Not every photo you take will be perfect in form and technique: maybe the composition will be slightly off, the shadows are a bit too dark, or there is something in the background. Sure, there is always Lightroom and Photoshop, but personally, I don’t like editing too much unless the photo has an amazing subject and I messed up the settings. I’d much rather try to take a good shot from the start, but as we know that’s not always going to be the case (no matter how much experience you have).

That’s why today I wanted to share three photos from the summer with hopefully fun stories behind them.

A Swiss guard standing at the border of the smallest country in the world. But wait, why Swiss? Swiss soldiers, according to the Roman author Tacitus, were long renowned as the best soldiers in the world and were in especially high demand in the early renaissance. In 1505 Matthäus Schiner, a Swiss bishop to Vatican, proposed the creation of Swiss corps employed and controlled by the Vatican. The guards soon earned a reputation for bravery and sacrifice when 147 of 189 died defending Pope Clement VII during the sack of Rome in 1527, and later taking defensive positions despite being outnumbered when German forces rolled into Rome during World War II. Swiss guards protect the Vatican to this day and there are many requirements to become one starting with actual Swiss citizenship.


While touring the Colosseum we suddenly heard a faint noise from one of the columns. It was a ginger cat looking at the crowds of tourists walking by, but not at all scared of them – he seemed like he owned the place and we were the intruders. We joked that maybe it was Vespasian, the emperor under which Colosseum was built, although Nero would be more fitting – he was thought to be ginger and the Colosseum was built on the grounds he took for himself from the Romans as well as next to a giant statue of his, the Colossus. The truth is, in modern-day Rome, there are over 200 cats living in the Colosseum: reincarnations of Roman emperors or not, they definitely rule the place now.


A security guard takes a break to look outside of a museum of Markets of Trajan in Rome. It’s around 40 degrees outside (around 104F) and his windows are open. Almost every window surrounding him is different, but each reflects the clear blue sky that allows for such brutal weather. His view is even more impressive than his place of work: It’s the Forum Romanum, a collection of public buildings that would make up the center of Roman life for centuries.


Feel free to let me know what you think! I love when you guys reach out

Till next week!

– Tola

IG: @akilian.jpg


The Truth About Stories

This gif shows Disney's Belle slide on a book store ladder from one side of a bookshelf to another.

I never thought I’d like reading stories about other people’s lives. Fiction was fine, but reality seemed boring and uneventful. When I was younger, my mom read The Little House on the Prairie series to me, but that was about as close as I got to reading a book about a real person. It wasn’t until later that I realized the beauty of someone else’s story.

The first memoir I read on my own was written by a teacher I used to have. The book was called Signs of Life, and for a while everyone in my school was reading it. I remember getting calls from other students asking me what chapter I was on or whether or not I had finished yet. I attended readings with friends at the local Borders (*wipes tear away*). We talked about how impressive it was to know an author, to know a real person who had successfully published a book. I thought it was special to be let in on a story like that, but I assumed my real admiration for the book was due to the fact that I knew the author.

Then, another teacher of mine proved me wrong. He suggested that I read The Year of Magical Thinking and Bone Black: Memoirs of Girlhood. I was hesitant to take on a memoir written by someone I didn’t know, but two memoirs? Two stranger’s lives? That was downright scary. I didn’t care about those authors. I didn’t want to know their stories. What could have happened in their lives to warrant my attention? Well, after finishing both of those memoirs, I realized my answer. What could have happened in their lives? A lot. Why should I care about their stories? They’re great stories.

Since then, I’ve read many books about other people’s lives. I find myself going to the bookstore and perusing aisles I never thought I’d wander into. I still think it can be hard to be interested in a complete stranger’s life, but I take baby steps. I read books that contain an element of memoir, personal narrative, nonfiction, or autobiography. Sometimes it can be hard to know where these books fall, but if I’m not sure, I just try to read them and not to worry about it. Many books walk a fine line, but that doesn’t mean one is necessarily better than another.

So, some days I’ll pick up a book that can’t be defined very well. Other days I’ll try something that can. I’ve read David Sedaris’s Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim to experience a bit of his life. Currently, I’m reading Modern Romance, and its combination of social science, humor, and nonfiction makes it really accessible and fun to read. I read books by authors who, for whatever reason, I can pretend I know a little. I read Amy Poehler’s, Yes Please, because I had watched Parks and Recreation for years. I read one of my favorite YouTube star Tyler Oakley’s memoir, Binge, because I’d seen him online and it was cool he was from Michigan. These little connections helped me care more, but I’m realizing I don’t need them as much as I used to. Maybe not now, but soon I’ll feel confident enough to read I Am Malala, Unbroken, or some other critically acclaimed memoir or personal narrative that has been hovering at the top of my Goodreads list for months.

I’m excited, because I know one thing very important: everyone has a story.

From Shapes to Stories

In 1944, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel produced a simple film. The animated short features a large rectangle, a small circle, and two triangles—one large and one small. The shapes move about the screen for a minute before the film fades to black. Throughout the video, there is no audio, text, color, or other features. As for design aesthetic, the film goes beyond minimalism. It is frugality.

But in this frugality, stories arise. While the lack of concrete detail could render the film to nothing but a handful of shapes floating around a screen, viewers manage to derive meaning. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Despite the absence of normal elements—people, animals, and places—stories can still be created. The hardiness of our storytelling ability is akin to cockroaches surviving nuclear detonation: Generation without “sufficient” nutrients. This demonstrates a uniquely human disposition. No other creatures seek for meaning so desperately that they build narratives from moving shapes. Is our thirst for meaning so strong that it is never fully quenched? At what point can we see triangles as triangles and nothing more?

Heider and Simmel designed the video for a study about the activation of anthropomorphic descriptions when we see geometric shapes. Basically, they were seeking to understand why we attribute human features to nonhuman things. Personification of the world has been a large part of human history. Myths and legends have given faces to oceans and voices to winds on a quest to understand our place in the world. When encountered with the unknown, this anthropomorphizing nature is a coping mechanism. We seek to fill the holes in a situation and craft a story so that we can understand why something is happening. We paint the void with our minds, and it allows us to make sense of things. This is why we experience emotions when seeing a painting, listening to music, or watching animals interact with one another. When we cannot understand the context of the situation, we create one. Even with things as simple as circles and squares.

It is for this reason that we find television and films enjoyable. They cause us to react emotionally, despite the fact that they are abstract representations. Granted, modern technology has enabled higher graphics and sound, narrowing the gap between the concrete and abstract. Heider and Simmel’s film suggests that anthropomorphism needs little input.

Some say our anthropomorphism is dangerous, as it distorts reality. But I say it makes us human.

And, well, we couldn’t have art without it.