Photo Courtesy of Susan Pohlman

In “Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home,” Scottsdale resident Susan Pohlman recounts the remarkable true story of how she and her husband, on the brink of separation, found love again while spending a year in Italy with their family.

We headed back to the hotel. The sun was climbing high in the sky, so we agreed that a few hours by a pool overlooking the sea would be a fitting substitute. We ambled slowly along the coast road and drank in the details that make this region of Italy unique. The brightly colored buildings with their trompe l’oeil facades and painted details tricked the eye into seeing cornices, carvings and shutters that didn’t really exist. Flowers cascaded from windows, walkways and archways. The sun glinted off the sea in sprays of glitter. This was where Christopher Columbus had learned to sail as a boy. Tim reached for my hand, and it felt right to hold his. This was not the type of scenery that a soul could handle alone. Even souls who were trying to ignore each other.

And then the conversation. The one we have had on each and every vacation we have ever taken.

“I could live here,” said Tim.

“Me too.”

And then the fateful change of inflection.

“No, I really could live here.”

“Yeah, right.”

We walked the rest of the way back to the hotel in silence. He was suggesting something unfathomable. Why couldn’t we make this charmed life here ours?

“Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home” by Susan Pohlman

Images Arizona recently caught up with Pohlman — who is founder and director of the Phoenix Writers Network, has served as a writer-in-residence for the Arizona Public Library and has taught creative writing at the Arizona State University Emeritus School — to ask the author a few questions about the travel memoir, the latest selection in its summer book club.

What motivated/inspired you to write this book?
On a business trip to Italy, my husband Tim and I took a break from entertaining clients and walked along the Ligurian sea where Christopher Columbus had learned to sail as a boy. The elegant beauty of Santa Margherita lulled us into silence as we ambled along, lost in our own thoughts. We had been married sixteen years, had two beautiful children, a cozy home on the outskirts of Los Angeles — and we were, quite frankly, sick of each other.

From the outside, our lives were idyllic, but on the inside, we were painfully disconnected and confused. Neither one of us could figure out why we were so miserable, but we both agreed that we were tired of trying. I knew that our days were numbered since I had quietly hired a lawyer prior to our trip. What I did not know was that a mere five minutes in the future my husband would utter the phrase that would change our lives forever. He stopped, asked me to move my empty gaze from the blue of the sea to the blue of his tear-filled eyes and said, “I could live here.”

These four simple words began an unexpected, heart-wrenching, two-day conversation that ultimately ended with our signatures on a year’s lease to an apartment in Genoa-Nervi. Tim and I made an unexpected decision to quit our jobs, sell our house, and move our family to Italy. It was irrational, ridiculous, reckless and the best decision of our lives. It saved our marriage.

I was motivated to capture this journey on the page as it is a story of hope for those struggling in marriage. When I was desperate for help, I could not find hopeful stories on the bookshelves!

What themes did you aspire to tackle with this particular work? Did any other themes reveal themselves to you during the writing process?
It was not until we physically removed ourselves from our life and American culture that we were able to see that some of the problems were of our own making disguised as that ever seductive temptress, the American Dream. The choices we had made were not harmful in and of themselves, it was the combination of it all that overwhelmed us.

As a nation, we are exhausted. And because of the constant barrage of glossy images in the media that promise happiness around the next corner. It is hard to embrace the immaterial when our nation is consumed with the material.

It wasn’t only about communicating, respect, and the choice to love after all. It was about a complete paradigm shift. The greatest lesson learned was stunning in its simplicity: we needed to extract things from our life in order to create the emotional space needed to nurture spiritual and emotional connection. Landing in Italy with nothing but clothes and a few photos of family and friends was liberating beyond imagining.

There is a fragile balance between owning something and it owning you. The line between the two is difficult to see since things “look” so pretty.

The other unexpected lesson was the power of adventure to rebuild bridges back to each other. Shared adventure enabled us to move forward from past hurts and communicate in ways we were unable to while sitting in the sterile confines of a therapist’s office.

What or how are you hoping your book makes readers feel? What other takeaways do you hope they have?
I hope this book gives readers permission to step out of the norm and do what is best for their family to maintain balance and emotional health. It is the “doing” together rather than the “owning” together that creates family culture and a treasure box of memories.

Another takeaway is to embrace adventure in the everyday. Adventure is simply stepping out of your routine: a picnic dinner on the back lawn, a surprise trip to the movies on a school night, a cup of hot tea on a cold night under the stars. One does not have to travel the world to experience delight.

What are some of your own takeaways? Specifically, did the writing process teach you anything?
“Halfway to Each Other” began as a series of emails to trusted girlfriends who insisted that I share with them the moments along the way. (Truth be told, they were worried about my sanity!) It evolved into a manuscript when a journalist friend suggested that I consider sharing, in a broader way, the powerful life lessons that brought our family joy and renewal at a time when we felt hopeless.

Through this book project, I learned a lot about the intersection of life and art. The words simply poured out of me. I couldn’t have stopped if I had tried. I had something to share that I knew was important. Along the way, I found a sense of ease and peace with my writing. I developed voice and style.

Agents are always looking for “voice.” It is a vague term that is hard for emerging writers to understand. Voice is not something you discover. It is something that you uncover. This writing was effortless, because I stopped trying so hard and let myself just be “myself” on the page without apology.

Art and life mirror each other. In all its forms, art puts the artist’s heart and soul on display. It is the bold sharing of human truths that gives art its power.