As the students have been returning to the colleges here, I’ve been very aware that it was exactly ten years ago that I arrived in this place. I had come for an academic year at the Collegeville Institute, following the footsteps of Kathleen Norris. I had a draft of a memoir and an agent who wanted to represent it.
But what I really wanted was to get back to the Midwest. I’d been living in Southern California for three years, during which time my first marriage fell apart. I had truly the best job I’ve ever had, teaching at Fullerton College, with wonderful colleagues who appreciated me as a poet, and I had a great group of friends in Long Beach, where I lived.
At the end of my first year, one of my creative writing students, who knew what had transpired in my personal life that spring, gave me a gift: the DVD of Under the Tuscan Sun. It was so sweet, and I had to laugh. I was so done with that fantasy. Divorced woman moves to Tuscany and finds love(?) and happiness. For my generation, the movie was Baby Boom with Diane Keaton. High-powered woman gets a baby, moves to a farm, and falls in love with Sam Shepard. Ahhh.
And still, like those women, I made the ridiculous decision at the end of the academic year to buy a house in a small town and commit to rural life. I could tell my friend Doug from Long Beach thought I was insane. He came with me on Route 66 across country after I put my belongings on a moving truck. Once in Minnesota, he made a desperate plea that I consider moving to Minneapolis instead. He clearly feared for my prospects. With good reason.
It was some kind of miracle that I met Steve, at a potluck, two years into life in Minnesota. And that he was open to love and remarriage. And so seven years ago I came to the farm. And started growing vegetables.
Before moving to Minnesota, I had changed homes at least every two years and not stayed in one location for longer than three. I lived in Atlanta; New Rochelle, NY; Brooklyn; Menlo Park, CA; Chicago, IL; Joliet, IL; Reno, NV; and Long Beach, CA. I had good reason for each location, but when I met Steve I was already looking ahead to moving back, reluctantly, to Chicago. I didn’t want to live in a city. But I wasn’t getting a lot of traction in Minnesota, and I didn’t like my job at all. Lucky for me, Steve and the Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict came along. I became the monastery communications director, a job I loved, the same month I got married. (Even in that job where I was miserable for two years, I ended up writing Art of The Saint John’s Bible, which has been a huge blessing.)
And now I am in a place I could not have imagined. I grow food. I have written two published books and two full-length manuscripts (not counting the memoir, which made the rounds but didn’t get published). I have a job with the right balance of responsibility and flexibility. I have community.
Life is good. Life is beautiful.
Who needs Tuscany?