"Halifax was not my destination; Delta Airlines took me there anyway. It had been an uneventful trip, leaving me time to reflect before the diversions and all the other ADL’s set in. After all this time, medical lingo lingered in my head. Activities of Daily Living (only a scientist could lump what it meant to live in one phrase.) “The patient is cleared for ADL or the patient is discharged""but needs help with ADL.”
“Signori e Signorae. Ladies and Gentleman,” the pilot announced, “Some one on board is sick, has difficulty breathing and it is necessary that we re-route to Halifax. Is there a""doctor or a nurse on board?” I sit bone still; someone else can tend to the ailing passenger. If I wait, someone else will.
The noble claims of practicing medicine over the years had dissolved into the day-to-day anguish of helplessness. Maybe I should have known that oncology would take a part of my soul. What was the catalyst? I try to recall. Was it the eight-year old girl and all the decorative fish in the fish tank in the pediatric ward dying all at once? Chicken pox invaded the leukemia-ridden body of the child; she faded away. The fish died of something called “ick.” It was all ick if you had asked me back then. No one did; Iwalked away. I gave in to the “Call of my Wild.” This new calling of mine beckoned me to travel to Italy in search of a muse, but the lure of the Italian landscape with its perfumed air, ancient ruins and culinary sensations inspired me not to write, but to laze around gazing at the scenery. I walked the ancient streets, thinking about writing but not once did I put pen to paper. The weather was hotwith an unrelenting intensity; I strolled along, unbothered by it, letting Italy cast its spell.
Rome, in particular fueled my procrastination. It was tourist season; they were out en masse, in lines following flag carrying guides, or on tour buses driven by skilled natives who could maneuver the cobblestoned Roman streets with ease, or they could be found in the early morning standing having Cappuccino at cafes, or in the heat of the afternoon, sitting, occupying every square inch of the marble surrounds of every fountain.
Coming to Rome in July to work among the crowds proved futile. I took in the sights, the sounds, the smells, absorbing it all, storing it up, with the hope that I could resurrect theexperience when I could create some distance. This was my justification for not writing while traveling. Yet, I carried a notebook, jotted ideas down as I perused Italy’s antiquities, imagining life in the early Roman Empire, as a true writer should.
I was troubled by sleepless nights, haunted by clever linguistic diatribes swirling overhead in half dreams. I woke most mornings to the sound of church bells resonating up to the heavens over the kaleidoscope of tile rooftops that were visible only to those looking out of hotel balconies. I recognized the tunes from childhood, from Catholic school, the memories of enforced rote worship.
I woke exhausted, tainted with feelings of overwhelming guilt for not having what it takes to be a writer. “To be a writer, one must write every day, be disciplined,” or so it says in every writer’s journal, in every how to and by everyone in the know about writing.
Writing isn’t exactly the reprieve I was looking for; it’s cathartic when it flows freely, when it doesn’t, it proves to be painful, leaving me feeling as powerless and inept asbefore. But writing is haunting; it too never leaves me; it follows me on dog walks, doorbell and telephone answering. I’m always thinking, “Why am I not doing it and why does one neighbor never pull his shades down and why does the other one never pull them up? Distractions, all of it! Venice will be different, I tell myself; that is where I will find my muse.
The train to Venice took four hours; it was enough time to soak up the flavor of the countryside. I assigned myself a window seat. It was from this seat, I decided, that I would make a conscious effort to put my abilities to the test. From this seat, I would watch from my writer’s point of view as the exotic otherness of Italy unfolded before me like an unwinding spool of newsreel.
It was gifted material there for the taking. Farmers tilling the soil; people driving in teeny vehicles speeding over modern highways like characters in a cartoon, rows and rows of sunflowers swaying in the slight breeze while bathing their sunflower faces in the warmth of their namesake; a once thriving medieval village that lay in towering picturesque ruin left me in its wake with the overwhelming desire to research its history as well as its eventual demise. I could imagine it, if nothing else. But the train stopped in Florence for a brief layover, and distractions seeped out in the form of an English speaking couple. They were debating over who would be the one who would leave the train to buy a magazine that the wife could read for the rest of the trip.
The window of the train surely offered a world of entertainment far more spectacular than any rag magazine could even hope to provide. Yet, there they were squabbling causing a commotion, a distraction diverting my attention. That’s all it took; ideas vaporized, gone like the fleeting landscape I had been looking at. I hadn’t written a word; as usual, I’d merely been an observer.