It’s been a while since I posted anything here, but I’d like to blame Italy. After the hastiest spring break of my life—two days spent in a flurry of unpacking and repacking—I stuffed my passport in my backpack, spun the dials on my hot pink, TSA-approved luggage locks, and stepped on the airplane to adventure.
Well, more specifically, to Europe. After a few days in London, I found my way to Florence, where I’ll be spending the rest of the academic quarter. And since I’ve had about as many ups and downs as an uncoordinated toddler on a pogo stick, I haven’t found much time for the blog. But recently, I had a revelation: Being abroad is a lot like writing a book.
Phase One: The Spark
Oh my god. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.
I’m on an adventure. This is the coolest thing that’s ever happened to anyone. The whole wide world is a fairytale. Everything is magical.
Much like the electrifying early daydreams of a new story idea, my first days abroad were a shock to the system. Literally everything was daunting, yes, but it was also exciting. Every corner seeped possibility. It’s that feeling that nothing has ever been so fresh or new before, and you know you’re going to come away from the experience a changed person.
But if you’re anything like me, this phase—whether during book writing or travelling abroad—doesn’t last nearly long enough.
Phase Two: The Dawn of Terror
Holy crap. What did I get myself into? I’m such an idiot for going abroad/trying to write this story. I don’t know how to use Italian buses/write about starship pirates! This was a terrible idea. I need to put on some sweatpants and watch Netflix. Dear lord. I want my mommy.
This phase hit me like a squealing, pedestrian-blind Vespa to the face. I can easily say I have never been filled with so much self-doubt in my life (yeah, including when I’m writing a book and things start getting tough). When some of the shiny allure of the first few days begins to wear off, you can suddenly see how terribly misguided you were. This was when I realized Florence didn’t look like an Instagram photo all the time. When I realized that it’s terrifying when strangers follow you down the streets, calling “Ciao, bella!” When I realized that a feeble-stomached girl like me might not be well-suited to the land of formaggio and gelato.
This is the phase, when I’m writing, where I really, really want to give up.
And this was the phase where I really, really wanted to go home.
It’s uncomfortable. It’s difficult. And at this stage, it’s not particularly fun. But fortunately, much like when writing a book, it gets better.
Phase Three: Acceptance
Fine. I’m gonna do this. You hear me, world? I’m gonna do this! You can beat me back as much as you want to, but I’m stronger than you!
You aren’t giving up on your novel just yet (or booking the next flight back to Oregon, as the case may be). You’re going to figure out a way to make this better, to adjust to everything that’s new. You’re going to be victorious.
Sure, you’re still feeling a lot of doubt. But you’ve accepted that you’re going to try your hardest. And that makes you feel pretty tough and badass. Good for you.
Phase Three-and-a-Half: CrapCrapCrapCrapCrap
I just jumped on a bus headed the wrong direction and a guy just leaned out of his car window and made a kissing noise at me and I’m going to be late to class and I’m crying on the streets, get me out, get me out, get me out.
Yeah… This one was a doozy.
When you’re writing a book, part of you gets to thinking, Why am I spending my time doing this? Whenever I check Facebook I see a new picture of my friends doing fun things. I want to do fun things. I want to go be with my friends and family. Why am I doing this instead? I’m a terrible decision-maker.
Going abroad can feel like that.
Phase Four: Oh… I Guess This Is All Right.
These gardens are actually kind of pretty/I really did rock that setting description in Chapter Four… And I do like the other students in my program/my main character is pretty dynamic. Huh. Maybe this isn’t so bad after all.
This phase was a lot like phase three for me, but felt so much more real. This isn’t just the fleeting burst of confidence you get when you swear you’re going to finish your quarter abroad/novel manuscript. This is a true sensation of I can do this.
Phase Five: The Little Victories
I’m about to sing to the rooftops because this moment is absolutely glorious. I. Am. Awesome.
When I’m writing, this often happens when I pull at a thread in the story and discover a perfect plot twist that was just waiting to be discovered. You feel strong, empowered, brilliant… And you feel like you can keep going.
In Italy, this happened when I found a bag of frozen berries.
As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I am a smoothie addict. As a Pacific Northwesterner, I’m also a berry addict. But the berries here are expensive and frozen fruit doesn’t seem to be a thing. You can buy smoothies at some gelato places, but you pay five euros for a cup the size of one of those plastic Nyquil shot glasses. So when I found a bag of frozen blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, I gasped out loud (not kidding). When I finished checking out of the store, I clutched the grocery bag to my chest and floated into the street (again, not kidding). The sun was shining and I sang Disney songs out loud all the way home (I sort of wish I was kidding… I got some weird looks, but hey, Part of Your World soothes me).
Part Six: Cruisin’
So this is how things are now. Okay.
I think I can handle this.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m still stressed a lot. I still get confused by the buses. I still hate catcallers. But I think I’ve reached that point in my abroad experience where I’m starting to get everything figured out. I have routines. I’ve learned that going on runs while listening to audiobooks is the best way to explore the city. I can make smoothies to my heart’s content.
It’s the point in writing when you’ve found your stride. Or, you think you have, at least.
And I think I have. I think I’m starting to understand how the city works and how I work in the city. This is the part where I’m not quite so nervous, not quite so afraid… And everything becomes so much more fun.
I’ll let you know if I stumble across any more phases when I get there—but for now, I’m pretty happy cruisin’.