Write of Way

Friday, December 29, 2023 5:46 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


My Aunt Connie used to sit me down at the kitchen table to share tales of her great journey from Calabria to New York. About how young and scared she was, but also how hopeful. A rock in our family, we could always count on her. If one of us needed help, she’d cook up some pasta, open a bottle of red, and listen. Everything will work out, she’d say, tutto funzionerà.

Today, her stories stay with me. Especially this one: When people asked her where she was from, she was afraid to admit she came from a country that had sided with Germany in “the war” (and then she would cross herself), but she was never uncertain of how to answer. She was nothing but sure.

On the opposite side of this country, people move here from all over the world, drawn to its natural beauty, work opportunities, openness, acceptance. There have been so many new arrivals that the Northwest—the perception of it—has begun to feel more like an opinion, heightened in our minds by experience, background, political leaning, and attitude. Many of our conversations also begin with the question, “Where are you from?”  

But it’s always the same reluctance on my part. Unlike my favorite aunt, I can still be so unsure.

Am I from New England, the place of my formative years? Or am I from the Northwest because I’ve lived here longer?

Honestly, I can still have such strong sensations of displacement that when my sister called from Florida to tell me how, after Hurricane Ian, the snakes and alligators hid from view in the puddles after being flooded out of their ponds, an intense wave of empathy came over me. I kept imagining myself peeping out from under the murky pools, clinging to the bottom with my toes, moving my hips back and forth to keep from cramping. Does this make me a truly compassionate person or just one with a writer’s crazy imagination?

When I tell this story to my friend in New York, also a writer and also Italian, she laughs. As with most conversations about writing, especially between two writers, we move on to discuss our current projects at length. Writing might not offer the same challenges as scaling the side of a mountain or ascending slippery rock, but when we talk about the ups and downs, those are exactly the metaphors we use. Finally, I ask her what she would call this sense of home-uncertainty. “Well,” she says, “I don’t know what they (meaning anyone not living in New York) would call it, but I (meaning all Italians or all Italians living in New York, I’m not sure) think writing and craziness are practically the same thing.

I could almost hear her smiling on the other end.

But I don’t feel any sense of insult about my “craziness,” quite the opposite. I can easily wrap my mind around the fact that this is one of those qualities over which I have no say whatsoever.

Which makes me re-remember something: Tutto funzionerà.

My Aunt Connie was (and still is) an honest-to-God saint in my life, the largest imaginable kind, the size of my every hope (past, present, and future) and purpose.

That’s what I like to believe.

Mary Lou Sanelli

Mary Lou Sanelli is ts the author of Every Little Thing, a collection of essays that was nominated for a Washington State Book Award. Her previous titles include fiction, non-fiction, and a new children’s title, Bella Likes To Try. She also works as a speaker and a master dance teacher. For more information about her and her work, visit www.marylousanelli.com.

2023 © Art Access 
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software