The Practicality of Losing Control

One thing is absolutely certainty when doing adventuresome things: stuff will happen as a result that you don’t anticipate. Good stuff too, not just bad stuff. Godzillavilla is a case in point with its unanticipated, heartwarming social interactions, along with its vastly greater than anticipated sucking-up of money.

When I set out on an adventure, even a little one, I try to imagine everything that might happen. The wonderful and the terrible. But here’s what I’ve found I need to wrap my head around most in order to make any leap:

I CANNOT IMAGINE EVERYTHING.

Rocking Bryan Adams is some scary stuff when you sing like a Bach chorister.

Clearly out of control: jamming with a rock band looks a lot like getting a really bad stomach cramp. But is way more fun.

Part of the fabulous, freeing, life-affirming goodness of adventure is that it shows us we can go with the flow, adapt and cope, and – wait for it – give up some control. A lot of practical people are loath to give up control. I’m one of them. But I’m coming to believe that it’s actually infinitely practical to do so.

Truth is, you can’t control everything, and trying to just saps your energy and makes you a nervous wreck. When you give it up, even just a little, you gain time for more important, fulfilling and useful things. Plus sanity, and that’s a big plus. You learn to roll with the punches, which means every time stuff does happen to you that you hadn’t planned on (because it does), you get better and better at dealing with it –speedily and positively.

I’m liking this idea of the practicality of losing control. I’m finding it quite liberating.

To Boldly Go

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Maybe I watched too many Star Trek episodes as a kid, but Godzillavilla is not even sold yet and I’m already scouring the universe for my next adventure. Think I’d best scale it down a tad given my current circumstances, but life just wouldn’t be the same without some kind of interesting new enterprise to undertake.

I’m not an adventure megastar like the inexhaustible (apparently) author of the Bucket List blog, but I have done most of the daring stuff I’ve personally wanted to do in life, along with being a worker, a mother, a wife, a mortgage-payer, etcetera. Come to think of it, those things can be rather adventuresome, too…but the point is, I’ve managed to juggle. I considered it pretty commonplace, until enough people told me they felt they could never do it themselves. Then I started wondering why. Or rather, why not. And I started thinking, what do adventuresome people do to make their exploits possible?

Yes I was securely tethered but I wasn't letting go of him for anything.

Who doesn’t like to celebrate their birthday by being terrified? I was securely tethered but I wasn’t letting go of him for anything.

Since that little bug started eating into my brain, I’ve been talking with a lot of women, not all of whom are hugely adventuresome, about how they managed to do what they wanted, even when it was scary. A thesis is unfolding from that collected wisdom. It also turns out that clinical psychology studies reflect what successful adventurers have been telling me they do instinctively. The successful ones (as opposed to those who only do things in their minds) simply use tools that others do not. Tools that are teachable and learnable.

That’s what I’d like to explore going forward from Godzillavilla. What makes it possible for a regular, practical person to be daring?

Soon the blog site will move from this one. I hope that many of you who have enjoyed reading about Godzillavilla will stay with me for the next journey. I’ll want your contributions along the way.  Stay tuned!

Yours in adventure,

Shelagh

Should Old Acquaintance

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At this classic time of year for looking back – and forward – I’d like to cap this year of Godzillavilla stories not with what went wrong, but with what went right about the whole crazy adventure.

People are inclined to lament the passing of the villa from my life. Increasingly, I myself view it as something that can’t, actually, ever pass from me. It’s a dream that I couldn’t see through to completion in the sense of a finished house, but it has gone to completion in the sense that Godzillavilla no longer fits the needs of my family or of me. Sometimes we need to release old dreams in favour of new ones, as live unfolds. That’s not a bad thing.

Godzillavilla’s presence in our lives (and particularly in mine) has been defining in a way that will never be erased. Here are some of the things I’ve gained from my adventure with our monster:

  • A love for the incredible, serene beauty of the landscape,  something that I now understand to be vital to my wellbeing, wherever I may find it.
  • An appreciation for the connectedness of the community and its incredible willingness to help us, peripheral as we were to its daily ebb and flow. Also vital.
  • An understanding of the continuity of history, the tiny blip we make individually on its surface, and the healthy perspective that brings to our daily grumbling and sense of self-importance.
  • A knowledge of Italian life and culture that was different and more intimate than what I got from living in Milan. A crazy, delightful, sometimes frustrating, sometimes mystifying  and always edifying look at how other people find their joy and meaning.

And a deep commitment to continuing to have adventures and dreams, for the richness they bring to our lives, for the heights they inspire us to achieve, the shift in perspective they provide, and for the power those things bring to bear on even the most mundane aspects of our days.

For all of you who have been kind enough to read my tales, I wish for you a 2013 filled with dreams and adventure, and I thank you for joining me on mine. More to come!

The Allure of Possession

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I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about why it is that ownership is such a compelling concept. Not only with respect to our general human love of acquisition and possession, but more specifically concerning houses. Certainly if you have any grasp of math and are at all rational, you’d realize that owning a vacation home is often not a brilliant idea, financially.

Let’s do a little quick math on Godzillavilla. A rough figure of total investment for the done thing: € 250,000. That sum was, until recently, around 50% bigger when converted to the currency we earn in (Canadian dollars), but let’s not even think about that right now. Let’s just assume that we would visit every year for 25 years, which is about how many I might still be agile enough to cope with the stairs – that’s a cost per year of about €10,000.  If we were there a minimum of 5 weeks a year, that could look fairly reasonable.

However, then we add taxes, maintenance, someone caring for the place when we’re not there, and emergency repairs due to acts of God or nature. Ah, you say, but if you rent it out all those things are covered and more. Yes, if you manage to rent it enough. Which will in turn create more maintenance, and the cost of a property manager to meet, greet and clean up after your guests.

Why rent this...

Why rent this…

You see where I’m going with this. Home ownership is expensive and relentless. You can make the numbers add up, and lots of people do. Then I look at people who are renting, year-round, lovely homes in areas similar to ours, for less than €4,000 a year. We used to do this ourselves, when we lived in Milan. We had a place in the hills around Levanto for €3,600 and one in Courmayeur for slightly more. We co-rented a country villa in Chianti for about the same.

When you could OWN this?

When you could OWN this?

So why on earth did we go and buy our own place – a ruin that that wasn’t even habitable?

It’s a darned good question, hence my lengthy contemplation of it. My conclusions about my motivations are not entirely flattering but neither are they entirely foolish, and I’ll bet they’re pretty common. I say ‘my’ because I don’t think I should speak for the rest of the family on this one, but I think I know what things drove me, personally.

One aspect had to do with transformation. I absolutely adore taking the latent beauty in a house or landscape and turning it into all it can be. As a family we’d done this for years, in fantasy form, with all kinds of abandoned houses in our travels around Italy. A ruined house of soft, old stone, a vine scrambling up the wall, the setting gorgeous, the view spectacular…it’s an absolute shame that such a thing is crumbling to pieces. I want to restore them all to their true beauty. I might have satisfied that need by becoming a contractor and doing it for other people, but in Italy as a foreigner that wasn’t really an option. And it wouldn’t satisfy reason number two -

Which had to do with nesting. When we bought the villa, we were renting in Milan. We’d been away from Canada for almost eight years, we’d sold our farm there, we’d lived in Milan for a bit, then the US, then back in Milan. Our rented house in Milan was lovely, even luxurious. Was I a spoiled brat for still wanting one that was our own, special place, regardless of where we might be earning our living? I wanted a place that made me sigh with the satisfied sense of truly being home, the moment it hove into sight. And that brings me to -

The biggest reason: the allure of possession. The (as it turns out, unfounded) belief that ownership bestows security – you will always have it, you can use it whenever you want, no-one can take it from you. The delicious idea that once you have restored its breathtaking beauty, it will be yours to have and to hold from this day forward. That you will forever have the opportunity to turn down its lane and heave that sigh, to walk through the door and greet its ghosts, to sit under the cherry tree and soak in the serenity of its valley.

I think it was a pretty good reason, actually. Even if it didn’t turn out to be true in our case. Even if it doesn’t make any sense. The dream of it still has great allure.

Because of feeling I get from this.

Because of the feeling I get from this.

Wine and Sweat

When your so-called vacation home is more or less a pile of rubble, it does alter what you end up doing when you take time ‘off’ to visit it. Any vacation house takes some maintenance. Certain things, like the cleaning you do when you arrive after several months away – the opening up of shutters to let the light back in, sweeping up spiders and flies, shaking out the duvets and generally reclaiming the place as your own again – feel like happy gestures of affection. Like de-tufting the family cat. Or a gorilla picking lice off its mate. Not fun, exactly, but somehow gratifying.

With that kind of vacation home, once you’ve put in your bit of sweat, you still have plenty of time to kick back with the wine.

Hey kids, want to do some fun clean-up on our holidays?

With Godzillavilla, the work was so endless that physical effort was always part of the holiday agenda there. I’d go with some tasks in mind, and feel as though I had to complete them or it wouldn’t have been worth spending the money on the trip, as thought the labour rationalized the expense. I actually like doing this kind of stuff, so I found it pretty entertaining. The rest of my family, not quite so much.

Everybody did help out, and we did sometimes have a lot of fun and satisfaction doing things together (as in the Triumph of the Sledgettes Part I). But so much of the work was really gross, such as getting rid of the disgusting rotting mattresses, or apparently futile, such as hacking back monster vines only to have them reappear with greater vigor the following year, that it was hard not to be put off.

We did have our moments

As a family, we had no real method for dealing with this. No agreement as to what things we all wanted to tackle, how much time should be spent on them, when we could justifiably call it quits and just enjoy reading under the cherry tree. We kinda worked it out by feel, and it was never a matter of controversy or argument.

But here’s the thing: because I was the one who really enjoyed the work, and went there specifically to do some more, sometimes with like-minded friends instead of family, the project started to become more ‘mine’ than ‘ours’. I still got excited about the struggle of making it happen, while the rest of the family was just wishing we had a place that was already done. It could be said they came to a logical conclusion long before I did. Our collective commitment to the physical, financial and emotional effort involved in seeing the project through started to wane. My own efforts began to feel crazy in the face of the magnitude of the task.

The madness of an endeavour like Godzillavilla needs constant reinforcing (Yes, it’s OK to enjoy doing construction work on your vacation! Moving those moldy mattresses will be so gratifying! It’s good exercise to hack those vines back for the hundredth time with nothing but a machete!). It’s really hard to hang on to your commitment when the project takes so long and life changes along the way. And when that commitment goes, grim reality stares you in the face until you finally accept that this is a madness that is bound to follow the law of diminishing returns.

Advice: Most people don’t take on a project like this solo. I wouldn’t recommend it, in fact. The effort is huge and in times of discouragement you need someone who will either commiserate or bolster your spirits. But whoever you do partner with on a project of this nature, you have to be sure you are both/all totally committed to doing what’s necessary. It doesn’t have to be the same thing – one of you can like detail work, one of you can like the massive, destructive stuff, one of you can like dealing with the finances (as if!), or the electrics, or whatever. But everyone needs to have a role that will connect them to the process of renovation, engage them in it, and by extension connect them together with the common goal of building of a wonderful home. If you don’t do that, it starts to look a lot like it’s just the big, tough job of fixing a dilapidated house.

Aah, but what we did for the other 8 hours that day…

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