This is a Mistake
The trials, errors and revelations of moving to Sicily
Years ago, when I started writing the blog, Without Envy, which eventually evolved into this edgy, self-expat-ty enterprise, I used it primarily as a means of therapy. A lot was going on in my life at the time. Two years prior, I’d quit my job to dedicate more time to writing a novel, which proved to be a challenge greater than time alone could eradicate. Six months after that, my father died, a loss I could barely contain (and still haven’t fully), and finally, our daughter was diagnosed with a serious, chronic illness. It was an era in which, as I wrote back then, I moved about in near constant practical awareness of our undeniably, inescapable vulnerability.
Pretty gloomy thinking for someone privileged enough to quit his job and still have the means to face death and a daunting illness. For the most part, my temperament seemed perpetually trapped in these few lines of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.
Times are different now. My writing life is so much more to me now than one flooded with the domineering commitment of crafting a novel or swept up in the trauma of writing to heal. I find comfort still in the comparison I made back then to that of a pilgrim setting out from their home, rucksack stuffed with provisions, searching for others with whom to share stories, hoping to uncover proof that you could exist in some happy, habitable settlement between the freedom to be yourself and the horse-shitty, tyrannical correctness of modern life.
But I also better understand now that to be authentic you must also be open to the idea of discontent, disillusionment, despair even. Not everyone you meet on the road will share your appetite for following the beat of your own drum. They will see you as being too different, too revolutionary, too caustic and in some fucked up twist believe your trials and failures are proof that being unique, living the way you see fit, outside of the boundaries created by society, is not only not possible but a threat to their own livelihood.
They will see you also, however, getting back on your feet, shoulders set against the hot air of their pitiful outrage, and continuing down your own path they may even someday themselves discover the inclination to walk as well very slowly into an audacious, new course of action of their own intrepid design. That’s the hope anyway. And besides, they are wrong and you are right to be distinctively different. Society as it stands today needs it. Change = the only hope.
This, more than anything, sums up what we hope to accomplish with This is a Mistake, our monthly catch-all of the more specific trials, errors and revelations we’ve encountered in uprooting our lives and moving to Sicily. Neither a guide, nor a how-to (enough already with those), the edition, which will be offered to paid subscribers, is meant to become a journal that, when taken collectively, might serve as proof (we hope) that one can part with their grievances in life and find the means to live in a way that is startling, fresh, dissimilar and so personally unique that it defies definition. Because there is no one word for who we are, or who we can become. What is certain is that how we do anything is how we do everything and when failure strikes, and it will, it is not the falling down that we—and others too, we hope—will call into focus but that getting back up on your tired feet.
Toward that end, there were two images I thought appropriate to this article, both by Gustav Klimt. The first is this:
While the painting was meant as a sort of protest against the art world at the time, it is the mirror turned back on the viewer that stands out for me. The full inscription by the German poet, Friedrich Schiller, at the top reads:
“If you cannot please everyone with your actions and your art, you should satisfy a few. To please many is dangerous.”
Heavy stuff, I know. A level of aggression which I’ve certainly exhibited with the fiction I write. If you ignore the somewhat elitist privilege with which it was supposedly conveyed, I get it. You can’t please everyone and those you can, you should. It’s the last line that carries the burden of the human condition, but even then it sends soaring in me the same feeling I get from my favorite Tolstoy quote: “One can live magnificently in this world if one knows how to work and how to love, to work for the person one loves and to love one’s work.”
Our journey didn’t begin with Sicily, nor will it end there. There is so much before, and so much more that will come after, and while writing has helped me navigate a thousand or so “new normals” and has guided me along in what continues to be a foreign and sometimes terrifying world, it is the sharing with others, even those, I am willing to admit, who disagree, that when life shows itself to be a real can of worms, it is through togetherness and shared fate that we might finally give grief, doubt, fear, uncertainty—anything standing in our way—the boot and enjoy the relief and the prospect that our mended heart will steer us forward.
Anyway, that’s us and that’s the naked truth.
Thanks for reading The Revelate, and for sharing your selves with us. Hope to see you again on the road.
p.s. the other work by Gustav I’d considered was The Kiss, which might’ve been a better choice now that I think of it, because nothing says I see you like a kiss.