Ela

Florence, a city like no other..., The human behind the artist (Interviews with artists living in Florence)

The Human Behind The Artist… final touches

Last week I turned on the recorder one last time for The Human Behind The Artist  project. All throughout the interview I was overwhelmed by mixed feelings and as I turned the recorder off I knew that the project is complete, that this was the final interview; I could almost hear a whisper telling me that it felt ready to be released into the world.

For those of you who don’t know, The Human Behind The Artist is my brainchild that I came up with in October 2013. I will never forget that day. Dragged to an event by my husband, I found myself standing in a room filled with artists, holding my ten month old baby, feeling lost and confused, when a painter, walked up to me. Her words changed my life and hours later, while driving home, the title of the project was settling onto my thoughts.

Two months later I recorded my first interview with a brilliant playwright, living in Florence at the time. I remember shaking and breathing in her every word, afraid not to miss a sentence, a frown, a smile. Her story only made me crave for more, to wonder about the mystery artists seemed to be surrounded by. She became one of my dearest friends.

Since then I interviewed over twenty artists, poking their thoughts, digging deep into their souls, seeking for the story within the artist,  trying to reveal their human nature, usually concealed by their alien looking outside shell. I had the privilege to meet, connect and listen to people from all walks of life. I had the honor to become friends with people I only dreamt of existing in real life.  I found a harsh, yet loving mentor in the bunch and I learnt that the word professional is not just a word. This project means more to me than I could ever express in words.

This final interview was special, not only because of the wonderful people in front of me, sharing their stories and memories, but also because the playwright, now my friend, was a table away from us looking at me while I was working. That’s when I knew the project is finally complete. I felt as if the beginning page was looking at the ending one, nodding, approving and smiling at what I have accomplished in between.

The Human Behind The Artists still has a long way in front of it, but a few months from now will fly away to be revised and turned upside down by other people, other hands, other minds.  As the final touches are put in place a hint of melancholy caresses my memories, and I remember every artist I interviewed, the locations, their stories, their enthusiasm. Thus, I would like to thank all the wonderful humans who made this project possible. Thank you for sharing your stories, memories, struggles and fears. Thank you for allowing me to share them with the world. Thank you for your trust and most of all thank you for following your dreams and for trying to make the world look more beautiful through your art.

Last but certainly not the least, The Human Behind The Artist is dedicated to Laura Thompson. Thank you! This project would have never existed without you and your words.

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Amy Sarno – first recorded interview

Brendan Kiely, Jessie Chaffee – last recorded interview

12 months, 12 writers, 12 stories

The friend I never met

By Loredana Andrei

iphone-1032781_1280Since childhood I was surrounded by only a few friends, but those few I had were very close to my heart. When I left my home country to move to Germany a few years ago, I knew my life was going to change completely; I knew that I will have to learn how to live without any friends around. Even so, I hoped to meet new people here, but it hadn’t been as easy as I thought. Not because Germans are cold, as they say, or because at first I didn’t know the language well (although of course that was an impediment), but because from a certain age on it’s fairly hard to find good friends.

Good friends are old friends whom you’ve built a relationship with since adolescence, whom you are tied to by history, whom you trust. You can trust them with your secrets, facing no judgment from their part, without worrying that your words may be heard by others as well.

From a certain age on it’s easier to make acquaintances, but friends, friends are harder to find, because although you can have a lot in common with the new people you meet, above all if there is no trust, nothing can be created.

Thus, there I was a year later, in a new country, alone, with no friends around, losing touch with many of those whom I left behind. Luckily I just had a newborn who took up a lot of my time, otherwise I would have missed even more the company of a good friend to chat all day about everything and anything and probably my postpartum depression wouldn’t have existed.

Then, suddenly, she came into my life. My good friend, my best friend now, the friend I’ve never met.

No, she is not an imaginary friend; she is very much real, full of life and ideas. We’ve been friends for almost three years now, but we’ve never met in person. We know each other from pictures, videos and stories. We know so much about each other, still we’ve never been face to face. We drank many coffees together, debated almost all topics life threw at us, whether it was politics, parenthood, recipes, important decisions, whether we had wonderful days or plain horrible ones. We’ve always been there for each other. We wrote each other entire stories which later on became novels. And there is still so much to talk about. All this despite the fact we’ve never met.

Man say that time seems to fly when spent next to a beautiful woman. That is exactly what I can say about a good friend whom you are tied to by a special chemistry. I don’t remember if at the beginning we had daily conversation or if that came with time. I know that our friendship is due to an article about mothers and babies to which she left a comment. In time we discovered we are on the same page not only regarding parenthood, but also so much more.

Now, here, in this place, she is my only true friend; the only one whom I can say anything to in any moment, the only one with whom I can’t wait to share what’s happening in my life, good or bad, the only one whom I consult with when I have an issue and the only one who knows when a depression comes my way to haunt me. And I am certain she feels the same. I can feel the reciprocity in our relationship and I don’t need body language to confirm that.

I can’t imagine how our relationship would have been if we would have met in real life; maybe the same or maybe it wouldn’t have existed. As individuals we have the tendency to wear a lot of masks in the real world. I’m not denying that we wear them in the virtual world as well, but the reasons are somehow different. In the virtual environment we take on masks in order to pose as someone else, to impress, to be whom we would like to be, maybe because we don’t have the courage to be ourselves. Whilst in the real world we wear masks to defend ourselves and more than once to hide our vulnerability.

Thus, I don’t know how our relationship would have been if we would have met in the real world. What I do know is that even so, without physically meeting each other, she is the ideal friend anyone would like to have.

When you meet that someone, things move forward effortless, dots easily connect. It’s the same as love: it exists or it doesn’t. Distance becomes only a meaningless factor. I think it was meant to be this way for us; everything connected so natural that I can’t even remember exactly how it went, but it feels like we’ve been friends forever.

Thus, my dear best friend, thank you for being.

13245872_10201749693340515_2089062471_nShort Bio: Loredana Andrei is a psychologist and writer based in Germany. In 2012 she authored an e-book about children’s personality based on their temperament and has done notable work as a psychologist back in her home town Bucharest, Romania. Currently Loredana is the happy mother of a three year old girl, loves to write and communicate with the world through her blog and hopes to soon publish her second book in progress.

Stories from the crypt of life

Where are you from?

Where are you from? This is a question that tortures my stomach every time it’s addressed to me. Where am I from? I used to know the answer to that question. At first it was a city, and then it was the last city I lived in, until it became a country and now… now I don’t even know the answer to that anymore.

I don’t know where I’m from. Places have lost meaning somehow and people replaced the meaning of the place. I should probably say I am from my home country, but all my ties have been cut, leaving only a trail of humans whom I care for dearly behind. Or maybe I should say I am from the country where my daughter was born, but again my love for this country, this city, has changed throughout time and again replaced by the humans who are enriching my life. Funny thing is those humans aren’t from here either. So where are we all from? Do we have a country, a city, a street, anything?

Sometimes the question itself feels like an invitation to judge someone by their place of birth, their origins. I know people who are born in China, but spent their whole life in a different country. Does that make them Chinese? Other people, who spent their childhood and adolescence in their home country, suddenly woke up one day and traveled the world for the following twenty years. Can they honestly identify with some place in particular?

I would like to be from anywhere and everywhere. I would like to not be asked that question anymore. I would like to forget for a second that there are borders, politics and different countries. I would like for us to be perceived only by who we are and how we impact others. I would like to just be.

12 months, 12 writers, 12 stories

Pain, heritage, unveiling

By Lorenzo Novani

13059719_10153329002460882_211944711_nI woke to howling wind and all the hostility that it brings: the little door to the shelter rattling violently, snow fluttering through the sides, cold air reaching up to sting my face and leave me numb.

I thought about my predicament. I was 1,345 meters above sea level on the collapsed dome of an extinct volcano, surrounded by snow, fog, and darkness, in freezing temperatures, miles from civilization, with nothing but the clothes on my body, a rucksack with a bottle of water and a biscuit.

Why did I climb this fucking mountain in the first place? Had I wanted to die up here? I don’t think so. My lack of preparation was reckless, but not suicidal. When I set off the conditions were reasonable. Fog had descended as I was in ascent, but I knew I was only a short distance from the summit at the time, so I pressed on. It was both naive and stubborn. The sense of risk superseded by my need for a sense of triumph. Pride wouldn’t allow me to be beaten by the mountain, but after reaching the top, the fog quickly thickened to a dense dark grey. The fog kept me lost long enough for darkness to surround and darkness kept me occupied until wind and snow blew me to the only suitable conclusion for the night: a tiny wooden shelter built by and for climbers seeking shelter; a humble haven in the eye of a storm.

I think I had just wanted some solitude. I had got it. Now I just wanted some sleep, but it was impossible. The storm was a distraction, still the pain was unbearable. I’m not talking about my feet, which were throbbing, battered and blistered from the climb, nor the intense ache in my back and knees, nor the stinging of the cold against my bare skin. I’m talking about a much older wound that had been gouged open with a few words. The words repeated in my head alongside voices arguing heatedly about self-worth and identity.

I skimmed over sleep until daybreak and as the sky began to glow a hazy white, I wondered into the fog, searching for the path again. Where did I come from? How did I get here? My search took me perilously close to several ridges which would have been the end of me. On one occasion I was so startled by the drop that suddenly emerged from the fog in front of me that I slipped on the ice and found myself on my ass, feet in the air, a few inches from the edge! I scrambled back into the safety of the fog. I found the shelter again. I stood on the metal step outside, still shaking with adrenaline after my encounter with the life-threatening drop. I looked around, the wind and snow had stopped but I’d underestimated how dangerous the fog could be in itself; I could barely see a few feet in front of me. I had no choice but to wait until it cleared. At first, I was indignant, “There must be some way I can find my way out of here!” Quickly I resigned myself to the situation. The fog was indifferent to my will and would clear when it was good and ready. I stared into the fog. It began to glow as day pulled the sun from the horizon into its full glory. It was as the light poured from behind me, that it emerged in front of me, the specter. At first, I doubted its realness. I hadn’t eaten or slept properly. Was it a hallucination? A lucid dream? I willed it away but it didn’t move. I pinched myself but I was numb. It was human-like with 2 arms, legs and a head but it was about 5 or 6 times taller than me and there were no discernible features on its face. I stood frozen with fear as the gigantic phantom grew taller and more certain by the second, until it towered over me still, dark and ominous. I couldn’t look at it. It was unbearable. Overwhelmed by fear and awe, I cowered beneath it, crouching down low and covering my face with my hands.

Why do we let shadows of the past dominate us? Who could we be without them?

I removed my hand from my face and stood back up to confront it. My shadow. Cast onto the fog by the sun creating the illusion of a huge entity standing in front of me. I stared at the illusion until it gradually dissipated with the fog, unveiling blue skies, wispy, candy floss clouds, and lochs below that stretched out catching the sun and dividing it into a majesty that the eye could safely behold; a million little sparkling stars on their rippling surfaces.

It was time to go home. I still couldn’t find the path that took me there, but it didn’t matter now. I would find my own way down.

13020129_10153329002645882_750930168_nShort Bio: Lorenzo is a 32 year old writer and performer from Glasgow, currently living in Florence. An Equity/Spotlight Actor and professional magician, Lorenzo primarily writes to perform. His debut theater play “Cracked Tiles”- a one man play inspired by his relationship with his father- received critical acclaim at Glasgow’s West End Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015 – www.lorenzonovani.net. Lorenzo has also produced and performed several successful magic performances over the last few years, most recently “Poet of the Impossible” which weaved sleight of hand wizardry with spoken word poetry – www.r-e-n-z.co.uk. He is currently writing his 2nd theatrical play.

12 months, 12 writers, 12 stories

Childhood, writers, dilemmas

By Lee Foust

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For a fiction writer, one’s childhood grows plotted, thematic, and comes to reek of manipulated matter. The childhood recollection can be anything but honest, anything but benign.

I frame my own in Gothic. There were monsters. No, not under the bed, but along the deserted streets of a lonely, countryish California suburb. Before cement sidewalks and Astroturf lawns. Darting, rumbling Camaros and Chevy’s, the “muscle cars” of the disaffected teens of the late 1970’s. Like unchained pit bulls out to taste blood, they prowled the streets of my hometown. They were filled with frustrated and stoned longhaired teenagers. These “big kids” occupied the peg in the ladder immediately above my own in the hierarchy of horror created by an ordered, capitalist society. They wedged us “little kids” down, threatened and humiliated us to revenge their abusive, square, Vietnam-defending fathers, the aimless, ever-present existential threat that the local police were to them, to make up for the insult of the old women who left their porches, slamming the front door behind them, when these scraggly bell-bottomed dispossessed children of the age walked the streets of their own neighborhoods.

It was a kind of civil war between young and old. My generation was orphaned by it, squeezed uncomfortably between the great generation and the baby boomers.

This is the writer’s dilemma, how to squeeze meaning out of an indifferent cosmos. How to write of survival on a threatening planet of predators, in an eco-system that demands we gobble mouthfuls of other living creatures in order to survive, and, more importantly—in our great privilege and power—how we manage to thwart our own self-destructive urges.

The only meaning I have discovered remains the loud proclamation of the meaninglessness of both event and reflection. They are important motors of language and narrative specifically because they are meaningless rather than significant. The endless happening of nothing fascinates the observant author.

I often dreamt, as a child, of a hairy-armed ogre who used to crush me to death, night after night, after a long chase through a dark wood. Knowing that my childhood was a practically never-ending walk—through the foothills of Mount Diablo, along the unpaved suburban lanes, through the walnut groves, unfenced back yards, and along the Walnut Creek—to avoid my drugged-out mother’s smothering embrace is banal. It’s what I found in my endless walking that’s important: billions of indifferent scenes about which I might, someday, write.

LeeFoust-49Short bio: Lee Foust is a fiction writer and performer from Oakland, California who has lived in Florence, Italy since the mid-1990s. He teaches literature and creative writing for US universities and is the father of one. He has authored two books: Sojourner, short fiction and poems about the mystery of place, and Poison and Antidote, nine Bohemian tales of San Francisco during the Reagan era. Foust’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in journals, magazines, and newspapers in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the U.S.A.

Follow Lee’s writing and performing journey at http://www.leefoust.com

Florence, a city like no other..., Once upon a time when I was living in Bucharest..., Stories from the crypt of life

Once upon a time I gave up on people

Ever since I was a child, I loved observing humans. I loved the way they talked, the way they walked, acted, thought, innovated, struggled, prevailed. Whenever there was a problem that needed solving, I was there to help. Of course, most of the time I made a bigger mess than needed. Thus, over the years, close family and friends discouraged my actions telling me that sooner or later I will be disappointed, that some day I will understand the cruelty of the world we are living in and give up. I knew they were probably right, but….

Friends broke my heart, colleagues took advantage of my willingness to always be there and still it seemed I would never learn, using what others called my favorite excuse: ” I never expect anything back, therefore I can’t be disappointed.” Until one day…

I was in my last year of University, preparing for my dissertation and also had just got admitted to a second University that year. The Universities were 300 kilometers apart, so my life was mostly spent in between 3 hour train rides. It was one of the best and worst years of my life. On that particular day, I had just taken an exam and ran to take another one the next morning. I got on the train and tried to find an empty compartment to study. The train was packed. I was just about to give up on my search and light a cigarette on the train’s hallway, when I saw him. An old men, sleeping in an empty compartment. I grabbed my backpack and went in, filled with hope. He would sleep the whole way, I would be able to study in peace. After an hour I felt confident. The texts weren’t that hard and if I was lucky I could probably even close my eyes for half an hour.

The old man started twisting and turning. I looked at him for five minutes trying to guess what kind of man he was. He looked over 60 years old, his breath reeked of alcohol. Still, there was something in his expression that made me smile. One more twist, one more turn. A bill fell out of his pocket and landed right in front of my shoes. It was the equivalent of 150 euros. I was a student, money were always a luxury. I could have paid ten train rides with that money, eat for a month, buy new books, go out with my friends, eat, eat, eat. I could have… but maybe he could have done the same thing. Maybe that was the only money he had for the entire month. Maybe…

I picked up the bill from the floor and reached for the old man’s arm. At first I shook him gently, but when he didn’t even move an inch I pushed him a little harder. Startled, he jumped up and looked into my eyes confused.

“I’m sorry to wake you up” I said ” but this fell out of your pocket”.

He grabbed the bill, shoved it deep into his pocket and asked: “Are you just giving the money back to me?”

I nodded in approval, smiling. What followed marked me for weeks, months to come.

“Are you stupid? Are you crazy? How can anyone be so retarded? You are 20 something right? From the books in front of you I guess you are a student. You don’t have money! You could spend the next week living like a queen!”

I was shocked, but he continued to shout.

“You, my dear, are the perfect example why humanity doesn’t work! Do you expect a thank you? Do you think that if you did this good deed, life will be more gentle or fair to you? Do you think I am grateful? You are just another hypocritical little bitch who will regret every act of kindness you did in your life. This money is drinking money for me; it would have been survival money for you. Or who knows, you may as well be a drinking bitch too!”

After screaming the last sentence, he turned around, laid back in his seat and closed his eyes to go back to sleep. For him it was over; for me it was just the beginning. Was he right? Was my family right? Were my friends right? Was I stupid? I tried to shake the weight of his words away, but I couldn’t stop feeling disappointed. Maybe I did expect gratitude? Maybe the smile a normal person would have given me for returning their money would have been my reward. Maybe humans weren’t as fascinating as I thought. Suddenly a wave of anger ran through my body. I wasn’t going to help anyone, ever again. It was decided; I was to blend in and believe that people were cruel and sooner or later they will hurt you for no reason at all.

I kept my word for almost three years; three years thinking only about my needs, not caring about others, pretending to be someone else. Until one evening….Walking back from work with a friend, I saw a drunk old man, muttering words, unable to stand up on his feet. I passed him by, but couldn’t help to look back. My friend told me to walk away and stop thinking about that foolish drunk. “What if he has a family that is looking for him? What if he is lost?” I whispered almost to myself.

Pointless to say what I did next but from that moment on I stopped thinking about what other people expected from me. Would I be disappointed? Probably! Am I a fool? I am almost sure of that. What I am certain of is that humans are worth it; that maybe I hurt someone once; that I surely disappointed a lot of people.

Humans are beautiful. They just lack confidence in themselves. Humans are beasts. They need a constant reminder to look into their souls. Who knows, maybe that old man from the train was so angry because someone reminded him that humans can also be kind. And yes, humans will hurt you for no reason at all, but do you expect them to be grateful or just follow your own path?

12 months, 12 writers, 12 stories

Fatherhood, love, triumph

By David Orr

Jasper e Babbo

My two year old son calls me ‘Daddy’, occasionally ‘Babbo’, and a few times a month, ‘Davide’.  Of the three, ‘Davide’ is the most startling, as if he’s aged sixteen years in a sentence and turned into an ironic teenager.  Also, my first name is David – Davide is what comes out the other end of an Italian pasta-press, flattened and exotic.

Though he was born in Italy and we still live there, my son primarily asks questions in native English.  ‘Davide, how are you?’  ‘Davide, what you doing?’  He hangs out on the upward lift of the question-marks, pausing for effect, more interested in getting a smile from his parents than an actual answer.  He has the same studious air of a comedian trying out a joke, scanning the audience for validation, or, at the very least, a connection.

Disarming someone by making them comfortable – that was my trick growing up.  In fact it still is.  Ever a people-pleaser, if someone is in a bad mood, or worse, unhappy with me, it’s analogous to having committed murder.  In my mind’s sensitivity levels, there is very little difference between the worst atrocity you can commit as a human being, and forgetting to take out the trash.  Hence, I cultivated an extraordinary series of tricks to try to make people feel at ease.  This worked some of the time, or at least, enough to make me keep doing it.  Until I moved.  To Italy.

Language was the problem.  My first years in Italy I couldn’t crack a joke, couldn’t even manage levity, as I was missing the tools, the language to do so.  I was basically a child, trying to make people feel at ease, and failing miserably.

I made cute attempts at rolling my R’s, and inhaling my C’s Tuscan-style.  I would crawl from one train-wreck of a conversation to the other, throwing down tantrums at the most basic words or expressions.  When I succeeded in understanding the odd phrase it was like catching a few raindrops on my tongue, enough to feel the wetness, but never enough to drink.

I tried reading newspapers, comic-books.  I took lessons, improved marginally, then regressed.  During this time, my son became a full-throated two-year old, struggling with his own lack of language.  Young children display so many basic emotions there is a tendency to accept their behavior as inevitable physical law – an alarm clock rings, a stove gets hot, a baby cries. The hard part comes when ‘frustration’ enters the party, surveys the crowd, and decides that your two year old looks like a great dance-partner.  Enter the toddler.

A forecast is displayed on TV, presented by a man, who, with cheerful and false exactness, shows my son’s mood swings on a wildly lit map.  He points a toy fishing pole at animated suns blinking with ear-to-ear grins, and dark black holes swirling with crevices.

“…And tonight, we have a cold-pressure system moving in, resulting in unpredictable tantrums, mixed with occasional spots of absurd cuteness that reward your patience and leave you with the feeling of the sublime.  Tomorrow, as per yesterday, you will struggle to understand what the term’ the sublime’ actually means.”

This was our existence – my son screaming in his crib to be heard, me screaming internally, both sharing an inability to live out the basic human practice of expressing oneself, our identities straitjacketed.

And then, a funny thing happened.  We got better.  I began to read every night to my son in Italian, starting with the indestructible children’s books – those of the cardboard pages. His craving for new material (‘six books tonight daddy’), led me to slow down to a pace where I belonged – at a two-year old level. My son bolstered his usual kingly demands with his own sets of new phrases. My pronunciation improved, and full sentences began to form.   His identity started to take root while mine began to return.

Today, I’m now able to hold basic conversations in Italian.  My son is able to identify precisely why he is crying (it turns out he has many reasons).  We have both successfully navigated our own identity crises.  He is moving onto underwear.  I am moving onto complex tenses.  The forecast is positive with hints of sun amongst the clouds that are bright, illuminating, one might almost say, sublime.

IMG_2198 as Smart Object-3Short bio: David Orr grew up in the town of Stratford, Ontario, Canada, famous for swans, Shakespeare, and the future embryo of Justin Bieber.  He graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Systems Design Engineering. David is also part of the Writers Group in Florence, contributing writer for the bilingual, local newspaper Florence Is You! and recently crossed the finish line of an ultra marathon, starting from the beautiful citadel of San Gimignano to the city of Siena. He consults for Wall Street technology firms, and writes to keep sane, seek truth, and overcome.   

You can also read more of David’s stories following his website http://blog.thedorr.com/.

Florence, a city like no other..., Stories from the crypt of life

Thoughts of solitude

We are our best friend and our worst enemy. We take our first breath alone and we breath in for the last time… alone. Solitude saves us; solitude condemns us; solitude kills us.

When I was five years old I found my best friend looking back at me from behind the mirror, smiling, goofing around while I brushed my teeth, making faces and laughing at my jokes. Soon enough that cute, curly-haired girl became indispensable to me. She taught me how to enunciate words, how to create big speeches for the world to hear, how to laugh when tears where making their way on my cheeks. She told me to never trust anyone but her and she listened to terrifying stories that were never to be spoken again. She spoke to me about true love, humanity, and kindness. She promised me the world, she promised me peace.

When two decades passed since I took my first breath, the little girl abandoned me. Her shadow was still reflected in the mirror, but her spirit had died. She avoided my gaze, my smiles, my tears. She didn’t trust me anymore. I had disappointed her. Every night I searched for her words, every night I called out her name; all was in vain. I searched for her in writings, scribbled pieces of paper, long forgotten notebooks.

As any good friend, I moved on and forgot about her. I replaced her with new faces and bodies. I took on the challenge to trust other human beings. After one, three, ten different new faces, 20 different betrayals and who knows how many disappointments I gave up on humans. I gave up on friendship. I fooled myself that I could live without people. I locked myself in an imaginary world, creating its every corner, its every mountain and blade of grass. Life was beautiful again.

Three decades knocked on my door. I glanced into the mirror and grinned at the gray hairs that betrayed the passing of time. Suddenly, I saw her winking at me. The sparkle in her eyes, the smile on her face, her kind words invaded my whole being like a giant hug. We talked for hours, we laughed, we cried. I woke up the next morning and ran to see her. The person looking back at me had wrinkled skin like a crumpled piece of paper, her hair was now white as snow, her eyes tired and sad. She was dying.

It only takes a second to loose yourself. It takes decades to find yourself in the huddle you’ve created.

PS. Don’t forget to wink at yourself tomorrow morning: “You rock!”

12 months, 12 writers, 12 stories

Inspiration, burdensome, true love

By Lisa Saltagi 

It was mid-summer. Those nights when nothing matters except who you’re with and how much the sun has painted your body gold in those glorious afternoon hours.car-705840_1280I was in a shop by the water – one of those places that is a labyrinth of little rooms with everything that you never needed and never even knew you wanted; potpourri and decorative shelving, pretty boxes painted with old passport stamps, old nautical instruments far past their usefulness – now shining like jewelry under the fluorescent lights instead of reflecting the waves of the sea.

I perused as usual – touching this and that – killing time before my family and I went to get ice-cream down the street. But in one back corner I found it. A wooden sign painted a deep midnight-black. The white letters that had been stamped on it jumped off the wood – bright and bold – daring anyone to rebut the message they were screaming out into the dead space of a small knickknack shop in Maine.

Do the thing you love more than anything in life. You might become a bit unpredictable, sometime cranky, but you will be happier than you ever imagined possible.

I knew the authors warning. The thing I love, my passion, had I lived it? I saw visions of horseback riding in Ireland and 2am conversations on the cliffs over the ocean in Morocco. I felt the liberation of these memories running through my mind, trapping them in a pen and spilling their inky emotions onto a sheet of blank white paper.

I had done the things I loved most. But with those things I had felt loneliness. I felt despair when my writing was not published, the frustrations of leaving family behind to follow my dreams. Of knowing that this small vacation back home was temporary – and Florence Italy was also my home now. Of the burden of spreading myself too thin to do the thing I love – travel, write. It smolders deep in the depths of my being – a slow ember that sears into innermost thoughts – that ignites at every negative unpredictable moment of my international life.

But, the but is the most important. The pause is where the promise is. “but you will be happier than you ever imagined possible.” Like the kiss that makes all the pain go away, the salve that heals the burn. In my passion, I found Rami. I found my forever – I found my husband. I left the sign in it’s place – awaiting another reader to instill its message. For me, it had done its duty – and I realized I had already followed its message.

Today, on the steps if my Florentine apartment there’s a different black sign with white stenciled letters. But these are rounded at the corners, and they lean on each other on the black canvas instead of shouting their message out individually.

“Wouldn’t you agree, baby you and me, we got a groovy kind of love.”

And for some reason, that other message doesn’t matter anymore.

12650234_10205921887426410_1368603040_nShort bio: Lisa Saltagi grew up in the back-roads of New England and found passion in writing nonfiction very early in her life. With her ever-growing urge to travel, she studied abroad in Ascoli Piceno, Italy and realized that the world was too big to stay in one place. After many adventures she found love for life and for her husband of one year in Florence, Italy where she continues to live, travel, write (when she can!) and works within a study abroad program where she hopefully instills her passions into future generations.

You can also read more of Lisa’s stories by following her website www.shecomesfromboston.com.

Florence, a city like no other..., Raising Ephia to become my friend, Stories from the crypt of life

Dear diary….

Dear diary I am tired. I spend my mornings sending out hundreds of emails and my evenings racing my fingers on the keyboard while listening to stories in my headphones. Every morning I wake up hoping that today’s sunshine will last longer, that I will find at least one reply to yesterday’s emails, that my stories aren’t boring, that this day will be better, that I will stop frowning at the computer. Hoping works.

Dear diary I burned my laptop the other day. I tried to be romantic and lit up a candle. Obviously romance sucks. Now I have to stare at alien lights on my screen because of the big round shaped burn smiling to me from the screen. My computer is still alive, but my romantic flame faded away.

Dear diary I am happy. Every morning I get unforgettable smiles from Ephia while she sits quietly at the table having breakfast. Every day at 1,30 pm we look for fish in the pond near her school. Sometimes we find them, sometimes they are sleeping. I still get a hug for the effort. Every afternoon we snuggle in bed and watch The little mermaid together. Lucky for me there is also Little mermaid II otherwise I would dream about the lines every night.  Dear diary being a mother is nothing like I thought it would be. Being someone’s mom is a privilege.

Dear diary I am restless. I wish I could have a magic wand to make everyone smile and look around them. People are busy, people are connected, people don’t look into each other’s eyes when they speak. Dear diary I wish everyone would get a hug from someone every single day. I am sure people would smile more. Life feels empty without hugs.

Dear diary I am a small ant that has elephant friends. My stories would be so boring without them in it. Dear diary I miss my friends. I miss having long coffee breaks on Friday afternoons. I miss finishing each other sentences. I miss feeling like an elephant for a couple of hours.

Dear diary tomorrow I will write some more; I will smile some more; I will watch some more cartoons and I will hug my daughter more. Dear diary I salute you.

Love,

Ela

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