I just got back from Matera, Basilicata, where I attended my very first Writers’ Conference, the Women’s Fiction Festival. Five days that actually felt like two weeks. I cannot put into words how glad I am Chuck Sambuchino brought it up in a conversation I had with him some months ago on Twitter.
I’ve always been shy and very self-conscious, the kind of person who goes to a party and just stands in a corner with a drink in hand, nodding and smiling at no one in particular, pretending to have fun until finally comes up with a good excuse to leave early. I just got very good at masking it with jokes, and now I’m what they call “a fake extrovert”. So when in June I decided I was going to go to Matera at the end of September, I was a bit nervous, yes, but I still managed to remain calm because “pfft it’s in 3 months, who cares, let’s go to the beeeeeeeachhh yeeeeeeeahhhh!”.
Well, 3 months passed and I took a train and a bus and there I was, in the teeny tiny town of Matera. Aaaaaaaall byyyyyyy myyyyyseeeeeeeeeeeelf. In the morning I made a tour of the city with my shining new Reflex, went back to the hotel and got ready for the Welcome Cocktail. By 5 pm I was nervous as fuck but I decided to focus on what to wear and how to style my hair and that always helps.
By 6 pm I was freaking out, so I called my best friend who lives in Venice, but she was grocery shopping and told me she was going to call me later. I put on Nicki Minaj and started singing and dancing in my room. It helped a bit, and at 7 pm I got out thinking it would have taken me god knows how long to find the pub. Turned out, Matera is really tiny, and 10 minutes later I was there. With 20 minutes left to kill, I made a tour of the square and pretended to look at shops’ windows until I couldn’t avoid my fate any further. By 7.30 pm I honestly wanted to throw up and run away, but I managed to swallow my anxiety and go inside the pub. Oh the horror. Literally everyone already knew each other because this was like the gazillionth year they attended the conference, so I did the only reasonable thing I could think of: go for the drinks. A lot of drinks.
After a while I met a woman and we sat together and we complained about men who cheat and lie and leave for like an hour. It was fun. It was 9.30 pm when she went home, and I decided to give the cocktail party another shot. I hadn’t travelled for 10 hours from Sicily to give up like that. Also, I hadn’t picked that supercute little black dress to go home at 9.30 pm. So I said to myself “Myself, keep your shit together and go make some friends”. And then I saw them. Two young girls, looking like they didn’t know anyone either, with a glass of pink wine in their hands (yeah, I know, the wine was pink. Fancy.). I approached them with the most ridiculous excuse ever, “Uhm sorry, my phone died, do you happen to know what time is it?” (hi Silvia. If you’re reading this, yes, my phone was totally fine. You just looked nice and cool and I wanted to meet you. Seems like I made the right choice with that white lie though, uh? 😀 ), they bought it and we basically spent the next 5 days together, also with an italian/french/spanish guy we met a few minutes later, who taught me a lesson I will never be able to forget or ignore for the rest of my life.
The conference went great. And when I say “great” I mean AWESOME. I spent 5 days talking to literary agents, editors, journalists, screenwriters, tv producers, and most of all, other writers. Italian, american, british, german and french, published and not. I talked to Marilyn Atlas (producer for HBO and Lifetime) about my story, and she loved it, and she told me that I’m smart and I know what I’m doing and I’m going to go far in life, and she helped me answer a question I didn’t even want to ask myself. I had lunch with several lovely american writers who shared their stories with me and with whom I shared mine, I almost had lunch with Bella Andre at some point, I quoted Tolstoj when I felt like to, I learned a lot and understood better where I want to/shoud go with my novel.
But the most important thing I learned is not about writing. It’s about myself.
What I have not said yet is that the night I arrived in Matera I did something I hadn’t done in a couple of years. It was dangerous and unpleasant and embarassing and when I got back to the hotel I wanted to throw up but I couldn’t. I was 18 the first time I did it and that time I did throw up afterwards and passed out in the shower. In the years that followed, I got so used to it that I stopped throwing up. I just felt weird and empty, like I hadn’t slept in centuries and wanted to cry but my eyes just didn’t let the tears stream down. But this time I said to myself it had been the last time. I didn’t want to feel like that ever again, I wanted more from life. Maybe I even deserved more.
At the conference I met a lovely and brave young woman, Marisa Garreffa, who was drugged and raped last year in Florence and shared her story with us. We talked a bit and between hugs and tears she told me that if there’s no 100% consent, if a man gets you drunk, or forces you, or guilts you, or pressures you, into having sex, well my dear you should stop saying “I did it” and start saying “It happened to me”. You got to stop thinking, and saying to yourself that it was your fault. It wasn’t. If a man pressures you into having sex with him when you don’t want to, if he doesn’t let you go when you ask to, if he keeps doing what he’s doing when you say no, stop, I don’t like it, just let me go, if you give up and do what he wants and you do it quickly and efficiently just because that’s the only way you can finally go home, then…. then, I can’t finish this phrase because I’ve always refused and still refuse to admit “it happened”, I prefer thinking “I did it, I was ok with it after all, I had control over the situation, I am an emancipated woman who just had only one-night-stands with aggressive men in her life, nobody ever used me” because pride is my fucking deadly sin, but you can see where I’m going with this.
And then we have the guy. The other one, not the one who hijacked me the first night while I was buying a sandwich and woudn’t let me go no matter how many times I tried to leave. I mean the guy who walked me home 4 nights in a row and didn’t even steal a kiss. Who gave me his jacket when he saw I was shaking in the cold air outside the bar, opened every door to let me pass first, bought me dinner because it was my birthday, brought me water and filled my cup with wine and my plate with food before his at the buffet, lied beside me on the grass in a lazy sunny afternoon and didn’t even touch my hand, and looked at me like I was more than a piece of meat he could eat or an object he could own or a random girl he could fuck. It had never happened to me. I had never, ever met a man who treated me like that without wanting anything in return (well, I had never met a man who treated me like that, period). By the 3rd night I started getting confused. What does he want? Why hasn’t he tried anything yet? Did he just walk me home 3 nights in a row for an aspirin??!? Nah, I’m not buying it. Nobody is that nice “just because”, they all want something in the end, that’s just how it works. It’s ok, that’s the only thing I’m good for, right? Right. So the 4th night I was ready. We had dinner, just the two of us this time, and we talked, and we walked, and we went to his place and I thought “this is it, I’m spending the night here”, but no, he just grabbed something he needed and headed for my place. So ok then, my place it is. But still nothing. I tried to let him know it was ok if he wanted to get what he “worked so hard for” the past few days, because I was used to it, and to be honest he actually kind of “deserved” it anyway. But no, he came in, made sure I was ok and then headed for the door. So I snapped. I asked if he had really walked me home for an aspirin, if he had given me his jacket cause I was cold and treated me nicely for no reason whatsoever, if he had acted like we were having a date but without actually having a date. I was almost angry tbh, because something didn’t seem right. And he simply said “yes”. If he had wanted something more, he would have spoken Spanish (that, as it turned out, makes my legs like jell-o) and bought me a tequila. He was just nice for the sake of being nice and didn’t like, and never had, one night stands because with feelings is better, or something like that. Feelings. A guy who says the word “feelings” out loud and doesn’t self-combust on the spot. That guy is not a man, he’s a fucking unicorn.
I wasn’t prepared for that and had absolutely no clue what to do, since it had never happened to me, so we just hugged awkwardly and said goodnight and farewell because we’re probably never going to meet again. He walked out, I closed the door, and started crying like there’s no tomorrow.
I’ve gotten so used to being used by people that I forgot what it feels like to be treated like I’m worth it. Like I matter. Like I deserve something. Like it’s even my right to ask for it.
There is a very thin line between “I’m a super kind person” and “I’m kinda into you”, and to be honest the guy did seem to cross it a couple of times (dude, ever heard of the term “THE MOVE”? No? Well, it’s a thing, and you kinda made it at least 4 times, ffs) and it was very confusing at some point, but I guess he really acted like that because he is super kind, because that’s just how he treats people, and nothing more. But as I said, nobody has ever been that kind to me without wanting anything in return, and this funny, smart, cute, polite guy I’ll sadly never see again made me finally realize what I really want from life. One day, when I’ll meet someone I like and who likes me back, I’m not going to settle for anything less than the kindness and respect he showed me.
There’s a movie called HappyThankYouMorePlease that basically says that if you want something good from life, you have to ask for it, and be grateful when you get it, so you’ll get even more. I’m starting to think it’s true. I noticed that sometimes I meet specific people in specific moments of my life who say or do exactly the right thing at the right time, and who ultimately make me realize things that are just so important and true that the only thing I can do is say “thank you”, and say it with all my heart. Some of these people stay in my life for months, some for years, some just for a few days. Some of them are meant to be with me for the long run, some of them just pass by to deliver a message, and then just go away. But it doesn’t matter, it’s only time. What really matters is the role they play and the impact they have on the way I see and live my life.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you really start asking life for something truly important to you, the universe will find a (probably weird, unexpected and absolutely brilliant) way to point you in the right direction to get it. It’s up to you to listen and follow, then.
I don’t think I’ll ever see this guy again, and I admit it actually makes me a bit sad, but in all these years of weird coincidences and life-changing crossroads and unspoken truths, I learned that sometimes things happen, or don’t happen, for a reason, and whatever that reason might be, I gotta trust the universe that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
What matters right now is that the first night in Matera I understood what I don’t want from life, and the last night I understood what I want.
I want to fall in love. I want to dance and sing and lie on the grass in a sunny day and run under the rain and be hugged and kissed and I want to laugh so hard my stomach hurts. I’m ready for it. I think I’m finally ready to ask for more. I’m terrified, but I think I’m finally ready for love.
HAPPY, THANK YOU, MORE, PLEASE.