“THE YEAR OF LIVING DIFFERENTLY” HEADLINE CAME TO ME as I was swimming laps in the local Y pool. Thinking of a phrase there wasn’t odd by itself—I always came up with decent headlines and story ideas while walking, running, or swimming. But I was swimming late morning, right in the middle of the workday.
Other people’s workdays.
For almost a year, I haven’t had a day job. For some 33 years I did, but right after New Year’s Day, I and a bunch of my colleagues were reorganized into other endeavors.
My first reaction? Relief. I was tired of the routine, even though I had work that I enjoyed most of the time. But I’m not going to go on about this. I guess if I want to be pompous, I can say that my not being beholden to a regular job is the leitmotif of this post. But like the other media I used to sneer at, I’d like to look back semi-fondly at an incredibly weird year. Not as a political or reported article, but a personal look.
For one thing, our family lost a couple of souls this year that were precious to us. First off was our pal, no, our brother by a different mother Mick, lost to ALS. Mick was a romantic, a sweetheart, a truly funny guy with (and I say this with love and admiration) a twisted and original sense of humor. In his later years, he suppressed that side of him in favor of genuineness—I guess arch humor loses its appeal after awhile. But here’s a sample of his work for The Multiethnic Foundation, a guerrilla art group that he and er, I and The Spartan Woman had back in prehistory (ok, the early 1980s).
We actually put together a ‘zine once. Riffing off of an idea in Borges’ Ficciones, we put together a magazine of magazine covers. They’re the best part, aren’t they? Here are a few samples that Mick lovingly put together in a calendar for us a few years ago. (Keep in mind that he did this stuff with an X-acto knife and press-on type, cutting and pasting the rest.) Looking at some of this stuff, it was oddly prescient.
Sigh. We’ll miss him.
We also lost a couple of members of the Villa Sconita family, sweet Pete the cat, and Henry the Lab. Everyone thinks his or her pet is special, but Henry was something else. He was so keyed into our moods. He understood every language we could throw at him. So for the first time in years, we had a mostly animal-free house in New York.
You know that feeling that you’re standing on the precipice of something? That change is inevitable, so get used to it? 2017 has been that year. The lack of a day job freed me up from having to physically be in the U.S. We’d recently bought a country house in Italy, and we actually got to spend some time there. In the spring, we went for just a couple of weeks, We scheduled the trip before my life was reorg’d.
But it was good, anyway. For one thing, I got to do a panel discussion at the International Journalism Festival with my friend and former colleague, Fabio Bertoni. We talked about the dangers of the EU ruling on the right to be forgotten online. (And The Spartan Woman and I bought kitchens and ordered furniture. To be honest, the whole two weeks is a blur.)
Even better, we spent two months in Umbria over the summer. (Our neighbors, the sheep of Agriturismo Ca’Mazzetto, are wandering around in the photo up top.) I hadn’t spent that much time abroad since I was a teenager. And that was with my extended Paonita family and just a tad less free. I didn’t have to beg for the time off, or work around others’ schedules, or get the disapproving looks of certain execs about daring to take more than a week off at a time. (Honestly, Americans are idiots when it comes to such things. Flame me if you want, but it’s true.)
I wondered before flying out how it would be, whether two months away would leave me yearning for, I don’t know, American TV or the language. And no, we passed the test. First of all, The Spartan Woman and I speak English to one another; every now and then we’ll say a phrase or two in Italian, but it’s not how we communicate most of the time. So we didn’t feel alienated. At the same time, interacting every day with shopkeepers and waiters and workmen did wonders for my Italian fluency.
Lest you get the wrong idea, we didn’t spend our days Looking at Art and aping the British Grand Tour. We were more like general contractors, overseeing a few platoons of plumbers, electricians, stonemasons and others getting the house in order. And I worked through a good chunk of it, sitting at the only table we had at the time, in the kitchen, looking wistfully out the door at the garden. Freelancing does has its benefits (but don’t ask me to praise the art of nagging for payment).
Ever notice how things go at once? Besides the pets, we saw goodbye to a car, a washing machine, an iPhone, a MacBook Air…it goes on. I’m not saying there’s a conspiracy, but a guy can feel pretty paranoid about these coincidences.
Enough musing. It’s time to charge head first into 2018. Happy New Year/Buon Anno/Bonne Année everyone. My resolution: To keep on connecting with you, and to battle the darkness out there. Or on my Facebook feed—hint, let’s try not to let them drive us crazy.