From where I sit right now the world is beautiful. It’s the first day of fall. The leaves in Seattle started turning a few weeks ago, and now that smoke has finally cleared the region, the changing can gain momentum with clear and cool nights. Some of those leaves crinkle their way toward me, landing on the ground and scuttling away. The view from my picnic bench in Green Lake is of gently rippling water, emblazoned by the low morning sun, and filtered thru the trees.
Looks not only can be deceiving, but in this case they also are deceiving. Beauty, hope, decency, optimism—there’s not a lot of that to go around at the moment. And though it’s transitory, though there have been far worse periods humans have had to endure, it’s fair to say these are tough times.
Earlier this year, when a failed and failing U.S. response to the pandemic merged with the 100 percent likelihood of a (at best) disastrous election proved too much for my imagination to endure, I turned to something more fanciful: the idea of Italian citizenship thru the process of direct descent.
Italian citizenship means EU citizenship, which means 26 different countries where I could legally work and live without a permit. It used to be 27, but the U.K. outsmarted itself and chose to leave the EU, taking control of a destiny it already had control over.
I am 100 percent Italian, but of course I am about as Italian as I am Martian. What I really am is 100 percent American, with a U.S. passport to boot. I cannot overstate how lucky I am to have been born here.
On the other hand I don’t belong here, for reasons that say more about me than it does about the U.S.—at least that is the best way I can say it without resorting to out-and-out didacticism and pointless political polemicising. I am not likely to change your mind, and you are just as unlikely to change mine. So we will leave it at that. For my mental health and that of my family, it is time for me to leave.
Back to Italian citizenship. Years ago when the U.S. invaded Iraq (the second time), one of my friends, a film director, packed his tent and moved to Rome and became an Italian citizen, via his grandparents. I was under the impression at the time that option was only available to second generation or better. Which shows, yet again, how little I know. Since 1990, however, it turns out I have been eligible to apply if I am third generation. That was tough to stomach, knowing I could have begun this process years ago. But it has begun now, and there is a chance I will be an Italian/EU citizen early next year.
But what would I have gained by leaving in 2003 versus leaving in 2021? It’s a fascinating question. The world, after all, would still be the same, except there would be one more American expat living in Europe, 70 years past the point when that was fashionable. I am not so vain to suggest that had I been in Paris (for that was the dream at the time) in 2003 that I would have published novels, essays, etc. that would have changed my personal circumstances, let alone made a tiny contribution to the world, artistic or otherwise.
There is no way to know for sure, and any uncertainty added to the bulging piles we are living with now has pushed me over the precipice. An artist travels daily between the certainty this is the only way they want to live and the uncertainty they can make it happen. A certain level of self-doubt is useful, maybe even critical, but when too many “what ifs” find their way to the surface, things get muddled. To clear that muddle, to reach beyond “what if”—to live, as an artist friend of mine says, “not by the regrets embedded in ‘what if’ but by its possibilities”—sometimes there is only way to achieve it.
So after some 20 years of an internal and occasionally external struggle I have decided to go, ideally as an Italian citizen, and either I will chase my destiny down or it will chase me down.