A Dose of Reality

I blame it on author Frances Mayes. Her dreamy, flowery, prosaic descriptions of Tuscany won me over from the first time I saw the movie (based on her book) Under the Tuscan Sun. Once I’d made the decision to vacation in Italy, her books on life in Tuscany were all I could think about, so I grabbed copies from our local library and voraciously devoured her version of a Tuscan life (she lives there with her husband eight months of the year), including her mouth-watering cookbook (Recipes From Our Italian Kitchen: The Tuscan Sun Cookbook) based on the local cuisine of Cortona and the surrounding region of Arezzo. My idea of Italy was more of an ideal, it turns out. Then again, I didn’t get to visit Cortona or the Arezzo region (inclement weather kept me in Siena) so it’s hard to compare. Life in the Tuscan countryside, I’m sure, is a step up from life in the city – any city.

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Since I was flying into Rome, I decided to stay a few days and check it out. Yes, it has an ancient history famous around the globe and it smacks you in the face wherever you go. In other words, Rome is still ancient in many ways: stone buildings, stone streets, stone sidewalks (need seriously good shoes for walking them). Nothing but stone. But plenty of places to eat: on every block, there are ristorantes, osterias, trattorias, and gelaterias. You can’t go three feet without coming up on another place to eat. Lots of goodies to choose from but after a while I noticed the menus were awfully similar. Not a lot of variety in Roman cuisine. I did manage to score some good meals at small, local restaurants and their house wines were some of the best I’ve had (and the cheapest). Even the coffee was smoother and tastier and there isn’t a Starbucks anywhere (I doubt it would be welcome anyway since Italians are as fanatic about their coffee as they are about fresh cheese/meat).

Vatican and St Peter square.jpg

I did the touristy tours of the Colosseum, the Vatican, and the famous Borghese Gallery museum (think Bernini’s statues). They were gorgeous sites (the Colosseum was my personal favorite in spite of the freezing weather and pouring rain) but what struck me about Rome is how dirty it is. Trash lines the streets (loose and bagged); cigarette butts pepper every block, every inch of curb, and the stench of cigarette smoke is everywhere – Italians, it turns out, are big smokers. Nausea was my constant companion and a real appetite-buster.

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Most folks were friendly and had at least a basic grasp of English; I have a basic grasp of Italian, so I found my way around just fine. The food was fresh; cheeses and meats weren’t salty and had a flavor I’ve not tasted before and would like to again. None of the food was salty; they tend not to use it in their cooking, so at first food tasted a bit bland until you get used to all the fresh flavors in the dish.

At this point, the only sunny day I’d had was my last day in Rome so I took advantage and climbed to the observation deck of Castel Santangelo (the same deck Julia Roberts climbed in Eat Pray Love) for a full circular view of Rome and beyond. A most delightful experience, to see the Seven Hills of Rome, the Appenines (mountain range), and much more.

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Next stop was Siena, about ninety minutes west of Cortona and south of the Chianti region. It’s a small hilltop village, also lined with stone streets and sidewalks. The tall buildings and narrow streets, while charming, made it difficult to see any sun unless you walked to Il Campo, located at the north end of the city, where a wide piazza invites visitors and residents to open air and multiple eateries. It continued to rain and the temperature dropped so I decided to go shopping. With some Black Week sales (they stretch out Black Friday to increase sales during a slower tourist season), I scored a nice pair of leather boots and cashmere-lined leather gloves, both at 50% off. Who can say no to Italian leather?

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I topped off the trip in Florence, where I stayed the longest. Once again, rain and cold weather followed me. Once in Florence, I settled into my new room (they were all A+ in service and style) and planned my adventures. Florence is home to Michelangelo’s David, of course, so that was the main event, the main reason for a visit to Florence. I’m not much of a church person; one gothic church looks like another to me so I skipped the Duomo and other famous churches. I perused my travel guide and chose other sites to visit. Luckily, all were within walking distance of my centrally-located hotel.

In a previous blog, I wrote about needing to marvel at something…and David is certainly something to marvel at, a colossus. I spent an hour with him, among other marvelers, unable to leave the room. He is a sight to behold. Nothing else I saw in Florence matched up, not even close.

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Exploring Florence was an adventure; since I didn’t have an international package for my phone, I had to rely on my map reading skills to find my way around. It took a bit of adjusting; it was a strange feeling to rely on my gray cells instead of Google Maps but old habits settled back in and I wandered without getting lost. I loved the food here more than Rome or Siena. My favorite item, one that Frances Mayes got me excited about in her books, was cinghiale, or wild boar. It’s hunting season so restaurants get fresh meat from locals who hunt the boar. It’s basically wild pork, but with a much better texture and flavor. One of the ways it’s served in Florence is with roasted potatoes in a robust tomato (pomodoro) sauce. Scrumptious. It was one of the best meals I had on my whole trip.

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Then I discovered a little local place, La Capennina, up the block from the famous Mercato Centrale – a food market to end all other food markets – and ate there more than once. I stayed away from tourist traps because the prices were too high for lower quality food and service. Once again, the house wines were beyond compare; if we order the cheapest wine on the menu here in the states, we get something we need to spit out.

I ventured into wine country on a day trip/excursion with a group; we headed to the northern part of the Chianti region. Vineyards and olive farms dotted the lush fall landscape and we sampled (wine, oil) our way through the day, ending with a most delicious three-course meal at a vineyard/B&B that also included drinking some very fine Chianti wines. We learned about stone-pressed olive oil versus the more modern style that uses a centrifuge. I bought some of both for myself and for gifts, eager to crack open a bottle once I arrived home (I wasn’t disappointed).

lunch at Relais Villa Olma_Tuscany2

All in all, I enjoyed the trip. Honestly, one of my favorite and  most surprising aspects was how quiet it was at night; sleep came easily. No booming car stereos, no loud residents drunkenly cavorting by my window late at night, no sounds of street traffic. A very different way of life there, for sure. Will I go again? If I do, it will be to the countryside, to the place where Frances Mayes has made a home (or something like it). Cities are a nice place to visit but the countryside is where I’ll find more to marvel at: the friendships, the food, the community of residents, the landscape; this is what draws one in and makes one stay.

That’s marvelous.

Post Script: I mustn’t forget to mention Da Vinci, my personal favorite. Plenty of his work in Florence as well. He inspires me to be more: curious, thinker, creator, writer, etc.

DaVinci exhibit Uffizi_Florence

 

Quit It!

I Quit

Exciting news…I finally quit my contract J-O-B. Recent events have afforded me an opportunity to rest, reflect, renew, and best of all, write. Been a long time coming. I plan to take full advantage of this wondrous extended vacation (at least to the end of this year), including a real vacation, as in get my ass on a plane and go somewhere (making plans to visit Rome and Tuscany; lots of inspiration there, I’m sure). I’ve made a list of projects needing completion, editing, or launching; tasks around the house to complete; day trips to places I’ve not yet been – it’s prime hiking season here right now. I’ll also have free time to interview some experts on aspects of my current in-the-works fiction novel.

I feel like Julia Roberts’ character in the movie, Eat Pray Love, where she tells her best friend that she has no passion and wants to marvel at something. This is exactly where I am in my life and work. Food tastes blasé; I can’t even feel excitement for the new car I spent months looking for, or the fact that I found the strength to walk away from my  contract job. I’ve gone numb and am in deep need of serious eye- and mind-opening experiences. (Okay, and gastronomic, too, since I’m going to Italy!)

On the topic of quitting: I’m also quitting LinkedIn, Mind Body Network, and a couple writer blogs I follow. I’m cleaning house, as it were. After some deliberation, I admitted to myself that I’m not getting anything from some of the SM except an overload of junk news. LinkedIn, for example, has become too much of a social platform like Facebook, though I realize that was not the intention of the LI creators. Give people a yard, they take a mile. Everyone wants to put in his or her two cents. Information overload!

As I sit back and view the bigger picture with all this SM technology, I can’t help but both marvel and cringe at the same time. Sure, it has opened up the world to everyone in it, but is that necessary for daily life? Some days I feel left out because I’m not participating in posts, tweets, and uploads. Other days I’m grateful because it frees up my precious private time to actually go live my life. It’s a mixed bag, to say the least. 

I also plan to spend some money and time (now that I have a bit of both) on marketing my current works. Sure, putting more books out there is a great way to draw attention to earlier work (hence the projects), but some type of marketing is always necessary, no matter how long ago you published and I’ve been negligent.

With opportunity comes ideas and I’m filling my new writer’s notebook with plenty. It feels good to actively be creating instead of stagnating. I look forward to some quiet time, as that is just as necessary (and often as inspirational) to move forward with my writing and life.

Where are you in your writing and life? Can you take a break? If only for a week or two? Rest and renewal are crucial to unclutter your mind, give you a new perspective, perhaps a new direction. Is it worth the risk? Possibly. Only one way to find out… 

 

Scribbling

Clothesline Notes in Jack London's Country Cottage

Courtesy Jack London State Park, Google Images

Here in Northern California, we’ve been experiencing a spate of wildfires (15 statewide total) that have all but drained our firefighting resources. A local news station did a Special Report on the damage inflicted by these wildfires, including land, homes and lives lost. Terrible. As they looked back over the past seven years to show how fires have increased in frequency and size, they focused on the 2017 Tubbs fire, the most disastrous fire in California history. They talked about how it nearly decimated the Jack London State Park in Napa County.

For those of you who grew up reading great classic authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, etc., Jack London was a prolific writer and adventurer who settled here in the Napa/Sonoma region in the early 1900s. In fact, it was much of his worldwide adventuring that lead to the writing of some of the best works of the 20th century, including my personal favorites, White Fang and The Call of the Wild

The newscasters shared details on how State rangers packed up his personal belongings in order to save them in case the fire reached his home and property (it came close, but thankfully missed), storing them all the way out here in Sacramento for safekeeping. Now returned to its former glory, his writing room still contains all of his writing instruments and materials, his desk, and other accouterments: the twine strung across a closed-in porch, with a multitude of little notes clothes-pinned to the line. Jack scribbled these notes on small square pieces of white paper whenever something came to him (which was daily, evidently). He pinned them to the line for later use in his books.

And did you know that Jack London wrote ONE THOUSAND words EVERY DAY, BY LUNCHTIME

The closest I come is a notebook marked “Write What You Know” on the front and it’s where I scribble when I need to unload. It’s not a journal; it’s simply a place to jot down whatever is rumbling around in my mind at a certain moment in time instead of pinning them around my house and looking like a crazy person. It’s where I scribbled the first chapter of my novel, a dark short story, and some senseless meanderings I tore out. I have never come close to a thousand words a day and likely never will. I’m not that motivated, even in a good month.

Out there on the world wide web you’ll find a plethora of expert advice by professional writers telling you to write daily. That’s nice if you’re fortunate to be earning a living from your writing, but what if you aren’t? And does it really matter if you write daily? I think not. I think we each should adhere to whatever writing principles fits our lifestyles, since one size surely does not fit all. Jack, like many famous writers, wrote daily (what else was there to do in the middle of a jungle at night?). I think it’s because he had so many stories in him to share it was the only way he could get to the next book.

Do we have any less stories? Perhaps, perhaps not. Some of us don’t travel or adventure as much as folks did back then, when it was easier and more affordable; you didn’t need a passport (until WWI), so moving between countries was much easier. And we’re busy working full-time jobs, part-time jobs, raising families, caring for parents, finishing a college education, etc. We have (modern) lives to live! Which brings me back to the point of the title – those lives give us fodder for our stories. So if you’re not scribbling daily, that’s okay (see Call of the Word); but it’s probably a good idea to at least have a place (notebook, clothesline, etc.) for you to scribble your ideas – the good, the bad, and the ugly, so at some point you, too, can turn them into a cohesive work. Like Jack.

Scribble on!

 

Walter Mitty and Me

It’s Memorial Weekend and am actually off today…so a bit of relaxing and writing is in order. I watched a movie while eating lunch, instead of sitting in my kitchen staring out the window. I watched the remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” with Ben Stiller. Cute movie. And a reminder of something I’ve written about before – a life on the road – or at least some adventures peppered with some bad decisions.

What caught my eye was at the end of the movie where Walter is re-writing his resume, since he’s lost his job at LIFE magazine. Instead of the usual humdrum skills checklist and god-awful BORING summary (Professional with a strong work ethic and multiple years of interaction with people in various work settings…yes, this is mine…), he listed his adventures (jet boarding down some road in Iceland, jumped from helicopter into the sea, etc.). It got me to thinking..if we are to get out of that conformist corporate box of a day-to-day J-O-B and move into our lives, how would a resume like that go over? 

As a writer, I often dream (like Walter Mitty) of writing and traveling and earning enough to live on. Competition is stiff in most fields these days, so thinking out-of-the-box is essential to succeed, especially as a writer. I’ve got that looping tape in my head of my mother telling me to “just get a job.” It’s been there for over forty years and I’ve yet to figure out how to erase it. The movie reminded me that when we’re busy living our lives we don’t have time for daydreaming, because we’re actually living our dreams. So I’m going to re-think how I present myself to the world, because I have had some great adventures (including some based on bad decisions) and I need to give myself more credit for them.

As a writer, I know I’ll never be a New York Times bestselling novelist. I’m okay with knowing that I’m a mediocre writer – what’s so wrong with average anyway? I may have a smaller audience but they’re an audience nonetheless. The fact that there are folks (like you) out there, listening and hopefully gleaning something from my work, is what’s important to me now. I no longer strive to reach or grab the brass ring. I have dreamed for years of becoming a writer, only to finally admit that I AM a writer – with or without the audience or brass ring.

Lesson: Dream your dreams. Take a chance every now and then to live one out, just to see where it takes you. Then you can write all about it.

The Write to Roam

I want to learn more about how to live life on the road and write while I’m on it. I want to upgrade my car to an RV. That way wherever I roam, I’m already home. No more spending hard-earned money on a storage unit to keep my life in and no more wasting money on rent. Or trying to prove I’m a good person so some management company will rent an over-priced apartment to me; or a roommate who doesn’t fear I’ll sneak into her room late one night and stab her 150 times just for the helluva it.

(A quick aside: I firmly believe credit checks are a new form of discrimination against people  who have fallen on hard times – once known as the middle class – and are scrambling to work their way up from the pit of poverty they’ve fallen into thanks to greedy politicians and corporations determined to serve their own purposes over our needs.)

I’ve been thinking about doing this for some time, and recent events have perhaps emboldened me to JUST DO IT (or at least begin to plan for it).

I want to roam North America and meet people from all walks of life, which I’ve already done on four brazen cross-country trips as I moved to some new location, having become bored with the last one, because it became stale and uninteresting. I enjoyed meeting people for those brief moments, while they allowed me a glimpse into their storied lives.

One of my favorite memories came on my first cross-country trip (on the move from CT to NM on a semester break from graduate school): Charlie and his two friends (shame on me, I didn’t note all their names and have since forgotten) were riding their Harleys to the Sturgis bike rally in August of 2005. We met while staying at a small motel in Kanorado, a spit of a town on the border of Kansas and Colorado, hence the name. If memory serves me, we met while checking in at the front desk. We chatted while checking in and exchanged reasons for needing rooms. They were pleasant fellows and invited me to have breakfast with them the following morning after checkout, at a nearby diner. We had great conversation and I remember laughing most of the time. They hailed from Alabama and had a slight drawl in their speech. Charlie (the fellow on the furthest right in the photo on the left) was just a big teddy bear and he’s the one who made me laugh the most. This is what I remember of these guys and always will. Funny how people who barely touch your life can become some of the most memorable recollections. And now I get to write about them, weaving them into my life’s story.

I’ve been doing some research into starting a podcast as another MPC and it seems awfully techie to me at this point, which has a tendency to deflate my enthusiasm. There are excellent tips on the Smart Passive Income site by Pat Flynn and on some other sites I found. Hope to build it up to a point where I can actually provide for myself from it and give myself the gift of life on the road. Wouldn’t it be grand to podcast from every corner of North America!

A nomadic lifestyle, once the cornerstone of life on this continent (thanks to the many Indigenous peoples who have lived here for eons), has once again become popular. Somewhere in between being strangled by a 30-year mortgage (where the house owns you, not the other way around, as most people proclaim) and working in a square-peg-round-hole, soul-sucking J-O-B, many folks have felt the need to escape a life of conformity and embrace adventure into the unknown. Like Charles Kuralt and his always interesting On the Road series and travel books, I wish to embrace the freedom, challenge, and all the details of a life on the road – so I can have the write to roam.

The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.

{Charles Kuralt}

It was so much fun to have the freedom to wander America, with no assignments. For 25 or 30 years I never had an assignment. These were all stories I wanted to do myself. 

Writing as One Profit Center

MPCs

I was in the mood to read a book today so I snagged a book I’ve been working my way through from the bookshelf. I’ve mentioned this book before – Making a Living Without a Job by Barbara J. Winters. I’m in a bit of a pickle at the moment (I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that my life will be turned upside down as of end of this month, which could turn good or bad). I’ve been racking my brain on how to create more of what Barbara calls Multiple Profit Centers or MPCs. It’s her theory that by creating MPCs, you increase your potential for prosperity and a more balanced life. Each profit center/idea/ job/entrepreneurial adventure has its own rhythm; over time, you create a steady stream of income because while one or two MPCs may experience a lull in business, one or two other of your MPCs will be on the upswing and generate income.

She even mentions getting paid to write articles. Personally, I’ve not had much luck in this area (the getting paid part). In a previous blog, I wrote about getting exposure for your work via trade journals. In my experience, this type of exposure doesn’t pay (if it does, please let me know how – and now!). But I would enjoy writing articles for other publications; problem is, I’m not sure how to go about doing that (query advice anyone?). If any of you have had some success in this area, please share your experience and expertise so that we who have not yet tasted that kind of success can take a step closer.

Something else in her book got me thinking – and it made perfect sense. This is from her chapter on creating MPCs and is a quote from author and former London Business School professor Charles Handy (she quotes him in her newsletters), who advocates developing MPCs:

“Think of it this way, ” he advises. “You will have a portfolio of work like an architect has, or like your stock portfolio, no prudent investor puts all his savings into one stock, and no sensible business goes after only one customer. Yet that’s what you’ve been doing with your work and talent all these years….Now is your chance to go ‘portfolio’: to diversify your interests and do some things for money, some because they interest you, some out of love or kindness, and some for the sheer hell of it. And, moreover, it’s your chance to flex your portfolio to leave you time for all those other things – for travel, for discovery, for golf, for dining.”

Wow.

That brought me back to one of my early blogs, Be Careful What You Wish For. I just realized I have already created MPCs, except that they don’t (yet) pay the rent. I guess I need to come up with a few more MPCs to cover the downswing of the current ones. It’s just that I feel lost amid the millions of voices already out there clambering for everyone’s business. All I can come up with at the moment is that I (and you, too) need to find a way to STAND OUT by doing something DIFFERENT with my (and your) skill set. Only then can my writing become a Multiple Profit Center that truly pays and supports my no-more-nine-to-five lifestyle.

What’s your MPC