Italy seems like a dream to me now

“It as if some gauze or screen has been dissolved away from life that was dulling it, and like Miranda you want to say, What a brave new world! You don’t remember feeling like this, because, younger, habit or the press of necessity prevented. You are taken, shaken, by moments when the improbability of our lives comes over you like a fever. Everything is remarkable, people, living, events present themselves to you with the immediacy of players in some barbarous and splendid drama that it seems we are part of. You have been given new eyes.”—Doris Lessing, Time Bites

I am so, so late with this blog, any blog, but September was a blur. Time stood still. Most days I didn’t know what day it was let alone its numeral. I spent half the month in Italy on a fifteen-day pilgrimage. At least that’s what it felt like. A pilgrimage. Maybe because of all the religious art I saw—gilded gold halos over holy heads; the baby Jesus in every size and hair color imaginable; and the vast depictions of horror painted on the faces of the nonbelievers. It gets you thinking!

Or maybe it was standing in front of the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi and silently thanking him for helping us find my daughter’s dog in a shelter in Newport, Tennessee after he went missing a month earlier on the Appalachian Trail. (That’s a whole other blog post.) Then there is Florence and Venice, seeing it through the eyes of my younger daughter, who took it all in like a ravenous explorer. Traipsing around the island of Torcello, where the ruins of a first century church, (the part of the church not still standing), are left where they fell hundreds of years ago like abandoned pieces of a historic puzzle. Yes, Egan, this is for real!

It could be a combination of everything firing up the senses: the noise, the vistas, the crowds, the heat, the mother-daughter bond, and/or the language barrier that made it feel like I was on a sacred journey?

It started in Tuscany where I spent the first week at a writer’s retreat in an old winery, the 14 medieval towers of San Gimignano visible in the distance. Wide Open Writing blew the doors wide open on any retreat or workshop I will ever attend again. We were a collective of 15 women from all over the world descending on a quiet little spot located down a long and winding gravel road, and the backdrop, green Tuscan hills dotted with cypress trees and olive groves. Oh my god, is this for real?

Wood smoke and coffee smells awakened us every morning for yoga on the terrace as the sun climbed up off the horizon. The morning doves serenaded us while our group wrote and read with raw, powerful, and sometimes humorous voices under our white-tented patio. Then it was pasta, pasta, pasta. Copious amounts of wine flowed freely, more vino than this wino could consume in one day (but I tried!). The best part? The discussions, the epiphanies, the delirious joy of feeling so close to thirteen complete strangers just days earlier. And did I mention my eldest daughter was with me experiencing this, too?

This group of Tuscan Writer Goddesses changed me deeply.

Regina with her stream of consciousness on the nature goddess (whew!!), and her descriptions of home after being away for so long. Nancy’s brave memoir on what it feels like to almost lose someone you love. Dani’s sometimes angry, sometimes hilarious manifestos and spot on impressions of the teacher/student relationship. Tisha’s raw and deeply moving poetry on internal change. Joanne’s soulful prayers, aka Reflections From the Stump, and those healing hands. Alissa’s moving work on self-worth and the confidence to leave a damaging relationship. Nicole and her beautiful descriptions of everything water related—and blokes—loved the blokes! Nikki and her beautiful science fiction and butterfly love. Christin’s childlike imagination and her incredible fleshed out characters. Jolly—well, her name says it all, but she blew us away and made us cry over grandma love. Pam and her rocking truths and epiphanies she shared as she was working them out on the page. Jessica, the Botticelli beauty, with her spiritual family vignettes. Clare, the artist, who stole our breath with her ability to take her talents from the canvas to the page. And my beautiful daughter, Kalin, on keeping it real and breaking through the sadness fog to find humor on the other side.

And then this happened: We were all quiet on the bus ride back to Florence, where we would disembark and go our separate ways. Everyone sat in a seat, alone. The Wide Open Writers like a meteor slowly flaming out, busting into particles before descending to earth. We hugged, we sighed, knowing that what we experienced in that week was otherworldly, like a dream it’s hard to wake from. But all the while grateful for the new set of eyes we gave each other to move forward with. We’re writers because we write!