Category Archives: On writing

The Florence Journals: On Writing, Rhythm, & Street Art

So today, after an incredibly productive day of taking insightful workshops (about 5 hours worth), I decided to head out and “troll” the city. There was so much going through my head and I just wanted an energy shift, time to just “be” in this lovely city. I trolled the city for 3 hours. When I troll, I walk wherever my feet take me with no plan and see whatever presents itself to me.

It rained again today, so the stone streets were wet tonight. I walked, looking in shop windows, stopping to listen to street musicians, saying hello to friendly shopkeepers. I stopped to watch several hundred people run by me who were participating in the Florence Run (an 18K run – or about 11.25 miles). I trolled looking for sign art, a transient production by a group of artists who decorate street signs that are cleared off almost immediately.

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These are such an amazing complement to the pastel street art that occurs every day (if it’s not raining).

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And there is music everywhere. I trolled the carousel in the Piazza della Repubblica, one of my favorite spots. A young man handed me a tissue so I could wipe off a bench and sit for a while.

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One of my hopes when I came here without knowing the language and without knowing anyone was that I would learn to slow down, to reflect more, to get better at just “being” and not “doing”, to harness my extroverted side, to give expression to my introverted side. In my “real” life, I move quickly and get a lot done. I seldom reflect on what I’ve done before careening into the next thing (or the next 10 things). I have come to realize that for me this is a learned pattern. I have always striven to be productive, to be the best I can be. Often in my life, this has translated into doing as much as I can as quickly as possible. I am also a perfectionist. Getting “it” done isn’t adequate. I have to do “it” as well as I possibly can, whatever “it” is. My drive is one of the reasons I’ve been so successful in my life.

I have found a different rhythm in this city than I have at home. I walk slower. I look around all the time. I soak in the city. I am delighted to have had the chance to share some of this beauty with you, dear reader. For myself, my photos and writings will fuel my memories and be reminders of this time when I am back home. I hope they will also be reminders to maintain the calmer, more relaxed pace I’ve found here. I’ve found, among other things, that when I slow down I am almost as productive as when I’m moving at the speed of light back home.

Is it any wonder that I am inspired to write by all the beauty, art, and wonder in this city?  I walked home tonight, more slowly than I would at home, up the steep, street to my apartment.

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I am so blessed to have this time.

A presto (until next time)!

The Florence Journals: On Writing and Reluctance

I’ve had some interesting insights into myself since I arrived here in Florence, Italy a little over a week ago.

This is the first entry about those insights. In my journal, I’ve noted that I’m aware of the possibility that someone else might read my words and I find myself silencing or editing myself because of the risk that my words might be judged, evaluated. I don’t necessarily intend to share my journal writing with anyone. I may edit writings for blog posts, like this one. But I’d like what I write in my journal to be for me, to be free of any “generalized others”, any audience that may read and draw conclusions. (Yes, I hear the echos of Kenneth Burke and George Herbert Mead in what I’ve written.) I desire to work on this.

As I revised my journal writing for this blog post, I had an insight. I know where this concern came from. Like all teenagers, my life had a degree of angst. I used to journal all the time. I can still picture the spiral notebook in which I wrote. The peach and pink swirls on the cover. I loved that notebook. I wish I could still picture the words.

One day, while I was in 8th grade, the principal, a very serious nun I did not particularly like or trust (She was one of those people who could make any information fly out of my head simply by asking me a direct question.) had a fellow student call me out of class to go to her office. That was never a good sign. In 8th grade, it typically meant our cheerleading skirts were too short (Yes, I was an 8th grade cheerleader) and we were going to have to kneel on the floor and have them measured with a ruler.

This time was different. I walked into her office and she just looked at me. Eventually, I felt myself squirming. However, we didn’t speak until spoken to, so I just waited. Finally she asked me to take a seat across from her desk. This never happened. No one sat down in her office. I sat nervously, wondering what I had done, what she wanted, what was wrong… A million thoughts flew through my head.

She opened with “So, I understand you like to write”. I was startled. I had no idea what she was referring to. I replied, “Yes, I guess”. “Well, do you or don’t you?”, she asked pointedly. “Yes”, I stammered, more of a question than an answer. “So, what is this?”, she asked picking my journal up from her desk. I panicked and froze. “It looks like my journal. How did you get my journal?!”, I whimpered. I had written my most personal thoughts in that journal. It was not for anyone else’s eyes. “You’re a very good writer. Keep writing” she stated, “Now go back to class”.

Shaking, I took my journal from her hands and left. Rather than feeling supported, as my optimistic self believes she probably intended, I felt betrayed. I felt rage! What gave her the right to read my journal, to read my private thoughts? And how did she get it anyway? I never got answers to these questions. On my way to class, I made a detour to the incinerator in the basement. I tore my journal to shreds, feeding page after page into the fire, last of all the peach and pink swirled cover. I watched as the flames licked it black and it turned to ash. When I was done, I walked, still shaking, back to my classroom. I have no idea what we studied that afternoon. I know only that I felt relief. No one could ever again read my private words. Often when I saw her in the hallway after that, she’d stop me and ask “Still writing”? I’d just smile. I’d stopped writing.  I stopped writing… for a long time.

Now, many years later, I would do almost anything to be able to read the words in that peach and pink notebook, to have access to those thoughts, to know what my younger self pondered, questioned, explored. Something precious was lost that day. While I can’t get her words back, perhaps I can learn to claim mine again, on paper, as I did then, so that one day, my older self will know me through my words. Or, maybe some other reader who cares to know who I was will read them. I hope that I, she, he will hear through my words the real, unedited me, not a redacted or silenced me. I hope they will see me in all my shades and passions, the angst and joys that I experience. That is my hope. We will see.