Dad: “You’re away from home for the entire year, you should stay with us for the entire summer holidays”.
Is it? Don’t think so. Maybe? Maybe not…
The thing is, when you turn thirty (and possibly even much earlier), “home” tends to be where you live or have been living for a while…your “family home” becomes…well…your family home.
Which leads us to the fantastic conclusion that we can spend our summer holidays wherever we want to, choosing among so many options of which the “family home” is just one.
What really drove me to write this post today, though, is what we mean when we say home.
Some people think that home is where they used to live with their parents, where their family of origin is.
I moved out from my hometown when I was 18, but I’ve always considered all the places I’ve lived in like temporary. I didn’t know where I would have been after Uni, and ended up having to go back to my hometown for a couple of months before starting my MA.
Even during my MA I felt like I was living “800 km away from home”.
I started feeling differently when I started working. When I was paying the bills and the rent and all the things included in my everyday life with my own salary. That little “detail” started making me perceive the house I was living in like my “home”. My friends and my partner became my new family and I started to go “back home” less frequently.
Leaving my second home for the unknown (London), was one of the hardest and most painful decisions I had to take in my life, but I only took it when I was totally convinced that leaving would have improved my life immensely.
Since I moved to London, one year ago, my biggest fear was not being able to build the same amount of happiness and family I managed to in Modena.

It hasn’t been easy so far and living in a huge capital most of the times means bonding with people who go back to their countries or go to live somewhere else at some point.
I kinda of have an opinion about that.
London is a place where it’s very hard to stand still. It spins around and it spins you around pushing you to do things every time of the day. It might be because of the immense possibilities it offers, or because of its weather, which brings you to do things when it rains (otherwise you think you’ll wait forever), and when it’s sunny ‘cause you don’t want to waste the chance to enjoy it.
It might be its kaleidoscopic soul, where every area you go to feels like a different city, a different part of the world, with a different rhythm a different music.
Some of the people I’ve met so far feel the need of living the city entirely, always going, always at high speed, always doing something.

I find quite hard meeting people who, sometimes, want to stop. And I don’t mean “stop” as in don’t want to do anything today, but simply because of the immense value of slowing down and standing still. So far all the people I met who wanted some calm went abroad, to places like Italy, Spain, or South America, as if the warmer the place, the calmer it would have been.

When I was living in Italy I was about to explode. I wanted to do things, but couldn’t find a way to do them. I ended up being unemployed for two years and spending my time sending cvs to companies which never got back to me or, in my “free time”, writing short stories I’d never had the guts to publish or even to send them to an editor for a feedback. Everything outside my window was most of the time “always the same”, which I didn’t find particularly motivating.

What is weird enough is that London is my home now. It’s always been home to me a bit, but now I feel like I’ve been living here for ages. And I still don’t know so many things about it that I can afford to feel like an eternal tourist, but at the same time familiar enough with the place to take a break and stop when I need to.
I don’t have many friends here, neither the house of my dreams or a very well paid job.
But I still have much more than I expected to have after one year in a new country.
I don’t know how long I”m going to stay here or if I am one of those people who, in the future,  will need to move in order to stop. What I know is that this city took out a side of me I knew existed, but I wasn’t too familiar with: my exploring side. 

When I walk around all my senses are completely awake. The smells of the coffee coming from the Starbucks around the corner, the Caribbean pasties or the jerk chicken scent filling the streets of the area I live in. When I eat something new, I feel like a child excited to play with food.
And then the roaring of cars and buses in the main streets, the infinite shades of white and grey of the clouds in the sky, the structure of the buildings always different and with different names: council, terraced, victorian, detached, semidetached, cottage, georgian, maisonette.
The way people dress, never following a trend or a specific pattern. The patterns of the walls, roads, streets, shop windows, signs, cars. People’s faces and stories, every market different from another, every park different from another….and more more more…

I can’t tell how much I love this city and how much I love the way I manage to experience it.
I can only say that this is home to me now. And it feels like it was always meant to be.

Creative writing is like Tangram

So today it turned out that the lesson was about creative writing.

Now, I think that for the first time in my all life I taught an entirely unplanned lesson and the big news is that I absolutely loved it.

I am currently helping some children aged 6-7 with literacy and numeracy skills, but I think that the main skill I am helping them with is building up their self esteem.

Today J. looked at me and said “I can’t write, I can’t draw.” As usual for him “I can’t” is the first thing that comes to his brain. So my job with him is more trying to find a way to “unlock” his skills and show him both that he can make it and that he can also be good at it.

But what really made my day this afternoon was seeing him interested, curious to know more about what I was telling him. And the best thing ever was that I was telling him something that I truly believed in. I was talking about writing. About stories and how you create them. How powerful it feels like when you create a character and you let them do whatever and wherever you like, with whom you like and letting them say something you want to share with the entire world.

I told him that writing is a game and that you can change all the parts of a story every time you want and the only limit to what you write is your own imagination.

And I saw a light in his eyes. A small tiny little light telling me that he wanted to try, he really wanted to see what his imagination was able to do, but he was just scared of getting it wrong.

So I told him that the best part of writing a story is that there is no right or wrong story, and that once  you learn how to play with your thoughts and out them on paper you can do it anytime you want.

He started writing. And he wrote a funny and cute story with a beginning, a middle part and an ending.

I pushed him a little bit when he finished asking him to use the junior dictionary to check for spelling mistakes. He said it was boring and he couldn’t do it. But when I left to help the other little boy, I saw him secretly taking the dictionary and trying hard to use it.

I wanted to tell him how lucky he is to live in this country. I think that the first time I heard of “creative writing” I must have been at University. I knew what a story was, I knew all the theory about it and I remember studying and analysing texts and books at school. What I don’t remember doing, thus because it never happened at school, is writing a story. A real story with a setting, fictional characters and dialogues. And I don’t’ remember drawing perceived as a class activity. I remember that we were allowed to draw during breaks or when we were very young and weren’t able to write yet. But drawing a self portrait, or the character of a story…no, that has never happened to me in school.

Which is maybe one of the reasons why I can’t really draw anything except for basic stickmen, some animals and flowers 😀 (although I have to admit I quite enjoy using drawings to explain the meaning of some words when I teach).

I don’t know if there have been any changes in Italian National Curriculum since I finished my primary school, and I am sure there are many teachers who aren’t totally happy with the actual UK curriculum and they find it poor or boring.
I can only say that when you deal with UK National Curriculum after having studied the Italian way for 29 years, the feeling you’ve got is that you are dealing with something pretty amazing. Especially when one of your tasks deals with exploring science through poetry or discussing a poem. Because if you start discussing a poem when you are 6 you will get so used to it by the time you get to high school that you could actually start feeling confident in writing a poem yourself very soon. While if you start commenting on a poem for the first time in high school, you might feel confident in writing one in your late 30s or 40s – being lucky enough to be still willing to write one.
I am not saying that everybody needs to be a poet in their lives, but it does mean that here children are given a chance to deal with a choice, to know what it is and to experiment with it.
Which I think is the best present a school can give to a child: the freedom of experimenting with the world surrounding them.

At the end of the lesson I just wanted to thank J. for that immense sense of achievement he gave to me. But when he came and asked if he could take home one of the science books to study it by himself, I was just overwhelmed by his enthusiasm, more than happy to give him the book and speechless.

So thank you J. for showing me once again the importance of motivation and for remembering that we need to try every path we can before finding the one waiting to be discovered and chosen.