It’s four in the morning here in Rome but to me it feels like it’s eleven in Hong Kong, and because of the jet lag, seven hours behind my normal routine, I haven’t been able to sleep.
So, it’s four a.m. and the city of Rome sleeps—a pleasant thought when I come to think of it—and the orange lights somewhere off in the dark and distance are twinkling, so much so I half suspect my eyes are playing tricks on me. I lean closer to the window and sure enough the lights are twinkling.
There’s much I’ve had to consider since arriving in Italy just over a day ago. You know those thoughts concerning your future and your place in the world that come and go when you least expect them to, but I’ve read such thoughts and emotions about wanting more, being unfulfilled to a large degree—no matter your station or lot in society—is largely biological and every man and woman experiences such moods at different stages in life’s way.
Still, the stillness is there within me and I’m not at all sure what I’m doing in Rome or why I left my wife and son alone at home. Even now, here in my study overlooking a motionless Rome, my wife and son fill my chest with fugitive memories and I long to be near them again, though it’s been but three days since I last saw them and kissed them.
I’ve had to consider—face myself if you will—why I’m deeply committed to an artform that really only betrays me in the end: It takes my time, my energy, my money, my emotions, my thoughts, my soul at times, and in return I get silly little words on the page, more rejections in a day most people experience in a calendar year.
Still, the stillness is there within me and I can’t help telling myself that my art was never about the fame or money, and since I’ve been in Rome I’ve let my ambitions go, and those tormenting and captive desires that pull men and women forward for some possibility they hope resembles success and happiness leave me standing at a window facing a darkened Rome, which must soon wake for a new day.
And so, I’m alone in Rome unable to sleep and I’m waiting for the calmness of the night to fade and for life to stir around me once more. The city itself reminds me why I came nearly ten thousand miles to write anew and to work on three manuscripts. From the moment I arrived in Rome the artists who lived centuries ago have reminded me of what being an artist is all about: the raw and pure beauty of a human thing created for the awe-inspiring pleasure of others. Countless across the city, where each street beholds an object to be admired—paintings, sculptures, fountains, statues, monuments, cathedrals—do not cry out for applause nor for recognition, but each in each stand in its place to reveal the human marvel of its humbled, decaying presence. The soul of the artist is very much alive in Rome, and I can see why artists and scholars from around the globe congregate to a city without skyscrapers and the urge to modernize for modernity’s sake, but instead the artists and scholars gravitate toward the cobbled streets, the shops selling salami and cheese (as in the days of old), to the wine and grappa, to the recognition of how memory and continuity still mean something in a world fraught and mired with climatic change, whether it’s over-population, unchecked migration, global warming, or the uncertainty of democracy unbalanced by the all-powerful hand of capitalism.
Perhaps the God in this unknowable Universe called me here to show me how the artform can represent the best of humanity, how people are inherently good and how the possibility of what comes next can be filled with curiosity, eagerness, enthusiasm and wonder rather than fear, terror and disinterest.
I’m not sure I ever really chose to be an artist or a scholar (the desires to create and to learn have always been there in the stillness within me) but over the decades filled with more heart-wrenching struggles than I’d like to recall I’ve had to make conscious decisions about whether or not I should continue on the path before me as an artist and scholar or if I should damn the whole lot and hang the business to its end. Time after time my heart has led me forward (I know not how or why) and now at five in the morning I find myself alone, faced with myself in the reflection on the window, in Rome and surrounded by all that it means to be an artist, a scholar, a human being, and what it means to step out and onward in blind faith.
To be honest, brutally so, I know the city doesn’t care about me and that it would swallow me whole if I let it. But I don’t. I refuse it so.
The energy, instead of consuming me, stirs itself within my being, as it must have done to all the other artists and scholars lucky enough to have found themselves in Rome.
In an hour, I’ll be walking my way to the Vatican, to St. Peter’s Basilica, and to all the glory these names and places hold and represent, and still I can’t help but think how good it feels again to be small, insignificant, out of place, out of touch, lost in many ways from the world I’m used to, and to once again feel the desire and drive of curiosity eagerly waiting to be tapped into as I wander alone, just another sappy tourist like all the rest coming to explore humanity as much as the art and history of Rome, and to be restored, rejuvenated, with the innocence of our childhood and youth that believes anything is possible, because when I look to the Pantheon from Janiculum Terrace, I can see for myself that it is true: anything is possible.
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s been a member of the Hemingway Society, Americans for the Arts, PEN America, Club Med, & the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America (2020), and A Time to Forget in East Berlin (2022).
Forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.