disadvantage because I don't understand the language, but I think it puts me at a distinct advantage. I don't have to help pick restaurants or decide on the day trip locales. I can simply do what I do best: observe others in their natural habitat. Everywhere. I've noticed that doing so gives me an opportunity to suspend judgement.

But I don't have to travel outside my own country to find these experiences. I remember one night in particular when I was driving to teach my class in another town. I passed through one neighborhood on my route in which on each of three separate corners were three different combinations of people going about their business. First, a gathering of about half a dozen or more young men and women, smoking cigarettes outside a three-story, white-framed house, all dressed up, and probably making the first of the night's many bad decisions. (Okay, that might have been a little judgmental.) On the next corner, two men in their twenties in white T-shirts, one standing underneath a tree smiling as the other took his picture. I imagined a so-called blind date in the offing. Finally, at the third, a young woman hoisted a stroller up the stairs of another three-story house, probably home to at least three families, her arms full of grocery bags as she tried to wrangle a toddler running ahead of her into the house.

If I get caught up in judging the people I run across in my life, I am preventing myself from seeing people for who they are. I am not saying I have to like everyone--I'm not Mother Theresa, after all--but it is incumbent upon me to stay open to the realities other than my own. Delving into the lives of others is part of what feeds a writer and brings richness and, most importantly, truth to her work. (I suppose it feeds male writers, too, but as I'm writing for She Writes, they can get their own blog.) Whether fiction or non, intentional or not, a writer's pen can be the voice of those who are not speaking or cannot speak for themselves.

Mark Twain once said that travel "is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." And so, I think, is writing.

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Comment by Juliana Lightle on July 16, 2015 at 11:00am

This post made me recall my childhood good fortune to have a father who, even though he lived on the same farm all his 90 years, liked to travel.  On my first big adventure when I was three, he took us all the way from our northwestern Missouri farm to Monterey, Mexico, and back.  Last summer I went to Ethiopia for three weeks with my friends from there.  It was nothing like what I had been led to expect.  We seemed perpetually bombarded with endless emerald green and cold.  At one hotel they gave us hot water bottles to put in the bed to help stay warm at night.  Writing has improved my travel experiences.  I notice details I never noticed before, watch people, take in the landscapes, view activities from a more intense perspective.  

Comment by Jane Hanser on July 15, 2015 at 4:19pm

JoAnne, I think the post could have - should have - just begun, "I'm lucky because my husband is from Italy and..." The first paragraphs, "Don't hate me..." seemed to me to fan the flames and create some sort of unpleasant writer/reader dynamic. What makes the writer think that anybody would be jealous of her just because she's in Italy? Or that she's luckier than I am, for example?  That to me was the initial judgement and assumption.

Comments welcome.


Comment by Cindy Eastman on July 15, 2015 at 11:41am

Cate, there are some pictures on my blog... and a little more writing. (Interestingly, my computer keeps changing my text language to Italian!)

Comment by Jo Anne Valentine Simson on July 15, 2015 at 11:25am

Cate, Cindy actually said "hate." More than once. Even more than twice. I think we women need to be really careful about how we dis (hate) another for her good fortune and achievement. There may be some underdog mentality going on there, but we need to learn how to transcend that. Celebrate one-another's achievements. Cheer the winners. And don't apologize for having good fortune - or flaunt your achievements to elicit envy. I don't know which was the unintended in the article.

Comment by Jo Anne Valentine Simson on July 15, 2015 at 9:13am

Why are women inclined to dislike (envy) one another for having wonderful experiences? I say go out and have great experiences yourself! Leave envy to the witches.

Comment by Judy c Kohnen on July 15, 2015 at 8:59am

I am looking though the blue metal and glass door that I propped open to recirculate the stale office air. Outside, my car is parked on the asphalt. It is recognizable by its partially torn fender. Every morning, for the past six months,  I make a mental note to get it fixed.  It is the only car in the lot because I get in so early to triage my mail box for writing posts. My day job is a bookkeeper. I do it as a favor for a friend and as a favor to my household accounts. The only interesting travelling item is the name of the city I work in Cucamonga, Rancho Cucamonga. I'll wonder about the Indians and hawks that used to live on this land. What it ever a Ranch? I have two new characters named Cuca and Monga. When I go home, hopefully I'll find a story was percolating, right beside the office coffee pot. For me, writing is a way to travel behind the scenes, an escape when the view out the window is boring.

Comment by Jane Hanser on July 15, 2015 at 8:30am

That's why many kids in college are taking a year or a month or so to go study overseas. I myself lived in Spain for a significant period of time, while Franco was still alive and it was a repressive regime and nobody spoke English. But one doesn't have to travel to Italy to experience life differently. A wealthy person can go to a poor neighborhood and spend some time there. A white person can go to a black neighborhood and visa versa. A Northerner can visit the deep South, and visa versa.

And reading books can significantly help us see life from the day to day realities of others, or to take a trip into history and see what life was like for people, in your own town, 200 years ago, what those people struggled with, the choices available then, how different what was considered normative now was very much not so, then.

Comment by Kelly Hayes-Raitt on July 10, 2015 at 12:27am

Great post!  I'd love to do a blog on how writing has changed my traveling!  At the moment, I'm in Penang, Malaysia, gazing out at the Andaman Sea from the 17th story condo where I'm housesitting for 3 weeks.  This is my 3rd housesit in Malaysia since May 25, and it's how I afford to write.

Downside?  The gorgeous view is so distracting!

Kelly Hayes-Raitt

Mosey on over to my web site and sign in for your free gift -- an mp3 of me reading my book's first chapter about a beggar in Iraq! ...And a pre-publication discount!

Comment by Cindy Eastman on July 9, 2015 at 12:19pm

Pubs work. :) Thanks, Cate--I did enjoy myself and did a lot of drinking in! This trip was no different than I expected...I come to expect to look at at least one thing differently upon my return. Thanks for your comments, too, Jean and Trudy. I will add Innocents Abroad to my TBR pile. I don't know how I missed it so far!

Comment by Patricia Robertson on July 9, 2015 at 10:47am

So jealous! My husband's mother comes from Ireland. Whenever we talk of travel, that's where he wants to go. Instead of piazzas and cafes, I get pubs! :)


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