Scrittrice. . .
The Italian word for a female writer, and extremely difficult to pronounce. Sometimes when I power walk along the canal I say it out loud, repeating the tongue twister slowly, trying to get the sounds exactly right. “Sono scrit-trice, Sono scrit-trice” I am a writer, I am a writer. Sylvia, the woman who practices Italian with me, cringes at the word I produce, and shouts, “Christina, you must say this word correctly. This is who you are!” Frustrated to the point of tears, I scream, “Cazzo! I know! I’m doing the best I can!” Fortunately, swear words come easily and cazzo is a favorite. Sometimes I want to give-up and use scrittore, the word for male writer, MUCH easier. But, I am a woman writer and I want to say it proudly in Italian.
When I stepped off the plane six months ago, I imagined by this time I’d be chatting up an Italian storm. Alas, I am not. I can order food, buy my groceries, get directions, ask to try on clothes and shoes in my size and throw around greetings and salutations like nobody’s business. But any lengthy conversations are a struggle. I have the vocabulary and speaking skills of a toddler, not much fun to chat with at a dinner party. Even in the most casual settings when I attempt to speak, the natives recognize immediately that I’m a second language learner and switch to English. When I continue in Italian sometimes they smile and encourage me. More often they continue in English, completely ignoring my attempts. They are not rude or unkind, just trying to hurry along the process, to get me whatever it is I need.
All of my family here speaks English, one on one it’s what we speak. For dinner table conversation and large gatherings everyone speaks Italian. I understand about sixty percent of what is said. The speed at which they speak and the infinite number of verb conjugations makes my head spin. Sometimes I stop listening because it’s too hard to keep up. When there is a lull in the conversation, someone will invariably ask, “Christine do you know what we are talking about?” I shyly explain what I understood. This is cause for light hearted jokes about my progress, and lectures to practice more.
A couple of things get in the way of my progress, one is solitude, I spend the majority of my time alone, mostly writing. When I don’t have my face glued to a screen or my nose in my journal, I am learning about my adopted country. Traveling, site seeing, eating, and using “tourist” Italian fill my days; not exactly ideal for developing conversational skills. As silly as it sounds, it never occurred to me that writing would keep me sequestered from the human energy that I love and the interactions required to learn to speak another language. It simply cannot be done in isolation.
The other, bigger factor that keeps Italian words stuck in my throat, is fear, plain and simple. As much as I try to kill the perfectionist in me, she lives! She’d rather be silent, than make a mistake. Everyday I face her, and everyday I manage some small victory. I try a new phrase and persist in Italian even when the listener looks as though they are hearing nails on a chalkboard. It’s actually kind of funny.
As I arrive at the midpoint of my Italian adventure it’s natural to check the vital signs of my hopes and dreams. To that end I open my journal to look for clues. There, inside the cover I find a note I had written in August. . .
2. Learn Italian
3. Get citizenship
The list is circled and headed with the words HAVE FUN and a tiny scribbled heart.
I smile at the image and give myself a break. This experience will not be graded, it is extra credit. Let go, enjoy the ride.
I continue to blog regularly, and write for Holl & Lane Magazine while working on my book. I am on target to finish my first draft in spring. And thanks to my girl, and Spiritual Running Buddy, Candi, I’ve learned that writing does not have to lead to solitary confinement. She reads my work, provides constructive advice and cheers me on via email and instagram. I am never alone.
As for as my Italian, if I stop listening to my inner critic, and some outer critics, I can pat myself on the back and say it is coming along just fine. I never intended to be a linguist. Still, I’ve stepped up my conversational practice, forcing myself to talk even if I sound like a two year old.
My dual citizenship, well, has hit a major roadblock. I ignore the doubters and persist. It may not happen how I want, or when I want, but it will happen. Today I chatted with Homeland Security, keeping my fingers crossed for a breakthrough.
And with all of this, I do have fun, lots of it. Visits from home, my beautiful family here, new friends and experiences, every bit lights my heart and my path.
Sono scrittrice! I know you can’t hear me, but take my word for it, I pronounced it perfectly.