If I had to choose one author that I considered my “favorite” it would absolutely be Frances Mayes. She is most known for writing “Under the Tuscan Sun.” Yes, the movie was lovely with the fabulous Diane Lane and her journey from her divorce, but the book was very different.
The first time I read this book (there has been many times since) I was working at a dry cleaners. It was a drop off/pick up location where none of the actual cleaning was done. It was the loneliest job I ever had. I worked alone in a one room unit along a small strip of shops. Sometimes I would have 3 customers a day. It was the only reason I got through Pre-Calculus because I had so much time to study, which is why I took the job. The drawback was the isolation caused waves of sadness.
Frances Mayes’ memoir of her life in Tuscany helped bring warmth to that cold empty room and set into motion many discoveries about myself, which brought me to where I am today. What made this book popular was not just the setting because there are plenty of books out there about Tuscany. It was that this woman was making a major decision at a time in her life when others tend to play it safe and slow it down.
She was in her mid-fifties with a solid career as a creative writing professor in San Francisco and she was making the decision to buy an old villa in Tuscany. In her southern family’s eyes it seemed like a ridiculous, frivolous choice to make. We may claim we think nothing like our families do, but we do consider their opinions when there is just an ounce of doubt. So there she was in a hotel in Tuscany, waiting for the money to transfer from America, and she lay awake wondering if this was the right thing to do. What could go wrong? My favorite passage is: “What if you did not feel uncertainty […] Why not rename it excitement?” Why not indeed?
The rest is history of course as everyone saw this villa come to life on the screen and made her life forever for the better. Something that also had an impact on me from her writings was her prose. Frances Mayes is first and foremost a poet, which is proven in her books of poetry. Everything seems to blend together and come alive before you. Her thoughts were shared in such a way that made you feel what she was experiencing at that time. It made me want to write. Before I pursued a degree in horticulture I was an English major. Although, after taking one creative writing course, I was sure that fiction was not my destiny. It was awful. I began a short story that just never seemed to end. In fact, I never did finish that thing.
The semester was almost over and I chose to write a creative non-fiction piece. It was an essay about the people and the experiences I encountered at the first plant nursery I worked at. I wrote it very quickly and it came across the page so easily. It brought back some fond memories of my time there. I was unaware that this job was just the beginning of my horticultural career. I handed it in and when given back to me graded at the bottom of the last page was, “I think this is more your style of writing.”
I found this style due to Frances (we’re on first name basis now) and she led me to discover something else remarkable. One comment she made about writing was, “A Chinese poet many centuries ago noticed that to re-create something in words is like being alive twice.” Never more true words have been spoken. I write about the experiences of my life and they become vivid images once again as I try to bring them onto the page. My memories of my dearly departed brother are brought to life again in a way that they don’t when I’m just recalling them in my mind.
Even though I read this book nearly 7 years ago, I realized something only yesterday that brought her words back to me again. What I noticed was that at the time I was reading those years ago I was also getting ready to make a big decision myself. I was in my last semester at PJC, which meant I could not take general classes or romantic history electives anymore. I had to decide on what I wanted to do when I re-entered the real world. I had no idea what I wanted to do. Majoring in English seemed like the logical thing to do since my best grades were in those courses, but I didn’t want to be a professor and writing full time seemed like a lonely life to me. Not to mention that the chances of financial success were extremely slim.
Over the winter break during my first semester at UWF, I had this vision of myself working in a greenhouse at a nursery. I was sitting on the couch with an issue of Self magazine and suddenly the answer hit me. I wanted to pursue a career in horticulture. I had just changed majors and I was set for another semester at UWF. At the time it seemed like a ridiculous, frivolous thing to do. It involved more classes in science which were a challenge for me, more years in college than I planned, and not to mention more money. As things progressed and changes were made, I laid awake at night asking myself, “Am I sure I want to do this?” It was still an occupation that was unlikely to make me rich and definitely did not fit into the “safe” category. Then I thought about what Frances said, rename it with excitement you say? And I did. The rest is history.
Coming back to the present (I know this blog post is getting crazy long), I have had some difficulty lately. The work that I do does not pay very much just yet, therefore, my grand plans for my house and garden are a slow going process. I am an impatient person, so not being able to do what I want now is challenging. It is really important to me that my house be made into a home that is welcoming to everyone. It occurred to me yesterday that my strong desire to build a deck with a rose covered pergola where there will be a large table and chairs with a wall fountain nearby to listen to as we drink and be merry is due to Frances. The things I want from life are simple: A home that makes me feel cozy, where cooking is a fun event made from fresh vegetables from a peaceful garden where all my friends and family can be together until the wee hours of the morning drinking wine laughing. I read about all of these things in her books. She caused me to see what a truly great life is…enjoying all these simple things.
As I said before my work does not pay very much yet, which causes me to worry about the right choices for my life. How long am I willing to wait before all these beautiful things are created for my home? I have been called by my mother several times a “worry wart.” It’s always, “Darlene, you worry too much. Cross that bridge when you get to it.” The question before me is should I keep going into the unknown or take back control and quit? There are many financial risks I take that could impact my life later on in a big way. I have worried about it constantly, but today I opened “Under the Tuscan Sun” and found a passage that I didn’t highlight, “Think: What if the sky doesn’t fall? What if it’s glorious?” How about that worry wart?
So I’ve decided to let all these worries go. I visualize these worries being sand that slips through my fingers. To celebrate my transformation to a “go with the flow” gal, me and Coach went for a walk. As we were on our evening stroll, the wind blew across my face and through my hair and I realized that of the 4 elements it was my favorite. It is weightless, it clings to nothing, and when you release something into the wind it floats gracefully to wherever it lands. I will try each day to be more like the wind. Thank you Frances for helping me remember that being ridiculous and frivolous is not such a bad thing.