Last December 2, I backed out of the driveway headed for the rural middle school in southwestern Missouri where I teach language arts. It was 7:02 a.m. My phone rang. I saw it was my daughter. Awfully early to get a call. I wondered whether something was wrong.
“Yeah, what’s going on?”
“I got the internship!” My heart soared. Two months earlier, she had applied for an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum in Venice, Italy. She would venture to the beautiful floating city to undertake museum duties such as guarding masterpieces, giving presentations, hosting tours, and sculpture cleaning from Feb. 2 to May 2.
She was beyond excited. So was I, but now that her acceptance was official, it was impossible to imagine her moving to a foreign country and working for three long months away from her home, her language, her friends, her family, her life. The night she received the acceptance email, I lay in bed and cried.
I simply could not see it happening. but it did. True, it was a rough transition for everyone at first, but we made it, and it was a beautiful, life-changing experience… for her and me.
And let’s be honest, I realize this isn’t intimidating for everyone. Many kids and their parents have no problem doing this type of thing; however, for Midwesterners like us, just traveling to the coasts of the U.S. is a major excursion. In our eyes, Venice might as well have been Venus.
Internships that pay, like my daughter’s, are popular and highly valued. Study abroad programs are also. Should you ever be so fortunate as to have your child venture out alone on a similar endeavor, here are some tips to get you through it.
1. Be Strong. Even though I was excited, I was also scared for her, but I couldn’t let my reservations known. I had to be strong and encouraging because I knew that deep down she likely had reservations as well. Even though living in Italy and this particular internship had been her dream ever since we discovered it on Google, interrupting her college career and moving to a foreign country would definitely be outside her “comfort zone.” I had to show I was positive about this opportunity.
2. Send your spouse to get her settled. This was my first and best idea. My husband would fly over with her in January to help her get settled and accustomed to her new home. After all, she had never been to Italy, or even Europe for that matter. She had traveled with our family to South Africa five years earlier, and with a group of other college students and veterans to Vietnam in 2015. But Italy? For three months? Alone?
3. Make sure she doesn’t stand out. We Americans like our colors. Once my husband realized her bright floral umbrella could be spied far ahead through a crowd, he purchased her a black one. In looking at her Facebook posts that first week, I noticed her eye-catching, crimson-red purse. I texted my husband to make sure to get her a black one of those, too. Maybe we were being overly protective, but after watching a few Youtube videos of tourists and residents walking around Venice, we knew the city is a labyrinth of narrow, sometimes dark, walkways interspersed with those picture-perfect canals. No reason to look like an outsider, especially if you’re female.
4. Use technology. Numerous Facetime calls, the app People Tracker, Facebook, and Instagram made Italy seem not quite so far away. She started a blog called “From Venice with Love” that kept her in touch with friends at home. Happily, her work and social schedule quickly filled her time, and posting to Facebook and Instagram became more convenient.
5. Send a care package. We waited a couple of weeks, but then sent things from home she couldn’t find there. For example, the Venice grocery stores she frequented didn’t carry American basics such as Ranch salad dressing or pancake syrup. Peanut butter is hard to find. So are Ziploc bags.
6. Visit. If possible, visit for a short time about halfway through. This helped me understand the new lifestyle my daughter was experiencing. Her pictures and posts made more sense and I gained a new appreciation for the life-changing time she was having. Plus, it was Venice, people. We had to.
7. Break the trip into “chunks.” This made the trip seem more “doable.”My daughter’s internship broke down into three parts: one five-week period after my husband left, one weeklong chunk when we would visit, and finally one six-week chunk. Honestly, this last part flew by for both my daughter and I as she was finally comfortable and confidently knew her way around the city.
8. Pray. I relied on this daily. It was a great comfort to know that He would protect and care for her continually.
My daughter’s Venice experience was indeed life-changing. She now has an international set of friends she keeps up with daily through What’s App and she can’t wait to return and tour southern Italy. Her internship also confirmed her next steps: to complete her bachelor’s degree in Art Education and then pursue a master’s degree in Art History with the intention of working in a museum setting someday. She is already filling out applications for another overseas internship. I, on the other hand, am writing myself a note to re-read this post when she lands it.
One day in 1992, my husband and I were invited to visit an acquaintance who happened to be occupying a house designed by the world-renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. We had seen the house from a distance and had admired its unusual appearance with its exterior winding walkways, circular windows, and austere concrete masonry. It was intriguing and beckoned a closer look.
Wright originally designed the 2,200 square foot structure for his son, David, and his wife, Gladys. It was built in 1952. We’re not sure about the arrangement between the homeowners and our acquaintance. We can’t even recall her name now. Maybe she was renting it or acting as caretakers while the owners were away temporarily. We accepted our acquaintance’s invitation to visit the historic home and stopped by one sunny afternoon for a tour.
Perched near Camelback Mountain, the spiral home was indeed stunning and modern and magical. It was also trashed. Our acquaintance, who was fortunate to occupy Wright’s last residential masterpiece named ironically, “How to Live in the Southwest,” was, in short, a slob.
Bedroom floors held oceans of wadded-up loads of laundry. Dirty dishes lined the kitchen counters. Smudges and stains sullied the bathroom mirrors and floors. Crumpled junk mail littered the hallways. We were dumbfounded. All this disappointment obscured the home’s jaw-dropping features: an entrance preceded by a winding walkway ramp; Philippine mahogany ceilings, cabinetry, and furniture; ubiquitous concealed built-ins; custom carpets; a rooftop deck; panoramic views of the rocky desert terrain. Without a doubt, we had seen it at its worst and even then, it was beautiful.
As we roamed through the home, with its desert views, calming circular structure, and ingenious use of space, our acquaintance apologized for her poor housekeeping habits. “Oh, well… yeah,” we answered, laughing nervously, embarrassed for her — and the house.
Not too long ago, I was curious as to the status of the home and wanted to see what had become of it since our move to Missouri about a year later. So I googled the house while my husband and I reminisced about our Phoenix experiences. Yes, the house did survive that messy time.
And somebody, many people in fact, care about the house’s existence and condition today. After their deaths, the Wrights passed on the house to a granddaughter, who later sold it to a developer who wanted to demolish it. Concerned citizens stepped in, and the house was eventually saved. In fact, another developer is now devising a strategy to preserve and operate the home and grounds for tours, weddings, and cultural performances. It seems a fitting purpose for the architectural gem now known as the David & Gladys Wright House. Still, there is controversy surrounding the whole ordeal, which I likely don’t fully appreciate or understand, since I no longer live in the area. To find out more, go here. As I understand it, the developer wants to expand his concept and residents of the surrounding neighborhood are upset about the increased traffic and congestion they expect to occur.
I hope, even though they disagree on a number of points, that the developers, area residents and preservationists are united in their gratitude that the house previously survived a greater controversy: the disrepair and poor treatment it received when it was in the care of our acquaintance.
She ran her finger down over her knee and felt nothing. What’s going on, she wondered. Why did she have this numb, yet tingly feeling just below her knee? She followed the vague sensation down her shin. It continued. How strange, she thought. Probably nothing, but she Googled it anyway, so she could forget it later. As a result, she discovered that others about her age had experienced this same phenomenon. One website told her what she wanted to know: if the numbness was not accompanied by other symptoms, it should be acknowledged and noted, but not feared. She pondered it for a moment, tracing a circle over the numb spot, turning off her phone. Could turning fifty, which she had done six months earlier, be one of those other symptoms? Should she worry?
A car blared below, pulling her back to the moment. She decided to follow her own advice, doled out so many times over the years to her kids when they suffered mysterious stomach aches, spontaneous rashes: just keep an eye on it.
Turning off her concern like a faucet, she grabbed her phone and took some photographs of the scene outside her downtown Hanoi hotel window: layered apartments painted in royal blues, marigolds, and dusty whites were punctuated with balconies that dripped with trailing plants and vines. Evenly stacked window air conditioners hummed and hovered over an alleyway. A bicycle, three scooters, and a gleaming black car darted below. It was time to go, to venture out into the alleyway, and explore this city. Life was too short to wonder about something she couldn’t feel.
During the summer of 1992, I saw the actor John Malkovich. In person. He’s the actor who plays one of the old guys in the movie, Red. The weirdest old guy in the movie, if that helps you place him. He’s also the actor who played Lenny in Of Mice and Men alongside Gary Sinise. He also played the presidential assassin of In the Line of Fire who was eventually hunted down by Clint Eastwood. He played himself in Being John Malkovich, a photojournalist in Cambodia in The Killing Fields and a downright, really bad, despicable man in Dangerous Liaisons. Nearly all of Malkovich’s movies contain unique characters that the actor is able to pull off in the most believable way. He has been in loads of other films, but these are the ones that to me exemplify his ability to capture idiosyncratic characters believably.
Notice that I say I saw John Malkovich. I did not approach him. I did not speak to him. I merely leered. My husband and I and another couple were having coffee at the Farmer’s Market on a cool, sparkling morning in Los Angeles. There were probably foodstuffs and produce to purchase somewhere in the market, but we were just there to hang out. As we sat there, I noticed a scruffy, shabbily-dressed man hastily walk by. I immediately recognized him.
“That was John Malkovich,” I quietly told my friends. They discreetly and slowly turned to confirm it, and yes, oh my gosh, that is him, they said. He continued walking into an open-air newspaper stand/bookstore next to the scattering of tables and chairs that we occupied. I followed, surprising myself with my sense of daring and willingness to annoy. He looked at some magazines or newspapers in the bookstore and gathered no attention.
Based on the characters he so effectively portrayed in films, I was a little scared of him. Sure, he had only been acting when he shot the two men point-blank in In the Line of Fire, but my only exposure to the actor at that point had been in seeing him play characters fit to be feared. Even in Of Mice and Men, Lenny is sweet and unknowing; however, he is also, in the end, a murderer.
In addition, it was clearly obvious Malkovich did not want to be bothered. He didn’t want to be recognized. His incognito dress seemed to indicate that: wrinkled beige cotton or linen tunic and loose-fitting painter’s pants, a doo rag, sunglasses. It seems he was also carrying a satchel or bag slung across his body like a shield to protect him from those pesky and annoying star-crazed fans. What would I say to him anyway? Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?
My fear kept me from asking for the obligatory photograph. I had left my camera at the table with my friends so going to get it after asking for a photo would, I speculated, turn the casual encounter into more of an event than Malkovich would tolerate. True, I could have retrieved the camera before asking for a photograph, but I didn’t consider that because, as an annoying, star-crazed fan, I wasn’t thinking clearly. Besides, he might have that plastic gun on him that he made by hand in his seedy apartment back when he was trying to murder the president.
So I just eyed him from about twelve feet away, pretending to scan the headlines on a carousel rack of newspapers at the store’s edge. It was enough. I had seen “the” John Malkovich, a big-time celebrity in the flesh. It was my own personal brush with someone else’s fame.
Now, whenever I see Malkovich in a movie, I think about our near encounter. Pretty famous guy. Well-respected. Should have asked for a photograph. He probably would have acquiesced and been an interesting person to have what would most likely have been an uninteresting conversation with. Oh, well. Usually now when I see him in a movie, I say to my husband,“Hey, there’s my friend, John Malkovich.” And then without lifting our eyes from the screen, we chuckle, and continue watching the movie.
Well, it happened again. I travelled someplace new and I am forever changed. This time: Monument Valley, Arizona. There is nothing quite like spotting something on the horizon that appears surreal, other-worldly and truly unknown. And then it is something that changes you and makes you feel small, insignificant, yet important to the world.
Those spires. Those ledges. Those behemoths of weight and mass, rising from the high desert floor with quiet heft and bulk.
The space between them is as much a part of the experience as the monuments themselves. A disintegration of perspective coexists with an awe that overwhelms. There is no way to determine: how far is that from me? How far apart are those mittens?
Silence. True silence. Other than the distant, nearly imperceptible rumbling of cars travelling the dusty red roads, there is nothing. The breeze is even silent, its sound swallowed around the folding gowns of sienna curtain walls.