My darling azalea, I’m writing to you from a noisy cafe in Rome. They’ve put me on this square wooden table and keep asking me to move seats so they can fit the individuals, couples, triplets that come for their afternoon drink. As I’m midway through jotting down notes, an italian gentlemen comes up to come me, wipes coffee off his moustache, “scusi, scusi” he says, and motions that I move down once again. It’s noisy. The noise is water boiling, people talking, cups being picked up, put down. I’m listening to the international’s conversations about coffee or blogging or photography, or the ideas they’ve come up with on a walk or in the shower. There’s a little trip advisor sticker on the window of the cafe. Some original place for espressos or something. I just saw that it looked popular and wandered in. A break from the city. And now I’m moving seats again. Flying in yesterday I spent the mourning finding my bearings like the pigeons in the ancient ruins. I saw another writer friend in the afternoon, and met with my old publisher, you remember him, in the evening for dinner. This afternoon I plan to get some writing down – but I’ve stopped in here because I feel stuck. I feel guilty. And stuck. I’m stuck midway through my manuscript. I’m stuck because I feel indulgent taking this writers break. And I’m stuck feeling like I don’t know where my story’s heading. I guess I just want someone to come along and tell me what to do. Or what my characters should do. I want someone to reassure me that I’m on the right track with it all… And that this block doesn’t stay like this. I collided with it all when yesterday, I met up with that journalist friend Ned in the afternoon. He said to me: “what’s going on for you?” and my response was this internal scream of “I’M IN ITALY FOR THIS BIG ROMANTIC WRITERS ADVENTURE TO GAIN CLARITY AND THOUGHT AND HOPE AND MOVEMENT.” But in this fit of strange jealous disease, I think I blurted out something to the extent of “I-DONT-KNOW-WHATS-GOING–ON.” And then later that night at the restaurant, I find myself. Crying! In a tiny little alleyway, behind a cast iron door. It’s tiny and it’s beautiful and the waitstaff keep coming back to fill up my wine. They are talking at me and I don’t know what they are saying. They are taking bread away and filling up my water and keep coming back. And I’m crying. And they just do not seem to take the hint that I want them to take a break. That I want them to stop coming back. And I’m not screaming or blubbering. But I’m just a full grown man with tears dripping down his face. I’m wincing even writing it now. Between sandstone walls, with a glass of red wine, opposite my old editor and a pizza. And the scene is beautiful. Stunning. Old Italian gentlemen in three piece suits and women in black with big coats and heels. And I think of you. And wish we were here together and that we were on some romantic adventure. But then I feel the weight of this being work and that I am here to get things done. And you know, I’m grateful that Tony gets me. He sits and he listens from across the table. He’s got that stunning italian ease about him. That calm nod, with the intermittent passionate gestures. And he kind of reminds me of Al Pacino. Maybe it’s the Brooklyn Italian thing. But You know, he saw potential in me when I was trying out that non-fiction stuff for competitions and those lit mags. And he has the ability to draw those tears out of me. In all his class and sartorial elegance, he lets me cry in a streetside restaraunt for all to see. I was talking at him about the things I keep bucking up against. That I’m looking for anchors. That I want stable deals and contracts. That we’re trying to have a baby. That I want to settle down. That I’m fearful about the money to pay for it. But wanting that family life. I kept calling them weights when I talked to him. Telling him I want tangible significance. Something we (three) could cling to. Anchors. Stability. And then I tell him, and here I am in italy feeling like I need a break to get stuff moving but I’m stuck. And I don’t want light flighty adventure. I want weight and significance and glory. I want to feel like I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. And I think I’m also speaking for my characters. I want to feel like I’m going somewhere, being led to something. Some sort of weighty movement like a downhill river stream. And I’m talking and I’m talking and I feel like I’m so ungrateful for this whole world of opportunity that I have. Even being here. Lecturing. Speaking and all that. Feeling this force of HEY IM IN ITALY HAVING A GREAT TIME. And to sit in this dumb ‘stuck’ sadness feels indulgent. But I still find it hard to move forward. THEN he tells me about the anthology he’s working on, with people’s painful stories and lives. And he’s talking about issues, REAL issues. About sadness and trauma and sickness and death and abuse and pain and I feel SO sad. What he’s doing feels so meaningful and I’m all lost in fiction. Even here my problems feel nothing in comparison to people who have lived really painful lives and so I’m comparing myself. Then I’m comparing myself to all the writers who write about it and the same comparative goes for my success. I’m unable to give myself freedom to feel sad about things or the freedom to feel like I’m doing well. Then I feel like I’m talking Tony’s ear off. AND THEN HE PAYS FOR DINNER! And it’s so kind. And I ride home, so woozy on a moped, where for a minute I feel I’m flying. Recalling some piece of literature about ‘would that man were birds – born able to fly. yet man, in his jealousy and inability instead rein them in and cage them.’ Then I’m practising one of those mindfulness activities and imagining myself uncaged and free. Yet hours later, I lie awake at night coming back down the earth feeling totally jealous of Ned! NED! With his new house in London and his new wife (thought we know that was painful). He’s killing it as the European correspondent. And looks so bloody tidy and clean because now they’ve got him on tv. He’s telling me about this new apartment they’ve got with a view of Putney river and about how he and his wife go for late night walks and drink wine on the roof and it all sounds like bliss. But I don’t actually even want that. I want this. I want what feels true and right for me. I want this bliss that I keep telling others to believe in. And in part I need to let go. See I’ve been trying to write about place for that lecture for the MFA school in the states. And I cannot for a minute try and come up with an adequate way to capture the Colosseum in all its roman glory and depilated tourist cringe. I cannot describe it wonderfully, or even sardonically. And now writing that I think I’m tired and I’ve had too much coffee and let myself whinge too much. I need to let go of writer with a capital W and just let it flow. And also I really need to go to the toilet. I think I’ve been here for hours now. And look, maybe I’m almost there. But still this is not resolve [dont think I’m at resolve] but I am going to just keep going. I suppose I’m so afraid of whats at the end of the story. [that part that also really excites me]. I’m just afraid of a dark void at the end of the story, like it all gets lost in this chasm. I can’t see the next door. It feels heavy and weighty like that cast iron door where I was out for dinner last night. I don’t know what happens next and I find that hard. But, we’re human. We go on. (Was that Steinbeck?) I’ll write when I’m in a better place. Better still, I’ll probably call you from the hotel. Maybe in a better mood. I feel good for having written my thoughts out though. And now I’m thinking. I didn’t have to move for the past twenty minutes in which I was writing the latter part of that. Amazing! Okay. Love you. Sorry this wasn’t romantic and italian and stuff.