My last visit to Italy was also my first unattached trip into the professional world. I'd left my job less than three weeks before. Few people in the industry knew that, after ten years, I was a newly free agent. I boarded for Milan feeling deeply satisfied, ready to present myself solely as the spokesperson of Me.
Italy is like balm for my body and soul. Its charms and delights are too numerous to list, but in particular I am at ease because Italian is the only language (aside from English) I can speak even a fleck of, and the ability to communicate makes all the difference. In France or Spain I'm constantly low-grade anxious, wondering how adept I can be at spotting bathrooms in public areas, lest I have to try and ask for one.
One of the brilliancies of Italian is the literal owning of emotion. In English, we say "I'm scared." Our actual language is to take a state of being and modify the verb "I am", or "To be." It's a clumsy formation, and not a terribly accurate one, because it negates all complexity and depth of feeling. One is never Scared. There might be a current of fear or a wall of a terror, but alongside, beneath and around it are countless other nuances. I've never bungee-jumped, but I imagine I would be scared, and exhilarated, and, upon successful jump completion plucky as a rooster. What's so groovy about Italian is that the language is structured to accommodate this complexity. So, to be scared is "to have fear." In Italian, even when you're afraid, you own it. You don't become it. I imagine these emotional and physical states hanging in a closet that one opens and dresses from. There's an implication of choice. Am I going to wear fear today? Or am I going to put that sack back because I don't like how I look in it?
Needless to say, "ho paura," having fear, isn't typical for me in Italy. That trip to Parma changed the status quo. Being the spokesperson of Me was deeply uncomfortable. The first question everyone asks, is "Who are you?" And what they mean is, "What company do you work for, what do you do, and, perhaps, how can you be of use to me?" I didn't have a company. I'm wasn't sure (I'm still not) what I want to do next. Ultimate transgressor that I am, I was at an international conference and I had no business card. I might as well have been the Invisible (Wo)Man. That's how it felt.
Boarding the plane, my narrative was wobbly but promising. Upon arrival, I opened my Italian closet and donned a coordinated outfit of fear, complete with hat, handbag and matching shoes:
I am alone, and lonely...I don’t deserve to be here, and tricked people to get here, and am bad for doing so...Ho paura, ma non ho un biglietto da visita. I'm Scared, and I don't have a business card.
One early evening, alone sipping Campari, that radical, brilliant red, deeply bitter acid-trip of a drink I had a conversation with myself. There was no one having a drink with me, who else was I to talk with?
No one here knows me. No one knows what my job was—who I was—and no one knows what my job might be, and what I am capable of. I am a blank slate for these people. That can be the blank slate of ill-use and irrelevance. Or, that can be the blank slate of possibility. Perhaps I know exactly what I'm doing, and why I'm here. No one need know whether I know. It's all in how I wear it. There is an adventure to be had here.
I came to understand a fundamental thing. A thing I thought I knew about but really knew nothing about. Fear is a choice. I'm not saying you can choose to be unafraid, or that ignoring it, or pretending it doesn't exist will make it go away. But you can Be fear, or you can Have fear. One consumes and identifies you. The other is merely part of you. A part. Of a greater whole. I can pursue the adventure, or I can carry fear instead of a calling card.
Like choosing to manifest , or choosing to see the great good in your life and acknowledge it with gratitude, or having faith in what you can't see (even when it feels murky and maybe even impossible) the outcome shifts when you tell yourself a different story. And, of course, they are both stories: I am a fraud, or, I am on an adventure. They are equally true and equally untrue and equally incomplete.
In Part 2, the things I said yes to that opened doors on that Italy trip, and made it what it was meant to be: a hell of a good time, with some pretty spectacular meals.