Yes, I’ve been up to something.


I have been neglectful of this blog lately – even more neglectful than normal, which is saying something. There’s a reason for it, though.

I’ve been pouring any spare time I have into Italy Explained, which I launched officially last year and am trying to build into the robust travel planning resource I know it can be. And more recently, I’ve been spending more time than I care to admit fiddling with the coding in the Kindle publishing system, getting my first ebook ready for primetime.

Which is now.

Italy Explained: Italian Trains

Italy Explained: Italian Trains” hit Amazon’s virtual shelves this week – FINALLY – and I couldn’t be happier.

The bad news is that I looked at the vast expanse of white space on my new Amazon author page and thought, “Oh, crap. Now I have to write more books.”

Jessica Spiegel Amazon author page

So if you don’t see me here, you’re likely to find me over at Italy Explained, or hunched over my laptop yelling at the Kindle Previewer when it hasn’t picked up the text-indent HTML I added mere seconds ago.


At any rate, I hope you’ll pass the book and Italy Explained site on to anyone you know who’s planning an Italy trip!

The book cover photo is a creative commons image by John Picken Photography.

Thinking in (Bad) Poetry

Creative Commons photo by Steve A Johnson on flickr

Creative Commons photo by Steve A Johnson on flickr

I used to think in poetry.

It was bad poetry, mind you. Juvenile. Reductive. Mimicry. But it was in verse.

Twenty-five years ago, I was consumed by music. Every dream I had about my future involved becoming a singer, and nothing about the realities of what it would take to accomplish that (i.e. get out of Corvallis, Oregon, when I was terrified of leaving home) swayed me. Having given up guitar and piano as too difficult to master – and, to my mind, impossible to play while singing – I convinced myself singing was enough.

And then came the poetry. I had been consuming a steady diet of song lyrics since childhood, and began scrawling my own bits on the college-ruled paper in the back of my high school notebooks. These were always intended to be song lyrics, not just words, which meant everything rhymed. And when one’s vocabulary is young and, it must be said, based on a lot of crappy rock music, the arsenal of rhymes at one’s disposal is pretty dismal. I’m somewhat relieved that I don’t still have the lyrics I wrote in high school, although I’m sure they’d make for amusing reading now.

Hearing my own words put to music for the first time when I was eighteen had a drug-like effect. Any (minimal) doubts I had about my abilities were gone, and I wanted more. There were more small tastes during college, but it wasn’t until a couple years after graduation that I joined a band that would become the center of my life for the next three years. And although I didn’t contribute the bulk of the lyrics to the song list, I still spent many hours furiously scribbling verses into notebooks.

And then, abruptly, it stopped.

In the thirteen years between when I left that band and when those bandmates suggested four months ago that we start playing again, I don’t think I wrote a single poem. Not one verse. I went on to jobs where I thought in prose. I now make my living thinking in either long-form non-fiction or 140 characters. The writing itself is not the hard part. The writing itself is easy. Somehow, it’s getting back to thinking in poetry that I find challenging.

I’m trying to think in verses again, and writing things down, and I don’t hate all of them. But I look back at some of the scraps of paper from the band days and I can’t quite believe the same brain in my head right now is the one that turned some of those pretty phrases. Maybe there are some tricks you can’t teach old dogs, even if the old dog was once a young dog that did the trick without thinking. Maybe I’m just more aware that everything I want to say has been said before, and more eloquently than I can say it. Maybe I can’t think in both prose and poetry at the same time, the way I could never manage to play piano and sing simultaneously.

Or maybe I just need to keep trying. Even if it’s still bad poetry.

What would Cindy think?


Email has become one of those things about which I complain, since my inbox is so often flooded with advertising pitches. Every so often, however, I get an email that reminds me it is, after all, just another delivery method for actual heart-felt messages – like the ones we used to scribble onto paper and send in stamped envelopes. I got one of those emails last week, and thankfully the sender has given me permission to share it with you.

Cindy found me on this site, and emailed me with an Italy question after reading my old Italy guide for (she says) “one full week.” Before she got to her question, though, she wrote this paragraph.

So I first have to say how much I LOVE your writing style. I honestly feel like I could go for coffee with you, have a good ol’ laugh, leave, and feel like I made a life-long friend. So kudos on your interesting, informative and engaging material. 2. Thank you for being so passionate and approachable. I have totally been captivated by your enthusiasm for travel and I SO look forward to my first ever trip to Italy. Your tips & suggestions have been ridiculously informative and I feel so prepared. And 3. Thanks for making me laugh. Out loud. By myself. Like a geek. You. are. funny.

I wrote recently about how supported I’ve felt by my travel blogging community. I never thought the same would be true of the people out there who read my words, but there you go – Cindy set me straight in that regard with one simple email.

Cindy, you might have just become the reader I think about when I write. I’ll pause mid-sentence and think, “What would Cindy think?” I hope you don’t mind.

photo by jasminejennyjen