On Random Destruction, Gratitude, and Beginning to Write Again
Updated: May 9, 2022
A little over two years ago I created this website to house and share my writing. Since then I’ve experienced periods of great creativity as well as periods of trepidation which involved far more housekeeping, than writing. Doubts and fears about my skill as a writer burrowed into my mind. Time-stealing tasks moved to the top of my to-do list, while “writing” was relegated over and over again. Months and months went by.
At the end of January, a powerful windstorm blew through my city, bringing down hundreds of trees, flattening cars, destroying homes, and cutting electricity off for as long as three days. As I surveyed what seemed like random destruction across the city, I recognized how fortunate we (and many others) had been. Amidst all of that destruction, there were no reports of any deaths.* It almost didn’t seem possible.
When I think about what got me writing again, I consider the serendipitous confluence of events that occurred in the first two and a half months of 2022, including that "once in a blue moon" windstorm. The windstorm, and other striking events, reminded me how sacred it is to be alive and what an opportunity I have to pursue writing. These events also reminded me that no one was living their lives for me. And that I had to stop living my life for anyone else. That I had to stop waiting for things to be perfect, and still. Because things would never be perfect and still. I had to start living like “the right time” (to write, to reach out, to get started) was always Now. And Now. And Now.
In the past two months, I have published nearly as much writing as I had published in the previous two years. What helped me set aside the fear and shame around posting new writing (after not posting for nearly a year) was realizing that my writing might actually make a difference in someone’s life. I describe that feeling in A Call From Strasbourg.
Following that fateful video call to Strasbourg, I was moved to re-visit a theme that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I returned to the United States from Turin, Italy, which I discuss in the piece Writing in Turin: Unpacking Two Years with Two Kids In Italy.
My family's two years in Italy contained so many lessons and I knew I needed to put these lessons into writing. Whether I am reflecting on the deeper significance of frozen dessert, as I do in For The Love of Gelato, or sharing helpful tips on bookstores as I do in Three Turin Bookstores I Love…and Where I Found Books in English, I write about things that are close to my heart in a way that I hope will also serve readers.
Speaking of Turin, the piece, Turin in July insisted on coming into being while I was writing about how important it was to get out of Turin during the hottest, most hectic time of the year. That piece took me back to our earliest days when we were still trying to make sense of the new life we had chosen. In Learning Italian in Italy: The Role of Language in Easing Our Transition to Life in Turin, I describe how learning Italian improved and enriched our time abroad.
As a longtime aficionado of France and the Francophone world, I surprised myself by falling hard for Italy. Our long stay and the fact that I shared the experience with my husband and children are a big reason for that. I begin to explore Italy’s language and culture in “Pasta Grannies”: A Heartwarming Peek Into Italian Home Kitchens and in A Free Online Resource for Studying Italian: “Italiano Automatico”.
It was during my time in Italy that I decided to pursue writing as a career, and while government mandates shut down schools and businesses, the initial COVID-19 stay-at-home order offered me stretches of uninterrupted time to organize and share my work.
Initially, I actively avoided writing about the pandemic in Italy; I only did so after anxiously and meticulously documenting my whereabouts during the last two weeks of February 2020. Paranoia had driven me to record all of the places I had been to and all of the people I had interacted with. I was so afraid that I had exposed others to, or had been exposed to, COVID-19, which at the time was ruthlessly claiming lives in the north of Italy. A couple of dozen detailed entries on Google Calendar slowly turned into a timeline, then a reflection; and with some work, the piece finally emerged as a first-person narrative of life in Italy during the first two months of the pandemic. I named the piece: Quarantine in the Time of COVID-19.
As Italy was one of the earlier countries to issue stay-at-home orders, I wrote Making Life In Quarantine Work, With Kids to record and share tips, tricks, and recommendations to help cope with the dramatic shift to the school-at-home, work-at-home, everything-at-home, reality that the world would eventually face.
The stay-at-home order in Italy was remarkably strict. Under the guise of a regular grocery-shopping trip, I covertly captured footage of Turin’s mostly empty streets in the days leading up to Easter. This footage later became Travel is Prohibited: A Short Film, one of several short films in Theatre Without Borders' Kanto Cuento Series. Collaborating on this piece boosted my confidence as a writer and as a creative in general.
Travel is Prohibited is filmed in Italy during the pandemic, but references distant decades and distant places, both topically and linguistically. I contemplate immigration, separation, tragedy, family, hope, renewal, and love, all against the backdrop of Turin, as the city transitions from the cold of winter to the warmth of spring.
Finally, as spring made way for the arrival of summer, my writing made way for the all-encompassing task of preparing to move home to California.
Those last several weeks in Turin reminded me of the effort it took to move to Italy in the first place, as I describe in Packing Up and Confronting Failure: The Emotional Toll of Moving Abroad and the Lessons I Learned.
“Packing Up” as well as Letter to My Eight Year-Old Self and Learning to Pronounce My Last Name may be the pieces that I’ve received the most comments on, from readers. I think these three pieces tap into experiences and emotions that feel unique to each one of us but are actually more common than we realize.
*A sentence in the second paragraph originally read as: "Amidst all of that destruction, there were no reports of injuries." I amended it once I learned that although there were no deaths caused by the storm's destruction, there were some injuries.
Thank you for taking time out to read this piece. I am grateful for every view, subscription, comment, and share!
As always, please subscribe at: https://www.jessicaalampay.com/blog