Nope, not Brave
A friend told me I was brave for signing up for consecutive writer’s retreats in Italy and Croatia. “Why?“ I asked.
“Because you don’t know anyone. You’re the only American. And you're traveling alone,” she said.
While she had the facts straight, I disagreed with her conclusion. Sure, I tackle lots of things by myself, but there’s no way I am brave. I am afraid of car washes and snakes. Going on a trip and doing things I love exhibits no bravery.
Brave people are our servicemen and women, firefighters, the police, parents of twins, sky divers, rodeo riders, snake handlers, alligator wrestlers, hurricane chasers, and anyone else who does scary or risky things.
Bravery aside, it was a fantastic trip. All About Writing, a consulting and writers' education and training group I have been working with to help polish my writing skills, ran the retreats. I joined other writers in Venice, then stayed for a second week in Istria, Croatia. My goal was to have 1:1 time with experts who could help me with my historical novel, and also meet new people who would inspire me, see my beloved Venice again, experience Croatia, and come home refreshed and ready to finish this labor of love.
Each day featured breakfasts together with our small group of writers, followed by an hour discussion with a focus such as antagonists. One assignment in Venice was to write a short piece featuring an antagonist on the walk from Piazzale Roma to our bed and breakfast in Dorsoduro, Ca della Corte. I wrote a humor piece about my dehydration after the long flight from Atlanta and the terror inflicted by my antagonist, the bladder, after drinking three bottles of water before boarding the bus followed by the walk to accommodations. Not my best work.
We were treated royally by Katarina, owner of Ca della Corte. We awoke to the smell of croissants baking each morning! Her staff remembered our coffee preferences; I had a perfect cappuccino.
I spent an hour each day with my advisor, Richard, who patiently read and then helped me with chapters of the first draft of my book. With some coaching, I cut it by 25 percent and rewrote several scenes.
My favorite day in Venice included a four hour walk with no map and no destination in mind. I wandered, got lost, took photographs, stopped in a few churches, had a delicious lunch alongside a canal, and let myself simply be. It gave me strength to write some more.
On our last evening in Venice, we were entertained in a palazzo by the owner, Flavia, who undertook the painstaking restoration with her husband. Flavia is a wonderful hostess and fabulous cook. We enjoyed her delicious food, including the best tiramisu I have ever eaten. We ate, drank, and talked late into the evening. It was a perfect way to end our visit.
I didn’t do a thing that was brave in Venice.
Driving from Venice to Istria, we stopped at Aquileia. At the top of the Adriatic, it is an ancient Roman city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is mostly unexcavated. The cathedral was erected by Patriarch Poppo in 1031 and rebuilt in 1379. The excavated mosaics and cathedral were lovely and beautifully restored.
In Istria, we stayed in a large modern home owned by Frank and Natalie, Casa Famiglia. Our private rooms were nicely appointed and included heated bathroom floors. The weather was perfect and their outdoor space featured plenty of opportunities for fresh air writing, swimming in their heated pool, or walking in the neighborhood and down the steep winding road to the bay.
We continued our daily group meetings and spent a few afternoons visiting Pula and Labin. We went truffle hunting and enjoyed a truffle dinner in the hills of Buzet at Prodan Tartufi, operated by the third generation of the Prodan family. All of our Istrian food was fresh, rich, flavorful, and impossible to stop eating. They also have great wines!
My writing continued and improved in Istria, where there was time to focus without the temptations of the city, although the outdoors beckoned because the weather was perfect. It was cool at night and warm during the day, with brilliant blue skies. We took an excursion down the hill to the bay and I sat on an abandoned dock with my computer, writing while water lapped around me and the beautiful mountains loomed in the distance. It was inspiring.
Finally, I reached a point that I understood what I really needed to do to make mine a readable story. My problem was making my point of view consistent and doing a better job of showing (not telling). This is a work in progress but I am actively employing these basic considerations that I had ignored. After several days of feeling like I’d never finish the manuscript, it started coming together. Thanks, Richard. You only had to repeat yourself a dozen times until I finally listened.
There was no bravery involved, but I think what I exhibited was a willingness to learn, to open up and listen to others, and to allow myself to experience new and different things. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Now the hard part is settling down to the second draft and employing all I’ve learned. Maybe that's where the bravery comes in, but I am prepared to tackle it!