How to be an expat inspiration: Michelle Fabio

After seventeen years at this expat game, I've had my share of friend requests. Not Facebook, mind you.  I'm talking Americans, Brits, other native English speakers who believe that they and I might really have something in common simply by nature of a shared common language. This has always baffled me.  I mean, turn around and look at the person next to you on the bus. Do you really want to go have tea with her, let her into your life, show her pictures of your childhood only because you can conjugate the same verbs as she? This has, at times, given me a not-great local reputation as a curmudgeon who doesn't like to socialize. Nothing could further from the truth. I'm just picky.

Truth is, I've never been very good at being a participating expat. I make friends with people I have stuff in common with. Their passports just don't matter to me. I don't seek out Americans or Canadians or Brits. I need to have basic philosphical things in common with people I make the effort of befriending at this point in my illustrious expat experience, regardless where they were born. It's sort of a prerequisite.

Chemistry, friendship, respect, just liking one another grows over time regardless where you live, and with on-line cultivated relationships, it's even tricker and requires more of a sense of really understanding who in fact you are tangling it up with.

Back in 2005, I was trying to get my brain around internet marketing and how to get my little B&B on the map when I came across a blog called Bleeding Espresso. Back then, it was revolutionary, at least for me, since it was written by a clearly brilliant woman who was American but living in Italy, and incorporated so many different jewels of life in Italy that I kept going back, a little intimidated at first, to read more and understand how reading her words somehow reflected what I was feeling myself.

Between then and now, Michelle Fabio and I have become friends in the most natural and organic of ways - over time - out of a common viewpoint and outlook towards this experience we call the expat lifestyle. We've shared hundreds of emails, have sat at the same table together. I have come to view Michelle as someone I trust, someone with whom I share much more than a common language. We're two Pennsylvania girls hell-bent on living life on our own terms. Having said that, we are completely different (for example I'm old enough to be her mother, not that there's ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT and she also raises goats, which I love to pet as long as they belong to somone else) and it is those differences that make me value her insights even more.

Over the years, Michelle has brought Calabria alive for me. Its scents, its scenery, its flavors. I've watched Michelle's writing change and grow and meander into areas that her conscious, simple, focused lifestyle has brought her, full of love for where she is and respect for all she is surrounded with, but always steeped in reality and a sense of pragmatism that makes her writing completely accessible for me. She is my anchor in the southern part of this beautiful boot we call Italy. Without her writing and her friendship my own expat experience would not be complete.

But it doesn't end there.  She's carved out a niche for herself as an expert freelance writer in so many different genres (including the law, that Esquire after her name isn't for nothing) that it's safe to say that Michelle is constantly stretching and exercising stimulating her mental and intellectual palate while immersing in a pristine, simple, nature-based life in the hills of Southern Italy.

I asked Michelle a few questions that I thought my readers (and hers) might be interested in having answered. So here you are, our beloved Michelle Fabio deconstructed.

I remember seeing Bleeding Espresso for the first time years ago and being in complete awe at how sophisticated it was.  You were one of the first expats in Italy to have a polished, professional blog that blew everyone else's away.  tell us a little about how BE came to be, where it started, where it is now and where you see it going.

Thanks so much for the kind words! *cyberblushing* Now, walk with me. I moved to Italy in August 2003 but didn't have the Internet at home until the summer/early fall of 2005. All of a sudden, two years into my life here, I had a direct, instant connection with other expats that just hadn't been possible during my limited Internet sessions before that, which were mainly focused on catching up on emails from family and friends back in the States and finding and sending work assignments.With the extra Internet time, though, I started reading blogs and then emailed some of the writers (one of the first of those was Sara at Ms Adventures in Italy). It didn't take me long to realize I wanted to join the club, so to speak. I also wanted to build a platform for myself to boost my freelance writing career, and a blog seemed like a great way to do that as well. Another plus was that I could share my thoughts and experiences with family and friends back home -- this was before Facebook really hit it big.Turns out the blog was an awesome way to develop a freelance writing platform (I've gotten several job offers just based on my blog), and it's also connected me to an amazing network of people going through similar experiences not only in Italy but all over the world -- and not only as expats, but just as human beings. It's turned out to be less of a vehicle to keep in touch with family and friends than I thought, and has gradually become more of a place where I can dig more deeply into how I ended up here, what I'm doing here, why I'm still here, etc.

Through the years of having the blog, I've connected with so many people who have either made a similar life change or would like to, and I hope that by working through my process in writing, I can provide comfort, support, and guidance so readers know they're not the only ones struggling with certain issues and that nothing worth having is attained overnight or easily.

So yes, the blog has grown with me, and I expect it will continue to do that.

How does a nice young lawyer from the coal mining region of Pennsylvania end up with a life changing passion for Italy slash Goats slash writing slash living a self determined life begin?  In two hundred words or less. Ok, two fifty.   HA.

You know, it's funny but if I go back to the things I really enjoyed as a child, writing and animals would be right at the top of the list. In a strange way, I kind of feel like I'm coming full circle, having taken a rather large detour to law school. But I've always been a person of wide interests, curious by nature, so dipping my hands in so many pots along the way (and continuing to do so) makes perfect sense to me even if it maybe looks a bit odd from the outside looking in.Some things have just grabbed me more than others, and I continue with those. Writing was certainly the first from when I wrote short stories as a kid, then genealogy research was a big deal for me for quite a while -- which is how I ended up here in southern Italy. I had found all the hard, cold documents I was going to find on my Italian side, and I was ready to see things in person.As for living a self-determined life, I've always been introspective and curious about how the mind works, why we do the things we do, how our experiences affect our decisions, nature versus nurture, all that good stuff, and there's no better subject than oneself -- we have constant access!

So this process has been as much of an intellectual journey for me as anything else as I continue to place myself in the middle of some pretty strange experiments. Not that I'm calling my goats strange, mind you. How did I wind up adoring goats? A little kid named Pasqualina tugged at my heart strings from the moment I finally got her to take a bottle; I'm a goat girl for life now. Can't help it.

You literally dreamed up Personal Statement Artist one night after which you and I engaged in a lengthy chat session.  You've since turned into into a reality.  How is it going with your first clients and have you had any other interesting dreams that lead to an immediate domain name search?

I'm taking a break from domain registration and site-building for a while -- she says tempting the fates to throw another idea her way. But PSA is going pretty well, definitely better than I anticipated for getting into the game just as law school application season was starting. I've really enjoyed working with my clients, and I look forward to expanding the site by next year's cycle with an e-book dedicated to writing law school personal statements; at that point, I envision the consulting services will be the compliment to the book as opposed to the other way around.

You've recently written a bang-on post about living deliberately when your loved ones don't get it that stresses how critical unconditional love and non-judgement is in all of our lives. How do you think expat life has changed you or how you view things?

For me, choosing to be an expat was the impetus for my understanding that some people aren't going to support you (me) if they don't agree with your decisions. It's my own fault, really, as up until that decision, I had always done the "right" thing -- did well in every level of school along the way like a smart girl should, made Law Review in law school, passed two bar exams the first time, snagged a prestigious clerkship with an appellate judge, blahblahblah. But then I jumped off the track before I got to the house in the suburbs/SUV in the driveway part, and some people didn't get that -- and still don't get it. Or care to get it. Thus that post.

My experience of losing support because of other people's closed minds has, in turn, made me much less judgmental about how people choose to live their lives. I also feel like I've become more empathetic; I think once you're faced with situations you could never have imagined facing in a million years, you begin to realize that you never *really* know what someone else is going through, what's going on in their heads and hearts, what influences their decisions, etc. I've always been a fairly empathetic person and a good listener, but because of this experience, I think my ability to connect with other people emotionally and spiritually has gone even deeper and onto another level. And I think my personal relationships, the ones I've been able to build on, have benefited greatly from it. Added bonus is that I'm just a calmer person all around since I'm not worried about what everyone else is doing and how I can "fix" them.