Wednesday, September 03, 2008

La Dolce Far' Niente

I am a blessed woman. I come from a family that values travel as the best education. One of my favorite bragging points about myself is that I’ve been to every country in Western Europe and about half of Eastern. But anyone who knows me, knows I have one true love: Italy. I knew there was something special between us when I came home from my first multi-country hop, walked into my high school English classroom and burst into sentimental tears at the sight of a Florentine Duomo poster.

Once again I am even more blessed. I got to spend July with my beloved. And my boyfriend too (an Italian, of course). We celebrated our year anniversary with a UCLA writing intensive. As always I never want to come home from that magical country and upon yet another tearful return, my BF asked me: what is it about Italy exactly that has such a hold on me? Not that he’d argue with my opinion but he’s pretty content here.

I could say the food, the people, the language, the history and all of the above are true love motivations for me. My BF argues it’s possible to get all that here: there are some (a teeny handful) of good Italian restaurants here. I have lots of Italian friends here. I can speak Italian with them or with the BF whenever I want. I have my kitchen geared for Espresso, not drip. But there is still a missing intangible that I love. The sum of Italian life is greater than the parts. The best I can come up with is: I love Italy for how I feel when I’m there.

To put it in context, it helps to understand that I was stressed out of my mind before our trip. Broken out worse than ever, trying to get distribution for one film, find financing for another, attach my favorite BSG star to a third, prep pitch materials for CAA for a fourth, AND struggle to turn a floundering company into a non-profit, AND work enough hours at that and several other freelance gigs to make a month’s income in ten days so as to pay my rent before leaving. I was pretty much stretched to the breaking point. But then, that’s nothing unusual for life in LA.

And then there’s Italy. Even there for a writing intensive and working from 8am to 8pm there was such joy. I stopped worrying about just when something got done and noticed it always got done just fine. I took pride in arranging breakfast and cleaning the kitchen after our troop of nine writers. Even the simple act of stringing up laundry to dry in the sun was enjoyable. It’s not just the air in Italy that makes me enjoy life there, it’s the breathing room. Nothing is done in fretta.

And then the weekend came and no matter how much work loomed before us, we hung up our weary laptops and went out and enjoyed. And didn’t feel guilty about it. This is a particularly American concept. Guilt about pleasure. Feeling that we have to earn happiness instead of just being entitled to it and blessed with it by nature. The Italians think we’re crazy for this, and they’re right. I took time to enjoy my life in Italy and I still came home with a great new script. (Hey CAA, dysfunctional family road movie?)

And that’s my missing intangible. I no longer believe in killing myself to get ahead. I renounce my devotion to the church of “the one who gets the most done wins.” I have discovered something truly remarkable in Italy: The weekend. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. I hadn’t seen one in real life in years, not all at once. And now I get them once a week. It’s amazing. You should try it.

I absolutely, categorically refuse to work on the weekends. I even hung up on a Red Cross Blood Drive guy: “Buddy, I’m happy to talk to you about giving my blood on Monday but today is Sunday.”

Since I’ve always been the uber-productive efficiency queen, my new ‘I get time for me’ policy is unsettling for those who always counted on me to get the job done no matter what. But that’s OK. No one ever died from waiting till Monday for a return email. OK, maybe in a medical emergency but I’m not a doctor and you can’t email me your pancreas. Nope, I am strictly enforcing my lowered productivity.

The funny thing is, my face has cleared up for the first time in years, I’m still getting stuff done on time, and I have more energy. I am actually enjoying life in LA again. Not pining for Italy quite as much as usual. In real world terms, I still get the work of two or three normal humans done in a week but for me that’s a big lazy shift from four or five.

There really is something sweet in the doing of nothing. And in allowing myself to see that as necessary rather than indulgent. Really, it’s acceptance that I’m in fact not a machine and an honoring of my humanity. Italy was trying to give that to me all along with the Baci and gelato and Illy Caffe and sunshine on medieval cobblestones and fireflies in the deepest Umbrian night and the good friends who bring half the town to welcome your visit and the slow mail and ridiculous bureaucracy and la bella figura and the roadside chapels and the little Italian cook who thinks you’re crazy for loving her homemade truffle lasagna like it was filet mignon and caviar at a five star restaurant because that’s what it is…Italy was gifting me this and I finally accepted. While I’ve always had Italy in my heart, I finally really got some of it in my life. Grazie, amore mio. It only took me twenty years to get it.

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