Why Rome (Part 1)

Posted: June 1, 2019 in Uncategorized

A month from today, I’ll be disembarking a plane at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. I’ll spend a month in Italy with the generous support of a grant by the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation. My purpose (which will be the subject of another “Why Rome” post) is to consider the idea of place as it relates to teaching, writing, and the stories we tell. The trip includes a few days in Venice, and several days exploring the Amalfi Coast — all with the idea of expanding my mind, pedagogy, and perhaps get some of my own writing done (which will also be the subject of another “Why Rome” post).

So, why Rome? Why Italy?

Folks who know me personally are aware of my frequent travels. On a personal level, travelling feels much like praying. Being alone, without the attachments that link us to each other (professional expectations, personal relationships, social media, etc.) feels like a weight is lifted from inside me. I see the world differently, and see a different world.

When I was a student at Plymouth State University, there was a green iron bridge that crossed across the Pemigewasset River. In my late-night ramblings, I’d cross the river, get a soda at the gas stations, and head back to my dorm room. The bridge itself was worn down, and was replaced by the time I graduated. It shook when cars crossed it, and the wooden slats that made up the pedestrian walkway had a path carved down the middle, from the feet of many, many students. Walking across it at night felt like I was taking my life in my hands.

One night I was walking across the bridge, and about half-way across the walkway was a lump. At first, I thought it was a dog, and then thought it was a bag of garbage, carelessly left. It turned out to be a girl, about my age. She was sitting across the path, legs dangling over the edge, looking up.

I like to think that I asked her if she was okay, or if she needed help. But I might have mumbled something and tried to edge past her. Remember: the bridge shook every time a car went by, and the boards were comfortably three inches thinner in the middle than the sides, and the ever-growing gaps between them proved that there was nothing else between me and the river but air.

She asked me if I wanted to join her. She had a harmonica, and the stars were out. Because I was 19-or-so I politely said perhaps another time, and tried to skirt past her. Her response is something that’s stuck with me across hours in a car, in a boat, in planes, and on my own two feet: “people always say that, but they never really do, because there isn’t always a next time.”

I mean, it’s a fair assessment.

I wound up sitting next to her while she played her harmonica, dangling my feet over the side of the bridge, looking at the stars. We walked down the railroad tracks in the dark, looked at the river-flooded trees, and then, ultimately, moved on.

I never caught her name. I think I saw her again across campus at one point, but I don’t remember clearly. It was (what feel like) a long time ago.

My life has been made up (as everyone’s has, if we’re being honest) by the choices they make, and the diem they carpe. I think of watershed moments in my life like this; equally by the opportunities i’ve had, and the opportunities i’ve passed on, or not gotten. They became places where my life drastically took a turn I wasn’t expecting. Or stayed a course when I could have diverted.

  • A friend asked me to be in a play at UMass Boston and paid for my gas. I commuted to UMB for a month three days a week to be in The Bakkhai. A friend I made in that production was instrumental in helping me finish my soon-to-be-published novel.
  • I was offered a job in AmeriCorps in Fairbanks, Alaska, working with people recently released from jail. The recruiter discussed how the company provided housing in a dry cabin (the link goes to a nice little article that summarizes my feelings of horror) and the periodic attention of the neighborhood polar bears. For $15k a year. I declined.
  • Joining USM’s Stonecoast program to Howth, Ireland for a writing retreat. This is, in a lot of places, the time where my life fell apart and has been radically transformed. I think about a night on Howth Harbor, watching the black sea, hearing the ring of ships in the night. The intersection of that trip to Ireland and this trip to Italy will be the

This is all to say that Rome comes from a series of decisions. I set my ship heading that way about a year ago, deciding that I wanted to spend a solid amount of time in Rome, because, as they say, all roads lead there.

What I’m doing there, and perhaps some more thoughts on the “why” question will continue.

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