Tag: Self-Employment

4Feb

Adulting Is Hard

(Portrait of two self-employed parents with a shortage of house elves.)

I always feel like I need a machete coming back to this space after a break. The jungle of online content is so relentless in its growth, so gleefully fecund, that I have the sense of being swallowed up if I don’t constantly maintain my little clearing. Three months of silence, and I need GPS and a sharp-bladed resolve to find my way back.

Hi, by the way!

2015 ended before I really got my bearings in it, which has left me blundering around 2016 like a first-day intern whose supervisor has called in sick. I’ve been working alongside Dan for the past several months—I do the bookkeeping, the list-making, and the English-languaging while he does the other 3,017 things that keep a startup afloat—and I generally love it. We make a good team (when we’re not on each other’s nerves for the very differences that make us a good team). Being a grownup is not easy, however, when you have a household to run and business contracts to puzzle through and no real idea of where the previous year went. It’s been easier to avoid the blogosphere and social media than to risk bumping into myself here.

Also, allergy season has begun, which means I’m 90% drugged-out zombie, 10% flea-bitten spastic, and 0% productive member of society. My blog archives are already well stocked with descriptions of my seasonal allergies, so I’ll say no more about it and simply leave you with this dazzling self-portrait from 2012:

Self-portrait with allergies

(Just imagine a pixie haircut and slightly more bloodshot eyes.) 

We have a lot of decisions on our plate these days, not the least of which is where to sign Natalie up for junior high (!!). There are other Where? questions too, lingering in front of our eyes like tinted lenses. I don’t want to be responsible for the organization of our “one wild and precious life.” I don’t want to have to weigh the hard decisions in my own hands. Can’t I just take a sabbatical from adulting? When do the substitute grownups arrive?

When our girls were very small, they adored the book We’re Going On A Bear Hunt and would chant the refrain on every other page along with me:

“We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!”

That’s basically where I find myself these days, wandering straight into decisions that can’t be outmaneuvered no matter how earnestly I protest that I’m just the intern and surely someone else is better equipped for them. I can still hear Sophie’s toddler voice singing, “We’ve got to go FREW it!” and blast it all, she’s right. The big decisions and the allergy seasons and the machete-chopping back to this space… My inevitable route is straight down the middle.

Still, it doesn’t necessarily mean I have to be mature about it.

Catching snowflakes

(Snowflakes for lunch during a short January getaway to Lake Bled. Trips like this help us remember why in absolute tarnation we hopped on the insanitycoaster of self-employment.)

How are you all? Is the new year being good to you? I do believe we’re overdue on catching up.

23Sep

Pumpkin Spice Laxity

The weather got the memo that today is the first day of fall, and I responded by indulging in one of my precious Pumpkin Spice Latte packets. If your refined coffee sensibilities are recoiling in horror right now, you might need to step back from your screen for a breather while I admit that my granulated Starbucks experience was just what I needed on this gray-clad morning. (Expats gonna expat…)

The girls have been back in school for one week now, and we’re slowly figuring out our dance of schedules for the fall. The fact that Dan and I both work from home makes coordinating much easier, but it also means that we’re not always home when we’re home, and figuring out who’s taking care of what, when, takes some trial and error. Having my right hand out of commission for three months also adds to the fun. I keep looking down at my grace note tattoo in an attempt to remind myself that it’s okay our home life is in its eighty-fourth consecutive transition phase. We’re cultivating flexibility and dodging boredom, and neither is a habit I’d actually want to see go.

Other habits remain frustratingly elusive. Getting up even one minute earlier than responsible parenting requires me to hasn’t happened yet this month. In the fantasy realm of good intentions, I’m the type to rise before dawn and harness the creative magic of those pre-breakfast hours. In practice, however, I’m deeply committed to my pillow between 11:30 at night and 7:30 in the morning. So far this year, there has been neither idea compelling enough nor caffeinated beverage strong enough to tempt me to join the 5am club, but my good intentions will not go down without a fight. You’re welcome to pray for our collective sanity once I summon the courage to change my alarm.

I may not be getting up at a respectable time, but I am writing again on a daily basis—with frequent appeals to my grace tattoo—and I’m hoping I’ll be able to share some of what I’m working on soon. Writing is such a delicate subject for me. Just mentioning that I have projects in the works threatens to tip the day’s balance toward fear again, and I’m often one sharp exhale away from succumbing to the shame-mongering voices that plague all of us who create. I have goals for this fall that feel like home to me though, and so this is where you can find me each morning, duking it out with myself in a desk chair.

There are a lot of areas of life relegated to the back burner right now… or, more truthfully, off the menu altogether. Housecleaning is a dusty memory. (See what I did there?) We haven’t been keeping up well either with friends and neighbors since coming home from our trip, and our tackle-eventually list has literally piled up around the margins of our house. As usual, I’m frustrated that I can’t do it all. The superhero myth is a difficult one to set down.

At the same time, there’s relief to be found in transition times. Nothing about our life right now says status quo, so we’re free to hold our loose ends loosely. It’s not hard to imagine that next month I will start waking with the birds, and the month after that my writing day will require only the briefest of stare-downs with fear, and the month after that the windows will get washed. It’s the first day of fall, and anything is possible. Even the notion that we’re already okay.

What is life looking like for you all these days? Are you ready for fall yet?

10Sep

Book Stories: The Meme

No doubt you’ve seen it making the rounds through Facebook:

“List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t think too hard or try to give ‘right’ answers, just write down 10 that have affected you/moved you/caused you to neglect your family, job, and basic hygiene for 36 hours straight/invaded your dreams/ prompted you to abandon dignity in favor of cosplay* or fan fiction/necessitated the author’s taking out a restraining order against you.”

*Not a sex act, sorry. “Cosplay” is short for costume play, which is short for dressing up like something else, which is admittedly delightful and fun but almost certainly not dignified.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve bounced up and down in your computer chair willing someone to tag you so you too can compile your list. Such is the power of the meme that one is not psychologically able to start thinking about her 10 books until she has been granted permission to do so by social media. (Please tell me I’m not the only one with a compulsive respect for pointless or nonexistent boundaries.) To the relief of my list-loving heart, I have now been tagged (thanks, Rachael!), and rather than listing my ten books as a Facebook status, I wanted to introduce them here, Book Stories style.


(Eggplant nails at Erika’s request)

1. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

When I first read the Anne of Green Gables series as a girl, I only really liked the first book about Anne’s childhood and then the three final books about her children’s escapades. The middle books about Anne’s career hopes, love interests, and coming-of-age heartaches bored me… until one day, they didn’t. I was in between college semesters and boyfriends of my own when I picked Anne of Avonlea off my dusty bookshelf and cried right through the final page. L.M. Montgomery is magic, folks. (But you already knew that.) 

2. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

I was still a newlywed, pre-babies and only about two inches into my recovery from fundamentalism when a friend recommended Blue Like Jazz. I read it aloud to Dan, a chapter each night before bed, and it was like discovering my right to breathe. It very well may have been the first time that I’d heard God spoken about conversationally, without religious jargon, as if he actually had a place in everyday life. This book is spiritual stress relief.

3. On Writing by Stephen King

I can’t remember exactly when I snagged this off the shelf at Barnes & Noble, but I do know that it’s scarcely left my writing desk since. I only pick it up to read when I’m working on fiction because a page or two is all it takes for story inspiration to rush at me like a telepathic kid out of a haunted hotel. I should point out that my preferred genre is not that of the good Mr. King, but damned if he doesn’t make my mind itch to create something new.

4. The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

I know, I know, everything about this book screams GIMMICKY! It was a crash course in entrepreneurship for Dan and I though. We got it a couple of years ago during our transition into self-employment, and while it did not catapult us into the ranks of “the new rich” or reduce our workweek to four hours, it did give us the gift of perspective. We now use terms like “batching” and “80/20” in everyday life (most often when trying to get out of housework, but still), and whenever I’m feeling discouraged about our rolling job situation, I let the FHWW remind me that we’re normal… ish. Not alone, at any rate.

5. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

I’m not sure what it says about me that the book I read most frequently for the pure joy if it was a high school reading assignment. To be fair to myself, though, it’s not like I go around toting Oedipus Rex on beach vacations or cracking open The Complete Works of Shakespeare on flights. Have you ever watched the darling film Il Postino where Pablo Neruda teaches an uneducated Italian postman about metaphor? This book is what taught me.

6. Hope Beyond Hell by Gerry Beauchemin

Over the year and a half following our move to Italy and Sophie’s birth, depression effectively broke down all my internal religious etiquette. I called up a friend from the States who I knew wouldn’t disown me when she heard that I could no longer believe in a God who made eternal torture the default destiny for humankind. She knew exactly what I was talking about and suggested that I read Hope Beyond Hell. I don’t think I’m putting it too dramatically when I say that this book saved my faith.

7. Field Guide to Now by Christina Rosalie

Christina’s blog is largely responsible for getting me writing again back in 2007. Her way of noticing the undercurrents of art in daily life and making poetry of their prose stirs up answering instincts in me. Hers is a creativity founded on intention and delight, and this book is one of my favorite things to read in the pre-dawn hours with a notepad and pen in hand. It makes me want to live and create and then live some more.

8. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

1130. That’s how many pages of small text my unabridged copy contains. And I loved every one of them. Often after work, the summer I was 18, I’d drive to an uptown Starbucks where I’d order a venti coconut frappuccino and sit in the sunshine to read… and read… and read. Dantès’s revenge is so complicated and satisfying to read that I didn’t know whether to celebrate or to cry when I reached the end. I’ll be reading this one again… next time I have an entire summer of afternoons at my disposal (ha!).

9. The Shack by Wm. Paul Young

I almost don’t even want to talk about this book because it’s meant so much to me. Hope Beyond Hell is what saved my faith, but The Shack is what saved my heart. I first read it on a Sunday morning while Dan and the girls were at church. It was a day when all the weight of my fundamentalist upbringing was suffocating me, and I felt so wounded by Christianity that all I could do was lie on the sofa and reach for this book that a friend had lent me. And I met a God of love in it.

10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) by J.K. Rowling

Roughly estimating, I’d say… oh, 99.81273% of the 10 Books lists that I’ve seen circulating on Facebook have included the Harry Potter series. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how deeply the story of The Boy Who Lived gets to us? The final book of the series came out right as we were moving to Italy, and I saved it to read in the hospital before and after Sophie’s birth. That was a frightening and larger-than-life time for me—having a baby three months after moving to another country whose language I did not yet speak—and Harry Potter & Gang’s story helped give me both an escape and the courage to stay.

All right, then. I tag YOU to share 10 books that have stayed with you in some way (even just here in the comments if you don’t want to go all Facebook-official on it). No right or wrong answers, remember, and if you have forsaken hygiene or dignity for the sake of those books, then know you’re in good company.

5May

Rolling With It

A few weekends ago, we attended the opening of a friend’s scooter rental shop. I had done a bit of editing for his promotional flyers, and he’d promised me an afternoon on a Vespa in return. “Sounds great!” I’d said, smiling wide and hoping no one would notice the muffled strains of panic issuing from the closet where I’d bound and gagged my common sense.

I don’t do well with things that roll, see. Just about everyone I know could tell you a story of how I forgot to brake when my bicycle started down that one hill or how I did a perfect 90° flip my first (and only) time on a dirt bike or how I fell off and was subsequently run over by that mammoth handcar I’d agreed to joy-ride through our college campus. And we’re not even going to mention my “experience” with skateboards. Much like dogs and Chuck Norris, things that roll can smell fear, and I’ve only become more afraid as the wisdom of passing years has confirmed that I really should stay as far from wheeled devices as possible.

My adventurous streak wouldn’t let me pass up the chance to ride a Vespa through the Italian countryside though. Plus, the girls were practically levitating over the idea of a family scooter excursion. I could do it. Surely I could do it. Audrey Hepburn made it look so… well, possible… and I see fourteen-year-olds riding them through traffic every day. How hard could it be?

Scooter ride - empty scooters“Hello Bethany. Come and ride on us. Come and ride on us, Bethany. Forever… and ever… and ever.”

Friends, you have no idea. I don’t know which was worse: that I had Sophie on the back of my scooter or that a few dozen friends and acquaintances were watching when I made that first tentative twist to the throttle. We were still in the parking lot, and my scooter sprang—sprang, I tell you—toward a parked car. True to form, I completely forgot about the brakes and only just averted collision by skidding my feet against the pavement. Hoping that the onlookers would think I’d totally planned to do that, I gave myself a quick pep talk centered around the word “BRAKES” and turned my scooter toward the road. Another slight twist of the throttle, and we were lurching forward like a drunk cheetah. “BRAKES!” my brain told me, so I squeezed the brakes for dear life… and we promptly toppled over.

As women began shrieking and men began running over to help, I had a full second to contemplate the strong, capable, dignified image that none of those people would ever hold of me again. Neither Sophie nor I was hurt (and I avoided inspecting the scooter under the principle that ignorance is bliss), but every drop of my poise was now splattered on the pavement, a tragic afterthought. Our friends helped me pull the scooter upright, and one kind man told me not to let emotions overwhelm me, just to breathe, to keep breathing. So I did. I breathed and reminded myself that I had come here to take on a challenge. And what if it was more challenging than I’d hoped? Now that I’d already dispensed with dignity, I had nothing left to lose by trying again. (Well, other than life and/or limbs, but I was trying very earnestly not to think of that at the moment.)

Sophie, wise child that she is, declared that she would not be riding with me anymore, so I left her in the care of our friends and set out on a little practice run by myself. The scooter wobbled and weaved, but I was able to get the hang of it after a few blocks—how to pull on the throttle without giving myself whiplash, how to slow down without resorting to bodily contact with the pavement. By the time I made it back to the parking lot, Dan and Natalie had returned from their practice run, and it was time for the real deal, the family scooter excursion we’d been promising.

Sophie would only agree to go with Dan, so Natalie took one for the team and climbed up behind me. The four of us set off into the Umbrian countryside just as the afternoon began to mellow toward evening. The colors were glorious: fields of glossy green rippling to each side, pink and white buds in various state of undress on the neighboring trees, blue mountains in the distance, and a warm goldenrod sun nodding down on us all. Natalie kept a running commentary behind me as we rolled along, and I found myself in an odd state of in-between. Half of me was loving the afternoon—the beautiful setting, the rush of movement, and the fact that I was getting this experience with my precious little family. The other half of me was vibrating with tension though. I had trouble trusting that I was in control of my scooter; I was all too aware that the slightest wobble of the handlebars could send my daughter and I down a ditch, off a bridge, or into the path of an oncoming car. By the time we returned the scooters, my whole body was shaking from the discordant mix of fear and elation and self-respect and chagrin.

I wasn’t planning to share this story in public, ever. In fact, I’ve been prepared to deny everything should any of the witnesses bring it up (mercifully, no one has). I found myself thinking about it this morning though in terms of our last few days of self-employment, and the analogy was so exact that I couldn’t not share it with you. See, self-employment is squarely in the category of things that roll.

Just because you’re running a business doesn’t mean that you’re in full control of it. These three years in the entrepreneurial game have included plenty of false starts and retries for us, and it often feels like we’re gripping the handlebars more to hang on for dear life than to actually steer the thing. On this side, there’s a ditch, and on that side, there’s bankruptcy, and what if one of these wobbles turns into a full careen? What if we don’t get any new clients this month? What if that quote is turned down? What if we’re already caught in the helpless sideways momentum of a crash?

Tension is only half of the experience though. The other half incorporates and validates the whys of setting out on our own: to feel the wind full on our faces instead of through the seams of a cubicle, to follow the direction of our instincts rather than of someone else’s protocols, and to experience the unfiltered joy when our bravery pays off. And it does. Over and over again, we’ve found ourselves the grateful recipients of enough, which likes to sweep through the door at the last minute to remind us that we are in the presence of miracles.

We would always have regretted not choosing this path.

I have to remind myself of that on repeat when the bank account dips dangerously low and I’m confronted by how very little control we ultimately have over our future. Weeks like this last one tend to find me white-knuckling my way through prayers and giving myself pep talks that do little to assure. I want onlookers to think that we’re old pros at this, that we’ve totally got self-employment down, but the truth is sometimes as undignified as wiping out on your Vespa in front of a crowd of people you can’t unfriend. Lord have mercy. And please also strike them all with amnesia.

But then days like today dawn, days in which a single phone call or email changes our outlook on the next few months from terror to delight. These are the days when we remember why we love the roller coaster thrill, when the adventure of it all makes us grin and clasp hands and lean into the movement as if embracing a friend. We are still shaky, you bet. Exhausted too. But despite our weariness and the worries that we know will merge back into focus soon, we’re remembering how very much fun things that roll can be when you relax enough to roll with them.

Scooter ride - Having fun.png

15Apr

The Ride of Our Lives

“Self-employment is like nothing else on earth,” a friend told us three years ago when the job that had brought us to Italy ended. “One month, you’ll be feeling wildly successful, and the next, you’ll be praying for enough money to put food on the table. It’s a roller coaster. You’ve got to be prepared for that going in.”

We were. At least, we were prepared to the extent that I had been as a kid plunging into the dark of Runaway Mountain for the first time, gripping the safety bar and reminding myself over and over again that the coaster had never killed anyone. (I didn’t think…) Dan and I truly didn’t know what to expect, but we were sure that self-employment was the right direction for his career. We had considered other options, prayed at varying degrees of desperation, talked the whole thing over every which way we could, and finally wrestled our fears into a shaky semblance of trust. This was what my husband was meant to do, I was certain.

That certainty came at a heavy price for me though. On the last day of Dan’s day job, we found out that he would not be receiving his final few months of paychecks, that the tenants renting our house in the States were being evicted for failure to pay, and that our Italian bank account was blocked. I kid you not. If you can stomach a bit of raw honesty, here is an excerpt from my journal entry that day:

“I don’t know what to do with the tension curled up like a thousand knuckled fists inside my belly. I want to pray, but I keep thinking about what a friend going through tough times wrote on her blog this morning: “I still believe in the power of prayer.” Well I don’t. If you believe that praying effects change, then you have to believe either A) that we are convincing God do our bidding or B) that God is withholding his will until someone thinks to ask for it.

I’m much more willing to believe that prayer is simply a good spiritual practice for focusing and connecting our thoughts with God, but I’m so not in the mood today to commune. I need answers, both global and personal, for trusting that he will have anything to do with the outcome of the tangle we’re in now.

It’s not a good place to find myself.”

I think that I worked as hard on trust those first months as Dan did at establishing his new biomechanics business. While he was wrangling website code and traveling to meet clients, I was wrangling fears as thick-limbed as gorillas and traveling my own daily—and sometimes hourly—journey out of panic. At the time, I was working as an English teacher, which helped keep us afloat… but it also tugged the energy out from under me like a cartoon rug. I worked during the hours that my little girls needed me most, and Dan’s business trips made our home life a logistical nightmare. We were exhausted and strained and frayed all the way to the core.

I’ve found, though, that this kind of desperate, minute-by-minute living is the ultimate breeding ground for miracles.  Even as expenses continued to mount—our car’s epic breakdown, a drug operation being discovered in the basement of our rental home, and the Italian government booting us out of the country… all within the first four months of self-employment (seriously, Universe??)—we always had enough. We even got Disney World, and the kind of care that I felt from God during each last-minute upswing bolstered my courage enough for me to quit my job.

We’re three years into being on our own now—Dan an entrepreneur, I a freelancer—and I’m finally getting used to the ride. That is to say, my knuckles are no longer white and I am no longer actively preparing myself to live under a bridge. I would in no way call this experience easy. Having to provide work for ourselves, to keep forward momentum and always be on the cusp of some new possibility is exhausting. That’s the flat truth of it. However, we are also sustained by this work: by the thrill of doing what we love, by the freedom of directing our own time and energy, and by the unknown heights of potential climbing in the dark ahead. We are still sure that this was the right direction to take.

A family who has been friends with us for years finally asked this week what exactly Dan does, and we both laughed in understanding because “entrepreneur” is such a non-description. It means someone who starts businesses, sure, but that doesn’t exactly bring my husband’s day-to-day activities into focus. Actually, come to think of it, there is no such thing as a day-to-day activity in Dan’s world. There is only one day at a time and whatever menial or creative tasks will advance the project he’s pursuing. Today, for instance, he’s spending the morning on the computer working on Training Lot—a platform he’s setting up to help people make and market training videos online. Later, he’s going to join a pizzaiolo friend to film an authentic Italian pizza-making process, then he’ll put the video up as part of a publicity push to get votes for a startup contest he’s been selected to participate in.

Here’s my favorite of the promotional videos he’s made so far (though I might be unfairly biased toward those two bilingual girls of ours):

We’re on a part of the roller coaster right now that I think of as the Sideways Spiral of Death—you know, the part where the g-forces are sucking your brains into outer space and you’re doing your damndest to see through the stars and avoid throwing up if possible. This is all part of the startup process. I know this because we’ve been through it several times now, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Dan’s in the phase of trying a new venture that’s all momentum and effort and wild uncertainty, and I’m right there with him pushing past the exhaustion and clinging as loosely as we dare to the hope that this idea will be one of the success stories.

Only time will tell. It feels crazy vulnerable to be telling you all this. I’d much rather you think of us as stable and prosperous in this life we’re carving out for ourselves. I’m tempted to wait on telling you the self-employment stories until we have it all figured out (which we will someday… right?), but then I couldn’t give you the chance to be a part of them with us. And I would really value your companionship today.

Here’s how: If you took five seconds to open this link and click “like” on Dan’s video, you could help him advance to the next round of the Summit Kilimanjaro startup contest. He was already chosen as one of the top 200, and if he remains in the top 50 by Friday, he’ll be eligible for some awesome networking and publicity opportunities. He doesn’t have all the connections or financial backing that some of the other contestants are using to get ahead, but he does have a pretty great business idea, and your thumbs up would be a huge help. Really, five seconds. (If you then shared the link with all your friends on Facebook, we would both do a happy dance. Just saying.)

If any of you have struck out on your own before, I would also love to hear how the experience was/is for you. The more of us on this coaster, the more it will feel like a party rather than a death trap, non? And hopefully I’ll have a new miracle tale to share with you (quite literally!) in the near future.

26Mar

My Muse, the Diva

Hi, my name is Bethany, and I’m a high-maintenance writer.

In Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals, a charming peek into the habits of creative geniuses over the centuries, I read about Frances Trollope, an English novelist who started writing in her fifties to provide for her family. She would get up in the middle of the night so she could finish the day’s writing in time to make breakfast for her six kids and infirm husband, and in this way, she produced over 100 books. Forget the ability to deflect bullets or to use one’s tiara as a boomerang of destruction; this lady was Wonder Woman.

I, however, identify much more closely with Frances’s son, also a novelist, who paid an old servant to wake him up early each morning with hot coffee and “no mercy.” In his autobiography, Anthony Trollope attributed his success to that arrangement. Now, I don’t have a servant, but I do have a husband with mad cappuccino skills and a kind heart whom I can directly credit for my state of not-in-bedness this morning (…aaaand just about every other morning of the past year). This isn’t really a matter of my being lazy; in fact, I spend my weekends looking forward to Monday’s arrival and that first blank document of the day. I love writing. It keeps me whole and sane and humanoid. However, my ability to write comes with an impressive list of conditions.

When I write, I venture into a different realm of consciousness. My focus intensifies on the elements of story behind the patterns of daily life, coaxing them forward like holograms in a Magic Eye image. Just as with those Magic Eye images, writing requires a delicate balance between concentration and relaxation; some muscles need to go slack in order to see the picture while others must tremble taut to hold it in place.

This is why I have trouble writing when someone else is in the room… or when I’m up against time constraints, or when some other matter has just been brought to my attention, or when I’m tired, or when our family routine is off, or when I’m frustrated about something, or when a head cold’s coming on, or when a favorite TV character has died, or when I haven’t started my day with that sandy-eyed sip of caffeine, or, or, or. I know. My muse wins for most ridiculous diva of the creative universe.

In her defense, however, she doesn’t require me to chain smoke or slip Jack Daniels into my tea or sell my soul to Chernabog in order to write. She lets me broadcast on my own brainwaves and heartbeats, and for that, I am grateful. Not all artists are granted that luxury. In context of all the mental illnesses and addictions that have traditionally plagued creative types, my reliance on quiet, unhurried hours hardly counts as a quirk, much less a neurosis. Still, though, I dream of one day being able to plop down on the bed where my chickenpoxy six-year-old is practicing her reading (to use a totally hypothetical example that has no grounding whatsoever in the realities of our home right now*) and crank out a work of art in between phonics tutorials and applications of calamine. If Mrs. Trollope could write novels before breakfast, surely I can learn to be a little more flexible in my writing habits. Not needing all nearby life forms to cease and desist while I’m working, for instance.

* on Opposite Day

I just have to get my muse on board first. She’s currently locked in her dressing room pouting about the fact that she and I can’t run off together to 1920s Paris and wear feathers in our hair and never have to think about anything other than being fabulous. The coffee is clearly wearing off. I don’t know; maybe it’s my lot in life to be a high-maintenance writer, ever at the mercy of loud footsteps and motherly concerns. I can’t tell you how much I’d like to move past that though—to be able to tap into my creative center no matter my circumstances. Even convincing my muse to pause her pity party for the next hour would be a step in the right direction. Maybe threatening to have four more children would do the trick…?

3May

Life All Around

We’ve had an odd schedule lately. Italy celebrated a national holiday on Thursday last week and another one two days ago, and it seems like weekends keep popping their heads into our lives and then backing out again, mumbling apologies. We’ve spent more time with friends over the last week than we have in months, and it’s felt like coming back to ourselves even as work piled up around our ears, even as the haphazard routines in our life gave up altogether and ditched us to go out for commiserative drinks.

This is an odd season of life, actually. We’re never quite sure if we’re on the verge of change or if we’re putting down roots into our version of normal. Those things that make us feel most alive—traveling, spending quality time with friends, writing (for me), playing music (for him)—have taken a back seat to the sheer madness of trying to establish ourselves as self-employed. We know the work we’re doing is valuable, but we don’t know when we should stop, what shape the big picture is taking, whether we’re in a sprint or a marathon.

One day, I’m sure I’ll look back on these in-between years and see every pattern and nuance through the clear vision of hindsight. I may even develop nostalgia for this time when our lives revolve around possibility (nostalgia-speak for “How the hell are we going to make it??”). For now, though, I’m trying to focus on one bite-sized day at a time and on the snippets of loveliness that carry me through the crazy:

* The drone of lawnmowers all across the city on Sunday afternoons. Even though I know that the tiny wild daisies that I love are being cut along with the wild allergy grass that I don’t love, lawnmowers sing the surest tribute to sunshine I can imagine.

* The quaint ruckus of Umbrian architecture, pink limestone houses and terraces and arches piled up on top of each other like a Medieval slumber party. We’ve lived here almost six years, and I still can’t get over the layers of our landscape: the base of silver-dusted olive trees posed like elderly modern dance troupes, the jumble of sun-warmed stone climbing out, and the Mediterranean sky pooled above. I still can’t stop pulling out my camera, a tourist in my own home.

Umbrian layers

* Coffee, in the social sense. I’m always amazed at the kind of long, easy conversation that can be carried by something as small as an espresso. Don’t try to tell me there’s no magic in that dark liquid.

* Re-falling-in-love songs:

* Handwritten letters addressed to me.

* Baby apricots, cherries, and figs in the backyard we share with our landlord’s family. (We live on the top floor of a “family condo,” which is a vastly more common living arrangement than standalone homes are here. I adore how this setup allows me to have fruit trees without my having to do any work whatsoever to maintain them.) Seedlings, snapdragons, and an explosion of strawberry buds in our balcony garden. Flowers on the kitchen table again. Little growing things, life all around.

Snapdragons - 3

* Sleeping on freshly washed sheets that have spent the afternoon cavorting outside with the breeze. I remember the luminous Mollie Greene commenting once on Instagram that washing your sheets “makes all the difference in everything,” and I’m inclined to agree.

* Tolkien with the girls before bed. After enduring series like The Faraway Tree, which the girls enjoyed but which made me want to stick forks into my own eyeballs, I’m thrilled to be reading good literature as a family. Also, I’d forgotten how funny The Hobbit is. (And what a bad-ass that Gandalf is!)

* Chocolate-covered grins.

Chocolate grin
(Picture by Dan, outfit by Sophie, decoration by gelato)

~~~

Tell me about the snippets of loveliness carrying you right now. Ready, set, go!

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