Sunday, December 9, 2012

Closing up shop and our role in the changing of seasons

In a few days, I’ll be leaving Labro. I'll spend time with my father's side of the family in Latina before I return to Canada on the 15th. In Latina, I’ll have more time to reflect and provide a more detailed update of what I’ve been up to since September (my gosh—three months have passed since my last update). I apologize for the grand absence, but you’ll soon see why I’ve disappeared. And I hope that the photos of SO MUCH TASTY FOOD and breathtaking views will make up for it. I extend much love and warmth to you guys, and I thank you for inspiring me to keep writing. You rock and I am indebted to you.
            Before I get to that extensive update, here are my reflections on my final days in Labro with the magnificent, life-changing, beneficent, and innovative Art Monastery Project. Cheers, carissimi. My fellow Artmonks of past and present, and all of our supporters sprinkled around the world and Universe, this one's for you.

-Vegan in Suburbia / "Piscina"

Photo by Sean Yoro
I spent last month writing 50 000 words in 30 days. It was part of the international insanity trip called NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month, whereby people from all around the world take part in the imaginative, idealistic, and intrinsically insane adventure of penning a literary work in 720 hours). Believe it or not, that requires a lot of typing with little or no chance to self-edit. It was a work of fiction, so it required that I become acquainted with the imagination that has lain dormant for quite some time, that I roll with whatever plot twist my wily mind decided to throw into the ambiance that I had painstakingly created, and that I type, type, type without stopping (it also begged for me to turn contractions into two words in order to increase my word count. Hey, turning all instances of “she’d” into “she had,” for example, afforded me 163 more words—and another hour or two of sleep!).
            So, you would think that writing a blog post to recap the events of the last three months would be transmitted with smooth fluidity from my brain, through my heart, out from my fingertips, and onto the computer screen. I mean, I thought that it’d be that smooth, but I feel that I cannot “just type.” Each memory and thought and event that surfaces begs for me to close my eyes and remember. More so than remember, it begs me to memorize, to feel—to inhale my surroundings and make them become me.
            Two weekends ago, my fellow Artmonks and I took a road trip in search of new opportunities for 2013. We headed south, and we were graced with temperatures that were a few degrees warmer than those that we had left behind in Labro. Our faces were caressed with warm sunlight even as our bodies shivered from the cold; our eyes dazzled by palm trees and vast plains instead of rolling hills; our lips and tongues amused by the sweet nectar of freshly-picked tangerines and persimmons; our hearts expanding and comforted by new, supportive friendships; our souls warmed by the trust shared between us and strangers that have become confidants and supporters.

            Here, in my bedroom in the monastery where I am the sole inhabitant, I turn around and behold the grey sky surrounding the snow-capped mountains, and my heart begs me to remember them. This was my home for six months; I watched the terrain change just as the terrain watched me change. I witnessed the lush emerald foliage turn crispy and yellow as the summer drought overtook the valley and most, if not all, of Italy; I admired the fields of poppies on one day and was reminded to cherish every precious moment—and appreciate when it’s over—when I arrived at that same field the following day and the red-orange beauties had been ploughed; I delighted at the solved mystery of the long thorny branches lining the sides of roads, when they all, within a matter of days, were adorned with a bounty of blackberries—our so-called Blackberry Epidemic.

            One day, we had more figs than we could possibly eat; the next, our fig tree was sick and its leaves fell one by one to the merciful ground. At the beginning of the summer, we were taunted by a pomegranate tree whose dried and long-decayed fruits from the previous season hung like little shrunken heads on the branches. Suddenly, these remnants of the previous year were replaced by myriad giant globes housing ruby gems, and if we didn’t pick the fruits fast enough, Mother Nature would get our attention by causing the fruits to crack open—she summoned us by facilitating and precipitating the consumption of this wondrous simple pleasure (if you are ever lucky enough to prepare a pomegranate for consumption that has burst open instead of being sliced, you’ll understand). And, the other day, I picked the last tomato from our vegetable garden that was lovingly tended to by our very special summer chef, Emma, who we affectionately called Nonna Emma, since her effortless, boundless care for us could be equalled only by our selfless grandmothers.

            We are not separated from the evolution of the seasons. These have been our intimate surroundings, the environment that we breathed and whose own evolution was impacted by our deep exhalations. Though our hair may be longer and our tans have disappeared, on the outside we appear to be the same people; on the inside, we have undergone about as many significant changes as the terrain. We’re different now. We’re changed. We’ve been marked in minor or major ways by the people we’ve met, by the obstacles we’ve surmounted, by the triumphs we’ve enjoyed, by the meals we’ve shared, by the embraces that have warmed our tired bodies and fragile hearts, by the art that we have created, by the tears that have been wiped away by loved ones, by the minutes and hours of contemplation, by the simple acts of kindness and compassion, by the moments of vulnerability, by the laughter that ricocheted off the walls and was absorbed by our swollen hearts.

            Allow me to say something very… “woo”, or hippie, right now: As the Earth is cared for and shaped and changed and loved by Mother Nature, we, too, have been cared for, shaped, changed, and loved by these elements that I have listed. And we will continue to change, and that’s important: what’s especially imperative, though, is that we don’t forget that we want to change the world, too. We can achieve this better by working together, but we shouldn’t be daunted by maintaining this passion and drive by ourselves once we are temporarily divided. Though we’re an unstoppable positive force when we’re united, when we’re apart, we can spread our fire in circles that we hadn’t even dreamed of reaching.
            Change is afoot. We’re part of it, and you’ve become part of it just by reading this.
            Like the Buddha said, “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases from being shared.” In this same way, though all of our hearts were inspired and our fires were ignited by this unique entity called the Art Monastery Project, our fire will not diminish from being shared; it’ll only continue to inspire and thrive.
            As such, I don’t believe in goodbyes; I believe in “see you soons.” Even if we don’t see each other face to face again in the future, parts of us are marked—whether unbeknownst to us or with our conscious acknowledgement—and this means that I will see you or a part of you again in the way I make this meal, the steps I take to do this task, the way I meditate, the manner in which I deal with conflict, the decision I make regarding love or profession, the time I allow myself to breathe.

            We had one of the busiest weeks, since we are closing up shop here at the Art Monastery—putting belongings in boxes, suitcases, and trucks; gathering the change-makers in our lives to tell us how the Art Monastery changed their lives, in order for us to continue making the world a better, more thoughtful and intentional place in 2013; and spending as much time with each other as our tired eyes, minds, hearts, and limbs will allow. But breathe is the word that comes to mind to sum up this phase of the experience. It’ll get us through the inherent difficulty in not saying “good-morning” to each other every day, in not wishing each other “buon appetito” before sharing each meal together—in having to tell each other, as one person embarks a train and the other remains standing on the platform, each arm wave correspondingly pulling on heartstrings, that we’ll see each other soon.
            Like I said, this isn’t goodbye; the Art Monastery has changed my life and the best way in which I can express my gratitude is by giving as much back to it as I can within the parameters outlined by my other passions, obligations, choices, and priorities of my life and being—and even this is magnificently complex and beauteously intricate because the Art Monastery touches all of those categories now. The Art Monastery is part of my life and being now. So, as we prepare to bid each other fare well at least for the holidays, I know that I’ll be seeing these people soon—whether in person, in my own character, or even in seemingly mundane daily chores, like the way that I prepare bread, my method of washing dishes, my insistence on having an endless supply of fresh rosemary, and my vow to practice gratitude, always.
            Inhale; exhale.