A few selections from recent writing in my sketchbook tells the tale. Planning, prepping, and considering a lot of things right now.
From 30,000 Feet:
Well, here we are. Amanda and I have been living in Italy for around a year and nine months—it’s insane how fast time has gone by. Our experience has been fulfilling and restorative in so many ways…be it travel, making friends, language learning, professional skill building, new forms of physical activity, etc… As our time progresses, we’ve naturally been presented with many potential scenarios regarding what we’d like to do next once our formal commitment here in Italy is finished. At this point there and many ways things could potentially play out. This, of course sets the stage for some pretty heavy decision making in our near future. Heavy decision making is almost never fun 😬.
I’ve been preparing for another exhibition this December (I’ll talk more about that below). Because of this, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the sketchbook. For me, time in the sketchbook always brings up the classic big questions—regardless of the project I’m working on. I pulled some of those blurbs from the sidebar to build the header for this post because I think they unconsciously attempt to put a finger on some of the existential questions we face moving forward. The best action always seems to happen in the sidebar. Lots of things are still uncertain at this point I can’t exactly talk about in detail here, but I thought as an exercise it would be good for me to lay things out broad-strokes style in hopes of further unpacking some of those ultra-pithy blurbs from the sidebar.
⬆️ Me enjoying an incredible sunset in Sardegna this September—I’m one lucky dude, indeed ( 📸 by Amanda ).
I’ll start with just me. As I mention in the caption above I’m insanely lucky to have this opportunity. Looking beyond the veneer of travel photos, there have been several deep shifts for me personally since we moved. I was at a low point after my mom died in the early Summer of 2020. That loss affected (and still affects) me profoundly—combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, the insanity of the 2020 election, plus managing expectations in a tenure track position at a university exhausted me mentally and physically. The change in my work and in the pace of the culture we live in has been restorative. We live in a rural area near the mountains. This has provided a physical space for reflection that is both tranquil and beautiful. It’s also a space that lends itself to exercise. Having mountain bike and hiking trails in such close proximity to our home has allowed me to reconnect with my love of all all things related to two wheels—and—with really just being outside in general. Of course, the physical activity is great from an exercise/calorie burning perspective, but the mental aspects of deeply engaging in a hobby that is not “work” is where the real restorative benefits seem to be 🤔.
Amanda and I have been able to travel often in our van. This has been great for us in so many ways from our relationship to our language building skills. We’re also super lucky to live and work in proximity to a very active and skilled community of people who also love doing things outdoors. This has led to rock climbing excursions and dare I say it… me actually learning how to do stuff in a gym, lol. Long story short, we’ve both been trying lots of new stuff and pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones physically and mentally. When I taught graphic design I spoke a lot about “creative fuel” with my students, as I often saw them trying to work through burnout. I was certainly in a deep state of burnout, but I’m feeling like I have some fuel back in the tank now, which is nice. I’m not sure I understood how low I was on fuel until I was blessed with the opportunity to hit the pause button and forced to make some major changes with my daily routine. The first several months here I would take multi-hour walks in the morning through foothill trails and also on gravel orchard roads behind our town. I think it was during those walks I realized how run-down I had actually become. It took the better part of a year for that fog of mental and emotional exhaustion to begin lifting.
Learning to speak Italian has been a brutal, amazing, ass-kicking, humbling, beautiful experience. I was hoping to be further along after almost two years here, but it isn’t stopping me from continuing to try. Much like losing weight or building muscle, the progress is so slow it’s difficult to recognize until one day you say or understand something that gives hope that things are, in fact, getting better. Then there are the days when it feels like everything is backsliding, but I have learned to accept that the deep nuance of this language is something I will never fully get a grip on—and thats ok. I’ve taken up listening to Italian podcasts while I make long climbs on my mountain bike. I’ve been listening to Muschio Selvaggio—it’s a basically a group of young dudes that bring in a guest and ask them questions. It’s mostly Italian pop-culture related stuff—and it’s full speed and funny as hell when I can understand what they are saying. I’m probably only getting 30-40 percent right now, but comprehension at full speed with interference is improving. I’m not sure if doing this while my legs are on fire from climbing is good or not, but I see it as an opportunity to learn and practice focus / patience where I’d otherwise be listening to music or podcasts in English. Perché no??
⬆️ Via Ferrata, consider the comfort zone officially pushed 😬
My making practice is in a solid space right now, but I could be pushing harder to break into new domains. Problem is I’m having trouble deciding where to focus creative energy. I’m photographing, drawing, writing, and illustrating more than I have in a long time. There’s less pressure attached to what I choose to do now that it isn’t unhealthily tethered to a tenure process I don’t believe in, but less pressure and looser deadlines are a double-edged sword. That said, I believe that steady engagement in the processes that feel right will produce the right outcome(s)—whatever they may be. I have so many interests. —to start—I want to start working in the action sports industry—specifically motocross/enduro and mountain bike domains. Nothing definitive in terms of producing outcomes has materialized yet, but I have built meaningful relationships and am actively monitoring what opportunities are out there—but—I also had an illustration exhibition at local gallery that went so well I was invited back for another—so I’m pumped about that, too! —and—I finally had the time to build an online shop (see video and link above). While again, not really making much money a-hem—yet the process has been exciting and I’ve learned a ton. —on top of that—I’ve had a good time building books pro-bono for a Gainesville non-profit I care about…getting ready to start another project for them as I write.
⬆️ Documentation from my first show at La Taverna, “Fare o Essere”. I have another show, “Tempo di Recupero” coming up this December I’m currently getting ready for 😀
—and finally on top-top of that—There is an important/valuable project I left behind with my last job in academia I’d like to pick up again—Creative Perfomer. I have a first full draft of a handbook just sitting on my desk next to me as I write this. It’s in dreadful shape from a writing and editing perspective, but the framework is there. I think because this project was so central to my “tenure” package when I decided to formally leave my last job something snapped there and I just didn’t want to look at it again. I had already collaboratively rolled hundreds of hours into this project with Amanda and I just kinda let it die on the vine—sad story. Now that I do have some fuel back in the tank, I’m starting to feel some desire to continue with that project to see where it leads—or maybe it’s just indigestion, who knows.
Without question though, one of the best / most sustained things I’ve done since moving is keeping this journal at least semi-regularly updated. It has provided a home for photos from my cameras as well as my thoughts / ideas on our collective experiences here. Looking back over the posts from the past year and a half it’s easy to see areas of progression and stagnation. Optimistically though, I would say the overall arc is one of progression. It’s nice to have a record of that progression to refer to and a companion to my sketchbooks.
⬆️ An online workshop teaser Amanda and I made for Creative Performer. We ended up creating a catalog of 4, one hour workshops. 4 hours—that’s a lot of material! The way we created the workshops in progression made it easy to build the framework for the handbook. Now to finish…
⬆️ PRAXIS: why must there always be hoops to jump through that cost money?
And now, finally to the professional aspect of things. I’d more or less say my “career,” is the thing that has suffered most since I’ve been here if you’re looking at things from professional title or monetary perspectives. I mentioned leaving my last job was mentally healthy for me. It was a great job that paid well and even though I knew it was good for me to step away it was still really hard to walk away from. Amanda and I could have maintained a distance relationship so I could keep my job, but our relationship was / is without question the more important priority.
Amanda is carrying the earning weight here while I am working part time and managing things at our house. She does an excellent job at something very few people are qualified to do—and her job is the primary reason we are here. Her job is also very demanding and stressful at times—facts. I’ll be honest though, not feeling like I’m contributing enough monetarily bothers me even though what we are doing now is working well. Unfortunately, my steady creative activity here (while fulfilling) is not making up for the income I lost when I left my last job. Maybe it’s toxic aspects of masculinity causing these feelings? Both of my parents worked growing up and it has been a long time since I haven’t had a “formal” full time job. I feel like I’m doing something wrong here. I want to take more burden off Amanda, but there is nothing I can do that will change the unique demands of her work here—facts. Inversely, me earning more now could set her up for a sabbatical later—also facts. Of course, I work hard to make things low stress at home so when Amanda is off work so we can make the most of our time together instead of worrying about running errands.
The only thing I’ve identified that could pay well and would allow teaching in a creative domain—which I definitely miss—would be teaching art or digital media at the K-12 DoDEA school on base. I started the formal application process to become eligible to apply for DoDEA jobs and unfortunately even though I have an MFA in my field of desired teaching and over 10 years of formal teaching experience I have to take 6 Praxis exams to even be eligible to apply. Of course, each exam costs money 👹. On top of this, I don’t even know if they will have an opening while I am here. It’s a big if. My first reaction was no. Teaching K-12 has never been something I’ve felt particularly driven to do—I enjoy working with folks over 18. The thought of dealing with parents just doesn’t sound like fun to me.—buuuuut—I do miss teaching and being formally qualified to teach K-12 would round out my existing skillset. It would also give me something to sink my career with a capitol C teeth into and make some actual money should we decide to stay here longer than our original commitment..which is potentially possible. And it’s pretty much impossible to beat the flexibility of an academic schedule.
I’ve started studying for the Praxis core. I’m not worried about the writing and reading sections, but I’m finding it incredibly difficult to even open the math study materials. I made an intentional move away from ever having to take another math class again a looooong time ago, yet here we are, lol. I guess feeling prepared for 2/3 ain’t bad. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do yet. On paper ponying up the money and taking these tests makes the most sense. Intuitively though I have pretty serious doubts. If K-12 is something I know I don’t want to do long term is it worth the time/$ and potentially setting sail down this dubious path if something does happen? I suppose one can always change course. We’ve done it before and I’m sure we could do it again. Enough privilege-laced rambling for now—going to keep working on this and feeling thankful for this experience—ciao.