...a story about migrating to Italy

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


“…if it’s dark or light, just write…” wrote a great teacher and writer once. I’m sure he said it on more than one occasion too, as I sat amongst fellow writers and friends, scribbling notes and exchanging writing – the best school experience I have ever had… more than that… it’s up there with my best experiences.
I remember when I made the decision to start the Professional Writing and Editing course. I had been in a sort of limbo, a Arts graduate working in an employment agency as front desk operations. Why? Who the hell knows. I had been working at a book store in the city prior to this, one of my dream jobs for sure, but my quest to save money, which was never accomplished, steered me away from the book store as my boss there offered me a casual, un-stable working week of three days, sometimes two. Following this, when applying for jobs at the agency, the agency offered me a job at the agency. Indeed.
A great experience – I make it a point not to regret anything… though I really did loathe that job. The people were great, my boss was wonderfully bright and eccentric in an ‘elegant hippy’ way, (i.e.: “I grow organic vegetables, eat tofu and wear Prada” type). She told me a dozen colourful stories about her many adventures and interesting people in her life.
I believe that we had a love-hate relationship… no, not love-hate, those words are too strong… it was specifically more a ‘like a lot/ extremely annoyed’ by me relationship. I seem to have that affect on people sometimes.
She was amused by my, in her opinion, seemingly exaggerated calm composure. She would crane her neck around the doorframe of her office to glance at me, then chuckle, as I seemed to her to be extremely serene in an otherwise stressful environment.
Weeks went by, months passed and my calm became her aggravation. “I don’t see a sense of urgency in you when we are really busy!” she would say through gritted teeth, flicking her manic, red, Einstein-like short hair that seemed to become more static as the stress levels rose.
I would shrug and reply, meeting her gaze, “I know I don’t look it, but I am stressing on the inside.”
Then her eyebrows would arch dramatically, her eyes bulging and lips disappearing as she would wheel around on her heels and breeze back to her office, hands up in silent dismissal.
A few times she said something to me along the lines of, “You have a strong ability to focus on one thing, shut out everything around you and perfect what you are focusing on… unfortunately it’s not appropriate for this job,” she would sigh and then say, paced like a train slowing at the station, “You – just – can’t – multi-task.”
A few more months passed and she was hovering as I stood at the fax machine, feeding client’s resume’s through. The air was leaden with annoyance, uncomfortable silence and a slither of sadness so I blurted out, “I think I better resign,” before she could say I have to let you go.
“What will you do?” she asked with a soft voice and I knew we were back in like again.
“I’m going to do a course in Professional Writing and Editing,” I answered. I dialed the fax number and waited, staring at the blinking light.
When I looked up again, her hand was on her heart and her chin dipped down with a sort of sentimental air, “I think that would be wonderful…” she breathed, “...You have to be good to your soul.”
That was eight years ago. Well, eight years this December, to be unnecessarily precise. Looking back, I did do the Professional Writing and Editing course and that makes me feel really happy. Within it, I wrote stories, poetry and met like-minded writers who I shared and work-shopped words with, attended poetry readings and performances and even formed a poetry group with three friends. We hosted weekly workshops and performance practice, competed against other Melbournians and performed on TV. When our time was coming to a close, we were throwing around ideas and formats for our own anthology of poetry, a published work to commemorate our group effort and time together. Alas, it sort of evaporated before it turned into hardcopy and that was that.
Wow, that was a nice little trip down memory lane. I think it was Simon, from the above mentioned group and my then housemate, that once called me ‘Memory Lane Girl,’ when I spent an entire afternoon ploughing through mountains of semi-scrunched and crinkled papers of letters and poems, a decade old at the time. O-oh… this means I am trying to re-establish myself somehow. What? Where did that come from? I still feel dizzy, though everyone here keeps telling me that it’s really, really normal to feel dizzy here a lot in the Spring. No-one can give me the medical or scientific reason for this though. I am so used to every fact or theory being backed up with one. I miss my family.
Now I am… far. Far, far away, but for the internet connection that keeps me in touch in it's distant, out of touch way. And if there wasn’t the internet - well I wouldn’t be here. What’s that, a paradox? Now I can blame my ridiculously bad, at times, memory for… erhm… dare I say ‘big word’ meanings… on the fact that I am learning Italian on a daily basis and hear nothing but Italian – bar Giuseppe’s dialogue… parallel to this I am also being corrected by Giuseppe on my English grammar lately. Scary.
Ancora, mi sento male, perchè ancora sento mondo girrato…hmm come se dicè…’dizzy’….boh? E mi manchà mia familià tantissimo, e anchè miei amici perché quando Giuseppe andato lavoro, sono posso parla con Mamma Teresa, perche lei parlato con me piano piano e ho capito bene. Ma altro tutti personi parlato troppp veloce e anche più dialeto quello Italiano…. È troppo difficile per me. E anchè, quando Giuseppe lavore e Valentino dormito o vado passeggiato con Nonna, mi sento solo e più triste questi giorni. Stare solo. Voglio lavoro, voglio scrivere, voglio insegnare, voglio parlare Italiano bene, voglio sento comè donna, come mammà, comè adulta… ma non qui, e non adesso perché vivano come piccola ragazza – ancora… non lava miei vestiti, non polito nostra casa, non lavoro, non hai amici qui, non mi sembrare fare tutti decisione per mio figlio… sento inutile, e poì… sento tristè. Tempo, adesso sento veloce, troppo veloce, non ho tanto tempo, e sembra finire niente.
… but at least I can write in Italian! It may be very badly written Italian… but not bad for two months of informal learning – from knowing next to nothing, bar a collection of nouns, to being able to write the above paragraph. I am sure Giuseppe will laugh, (lovingly,) when he reads my errors. And I will smile because I remember all too well when I was laughing at him… and he had warned me then.
One of my best friends asked me last year, or was it the year before last? … if we are defined by our careers. She was researching, gathering information for an article. I replied ‘no’… we are defined by the people close to us. A career simply enhances who we are - but people are our core.
Now I sit at this Italian keyboard and 'just write'. The street outside is busy with traffic, motorino’s, small cars and big trucks. There is blue sky and subtly warm, Spring sunshine outside, but inside the air is cold from last night’s chill.
I hope I’m not misunderstood… my partner and my son are my core and they, if I may re-use a re-used phrase, they light up my life. Yes, like The Carpenters. Exactly how they sung it.
But today, I am tristè… because there are several other people who are an essential part of the above mentioned core. And today I feel very, very far away from them. In addition to this, I am also feeling very un-enhanced. In a word… ‘blah’.


  1. 'AN Arts graduate'

    hmm... and 'troppp' is obviously not a word, I don't think any language repeats three symbols in a row.
    Ironically so, it is 'troppo' = too much

    sorry for these typo comments I really should spend more time re-reading before posting.

  2. oops and not 'vado passegiato,' but
    'va passegiato'
    which means 'he goes for a walk' rather than 'I go for a walk'... I think.

  3. It's interesting, what your boss said, about writing being good for your soul. I think, on the whole, she is right. Coming to terms with our inner lives IS soulwork. It's not to be confused, of course, with its twin, performance, which is too often ego-stroking work that is NOT good for the soul. The soul thrives on honesty,on depth, on essence - not onmask, or persona, or 'keeping up appearances'.
    I've just read the 'autobiography of the Two Ronnies - written by Ronnie Corbett (Ronnie Barker is dead now). Barker had a iteresting relationship wit performance. He could only appear in public in a ROLE - as a performer. If asked to, say , launch a book, or speak at a public function, he generally declined; he hated 'being exposed' - that is, he hated "Ronnie Barker" being exposed. When he agreed to take part, it was always as one of his alter egos - characters he'd created on TV.
    I'm increasingly realising - the further I'm away, the longer I'm away - what a two edged sword performance is. Some of the people in our course mistook the mask wearing for THE real purpose.
    You are sounding in good nick Michelle. I'm off to Lake Cullulleraine in two wek's time for the 16th Annual Irymple Sec College Writers' Camp.
    I listened to a song you wrote there recently, on a tape ... about sharp pencils and seeing the point.
    Do you remember?

    Bye for now. Love to your loved ones


  4. I don't remember the song but I remember you reminding me of it, that 'seeing the point' line particularly, hehe. Perhaps transform it into an mp3 and send it to me? I'm curious now. And of course, I remember the writer's camp, that was really wonderful and so much fun. Best wishes for the upcoming one.
    Thank you Barry