Ali Matteini

a life creative



There are three of them.  One is a woman around my age and a thousand years older, for what she has lived. One is a boy with a broken heart. One is Ismail, who has bent the horns of the sky to coordinate everything.

They’ve bought me a pair or trendy white sneakers, a welcome gift. I think it should be the other way round – I should be bearing gifts, something more than the little dinner of potato salad and frittata. There’s nothing else in my fridge.
They’ve driven 12 hours from Switzerland to retrieve what’s left of me after seven years living in Toscana.

What’s left of me is a bit thin these days, hollow-eyed. My ribs stand out and so do my veins. I’m a high voltage wire and I snap easily. I’ve stayed too long here, trying. Trying for what?

Trying to make a marriage work from both sides.

Trying to let that go.

Trying to beat the Italian economy.

Trying to make others understand.

Trying to make Italian electricians and plumbers arrive at the appointed time so I don’t freeze in the winter.

Trying to balance the shapeshifting ideal with real life.

Trying to lose myself in creativity and remember the balance to make enough money not only to survive but to put some aside so that I can one day get myself out of here. 

I was drowning in trying, to the point of insanity; trying becomes addictive. What if I haven’t tried hard enough? What if I try just this one more time? It’s no different from any drug of dependence. Chasing the Dragon, they call it if it’s heroin. Turns out the dream that once appeared to be a blinding light of pleasure faded to a reality that was far off the trail I thought I was running.

Trying, trying, trying. Rhymes with lying, and crying, and lately I’ve done a lot of the latter…which is good, they say, because for a whole year at least I was so numb I could not cry. I am a woman of slow, deep feeling on the inside, doesn’t show so much on the outside. In photos I can smile, all the way up to the eyes. But for the first time in my life I was numb, and exhaustion muted me. With no feeling, there is no gut instinct, no filter for anger, no sure footing near that precipice of giving up, and I made a lot of errors because I didn’t speak up for myself and I hurt a lot of people, and in giving too much of myself to others in order to try to feel something, I let a lot of people hurt me.

A large portion of the problem was that I had too many helpful (and otherwise) voices, including that incessant dialogue in my head, and not knowing how to block them, or say no, eclipsed my light. I lost the sense of self-flexibility I thought I’d mastered. Maybe I never had it.

I can almost pinpoint the exact day I felt things slip from under my feet for good. It was in 2016, and I finally realised I was losing myself to someone else’s life and not paying heed to my own. I was getting sick. There had been dark patches before that; if you’ve read any of my poetry from 2014 and 2015 you’ll understand. Some of my unpublished journaling frightens me. Sorting through my things before I left Tuscany, I read things I’d long forgotten about, that are out of my head and onto the page. I threw them out, but each word has a soul, the thing it is before it becomes written language, and each left a stain on the inside of me.

Are all of us painted this dark on the inside? I ask myself.
I think most of us poets and artists are, that’s why we seek light in darkness.
And we seek light in varying joyful or deadly ways.


Seven years haven’t all been in vain, or horrible, of course: I’ve become fluent in the language and have a handful of friends umbilicalled to my soul; I’ve witnessed beauty and heartbreak; how to make pici and ragù. And I’ve learnt a little bit about myself, even some of it without cringing. But I am done with it, the trying, lying, crying…so done, so bone deep tired of struggling to keep afloat. Soon after I arrived in Switzerland I was rapped over the knuckles by someone now not in my life who retorted that I not be too hard on Tuscany: “it’s the place people usually come to destress, remember”.

Yes, they go to Tuscany on holiday, from better economies, to destress, to bathe in the light of  “the good life”. Coming over to the land of cypress and wine to spend the summer season is undoubtedly pleasant. Real life, for many living there full time and having to live and work to support themselves, means extraordinary amounts of stress, equal thanks to a fucked up economy and a corrupt government.  In my experience, swimming through seven years with just my nostrils above the rising waters has been no holiday. Staying and trying exacerbated it. Divorce has galvanised it.

Before I made the snap decision to leave, I was already two months into the nascent stages of stilling my waters long enough, of focusing on me, of letting go, of dropping it down, and, especially, of silencing the critics – those inside and out – of realising I am 42 and still concerned with ALL the voices, and not sifting through the ones that don’t matter. I couldn’t filter them, and maybe that comes with being lonely. Loneliness fuels Trying, but in all the wrong places. I was beginning to recognise that, and as I began to cut those things out of me, as I began to open my fists and let things drop, things – work, house, a clearer vision that was actually mine to get enough money together to leave – all of these things were beginning to slide into place.

And then came Ismail to supercharge all that.

Call it Kismet, call it manifestation, call it sheer dumb luck.

Call me high voltage wire, unstable, call me moth or sunflower, call me floridly crazy, call me sad.

So I leave Tuscany with my three interventionists.
I unplug, I trail my cables. Feel myself, a boulder that thought it could roll upriver, laid out on the back seat surrounded by my socks and underwear and jackets and shoes and drills and tools and silver and chemicals and two computers. All things familiar, hoving into an unknown north, washing back and forward together in time with a full fuel tank.

The boy with the broken heart drives. It’s a chance for him to drown his heart in light. We stop to drink in the Mediterranean, to whoop and holler. It’s the woman’s opportunity to commune with its energy – she has been needing the sea. Ismail and I capture the four of us in photographs, on film. We recharge a little from a sleepless night, doused in salt and October sun.

Yet in all this lightheartedness anger flares at what I’d missed out on.  In the last two years I have been to the sea a total of 6 hours. I could have gone alone, but that’s what I’ve been doing for too long. I had been promised sea, amongst other things, and denied it…promise, deny, tide in, tide out. I’d waited and hoped and tried.

Sandy-toed, we leave the beach later than we intend, and there is a growing tension in the car – mine – humming like Jacob’s Ladder. It scrapes against the hardness of me and threatens to spark a lightning flower. It’s bound to happen: it’s a bloody long way and we’re all tinder dry with exhaustion.

Language and new people and sudden travel: what a mix. In Pisa at sunset I give directions three times, but my words are misunderstood. My will collapses in on itself, a singularity condensed to a white hot culmination of seven years. I seriously wonder if I should risk my non-valid-in-Italy Australian licence and get in behind the steering wheel.
Eventually we find what we need, and the sunset is doing to the tower what it must to please the crowd.

Afterward I pretend to sleep because I still feel I’m standing outside the discourse of my life and, plainly put, I can’t understand the language, can’t be part of the conversation. I feel peevish, childish, first day at school-ish and it’s frustrating. I’m so tired I can’t cry, but that’s ok because the crying these days, after so many years of nothing – I must remember that saltwater conducts electricity.

Soon after crossing the border into Switzerland, I sleep. We hit Zurich at around 3:30am, then my new home at around 5:30am – raw and wired on coffee and arrival.

I am here.

3 comments on “Leaving

  1. Angela Highstead
    October 27, 2019

    Dear Ali, May Switzerland be a place of healing. Much love and a hug, Angela xx


  2. Annie
    October 27, 2019

    Jeez Ali, I had no idea it was this bad. Lots of love Annie XXXX


  3. Rosalind
    October 27, 2019

    Oh Ali we r so sorry. Hope life treats you well now.
    Love Rosalind and Jim xx


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This entry was posted on October 27, 2019 by in creativity.

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