Sunday, January 25, 2009

I should be oil painting right now.

Church today brought about a lot of impressions and insight that I think would be beneficial to write about. Writing, I've found, is a good way for me to organize my thoughts and teach to myself what I already know. Just because I am praying for clarity, doesn't mean it will all of the sudden come to me. So I am working for writing.

Sacrament brought a lot of comfort to me. I was able to feel that God knows me and what I'm experiencing right now. Of course I already knew all of that, but the reassurance doesn't hurt. In fact, it helps. Go figure. Why does it help to know that someone knows me and what I'm going through? The only answer I can really think of: it gives me the comfort of knowing I am not alone in this world. I have free agency, but I don't have to make my decisions on my own. God knows me. He knows everything.

I think its amazing that God knows everything. There's this quote I found in the book The New Earth by Eckhart Tolle--a quote that actually influenced me to purchase the book--and ever since I've read it, I haven't thought of anything the same. "Words, no matter whether they are vocalized and made into sounds or remain unspoken as thoughts, can cast an almost hypnotic spell upon you. You easily lose yourself in them, become hypnotized into implicitly believing that when you have attached a word to something, you know what it is. The fact is: You don't know what it is. You have only covered up the mystery with a label. Everything, a bird, a tree, even a simple stone, and certainly a human being, is ultimately unknowable. This is because it has unfathomable depth. All we can perceive, experience, think about, is the surface layer of reality, less than the tip of an iceberg." God understands the mysteries. He understands--what is for us--unfathomable depth. God understands the whole iceberg. God understands the unfathomable depth of my soul, being, thoughts, purpose, hopes, fears, feelings, everything. What better being is there to turn to when I can't understand my own self or my own life?

The whole point of agency is to "become," or grow into the person I need to be in this life, learn the things I need to. God knows the choices I will make, because, like I said earlier, he knows all things. The choices I make and the process I go through in my life to make them, help me to "become" who I need to. Like Elder Hugh B. Brown said about Abraham's near sacrifice of his son Isaac, "Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham." God knew what Abraham would do. But Abraham had to figure that out for himself. Right now, Aly needs to learn something about Aly.

In Sunday school I learned, through reading the experiences of Joseph Smith and through the configuration of the class discussion, that I have so many tender mercies in my life. I have noticed them, more frequently, this past week. Last night, for example, I talked to my mom on the phone (which can always bring me comfort in times of trial) and moments later, my brother Nathan called me (which doesn't usually happen, but turned out to be such a blessing), and while I was on the phone with him, Kimaree called and my niece Alainna sent me a text message just letting me know she loves me. I hadn't told anyone I was having a rough night, but I feel like they were all inspired of God to think of me at the exact same time. Another tender mercy of the Lord is my living situation--I am so blessed to have Victoria in my apartment and as a friend. Without her, I'd have no one here to eat lunch at the Nordic with. I am blessed to know Jordan, to experience love through him, and to have his great example in my life.

I learned in Relief Society that change is one of the only things that is constant in this life. Like Dan in Real Life says, "Instead of asking our young people 'What are your plans?', 'What do you plan to do with your life?' maybe we should tell them this: Plan to be surprised." If I just know that God is at the head of everything, that I have the spirit with me and I'm on the path I need to be on personally, I can have faith and really believe that everything will work out how it should. That gives me a sure confidence that I can get through my challenges.

I know God lives. I know he loves me and it it evidenced through his tender mercies. I know that I will be delivered. Yeah, church was good today.

Now I will oil paint.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Invention

I’ve been thinking, during my long morning walks—from Tuscany to the Hinckley building, from the Taylor to the Spori, from the Smith to the Benson—in 3-6 degree weather, that I may have an idea which could greatly benefit mankind. It might even save lives and ensure happy long walks in the cold, especially for those of us who are from generally warm climates and have to sleep with heating blankets every night.

When this idea first came to me, I was sure I was the only one to ever have it and that I could potentially make some money off of this. Like millions. Coming from a family whose father is relentlessly inventing new things (but never managing to get them marketed) and a mother who dreams of what she’d do with the money before the things are even in blueprint, I guess I’ve discovered my own tendency to sometimes think along both of those lines—as an inventor and a dreamer. So, this is just part of my make up; you can’t make fun of me.

My genius idea... (Drum roll)… is to create an electric jacket! A light weight jacket you can wear to and from class, with an adjustable temperature dial which makes finding your perfect temperature a (warm) breeze, and with the versatile ability to be both battery operated and electrically charged, allowing you more options when your power runs low. This is such a great idea, right? (Please, no laughing.) No one has ever thought of this before, right? Wrong. After Google-ing “electric jacket” I came to find that my genius invention has been thought of before…by a motorcycle enthusiast.

Electric jackets are most commonly used by those who ride motorcycles in cold areas and during winter months. Hmm, so much for paying off my college loans in cash and buying a flat in Florence. But you know what? I want an electric jacket. Can you imagine how comfortable those long walks to class would be? I would never have goosebumps again. I also want electric pants. I wonder if those exist yet…

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Here is an unrevised short story that I just wrote today. Tell me what you think!

“Home is where the cat is,” he’d say to me through his russet brown teeth. He needed to stop drinking all of that coffee. I told him so many times, but he’d never listen to a child. Not only did the stuff turn his “pearly whites” into what looked like enameled blocks of wood, but it made his breath smell like a humid compost pile. I enjoyed his company more than anyone else in our travel group, but I must say I resisted any reason he might have to whisper something to me. If I had a question in a loud or confined place, I’d save it to ask him later. His smile was pleasant though, despite the teeth and the breath. When he smiled his eyes would squint and fizzle with spirit, crow’s feet would spread at the sides of them like someone had cracked him. It was like cracking him if you got him to laugh, but you’d feel like a child being made fun of every time. I knew with a certainty, that in the back of his mind, that was what he considered me. To him, every idea I had, every action of mine was balancing on naivety. It might have had something to do with the fact that he was twelve years older than me.

“Nick. I can’t believe you just said that. Cats are probably the most horrid creatures on the planet. I believe home is where the heart is,” There I went again with my clich├ęs and naivety. I was only nineteen, but my confidence grew from the tiny seeds planted by so many people who’d tell me how mature I was for my age. I knew where my life was headed, what I wanted, and what I was talking about. I dug myself deeper. “And my heart is here. I’m going to live here someday, you watch.”

Visitors from the United States, Morocco and China, were most distinguishable from the native crowd of Tuscans. My Italian heritage gave me some sense of legitimacy as I sat, with my red circle dress and delicate black strapped sandals, in the Piazza della Signoria. I stared at large people wearing spicy, lightweight tourist shirts, billowing cargo shorts and outdated sneakers, sunscreen on their noses and big straw hats—those were the Americans. They didn’t know that Italians dressed to make their best first impression every day. “Way to represent, U.S.” I thought. These people only dressed up at night, I bet. The Moroccans had black skin, so dark I struggled sometimes to see them at night in front of my apartment. They’d set up their faux purse sales in the middle of any busy street at their leisure. This was against the law, but in this part of Italy one could not be charged of crime without the crime witnessed by a collection of police. So, unless the transaction had been seen, these peddlers and their culprits were safe. I’d never thought to participate in any such exchange and was careful to obey the law in my month’s stay at the school. Plus, I knew my mother would probably die of a heart attack if she heard I was doing time in a foreign country at the expense of a knock of Gucci purse. The Chinese talked fast and loud, stayed in large groups and wore matching shirts. They’d try to talk the market salesmen down in price for a tacky snow-globed Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore and any time I’d see the interaction from a distance, I’d wonder to myself how good their Italian could possibly be. They got by.

Nick got by too, with his Spanish. His perpetually tanned Mexican skin, I think, deemed him respectable—until he spoke of course. Once we walked into a Tabacchiera looking for bus tickets and he boomed “Hey! You speak English?” to the old, and obviously native, Italian owner, who by the look on his face was through putting up with obnoxious Americans. I was scared for my life, actually. The old man said something in hot, accelerated Italian. A vein pulsed from his sinewy neck, and he pointed to the door in frenzy.

“You can’t talk to them like that, Nick. This is their home. We’re the intruders.” I said, my eyebrows raised and my breathing almost back to normal. I looked to him for some irresponsible response.

“Home is where the cat is,” he said. At thirty-one years old he still refused to be serious.

“What does that even mean? Cats are lame. Use your Italian.” It was an idea of mine that the War in Iraq, especially at this point, distanced any loud, light skinned person from their chance at gaining respect from a native. I was careful to blend in. I listened to and mimicked how the natives ordered their bread and gelato. Unlike the rest of the study group who spent their money on posh Chianti and spirits, I spent about half of the money I brought with me on gelato. And every time I ordered, the native behind the counter would continue on in some anecdote, thinking I’d understand. I’d smile and nod back.

I think Nick finally realized what it meant to be home when he met her. Sinem Cansu wore a mod sixties style dress to the banquet, mid-calf with baby doll sleeves and a subtle blue checkered print. The pale design looked great against her gentle mocha skin and displayed to her spectators an aura of innocence. She had many spectators—all admirers. Her long, dark hair reminded me of the Burnt Sienna oil paint I had lying in my art bag back at the apartment—it was down and tussled from her hurried trip to the Strozzi building. She was late.

“I’m sorry to be late,” she said to our group in her sweet and slow Turkish hum. There were about six of us gathered around a complimentary seven course meal, the plates piled—tomatoes garnished in fresh basil, olive oil, and mozzarella; cured ham and melone, or cantaloupe; pasta with tomato sauce and ricotta cheese; rolled meats, roasted rib, tendered pork, and tiramisu. Nobody looked at the food. Her small pink lips drew everyone in so intensely. They moved leisurely and she tried with great effort to choose her words wisely and enunciate them correctly. Her face was smooth and exotic.

“What’s that bracelet you’re wearing?” Nick, suddenly involving himself, “accidentally” touched her well-lotion-ed skin as he reached for the bracelet. She cracked him. The crows feet on the sides of his eyes grew chiseled and his smile, though yellow-brown, had something bright about it. He didn’t look at her like a child, though she was just a little younger than I. Sinem shrugged her small frame, flashed her eyes at him, and explained. I knew it then.

The next three weeks, I sat in piazzas sketching buildings and passersby. I walked down Via dei Calzaiuoli, housing the real Gucci, Prada, Fendi, and Armani. I ate authentic gelato once or twice a day at least—cioccolato, pistacchio, or bacio. The flavors to my tongue were like vibrant colors on a plain canvas, only these colors I’d never seen before. I admired the natives and their simplicity. Their hearts were apparent in all things: the food, the friendships, the preservation of their culture and architecture, the music I’d hear from the accordion in the street every night before bed. The natives were always home.

The only places I ever saw Nick throughout those weeks was with Sinem. I knew he’d found something. His crows feet were always present now, his yellow smile beaming and it was over a large slab of undercooked salmon in Brussels, Belgium on our way back to the states that I found out for sure.

“So, are you ready to go home?” I slurped my orange juice from the Looza cup our suited waiter brought to me on the patio. We joked moments before about how the branding of the cup was not coincidence. I was a Looza. Yes, very funny, Nick. The colors of Brussels blasted loudly from each neon venue sign, intensely contrasting the ancient buildings they shone from. Background murmurings of Danish and French justified what I had heard about the division of Belgium on Travel Channel. I awaited his response with my quizzical face.

“You know, Aly, I’ve been thinking.” He looked at me for the first time as though I were an adult, leaned toward me over the undercooked salmon, and whispered in that horrifying coffee breath of his. “Home is where the heart is.” He paused and sat back in his chair. “I might visit Turkey soon.”