Sunday, January 29, 2012

Homesickness: Why It Sucks and Why It's Necessary

 People told me to watch out for homesickness. I pretty much ignored them, because guess what guys, one, I know everything, duh, and two, I already go to school a ways away from my home. I got used to it; surely I could get used to being a few thousand more miles away with the same ease and finesse. But nothing—no warning, at least—could have prepared for me for what I’ve started to feel.
The thing is: when you go off to college it’s awesome, obviously, and all your friends are doing it and you’re all rebuilding your lives at the same time. You’re not missing out on anything, because all your friends are in the same mental—if not geographical, obviously—place you are. You all, together, are creating new friendships and routines and habits and personality traits at the same time. Despite being physically separate, it’s a communal experience.
 Going abroad, though? You’re missing out on everything. Your friends’ lives are changing and evolving without you, people are moving on and forgetting your formerly integral presence; the time they are doing nothing and winding down happens to be right around the time you’re in the busiest part of your day, and vice versa. You are not part of their world anymore. You’re a hypothetical that occasionally crosses their mind, and it’s a weird feeling to be so nonexistent in a world where you used to exist so fully.
Obviously, you get a whole new everything to participate in, but what if you don’t speak the language of that everything fluently? What if you don’t know how to be who you really are—funny or kind of quirky or whatever that may be—in translation? Your very personality hangs in the balance, and you just cannot express it. And you start to feel collapsed. You don’t exist fully in this new world, and you’ve been necessarily erased in your old one.
Company helps: being with people and doing things and the bustle of the day and the sun on your back and shopping and whatever all is wonderful. And it’s all so hopeful. But when your day is over and you’re in your room and no one is there anymore—when you’re just all alone—where does your mind go but to the person you used to so very fully be? To the life you used to fully live? The kind of weird half-ness you participate in now can’t possibly compete, even if it is beautiful and fascinating. It’s just not yours.  
And thus it starts. Home is better than here. Home you are something, someone, a force, a changer, a doer, soul and a personality and a life. What are you here but a shadow in an absent stranger’s spare room? Here is nothing for you. There is everything. How could you have been so stupid as to think you could just leave it all behind without a thought?  
Duh. It was stupid to think that. But think that I did. I’m not as strong as I thought I was, and I’ve discovered that now. I know myself more fully now. I understand myself on a more real and practical level. I am attached. I am possessive. I am not a powerful lone wolf, but a delicate social butterfly, and I left my fellow winged insects of all kinds—the friend kind, the Little kind, the relationship kind, the family kind—behind me to go bat my wings under the Tuscan sun. (Lies, guys, I’m in the Veneto. Don’t get confused. It just sounded better.)
But I also know that it must mean I am braver than I thought—even if it was bravery borne of ignorance! I mean, hell, I just packed up my life and left everyone I love behind to come to a place where I am forced day in and day out to think in a language utterly unnaturally to own brain; I am a woman of language and words and fast-paced thoughts, and I have purposefully reduced myself to the linguistic level of a five-year-old. I—who prides myself so very much on being quick-witted and funny (let me have my fantasies, okay? This is my blog.)—can’t even make a well-timed joke. And I’m not okay with that, obviously, and I feel that I’m not okay with that the second the world quiets and I’m alone with that thought.
So what to do about it? I’m not going to turn tail and come back to America or something dumbshit like that. Because I’m also stubborn—come on, you knew that. No. Instead, I’m going to say fuck you to homesickness and self-pity and boo-hooing. Here I go: Fuck you, homesickness and self-pity and boo-hooing. I reject you. You are useless to me. Go back to your corner. Instead, I will embrace this language. I will speak this language at every opportunity. I will tell my fellow students to speak this language with me. I will make this language my own, until I can be me in Italian as much as I can be me in English. I will make Italian mine.
And by making this language mine, I will make these people mine. The people here will know me not as that awkward chick who can’t speak the language and just kind of stutters out her cappuccino order and goddamn it can’ t even count out her 2 euro coins fast enough because you know what IN AMURRICA WE DON’T HAVE TWO-DOLLAR COINS, WEIRDOS, and turn into that awkward chick who makes hilarious jokes about how slow she at the cassa. I will become socially capable and make real Italian friends with whom I can fully and wonderfully express myself.
And by making these people my people, I will make this city my city. And hopefully sooner rather than later, this home—this cold Italian home—will be my home.
So yeah, homesickness is awful. Awful. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Okay, maybe my worst enemy, but no one else. But it’s an awfulness that has a purpose: it’s going to make me stronger. It has already made me stronger. It’s going to me make me realize my own power when I overcome it and stomp it into a dusty powder that just blows away in the wind. It makes me realize how determined I am to do this. To do this right. To do this my way. Yeah, I know it won’t go away overnight, but I will throw off this awful heavy weight and embrace a new feeling—not one of temporary touristic wonderment or transient shock and awe—but one of unshakeable belonging. I know I belong here. And now I’m going to prove it to myself. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Il primo giorno

      My brain is befuddled. I don't think it even knows what it's doing right now. What day is it? What time is it? My internal clock needs a new battery. Despite my temporal trials, however, Padova thus far has proved to be the most unique place I've ever been, and full of so many firsts.

Firsts accomplished today (or yesterday? like I said, time has no meaning):
  • My first transatlantic flight
  • My first steps in a country not contiguous to the US
  • My first time walking in Padova alone
  • My first time walking in Padova alone in the dark
  • My first time walking in Padova alone in the dark without a GPS 
  • My first time getting lost in Padova (WONDER HOW THAT HAPPENED)
  • My first meal in an Italian bistro
  • My first time being confused for a Spaniard
  • My first Italian catcall from a passing car
  • My first time dealing with really complex Italian locks in the dark trying to get back in my apartment
     In short, guys, it's been a really busy day full of firsts. The thing about firsts is--unfortunately, exciting though they are--they are tiring. They are so very very tiring. I am tired. Luckily for me, I'm now cuddled up with a cat in a bed in the same room--my room!--as a small non-poisonous snake. Cat's new favorite perch is the dip in my lower back, which I'm not exactly sure how I feel about, as I mistrust most cats not to extend their sharp little demon kitty claws into my skin. This particular cat is also walking on thin ice with me, having already decided that my foot was a really exciting toy to attack. No, cat, no. That is my foot. Get it right. Cat is also weirdly skilled at avoiding pictures. Cat is an odd one. Also, I'm sure Anna told me Cat's name, but I forgot it, so now it's just Cat. When you type cat too much, it stops looking like a real thing and starts becoming a nonsensical construction of random letters.
      Moving on from Cat, interesting though she is, my room is really big, and has a fabulous view, and kind of a ton of hilarious personality left behind from Anna's son Joshua--who, as it turns out, might be returning to Italy soon. I wasn't sure how I felt about that at first, but now I'm sure it would be fun; Anna's really busy at her bistro, and calls her son "a survivor" for having managed with her long hours. Joshua being back would give me a native to tour me around and such! The rest of Anna's apartment is just as beautiful, and I'll snap pictures of the rest of it during the day when it's charm is really clear.
   Anna herself is really fabulous, intense, and busy. She told me already that she wants to be an entire family for me here in Italy, and I feel she truly means it, despite her time commitment at the restaurant. The employees at her bistro seem great too, which is fortuitous, as any meals I'm meant to eat with Anna (breakfast and three dinners a week) will be eaten there.
  At this moment, it's 8:52 in Padova, Italy, 2:52 in Boston, Massachusetts, and 1:52 in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. My brain belongs in so many time zones, and there are so many people already in each of them that I want to be with and talk to--it's a little conflicting and confusing, trying to divide oneself like that. My body is quite solidly in Italy, so at least that's taken care of. I can only hope I'll get used to juggling my three separately-timed lives soon enough.    
Not a single Lufthansa employee looked so thrilled to see me. Or was attractive.

Anna's bistro, The Lighthouse Cafe
My first Italian meal, pasta con salsa
My room! Joshua's cartoons.
Little and Big and Grandbig on my bedside table (Thanks, little!)

If snakes can glare, that's what this little guy was doing during this picture.
Cat helps me write blog posts

Cat judges me for my sock choice. Listen, Cat, it helps keeps my jeans tucked into my boots.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Reality Hits

     I've been packing. Hell, I think I'm DONE packing. I have packed every article of clothing fit for layering, mixing and matching, cold weather, and mild weather that I own and like. I have shoes of all requisite types in neutral and black. I have lined my suitcase with my ever-necessary hair supplies, from heavyweight conditioner to John Frieda hair cream. I have armed myself with toiletries of all kind, having been told scary stories of off-brand tampons and thirteen-dollar deodorants. I feel prepared materially. I am prepared materially. It's only too bad I can't pack extra stores of confidence, psychological readiness, and linguistic brilliance.
     My packing has been hyper-organized, revealing either a new kind of obsessiveness for me or--more likely--exactly how mentally unready I feel for this adventure. I think I must be thinking that if I prepare for every physical need, my psyche will just take care of itself. I don't think I realize yet that such a method only weighs down my bags, whilst taking no weight from my mind. I further know that the only thing that will help is to go, to land in Italy and face my fears of not understanding the rapid-fire words of a train porter, of embarrassing myself when I try to sit to down with my coffee (Italians drink it standing, quickly, then move on) without buying something else, of getting myself lost in the twisty streets of Padova without my trusty iPhone to guide me back on track with its comforting, blinking blue dot. I'm afraid, and I know it, and packing the kitchen sink won't help me. I'm going to zip up my suitcases, and hopefully doing so will force me to calm down, to take a deep breath, and realize that I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be.
The biggest of the three suitcases--and still under 50 pounds!

Yes, that is a penguin. Its name is Momo, and it's been with me since I went off to boarding school. It's only fitting that it accompany me to Padova.
And a carry-on, with about a week's worth of clothes in case my bags are lost in transit.
     I've also been checking compulsively for days to see if my homestay assignment had yet landed in my inbox; I knew the news--coming from Italy with quite a time difference--would likely come overnight, but I still checked not only when I woke up, but also after I showered, maybe after I ate, maybe sometime midafternoon, maybe a couple other times... I was maybe a crazy person. I'm not sure why it was so important to me, but I guess nothing felt real until I could pinpoint my home--una casa padovana to go with una vita padovana.
     And today, around 8:00 AM, my freaking dog started barking at the top of its powerful doggy lungs, and I awoke with a start. And rolled over. And checked my email on the laptop I'd fallen asleep next to. Lo and behold, I will not be homeless in Padova. Far from it, it seems: my host is an Italian mother whose son has recently come to America, leaving her with a "spacious and comfortable" vacant room, who owns a bistro in town, and apparently co-habitates with a cat and a "small, non-poisonous snake."
     I'm quite literally thrilled. Giddy. Whatever. Knowing that I have a place to live, a room to call my own, a snake and a cat and a woman to befriend truly comforts me. I feel like I can slow down now. I know that even if I do spill espresso on my coat trying to drink it in a rush, even if I do tip the wrong amount, even if occasionally I just have to nod and smile and pretend I understand when I'm really confused and turned around, I'll have a home to go to. A bed to sleep in. A place to read and study and rest and unwind from the beautiful, stressful excitement that surely awaits me.
     What a day for the news to come, too; I leave tomorrow for Boston, and a week later from Boston to NYC, and from NYC to Frankfurt, and from Frankfurt to Venice, and from Venice to Padova. My trip is long, my way is weary, and my bags are heavy, but on the 26th I will land in Padova, greet my host Anna, move into her house, and begin a whole new life. A life for which I'm ready.