Tag Archives: Umbria

Unlockdown: “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”

Probably one of the finest book titles ever created. I always imagined I knew how this felt; when I read the book, when I saw the movie, when I thought about the meaning. But now I really know the surreal floating, this strange being, the lightness one feels when emerging from the heaviness of isolation.

And though the lightness of emerging from two months of lockdown is liberating, it’s also terrifying, because we don’t know what awaits us out there. To go from the heaviness of responsibility (something that Beethoven insisted was necessary for his music) to the lightness of responsibility is dizzying.

When I ventured out during the lockdown to shop (once a week at most), my footsteps were heavy on the empty sidewalks, a certain duty and obligation had overtaken me. I  felt literally grounded to the pavement with a sadness of the reality. But it was real, finite if you will.

And now, to go out without getting stopped by the police between principalities, to walk into a bar (albeit with only 2 other customers at a time and you have to take your coffee outside), to venture into a park (with the proper social distancing and still wearing masks and gloves all the time) feels foreign, almost unbearable, because we’re in a liminal space, between one moment and the next. And we don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s that moment on the high dive just before you launch yourself; it’s exhilarating and scary as hell.

I find I still want to stay inside, stay safe, keep the doors and gate locked (as if that will keep the virus away), stay hidden, stay heavy with the weight of what has been our reality for over two months. And yet. I long to feel the joy of the lightness as it pulls and taunts, because it’s sensual and beautiful and liberating and amazing. And unbearable. It’s still too dark for the light, but I know we’ll get there.

It’s a Brave New Self-World

We’re facing a whole new world with the coronavirus. Everything is changing, including how we use the words self- (add your word here).

Self-quarantine started it off. If you become sick with the virus or test positive, you need to self-quarantine. Then self-isolate came in. If you think you might have the virus, or are afraid of contracting it, you need to self-isolate. Or, as I saw here in Italy about a little over a week ago, the paradigm shift in thinking that if you don’t self-isolate, you could infect others. That sea-change in thinking has probably helped more than any other persuasion to get people to stay home. And finally, a more comforting term, self-shelter, has appeared.

We already have a lot of self-words. Self-control: That’s a good one that we all hear from our parents. Self-harm: That’s not good. Neither is self-destruct. Too many rock stars in that arena. Self-pity: Ew, too much of that around. Self-exile: That conjures up visions of Siberia and endless deserts. Self-indulge: We know what that can lead to. Self-pleasure: Ah yes, we know what word that replaced. Self-induce: Hmmm, take your pick on that one. Self-denial: Some government leaders come to mind.

As we’re entering into the 10th day of self-stay-at-home-or-else here in Italy, some interesting things are happening. The need for social interaction is huge, and the Italians are hugely social. So, they’ve swung into action to ensure that “you are not alone” by singing their hearts out (or playing instruments) from windows and balconies all across the country. It’s heart-warming and giving everyone hope that we will get through this. Not to mention some amazingly fantastic singers and musicians who would otherwise never have been discovered.

Closer to home…here comes some self-disclosure. I’ve been in a quasi self-isolation for three years. My husband had a massive stroke in 2017 that left him an invalid. My whole world turned upside down…and inward. All of a sudden, everything out there was much less important than what was happening in the spare bedroom-turned hospital room downstairs. My whole life became focused on administering to, and caring for, my husband. 24/7. I had to go out of the house nearly every day, but it was only for doctor visits, the pharmacy, state disability, medical supplies, sanitary supplies, hospital trips, physical therapy sessions, legal affairs, endless paperwork filing. My social life disappeared. Oh, once in a while I would run up to Montone, my little town, wave at people as I rushed through the piazza, gulp down an espresso in 6.5 seconds, and then rush off for more rounds of bureaucratic crap. After two years of this, suffice it to say I was dangerously thin and exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Luckily, I had wonderful help. I never could have done it without our care giver, and she has since become one of my best friends in life.

So, self-isolation is nothing new to me. But this time, I’m on my own. My husband died last year on March 18, 2019. I spent yesterday and last night with a lot of memories, alone in my house with my three life-saving kitties. I’ve never been afraid of living alone (for some strange reason, I rarely get lonely). I lived alone for a long time before I met my husband. And it’s strange to say this after living with my husband for 35 years, but I like living alone.

This last year of being a widow (still choke on that word) has opened up an entire world of “self.” Basically, you have to “do it yourself”. I’ve learned a lot, and I do have great help for things I cannot do myself. But the weird part in all of this is that I have not been able to write for the last year even though I now have all the time in the world. Huh? “Be careful what you wish for” comes to mind. On the other hand, what I went through for three years probably has something to do with it; I’ve needed to do nothing (or just the minimum) to recover my strength, my health, my sanity, my heart and soul. Yesterday marked that time.

I’m thinking and feeling and realizing that this time alone has morphed into self-immersion, self-discovery, self-emergence. Ironic how it has taken a global, external threat, locking us inside our homes, for us to look inside ourselves and let those selves emerge in whatever way they can. Whether it’s singing out of windows to comfort others, talking on the phone again—not just texting—rediscovering talents and remembering those dreams, finding closeness with family because there is no escape, and knowing that even though we are alone, we’re not really alone. Out of this madness, it feels like a gift to return to my photography and to write again. It has been three years. Self-bloom! I wish it on everyone.

Stay safe, stay optimistic. We will get through this.

She took my mother with her

My mother was of the Moon. Aren’t all women?

Each month, when the moon is full, my mother comes to visit. I know it’s her way of telling me that she’s still with me. And how lovely to know that we’ll see each other every month until I no longer inhabit the earth. Perhaps then I’ll be with her on our infinite journey.

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I usually photograph the rising moon or when it’s high in the sky. But this time, the first full moon after my mother’s death, I awoke early at 5:00 am and looked out the window. The moon was sliding down into her setting, and I said my final goodbye as the she took my mother with her.

The August moon is the most precious as my mom’s birthday is August 19th.

Morning walk

This week’s Photo Challenge: Morning. What better way to celebrate morning than by walking? Storks walking in a river in Vir, Czech Republic, 7 am.

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A Cornerstone No More

It has been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I’ve had serious writer’s block as the past nine months have been challenging, full of emotion, a time to recast and reset patterns that have become destructive, a time to pull up every plant and look at the roots to see if they’re healthy for replanting or need to be tossed away.

I’ve been reading Elena Ferrante’s incredible tome of four books about a friendship that has lasted 60 years. And it’s hitting close to home. My “best” friend and I nearly made it, except that she died last year at 59. And we had had a terrible falling out five years ago. I’ve had a lot to think about and look back upon. A lifetime, in fact.

At 60 now, I finally feel like I can let go of a lot of shit, to put it bluntly. And that includes people who have been toxic for me. I’ve always been a giver, but after giving my entire life, I now know that I’ve chosen takers all too often, and as a giver, it’s time to set some boundaries because the takers won’t. One of the roles I’ve played, and am giving up now, is that of a cornerstone for people.

The problem with being a cornerstone in peoples’ lives is that they come to expect that you’ll always be there, strong and whole without chips or broken pieces, securely in place with cement all around, never worn down smooth from constant use over the years.

I admit I wanted to be a cornerstone for a lot of people. It brought gratification, acceptance, approval, love even. To be there always for someone gave us both strength. But it held huge responsibilities and guilt at times. When we moved to Italy 16 years ago, this same friend sobbed on the phone and said, “How can you move so far away and leave me? You’re my cornerstone.” Talk about guilt.

And when the cornerstone crumbles just a bit, changes position and becomes jumbled among other stones and bits of brick, who’s there to pick up the pieces? Where’s the cornerstone for the cornerstone? Not from the people to whom I’ve been one, apparently.

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My original post as I wrote it was full of details about this person or that, those who had “wronged” me with their selfishness, those who never called me to ask how I’m doing, those who have gotten pissed off at me if I don’t call even when I’m in a difficult phase of my life. Ahem.

I realized that it sounded whiny and that I was feeling sorry for myself. I’m not. On the contrary, after the horrible break with my life-long friend who accused me of all sorts of terrible deeds that I had done to her, it was the kick in the ass I needed to let go and change my behavior. It was actually a gift, though a painful one.

I’ve learned a lot about life from building fires every night in our wood-buring stove. If you keep messing with it, trying to make it light more quickly by fussing and trying to control it, it won’t light. The best thing to do is let it catch by itself and then watch it glow and eventually brighten into a beautiful, roaring fire.

So, the cornerstone has been put away in a safe place where even I can’t get to it. It can crumble on its own, wear down, eventually slip away. And I won’t have to take responsibility any more for making sure it holds.

And I truly appreciate even more the other two wonderful friends I’ve had for over 40 years. One I met in junior high, the other when we worked together in our late teens. We’re always there for each other even if we don’t talk or write for months. I know now it’s because we’ve never considered the other to be a cornerstone, rather we’ve been more like gentle wild grasses that bend in the wind, grow and die with the changing seasons, then come back greener than ever, breathing with life, sometimes with surprising gifts, caressing each others’ hearts with brilliance, color, and love.

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Death can be beautiful

For plants and trees, autumn means death, or at least hibernation. I don’t see autumn as death; I see it as a glorious transformation from one phase to the next.

 

 

 

So now we’re criminals

Living abroad (away from the U.S.) is taking a nasty turn. What was once living our dream in Italy is turning into “1984” for us and for the banking institutions that serve us. In its infinite wisdom, the U.S. government (specifically the  Departments of Treasury and Justice, and lawmakers in both houses of Congress) has become the watchdog of anyone living abroad who has a bank account.

We all know that millionaires and billionaires and corporations have been hiding money overseas for years. Fine, it’s time to go after the major tax cheats. I’m all for that. But with the law called FACTA (Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act) going into effect, the U.S. government is insisting on two things: One, that all U.S. citizens living abroad must report all details of foreign bank accounts and get taxed on them even though we pay taxes on them here; and two, that the banking institutions must comply with some very serious U.S. regulations. Or else. Where the “or else” is heavy, heavy fines and criminal charges, not just to the bank, but to the employees!! Talk about blackmail.

Can you imagine what would happen if Germany or France or Norway or South Africa tried to do this to the American banking industry? They would laugh in their faces.

Let me repeat. I am all for wiping out corruption and getting gazillionaires to pay their taxes. But this law is not affecting only them. In fact, it probably won’t hurt them much at all; they’ll still find ways to hide their money. No, this law is affecting the 99% (sound familiar?) of us who live abroad and have to have a bank account in the town where we live.

This compliance regime is so serious that a number of banks have decided they won’t do it. Sounds brave, right? Nope. What it means is they’re simply telling their American citizen clients that they can no longer bank or invest with their institution, and they’re canceling accounts. How the hell can you live without having a bank account? Even an online one. They’re also subject to this, so please don’t comment with “Why don’t you just get an online account?”

I have nothing to hide and I dutifully report our foreign back accounts. What irks me is that this form used to be called FBAR (Foreign Bank Account Report). Now they’ve changed the name to FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network). Isn’t that sweet? We’re now potential financial criminals in the eyes of the U.S. government just for having a checking account in a local bank. Welcome to the 21st century of bullying, surveillance, paranoia and fear.

 

 

Weekly photo challenge: Object

Which object? Only the shadow knows.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: One shot–two ways

Statuesque views, more or less, of the Montone countryside.

Old notions

The moment I peer into the box, I’m in another time and place. I’m looking at old notions—old friends—that give me immediate comfort. They represent rituals that introduced girls to the world of sewing. Believe me, this seems like ancient history now, repleat with stereotypical roles, and I’m glad the world has changed in so many ways. But, for the moment I’m taken back to the way it was, and I indulge in the memories.

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In sewing class, you had to have a whole array of notions: red pin cushion, a tin box of Sucrets for bobbins, a seam ripper, a thimble, pinking shears and scissors, a button box, snaps, a can of very fine oil for your sewing machine, and of course the obligatory set of needles.

Good lord, I still have them all…from 1967. The Sucrets box has my signature on a piece of adhesive tape! They don’t make tape like that anymore. I take all of these notions for granted because I still use them.

I smile and shake my head at the three “Happy Home Rust Proof Needle Book” ladies!

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And you know what? They ARE rust proof! The needles, not the ladies.

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The buttons are my most precious notions. Who would have thought that so many memories could spill out of a button box? I rummage around the box, pull out a few, and this is what I see:

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M grandmother’s fur cape with the large blue, braided button.

The anchor button: my dad’s heavy knit sweater he always wore sailing.

The tortoise-shell bob button next to the anchor button: my brother’s P-coat.

The yellow button: my mom’s bathrobe that she wore into tatters. The light blue button of my sister’s formal dance dress. And so many others.

I think it’s good to hold onto some old notions, whether a belief, an understanding, an impulse or desire, or even…old sewing stuff.