I just registered for a 2nd quarter Italian class (and Russian, but I’ll get to that in a later post!) because… perché no? I have a history with Italy and the Italian language that, surprisingly, has less to do with my obsession with pasta and gelato and everything to do with my own personal renaissance.
I dropped out of high school, but took my GED the second I turned eighteen so that I could go right to college. I started at community college but spent time spinning my wheels. I didn’t yet know about my ADHD, and thought I just couldn’t commit to anything. I wanted to study everything, but had a hard time focusing and sticking out classes that weren’t related to writing or art or whatever else struck my fancy. I also had a hard time with classes that I thought I wasn’t getting an “A” in—I have ADHD, but I’m also a perfectionist and an overachiever. I either got As or just stopped showing up to class without withdrawing properly, which is why my old transcripts are littered with W’s and Fs.
But of those first few classes, I always stuck with and excelled in the English/Writing classes. I first tried community college in 1995 but stopped and started so many times that ten years later, I *still* hadn’t finished my Associates Degree. I took several classes with one English teacher that I loved, over the span of a few years… and sometime in 2001 or 2002, I signed up for an art history class.
That art history class in 2001, and the medieval art history class I took in 2015 at the University of Washington, changed my life. I could write an entire post about all the individual works of art that inspired me… but this post is about something else. It was during that class that I learned how to really look at and understand art. It was that class that put Firenze (Florence), Italy, and a Brunelleschi’s Duomo on my radar. (That first art history class is also the reason that husband and I drove to the Spanish town of Guernica during a trip to San Sebastián many years ago.)
I was working in web development at that time and eventually got laid off during the “dot com burst.” I impetuously decided that it was time for me to fulfill my dream of living abroad. I chose Italy (specifically, Milan) and enrolled in a beginning Italian course in pursuit of that goal. This was long before smartphones and ubiquitous internet; there wasn’t nearly as much information online, and I had no idea how to go about moving to Italy. But I did know that learning the language was an important start. I also had a friend in Italy who offered to help me find work. But over time, I learned that Italy was one of the harder countries to obtain a work visa for, particularly if I didn’t even have my Bachelor’s degree yet. I would have persisted because if there’s one thing I’m skilled at it, it’s figuring out how to get over hurdles to my latest obsession. However, I had a boyfriend who’d started out really keen on the idea of me moving to Italy—partly because he liked the bragging rights of visiting his girlfriend in Italy and, I know, partly to have his cake and eat it, too, by having a girlfriend that lived far away—but as time wore on, he grew more and more jealous of the fact that I was going to go right now. He’d later tell anyone who’d listen about how I wouldn’t “let” him leave me, but the fact is that he was always the first to break the silence with drunk, pleading, mournful texts and emails whenever he asked for space. And when I decided to move to Italy, hoping to either break free of him or motivate him to get his act together, he ultimately chose to pressure me to move to the Czech Republic (where he wanted to go) instead of Italy. I don’t regret my three years in Prague one bit. As he even said after we broke up, and he fled to Olomouc, Prague became “my” city instead of his. It still is. I spent far more time there than he ever did and have more solo memories of Prague than he does. But I remain wistful for a life in Italy that never was, for the fantasy I had of breaking free of him to immerse myself in a writer’s life, for the book I would have written, for the romances I would have had, and for the language I didn’t finish learning. (I’m wistful, but not sad… had I had the Italian fantasy, I might not have met Husband or had The Kid in my life! As for the book… since sorting out my ADHD, starting a career in editing, and having people willing to publish my work, that book is being written, after all—it’s just about my time in Prague instead of Italy. Not a bad trade off, I say!)
So I moved to Prague and then eventually returned to the States. Italian was forgotten. I went back to school to finally, finally finish my degree and thanks to limited class availability when it was my turn to register, I found myself in a medieval art history class… which was taught by an Italian man from Perugia. His accent was a delight to hear at 8am, three days a week, but the class even more so. I fell in love, again, and determined it was time to get myself to Italy. When my mom suggested that she and I take a trip together for my birthday, we chose Florence, Italy, and I saw Brunelleschi’s Duomo, at last.
I saw the Duomo and several other pieces of art that I had *just* learned about in the medieval art history class—works by Giotto! Paintings I recognized of St. Francis of Assisi! And, of course, I saw The Adobe Lady:
I’m kidding, I’m kidding! I actually think it’s a shame that’s how she’s recognized now. But truthfully, I was more excited about the other art. As my mom and I wandered around the city, and I continually engaged with the people working in the restaurants and shops, she finally asked me, “How the hell do you speak Italian already?” I’d simply remembered some of what I’d learned, and I’d studied some before our trip. When we returned from Italy, I considered finally taking up Italian in earnest, but it didn’t feel very practical. I was hell-bent on taking “practical” classes… Spanish and French are spoken widely enough that I could justify 2nd year Spanish and a year of French. But Italian? What would I do with that?
A few weeks ago, I told my husband that I’d been trying very hard to do “practical” things that would help me find more work. I did a technical writing certification because I’d worked in tech for so long, and it seemed a waste to abandon my tech background. I stuck to languages that were common enough to be important and used widely in several countries. I’ve been playing it very safe these past few years… but, as I told him, that wasn’t working. I’ve been struggling to get more work this way. I’ve always seemed to get the biggest response when I was doing something I really loved. So maybe I’d been doing it wrong by trying to be “practical” all this time? After all, none of my greatest successes and projects resulted from my being “practical.” Everything great in my life has come from my spontaneity and following my whims and passions—like choosing to move across the country with a guy I’d only known for a couple of days! (Husband and I have been together for over twelve years now, so yeah. My folly never steers me wrong.)
And then… a few days ago, we were at one of our favorite Italian restaurants (in Seattle), and as I ordered, our waitress said, in her beautifully thick Italian accent, “Do you speak Italian??” “Solo un piccolo,” I responded, thrilled that my perfetto pronunciation prompted her to ask.
As we drove home after dinner, I found myself thinking… Perché no?
In this last year, things have begun falling into place—including the critical realization that I have ADHD and the even more important step to manage it with medication—so that I’ve been able to return to my ideas and half-baked plans and begin following through. My books (collections of essays) are being written, I’ve begun pursuing more creative endeavors for work, and, with my husband’s support, I’ve decided to take this time to stop chasing work I don’t care about and start building something in order to do work I’m passionate about. I’ve been giving myself the space and permission to spend large chunks of my days writing.
So… Perché no?
In the car, at 8pm as we headed home after dinner at the Italian restaurant, I registered for the continuing education department’s Italian 102. (I probably could have gone into 103, but that doesn’t begin until Spring, and I’m impatient!)
I’m done with being “practical!”