I’m lying on a bed in a beautiful, small hotel room in Salento (an area on the south of Italy, at the bottom of the heel), looking up at the vaulted ceiling. It is morning. This hotel was created by restoring an old tanning shop (several hundred years old) and turning it into about 10 rooms. This area is known for its vaulted ceilings but even though I’ve now seen dozens of them I can’t help but feel like I’m in a church when I’m around them. There are good reasons for their height and construction. It is very hot here and the high ceilings allow the hot air to go up leaving the lower part of the rooms cool. And the walls are made of very, very thick stone. There aren’t many windows but it doesn’t seem to matter because all of the walls and ceilings are whitewashed in cool and breathable lime.
I spend a few hours a day lying on the bed writing. But I’m distracted every few minutes by the ceilings. There is something magical about having my attention pulled up to the point in the center. These ceilings are also called ‘star vaulted ceilings.’ There is a point at the center of the star.
Life is slow here. I’ve come here with yet another effort to find a project that is compelling enough to pull me forward into the future, the future which seems so bleak. I need projects that have a not too distant end date, things that can be accomplished in less than a year. At first, when I began this journey as a mom who had just lost her only child, time seemed much too painful to contemplate. I lived from breath to breath hoping that in between each one I might somehow forget what had just happened to me, how the sky had just fallen. It’s now been 2 ½ years and I see a glimpse of some progress, just the fact that I can now bear thinking about next week and my plans. I make lots of plans. The plan this week is to find a little house to buy that I can spend the year renovating, a house that will help rebuild my financial world. I lost everything else I had a few months after my son died. I need to start over on so many levels, but only some of them have new beginnings. The sky has been replaced by a ceiling; a much more manageable space.
My other plans include a documentary that I’ve shot and now have to edit, and a screenplay I’ve written and would like to sell or produce. These are the big projects. They are the longest-term projects I can handle. But they are not enough; they do not require enough energy or stress to fill all of the empty moments in my life. So I have to up the stakes. I’m going to buy a house in Italy where, although I speak the language, the challenges of getting things done are well documented. I hope this project will fill in all of the empty spaces not occupied with the other plans I’ve made.
Last night I was lying in this same place, on the bed in this lovely room, and staring up at the same beautiful star vaulted ceilings. Nights are the hardest for me. It is when I am the saddest and miss my little boy the most. And there are so few projects that I can engage in in the middle of the night to distract myself. I had a dark few moments – all of my efforts to concentrate on next steps abandoned me. There are good reasons for my plans. I create them so I can avoid these dark moments. So, last night when I couldn’t actually do anything concrete, I looked up at the center of the star in the ceiling and breathed, thinking about the morning and what I would be able to get up and do. I’m thankful that I’ve found a country where there are stars like churches in the vaulted ceilings. And in the morning there is coffee, bread, cheese, jam, a good book, and plans.