July 1st, our one year anniversary of moving home to Oregon from Italy, came and went with a whisper. We marked the date as a family, and talked about what we were doing a year ago, but we were busy heading off on vacation and didn’t give it too much fanfare. We have a life to live in the here and now, and Italy seems like ancient history. A year and a lifetime away.
The passing of this anniversary got me to thinking: What have I learned in this first year back? It’s been a hard year, and an easy year, depending on my point of view. There are definitely some lessons and revelations that have come with repatriation. In so many ways, our time in Italy was not “Real Life.” It had a definite start and end, and when you know you have limited time you behave differently than you would otherwise. “Real Life” continues on and on, with it’s ups and downs and twists and turns. You can put just about anything off for two years. And we did… we lived a life of travel and excitement, in the moment. We didn’t worry about saving for retirement. We didn’t worry about negotiating obligations to family and friends. We didn’t worry about long term career choices. We had two years, and made the most of it.
Returning to “Real Life,” without an end date, changes things. Some things cannot be sustained or put off indefinitely. I’d love to travel like we did for two years but the reality is we don’t have the vacation time or the funds to visit someplace new every other weekend. Or, let’s face it, the energy. But I miss the travel. Oh, how I miss visiting interesting places all the time. Seeing something new around every corner. That fueled me creatively in a way that I’m not sure I’ll see again. And that’s ok… that’s what made the time so special.
Beyond the financial though, there are personal things that I put off too. The old saying, “wherever you go, there you are,” is very, very true. You can fool yourself for a while in a new situation, thinking things are different, but sooner or later you realize that the issues you face come from within and they will be there no matter where you live. So while I focused on this wonderful personal growth that came from my creative journey while in Italy, that was only part of the story. My journey must continue to address the issues I tabled or ignored for those two years. The thing about personal growth is that you don’t always get to pick and choose the direction you grow, like I did during those two years. Sometimes “Real Life” chooses for you.
It turns out that’s fine though, because I’ve also learned another important thing about growth. It stays with you. What I learned and gained from the connection to heart and soul has not left me in the return home, because wherever you go, there you are. It works both ways, positive and negative. When change is real and true and internal, it’s with me always. My fears about going back to being the person I was two years ago were unfounded, because the place does not make the person. Our experiences in a place and time shape us and leave us indelibly changed.
I see that in my art too. My photography was changed by my time in Italy, and it has changed as I return home. There are things that I have carried through: my love of real life still life, texture and history. Among my subjects you’ll still see potted flowers, peeling paint and interesting door locks. There are changes though, because my environment has changed. The materials and scenes that make up my life are different now, and since my photography is a reflection of the world around me, it’s had to change. I still love scooters, but the sightings are fewer and far between. I’ve found new subjects that intrigue me, things like mail boxes and brick buildings. I’ve created new images that I love just as much as some of my old ones. And there is so much more that I’ve been able to do since returning home. Without the cultural and language barriers, I’m learning to be an artist in the real world as well as the online world. I’m exploring new realms of photography, through print and presentation in exhibitions. I’m moving in new directions, influenced by all of the places and experiences that have come before.
The lessons of the last year have not been easy. At times I’ve been filled with such longing and sadness it’s overwhelming. And then, at times, I’m grateful to be where I am and leave that time behind me. I’ve had to learn balance in a new way with starting a creative business and finding the time for Kat Eye Studio, my corporate job, my family, friends and, oh yeah, I need to still practice and create my own art too. I’ve had to let go of unreasonable expectations and take each day, each hour, each moment… one at a time.
It might be that the biggest and most important lesson of the past year is that I am still finding my way. I will always be finding my way, no matter where I am. And I have to find my own way: in art, business, life. No one else’s path is going to work for me. I can learn from other’s experiences, from my past experiences, but I am the one who must choose the direction I move ahead in the future. The journey that came before influences where I go next, but my past doesn’t decide my future. I decide my future, a moment at a time. I am the one living this “Real Life” in real time.
There is no where else I would rather be, than where I am right now.