After much deliberation, consternation, and clearing up a few misunderstandings, I decided to attend the writing conference in Italy that I wrote about back in April. (It turned out there were rooms still available at the hotel where the workshop is being held, and there will be group transportation from Rome to Recanati, so I can stop worrying about pitching a tent on a hillside or ending up in Sicily.) 

I've taken on a lot of additional freelance work to avoid having to start a GoFundMe campaign (but thank you, Rose, for supporting that idea!), which is why it's taken me a while to write this post.

Plus, maybe it's that notorious old spoilsport known as "mom guilt," but it feels wildly self-indulgent to leave the country during the summer and jet off in an attempt to recapture the kind of creativity that goes beyond trying a new taco recipe. 

When I tell people I'm going, I hear that imaginary record scratch, like, "Wait, really? Alone?" and I feel like a 47-year-old runaway.

And yet, last year, I attended more wakes and funerals than I'd care to remember. In almost every case – aunt, cousin, longtime family friend, childhood neighbor, usher in our wedding, college roommate's mom – the deceased had so much life left in them, so much living yet to do. 

And so, each time I'd pull a black dress from my closet, buy a sympathy or mass card, and extend my condolences, I was hit with an overwhelming sense of how short life is. How you only go around once. How sometimes you don't get another chance to pursue a goal or follow a dream. Every cliche about seizing the day circled through my mind and I kept having the same feeling: I want to go to Italy. Random, I know, but there it was.

When my husband and I visited Rome and Florence 17 years ago, we were on a tour and we were by far the youngest people in the group. Unfortunately, our traveling companions were falling down like bowling pins, breaking bones, and getting pickpocketed, all while blaming the cobblestone streets, red wine, and inferior lighting. Over a frothy cappuccino, I vowed that we should see the world while we were still physically able. But, alas, many things – children, home repairs, financial concerns – have taken priority or gotten in the way, and the place I visit most now is my local ShopRite. On a good day, I also travel to my nearby library. 

So, when I saw the application for this conference, I felt, as wacky as it sounds, that the universe was sending me an invitation. How could I decline? 

I'm extremely fortunate in that my husband has been very supportive (or maybe he's just sick of me forcing him to discuss the disaster that is this season of "The Affair"), and has agreed to hold down the fort while I'm out of town. He's eager and ready, he says. (Talk to him next Wednesday by which time he'll have probably booked a one-way ticket to Nome, Alaska to avoid all talk of Fortnite and requests for more ice cream.) My mother, too, has encouraged me to go, reminding me that in life it's the things you don't do that you often regret more than the ones you've done. (Of course, she's never tried hot yoga or karaoke, but still...) She will also step up and see to it that every once in a while someone eats a vegetable or lifts up a toilet seat, and I'm beyond grateful. 

Of course, I still have my concerns:  Will I experience killer jet lag, fall asleep on the Leonardo Express train to downtown Rome, and wake up having been robbed of everything but my Old Navy underpants? When removed from the distractions of home, will I be as productive as I hope, or is the sound of my children chasing each other (and our cat) around the house actually the white noise that has become my secret sauce? Time will tell. 

This morning, the instructor who will lead the workshop sent us a piece to read before we arrive, and this quote from an interview with novelist Robert Olen Butler really captures the essence of what I'm trying to articulate. 

"There needs to be a seeking out of life experience. Art comes from life and the intense ravenous experience of life." 

So here's to art, life, and experience – and to not having my passport stolen at The Colosseum!


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