Welcome to My Blog

As the title suggests, I will be telling stories and expressing my varying opinions. And yes, they may be offensive. Not offensive in the way that you're thinking (by that I mean I'm not going to be flat out profane) more offensive in the sense that I'm going to say things that you might not like. I have a lot of opinions, and they're rather strong. You may disagree, but hopefully you'll find yourself slightly entertained, maybe just a little amused, possibly just a bit aroused (that's a joke, by the way). If you're even the smallest amount intrigued, then I encourage you to continue reading. I have much, much more to say.

5/23/16

Happiness and Stuff

I’d like to talk a bit today about happiness. Let me say ahead of time that I’m not trying to change anyone and I’m not trying to call anyone out on the way that he/she lives. I am only talking about some things as I see them.

There seem to be two contrary philosophies in today’s American society. On the one hand, many claim that the purpose of life is to achieve happiness. Many see the means to achieve that happiness in the so-called “American Dream,” the idea that if one works hard enough then he/she can move up the corporate ladder until he/she is in charge of others and extremely rich. I don’t see the two of these going hand-in-hand, and this is a somewhat unpopular opinion in this day and age. Let me again say that I can only give my own feelings and experiences on this matter.

Many philosophers, psychologists, and thinkers have studied the idea of happiness, perhaps most notably Sigmund Freud in his book Civilization and its Discontents. In this book, Freud says:
What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferable sudden) satisfaction of needs which have been dammed up to a high degree, and it is from its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon. When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild contentment. We are so made that we can derive intense enjoyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things. Thus our possibilities of happiness are already restricted by our constitution. (Freud)
The idea here that happiness is necessarily temporary and that what we typically think of as “happiness” is really contentment is one that has spoken to me for years, since I read this work in the first semester of my junior year. Since then, I have thought of contentment (basically, happiness) as the goal of life, what is meant to be achieved. Much to my pleasure, I feel that I’ve accomplished that goal, even though I’m only twenty-three years old. Unfortunately, however, societal pressures based in some ways on the American Dream have made me feel like my achievement of contentment is somehow not enough. Freud says, “An unrestricted satisfaction of every need presents itself as the most enticing method of conducting one's life, but it means putting enjoyment before caution, and soon brings its own punishment... Against the dreaded external world…” There is a pressure to leave behind the contentment that I’ve found in order to move onward and upward in pursuit of things like a “better” job, physical perfection, and commercial success.

I’d like to start with my job. For the last three and a half years, I have worked as a tutor at a university. At the risk of getting in trouble, I’ll not be getting more specific than that. For the entirety of my time at my job, I have loved what I do. Every day, I get to go to a place that has an atmosphere that I enjoy and thrive on, a casual and friendly learning environment. I get to impart my knowledge upon others, bettering them and increasing their understanding of concepts and practices, and bettering myself by learning from each of them. My wife says she loves that I love what I do, and the fact that I’ve never had a bad day at work, the fact that I’ve never said, “I don’t want to go to work tomorrow.”

Let me be clear that this isn’t simply me having an excellent work ethic or being consistently positive; I’ve had previous jobs where every day was a bad day and every night was “I don’t want to go to work tomorrow.” I’ve just found my fit. I’ve found a place where I can be happy with what I do, feel like I make a difference, and be excited to go back to work the next day. However, many people seem to think that’s not enough. Because my job doesn’t pay a lot of money and it’s only part-time, many of the people in my life, even others who I work with, think that it’s time for me to move forward.

Since I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree a year and a half ago, people have been frequently bombarding me with questions about when I’m going to “move on” or get a “real” job. These questions confuse and vex me. Why should I “move on?” Because society dictates that the next step is moving on to a full-time position doing something that I don’t enjoy? How is that better than what I’m doing now? Why is it not enough that I’m content now? I’ve seen many people give up on a job they love in order to move on to something that pays better or has longer hours, for no other reason than it’s the “next step.” Because I’ve heretofore refused to take that “next step,” somehow I’m identified as lazy, complacent, and settling for less. But if achieving contentment is the goal, then I’ve certainly done that at work, so why leave that behind?

I’d like to quickly thank my parents for never being on the side of pressuring me to move on. I think they’ve worked enough jobs, some for money, some for joy, and they’ve been able to tell which way is really better. Thanks for that.

Because of the pressures of succeeding in the established sense, I have applied for several jobs in my time at this job, but because my heart wasn’t really in it, I haven’t gotten any of those jobs. A larger part of me has been happy about that; I didn’t want to leave anyway. I was only really applying for them to go through the motions. So, at that point, I’m wasting time just to have the appearance of progressing

The fact is, I feel like I am progressing. Each day before work, I can spend my time doing whatever I like, a luxury I don’t take for granted. I spend it doing things that either I enjoy, furthering my contentment, or that I both enjoy and that can further me as a person: reading, writing, drawing, Photoshopping, working on my podcast, or editing my YouTube videos. I spend that time developing skills that I enjoy and that may eventually help me if I decide to get a new job down the line. I feel like that’s enough.

The next area where I find this problem of philosophy affecting me is fitness. Many people have achieved contentment through fitness. Across the world, people find that the effort put forth results in progress they can see, and that makes them “happier.” This mindset is almost universal in America; better fitness results in a better life. The problem is that this mindset, for some, can be harmful.

It’s not a mystery that each person enjoys different things. Some, like me, find fulfillment in writing, in earning platinum trophies in video games, or producing a podcast that very few people listen to. Others prefer building homes or, in this case, working out. There is no one-size-fits-all path to happiness, but so many people seem the think that fitness is the one. I am saying nothing against people who strive to be physically fit; it is undoubtedly a great thing to do for oneself if it is making them happy or is contributing to their contentment.

Myself, I’ve always been the chubby guy, since my early teens, and I really have no problem with that. I don’t feel dizzy or short-of-breath at any point during the day, I don’t feel out of shape, and I don’t feel much in the way of phantom pain. I feel good, honestly, despite the fact that I’m a bit heavier than some. However, once again, that apparently isn’t enough for many people. People all seem to think that if I want to be happy, I have to be thin, muscular, and strong. I just don’t think that’s the case. For many people, it is; many find their happiness directly correlates with their appearance and fitness. As I said earlier, this can be harmful for those of us who don’t fit in with the Hollywood ideal of beauty, but don’t necessarily want to.

The idea that muscle mass or lack of flab is directly equated to life satisfaction and happiness makes people who aren’t Adonises feel like they’re lesser. That feeling doesn’t really make people want to jump up from what they’re doing a rush to the gym, particularly if the gym isn’t something they enjoy in the first place.

Again, I can only really speak to my own experience. I have never had any problem with the physical aspect of working out. I enjoy hiking, biking, and, even to some extent, lifting weights. However, I don’t like the gym itself, as a place. The reason for this is that, in my opinion, it is a haven for judgment, both of others and oneself. As hard as it is to go through life and not compare oneself to every beautiful man or woman on screen or on the covers of magazines, it is almost impossible not to compare myself to others at the gym. There’s an air of insecurity that comes standard with the gym if you’re not in great shape and you’re not super familiar with the steps, procedures, and etiquette of the place. That can make it even harder to go and better oneself.

Just this weekend, I went to the gym with a group of friends, somewhat begrudgingly, but I love my friends and I wanted to share in their experiences, despite the fact that the gym is far from my favorite place. While I was there, I told myself not to judge others, but I did it almost automatically. Because I was feeling somewhat insecure about myself, I unconsciously sought out others around me who were bigger, less fit than I was, so that I wasn’t the least fit person there. I don’t want to do that. Really, I don’t. Then, just a short time later, I was doing assisted dips on a machine and a giant, six-and-a-half feet tall, 280-pounds of sheer muscle, laughed at me and said, “Look at him.” Sweet. That’s what I needed.

The problem for me is this: I feel completely happy and proud of my fitness and my body until I’m at the gym or thinking about the gym. You can’t strive to better yourself without first acknowledging that you’re worse now than you could be. That acknowledgement doesn’t make me happy; it makes me feel bad about my physical self. So, I’d rather just not do that. I’d rather just be content with who I am physically and let that be, never comparing myself to others, whether I think I’m better or worse. That in some ways is a difficult option to take, though. Even after making the choice to just be happy with whom I am, I will still feel the pressures to go to the gym or do something to “better” myself. Regardless, I’m going to stand my ground, for now. 

I want to say to my friends if they’re reading this that I’m not upset about being invited to the gym. I know that you all have found it as a way to make you happier and, because we all love each other, you only want me to share in that happiness with you. Sadly, it’s just not by bag, baby. I love you all and I don’t want any of you to change ever.

Lastly, I’d like to speak about writing, something that I deeply enjoy, and have for my entire life. When I successfully write something, anything, I feel glad that I’ve completed the process of moving something from my mind to a page, in words that I feel accurately convey my meaning and sentiment. I majored in creative writing and I had lofty ambitions of being a full-time writer, taking my many ideas for stories and novels and making them reality.

Unfortunately, societal pressure has gotten me down again. I find that I have a harder time writing now than ever before because the looming shadow of commercial success is always over me. The pressure of success has made me feel like nothing I write is good enough, because I am only ever thinking about the eventual end of submitting it, and it likely being rejected (this is of course not because of my writing specifically; the publishing world is simply a difficult one. I can acknowledge this, and really know this, yet it doesn’t really help me when it comes time to get the words going).

This is an area where I still need to work harder. Just as I’ve done with my job, I need to get over how people may perceive my work and just do it because I love it and it furthers my contentment. That’s my biggest challenge right now. It’s just not easy to push through the pressures of so many people, truly an entire civilization and its discontents, to make that happen.

In closing, I just want to say that I truly am content. For any person out there who thinks that I need a new job, that I need to have a six-pack and rippling biceps, that I need to be a prolifically published writer, I just don’t think I do. I am content with who I am and what I’m doing with my life. The only times that I feel discontent is when I open myself up to external pressures. So, I’m going to go on ahead with a poignant phrase of this generation, “You do you.” As much as I may hate how people of my generation talk, I kinda like the sentiment of that one. I’m going to be who I want to be, rather than who others want me to be, and, I think, that will make me happy.

Thanks for reading my thoughts and ramblings.

Until next time,
Steve



Work Cited

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents in The Standard Editions of the Complete
         Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XXI. Trans. James Strachey. New York:
         Norton, 1961.

4/26/16

Reading List: May 2015-April 2016

These are all of the books that I read in the last year.



Letting Loose the Hounds, Brady Udall
Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey
Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Black Panther: Civil War, Reginald Hudlin
peculiar, Various, Created by Aaron Gates and Jack Garcia
The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie
The Watch, Rick Bass
Travels with Charley in Search of America, John Steinbeck
Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King
The Complete Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Finder's Keepers, Stephen King
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
Insomnia, Stephen King
A Friend of the Earth, T.C. Boyle
The Martian, Andy Weir
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
Watership Down, Richard Adams
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle
"Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" and Other Stories, H.P. Lovecraft (audiobook)
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
A Mercy, Toni Morrison
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
Peter and Wendy, J.M. Barrie
Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, Elvis Costello
Alias, Brian Michael Bendis
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
Nigger, Dick Gregory
God Bless John Wayne, Kinky Friedman
Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
Black Boy, Richard Wright
White Noise, Don DeLillo
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
11/22/63, Stephen King
Animal Farm, George Orwell
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
Three Tales from the Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent, Washington Irving
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
Inkheart, Cornelia Funke
How to Write a Sentence, Stanley Fish
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, Pablo Neruda
Inkspell, Cornelia Funke
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
Inkdeath, Cornelia Funke
The Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander
The Black Cauldron, Lloyd Alexander
The Castle of Llyr, Lloyd Alexander
Taran Wanderer, Lloyd Alexander
The High King, Lloyd Alexander

All told, that's 84 books! That's by far the most reading I've ever done in a year. Here's to another good year of reading!




5/4/15

Alter-Ego

Alter-Ego
Stephen J. Allen
If I were to take on an alter-ego, I would become a criminal in the societal sense, but an animal in the natural one.
I would burn down empty office buildings and plant a forest where the ashes fell.
I would build my den out of sticks and stones and run among the trees.
I would tear off my machine-made clothing and my mask of calm “normality” to swim upstream with salmon
and howl with the neighborhood strays.
Now, I am like the strays, too suburban for nature, too wild for the suburbs. Sometimes tame and sometimes untamable,
instinct working in waves.
But I’d be like their ancestors: an animal too wild even for his own wilderness.
I would wander, leaving behind the credit cards, the discrimination, the pain of being a person in a place too preventive for profound expression.
I would walk sometimes on two legs, sometimes on four, sometimes not at all, because animals need rest too.
I would eat what I could find—discarded crusts, wasted leftover lasagna, stale bread—and never asking anyone to pass the salt. Never sending my meal back because my steak was overcooked or my salad overdressed. Never sitting across from my wife, secretly seeing only the waitress behind her, also overdressed.
I would not order delivery, I would order order to deliver itself away from me,
I’d be happy in my chaos.
I would not stalk people online, I would stalk prey, low to the ground like a great white tiger, or under the ground like a trapdoor spider.
I would not have enemies.
I would not have regret.
I would not have first, second, or third-world problems. My problem would be the world itself, slowly getting torn apart and built anew, ripping up nature to put down a parking lot, filling in all of the “nowhere” between here and there.
Eventually, I’d find my way back to the city, the cage which I’d escaped.
I’d be seen by an officer, who would arrest me for trespassing, loitering, public urination.
She would chain me up and wait to hear back from her chief,
unwilling to take action without approval.
Some average cup-of-joe-carrying Joe would walk by, looking upon me with contempt, and I would reflect it right back.
He would go on down the road to a job he hates and silently drink shots in his office at 11 AM, thinking about the playground from his youth, now a Wal-Mart,
thinking about the field beside his childhood home, now a gated community where people imprison themselves and conceal their claws from the neighbors,
thinking about a time when he felt free, skinny dipping with his first ex-wife at her lake house,
thinking about me, the beast he wishes he could be, handcuffed to a parking meter and snarling like a dog.
Would he see that he’s the criminal?
Would he feel the pressing weight of envy on his chest?
Would he feel instinct itching behind his eyes, in his palms, on the bottoms of his feet?
Would he feel a rumble rising in his throat, a roar threatening to break through the constant drone of low voices and telephones ringing, his thunder reverberating off the cubicle walls and inspiring some kind of pack-mentality mutiny from his neutered and blinded peers? Or would he stay, silent?
The cop would come back, then, and unlock my handcuffs, the police chief insisting that I be left to animal control, “The prison is not a pound.”
And I would run free, letting my roar loose and relishing the feeling of asphalt changing underfoot: to dirt, to spongy moss, to earth. 

1/26/14

Mars

I've been thinking a lot about Mars lately.

I'm sure almost everyone has heard about Mars One plan. If you haven't, I'll explain it to you. The idea is to send an unmanned spacecraft to Mars in 2018, equipped with some water and other various scientific instruments, and then to follow that with a group of four earth humans (selected from 200,000 applicants, all of whom I'm sure don't have any marital or financial problems...), who will arrive on 2024-25 and never return to Earth. This project will cost "around $6,000,000,000" (six billion) according to CNN. Y'know, approximately. The intent of the mission is to eventually colonize the red planet.

This has gotten me thinking a lot.

What kind of people do we want to be the first to another planet?
This is very important. I mean, there will almost certainly be a doctor, or someone with medical experience, in case of accidents. What other than that though? There doesn't really need to be a teacher at this stage, since everyone going will already be educated (hopefully). Tayler said that a hairstylist from Provo applied. Far from thinking this ridiculous, I thought it was pretty damn clever. She realizes that people on Mars are gonna need haircuts like anyone else. Someone's gotta do it. I think there ought to be a skilled writer up there. Someone needs to chronicle that shit. Also, they get the pleasure of starting their journal entries with "Captain's log" or "Stardate blah-blah" or "Mars One Main Correspondent reporting from Mars One Main Mission Base..." Cool. I'm interested to see. Rumor has it that the people going will be chosen by the public. That scares me. The public doesn't know what the hell it wants (look at the Kardashians, for God's sake!). I don't think the world is ready for "The Real Housewives of Mars" or "Survivor: Red Planet." Maybe Survivor.

Will they have their own government?
I feel like knowing who's in charge will be a challenge. They ought to have a mayor or something, right? Maybe a president. Then the question is, can previous presidents from Earth run for Mars president? (Maybe that's why they froze Lenin, so that he could be revived to rule Mars...the RED Planet! I may have just stumbled about some serious business!) I hope for the citizens of Mars that some of our more "special" presidents don't run (especially if his brother is the governor of Mars-Florida... I'm not talking about anyone specific here...)

Not too much more now... Sorry that it's so lengthy this time... (That's what she said. I've made that joke before, but it's still funny.)

Will they have their own currency?
Joe jokingly said that they would use bitcoin. I think they'd be missing an opportunity to come up with something new. (I'm thinking SchruteBucks, or something similar). I say that they should come up with a new Mars money, something that is worth less than the dollar, so that Americans can finally go somewhere and have the exchange rate in their favor for once!

How will they handle procreation?
I don't know if these people will be too concerned about it initially, but eventually there will be some babies (the first Martians!), accidents happen. Are they prepared for this? I hope so...

Are they going to attempt to bring more water and create an Earth-esque climate, complete with all of that evaporation, condensation, precipitation business that we learned about in our ninth grade Earth Sciences class with Mr. Landeen?!

Ahem.

Lastly, what language will they speak?
It's my understanding that this project will include people from a few different nationalities (it probably should anyone, or else that's not cool...). Are they going to establish a common language? Will it be one that already exists? Again, I feel like they would be missing out on a rare chance to create a brand new language. That sounds like a madorkian trimply! (Marsian for "freaking blast!")

Alright. That's it for today.

Until next time,
Steve

1/20/14

Pockets - A Flash Fiction

Paul “Pockets” Paterson always wore cargo pants. Not always the same pair, mind you; when he grew out of one pair, he would buy another. Over his life, his pants earned him a lot of nicknames: “Es-Cargo,” “Hobo,” “Po’ Boy,” etc. In college, he started introducing himself as “Pockets.” In order to help solidify the pseudonym, he started carrying around an assortment of articles at all times: pens, pencils, paper, pocket-knives, paste, etc. One day in his senior year, Pockets was going on his first date. He decided, just this once, to wear some nice slacks, to seem less of a loser. He put his pants and their packed pockets aside. While walking through an alleyway on the way to the bus station, he was confronted by a mugger. Pockets had no cash in his wallet. Frustrated, the mugger became violent. Pockets had no means of defense, so the mugger stabbed him in the heart. Pockets didn’t make it to his date. 

1/17/14

On College and Pets

I carry a small, black notebook with me wherever I go. I have done this for a few years now. Thinking myself a writer, I thought it would be helpful to have a place to write down any ideas or inspirations that come my way, so that, when I need an idea, I can shake it and see what falls out. Over the years, going to college and such, I have used this notebook at varying degrees. I would write in it every day, or go for a week without even opening it. The beginning of my second-to-last semester of college was one of these. I hadn’t opened the notebook for two or three weeks.

While sitting in class a few days ago, I opened it to jot down a quick note. Upon flipping through the pages, a small black hair fell out onto my desk. I sat in my chair and stared at it, rapidly overwhelmed by emotion. The hair belonged to my dog Bella, who passed away from cancer a month ago today (December 17, 2013). She was eight years old. 

I received Bella, a Boston terrier, for my thirteenth birthday. It had been eight years since my family had owned a dog, and neither of my parents was particularly keen on the idea. This isn’t because they don’t like dogs; it’s actually the opposite. We had to give our previous dog, Charlie, away. My parents were both greatly affected by this, and were not too eager to get attached to another animal. After much insistence, however, they gave in.

For the next few years, Bella became a member of the family. I always claimed that she was my dog, since I had asked for her and named her, but she belonged to the family. She slept with my parents every night. She was one of my best friends.

When I moved away from home for college in June 2012, I had a really hard time with the idea of leaving my childhood home, my parents, and Bella behind. I was moving in with a group of my greatest high school friends, and I was thrilled, but I knew that it would be a big change. I don’t like change. Every time I came by after I moved, Bella seemed to be upset with me, like I betrayed her in moving away. She would eventually warm up after I was there for a while, but it was difficult at first.

Shortly after I moved, in August, my fiancĂ©e (then girlfriend) Tayler bought a dog of her own. She lived in the same complex as me, but in a different apartment, with a group of five girls. I was initially very upset, because I knew that we would be living together soon and she didn’t ask me before buying the pup. I told her as much. Driving home from work in Murray, I said, “No matter how much I end up loving this dog, I don’t support your decision to get one.” That may sound harsh, but I had good reason for saying so. We’re in college, we’re gone a lot, and a dog needs companionship, exercise, etc. Also, I wasn’t excited for the dog to be raised by so many different people; I was worried that she wouldn’t know who was in charge.

I did end up loving the dog. Chalupa, nickname Lu, is a puggle (half pug, half beagle) and although she can be a real pain, she’s a very affectionate little mutt. The downside to this was that Bella would be even more jealous when I came to visit. Boston terriers are famously sensitive dogs. They are very aware of their owners’ emotions and respond accordingly. They’re also fairly territorial, and Bella didn’t like the idea of being replaced. We brought Lu by the house fairly often, so the two dogs could get acquainted, and that seemed to help quite a bit, but I think Bella realized that I was really moved away; I would only be coming home to visit.

Months went by like this. After I went to Europe to study abroad for six weeks, I was expecting Bella to be very standoffish when I got home. On the contrary, she was excited to see me. This didn’t really comfort me, though, because it showed me that she saw me as a visitor, not as a resident who’d been away.

When my mom called me and told me that Bella had cancer, I wept like I was losing a sibling. In a way, I was. I went to visit that day, and Bella was lying on the couch, nearly motionless aside from the rise-and-fall of her breathing, the light flick of her tail when she saw me. I spent most of the day with her and my parents. We all cried.

When she passed, I was devastated. However, I felt that there was much more to my emotions. It wasn’t until that hair drifted out of my notebook that I realized the impact of Bella’s passing. Her sickness and death represented the final step into my adulthood. Although I’ll always stay closely connected to my parents, they don’t have to take care of me like a child anymore. I don’t have a bed at the house; all of my furniture has been moved to my apartment. With Bella’s departure, I am officially moved out. I’m engaged, I have my own place, and my own dog, whom I love very much. I’m grounded. I’m attached.

I didn’t want to get a new dog, I didn’t want to lose my old one, and I didn’t want to grow up. As is the case with many things in life, however, you have to take what you’re given and do your best with it. I’m doing that, now. I still call my parent’s house “home,” and I wonder when that will go, as well. All things must fade, eventually. I won’t worry about it; I’ll just let life happen. It will do so whether I let it or not. For now, I’ll just keep writing in my notebook, and waiting for something to fall out. 




7/21/13

Rome! Proposal! Home!

Alright, ladies and gentlemen, I have one last post for you from my amazing study abroad trip. This post will contain my entire week in Rome, apart from the first day that I already touched on last time. That said, I am still going to try to keep it short. This is for a number of reasons:

1) I don't want to make you read a novel (yet).

2) I have a lot of stuff to get done today.

3) Honestly, the whole "travel blog" thing starts to get old after a while...

Alright, then. Let's go for it.

Saturday:
We got up in the morning and took a series of trains to Sperlonga, a city south of Rome that boasts absolutely beautiful beaches. This remains one of my favorite days of the trip so far. Since it was only me, Tayler, and Brandon, we were able to relax and enjoy our time without worrying about a huge group of people getting lost, stopping in stores, or what have you. We spent several hours there, swimming in the ocean, lounging, getting sunburned, and getting sunburned. We headed back home, showered, and got some more pizza (this will be a trend...)




Sunday:
We made our way to the Metro Station in the morning. Let me tell you, walking in intense heat combined with intense humidity carrying a backpack, a laptop bag, and a 40-pound suitcase is not much fun. After the Metro, we walked even more to the hotel where we would be meeting up with the group. I have never been so unbelievably sweaty in my life. It was disgusting. We met up with the group an hour later and found our rooms. After a short rest, we set out for our first day of exploring. We went to the Terme di Caracalla (The Baths of Caracalla) some old Roman baths that are a ruin now. It was extremely interesting to see the ruins, the mosaics, the columns, and the (now empty) baths. After that we walked over to Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus), an ancient Roman chariot racing track. Brandon and I ran one such chariot race, with Tayler and Missy as our drivers. He won... but I did smoke him in an arm wrestle a few days later, so I still declare myself the winner. We walked from there to the Mouth of Truth, which we didn't actually go up to because it was about to close. We went back to the hotel, had some dinner, showered, and went to bed.





Monday: 
We woke up fairly early and headed just up the road to the Vatican. We had a bit of time to kill before our tour started, so we walked around and took a look at St. Peter's Square and the Basilica. Once we made it back around, it was tour time. The Vatican was absolutely amazing. We saw a ton of incredible statues, paintings, and other works of art. When we entered the Sistine Chapel, I was completely speechless (good thing, too, because it's supposed to be silent in there anyway.) It was breathtaking. I have always wanted to see the ceiling and The Last Judgment in real life, and I wasn't sure that I ever would. It was truly remarkable. After that, we went into St. Peter's Basilica, which was also incredible. We went and got some pizza for lunch and spent the rest of the day walking around, shopping, and napping. 






Tuesday:
This was a big, important day. First thing, we set out for the Colosseum, which was one of my favorite stops on the trip. It was much bigger than I expected it to be, which is apparently the usual reaction. It was huge. We walked around inside for a few hours before we walked up to the Arch of Constantine, and then Palatine Hill, which is home to a plethora of amazing monuments including: The Roman Forms, the Arch of Titus, several temples, homes of significant people, and lots of columns. After the hill, we walked over to Trajan's Column, which I was extremely excited for, and then looked at the Capitol building. 







Now, get ready for a proposal story...


Alright, so a bit of background. Monday night, I officially decided that I was going to propose to Tayler in Rome. I sent a message to her mom and my mom letting them both know. I wasn't certain on the day yet. Tuesday morning, I woke up, and I knew that it was going to be that day. I told Brandon that he should attempt to keep the group separate from me and Tayler after our sightseeing of the day was done and that I would be going with Tayler to the fountain down the street from our hotel (see above). So, move forward to the Column. 
When we were done, I suggested to Tayler that we should head back to the hotel to relax for a little while, just the two of us.
"Shouldn't we wait for everybody?" She asked.
"No, we don't need to. Let's just go be a couple for a little while. We haven't had like any alone time on this trip." 
We walked forward a bit, sweating in the heat and humidity, when she asked, "Why are we walking so fast? It's hot. Plus, shouldn't we be walking with everyone?" 
"No, no, it's fine. They know where they're going. Let's just go." 
We stopped at a water fountain to fill up our bottles, but there was a line. By the time we were full up, the group had caught up with us. Brandon gave me an apologetic look, I urged Tayler to go on ahead into the Metro station, and she asked once again why we weren't waiting for the group.
Eventually, I convinced her to go with me and we got on a different train from everyone else. We held back from the group at the station, causing more confusion from Tayler. Once they were a ways ahead, we started walking towards the hotel. I suggested that we stop over at the fountain for a minute, maybe buy something from the fruit stand across the street. We sat down and I gave a long, cheesy speech that need not be repeated (I don't remember it anyway, plus, it was for her ears only). 

Side note: I could not afford an engagement ring, but Tayler had a promise ring which is serving as an engagement ring until I can get something better. 

I told Tayler that I needed to borrow her ring. Even at this point, she didn't fully comprehend what was about to happen. I continued my speech, and ended it by telling her that she needed to stand up. She did, and I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me, to which she said, "Of course I will." We hugged and kissed, Tayler crying, and turned to see Brandon standing on the other side of the street smiling ear to ear. We went back to the hotel, spread our news, and started talking colors (No, I'm not kidding). Brandon took us out to dinner to celebrate, right next to the Colosseum (we went back because we wanted to see it at night). Afterwards, we were surprised by Jena, Missy, Tex, Camille, and Brandon bringing us a bottle of sparkling lemonade to share by the Colosseum under the stars. It was very romantic. 


Wednesday:
Our first stop on Wednesday were the incredibly bizarre and totally interesting Capuchin Crypts. This crypts features a series of room with art made from human bones. I was not expecting much from it, but I was blown away. After that, we walked to the famous Trevi Fountain, which was absolutely beautiful. We took some pictures, made some wishes, had some gelato, and pretty much just made total tourists of ourselves. We went from there to the Pantheon, which is also on my list of the coolest places that we visited on the trip. We went out for pizza that night for Jena's birthday at a small joint down the street from our hotel. It was delicious. 


Enlarged to show detail.




Thursday: 
This was our last full day in Italy, and a group of us decided to go back to Sperlonga to see the beach again. Before that, however, we went to the Spanish Steps and Galleria Borghese. The steps were not incredibly exciting, although it was cool to see everything that we could while we were in Rome. The museum was awesome, though. It had some very famous paintings and statues that were absolutely amazing to see in real life. We had to run from the museum to catch our train to the beach, which was very stressful, but it was worth it to be back on the water again. It was an awesome way to end our trip. 

(I didn't have my camera on this day since we were going to the beach, but I found some pictures online...)



Friday:
This was our last day of travel. We got up at 6:00, hopped in a cab, went through the airport, and jumped on an 11-hour flight to Chicago. We basically had to run through the Chicago airport to make it to our gate before our flight left, but we made it just fine. Three hours later, we landed in Salt Lake City. 

I must say, it is absolutely amazing to be home. As much fun as I had, I was ready to be back in familiar territory. Now that I'm here, I can really think about how many amazing things I did while I was gone, and I can appreciate the things that I have that I had taken for granted, like: consistent water temperature, person-sized showers, air conditioning, yards, open space, and safety. It also deepened my appreciation for things that I already appreciated, such as: food, cars, the sun, and, of course, the English language. 

Thank you for reading my blog. It's nice to have some pageviews. It might be some time before I post again, and it won't be travel-related when I do (most likely), but feel free to read it when I do. 

Well...

Until next time,

Steve