The two things people ask me all the time when they’ve learn how long I’ve lived here are, if I have any regrets or when am I moving back to America.
If this were a sabbatical, I would’ve moved back by now and more importantly, I wouldn’t have gone through the hell that is getting a driver’s license in Europe (I hear Germany’s is beyond difficult).
Regarding regrets, I have none. Even during my worst days in Italy, I never got homesick. Of course I miss my family and friends. I do miss the efficiency of America and I know it would be easier to be a business owner and writer there. Rome’s going through a horrible downturn but that makes me want to move out of Rome, not the country.
As of today I have lived in Rome longer than any other city (after college). I lived in Los Angeles for ten years and moved there from New York City. If I had moved directly to Rome from NYC maybe things would’ve felt differently. When I arrived in Rome, I was a very bitter and broken person. Hollywood had worn me down. I was numb, which is not a good trait for anyone who works in a creative field.
My first trip to Italy was in 2005. I wasn’t an Italophile. I just wanted to travel to a new place, see some art, eat some good food. In junior high school and high school I knew I would live overseas one day. Italy was not on my list. That first trip to Rome surprised me and changed my life in so many ways. It felt like home but I wasn’t planning on moving anywhere until retirement. My Hollywood friends were skeptical. They said had I traveled to Iowa, I would’ve had the same reaction. So I returned the following year after getting a new job. Nope, that first visit wasn’t a fluke.
During the fall of 2007 I was working on a movie in Toronto. I was one of the executive producers and was on location for almost three months. I was so happy despite the six day shoot, very long hours, and night shoots (killer). As the wrap date approached, I was speaking with my dad. My parents had moved back to St. Martin, after retirement, a few years earlier. He could hear the anxiety in my voice. My dad asked me why I was going back to Los Angeles. I told him I had wonderful bosses. He thought that was great but why wasn’t I moving to Italy now? What was I waiting for? I wasn’t living in Los Angeles, just existing. New days are not guaranteed to us.
I was shook. My fellow first generation Americans will feel me when I say my parents were NOT go follow your bliss kind of folks. They were grounded, intense Caribbean people. I’m pretty sure my mom blames the fact that I’m not married on my lack of an advanced degree (ha). My parents were very hard on us growing up and had high expectations. So for my dad to say go to Italy, that was earth shattering to me. I mean, what would I do in Italy? It’s not as if I had an engineering degree and could go work for a Fortune 500 company.
Three years to the month of my first visit, I said good-bye to everything I knew and moved to a foreign country. Looking back, it was a completely bonkers move.
It’s been tough at times living here and last year, in particular, was difficult on a micro and macro level. I’m not the only person who was glad to say hello to 2018. 2017 was probably one of the most stressful years of my adult life. I got through it (with help from my family and friends) and this year is shaping up to be much better.
It may sound melodramatic to say moving to Italy saved me. Moving here pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me wake up. I’m no longer a spectator in my life. I’m aware of time passing and how little of it we have. When you walk past buildings that are over a thousand years old, it put things in perspective. Moving to Italy forced me to stop running, look at the bigger picture, and figure out exactly why I was working in Hollywood. My post-Jumping the Broom disappointments (not with the movie) turned out to be the best thing that every happened to me. I didn’t see it at the time. I wouldn’t have interned for an interior designer, started my own company, and worked/be working on incredible design/decorating projects had things gone differently. It’s through my work in design that I was able to reconnect with my love of storytelling, my creativity, and my passions.
I never stopped screenwriting but kept my scripts to myself. One of my mentors/friends, a senior Hollywood film agent, was in town with his wife over the Christmas holidays. He asked me what I was working on. He has always encouraged me to do both, to write and to decorate. I felt strongly I had to pick a lane. He disagreed. Many creative people are multi-faciated. During a yoga retreat last fall, I realized that I was still trying to follow a linear career path and not being open to all possibilities. I was still holding on to some bitterness regarding my Hollywood career that I truly needed to let go. How could I work smarter, not just harder? Who gets to decide what success looks like? I must continue to focus on the craft of screenwriting (and improving) not the things I have no control over.
The first project I sold as a screenwriter was a teen movie to an Italian film company within a few months of moving here. However, the majority of my time was spent in my apartment alone writing/working in English with people back in Los Angeles. I was in a giant expat bubble. Four years ago when I opened my company, I started working in Italy and in Italian. I jumped into the deep end of the pool. I couldn’t have a situation where expensive custom furniture and/or draperies were made incorrectly because my upholsterer misunderstood my janky Italian. I had to step it up. My get by Italian was fine for a casual conversation not business.
The last time I was in Los Angeles I was there for Hollywood meetings and for a interior design project. I was having dinner with a friend before my flight back to Rome. I said that Los Angeles wasn’t so bad and that I was looking forward to my next trip. She wondered if I had fallen and hit my head on the pavement. I was serious. I saw another side to the city running around Los Angeles with my client to different showrooms. L.A. traffic is still atrocious though.
I have acquired some patience since moving to Rome, a big improvement. I cook more, eat well (said goodbye to no-carb/all diets), and my cost of living is much lower. I’m healthier, more physically active, and learning new things all the time. I’m fortunate to have incredible friends here who are like family.
During my first month in Italy made a comment that I get chills when I see the Pantheon. Someone replied it was only because everything was new to me. I know that’s not true. Ten years on I still get chills when I walk past the Pantheon. I don’t take that for granted.