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


Me, Myself, and I

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Sure, we all learned the types of point of view in, like, third grade. But I was told something the other day during my Creative Writing Tutorial that crumbled everything that I thought I knew.

I’m a fan of the first person. Yes, there may be some editors and publishers out there who are cringing right now, but let me explain myself. To me, the first person point of view allows a kind of depth that is unachievable by any other viewpoint. You get to know intimately the tone and voice of your character. Sarcasm can come much more freely in the first person because the voice and emotion that sarcasm depends upon is omnipresent. Third person requires quotation marks and dialogue in order to make use of sarcasm.

We as humans were born to tell stories. It’s what you probably did two minutes ago to your roommate. It’s what you are texting to your mom right now. It’s what our ancestors did every night for fun. The myths they told, of course, almost always were in the third person. For example, Hercules did this great thing. Then, he beat up a lion. Then, he fell in love with the mysterious Meg… and so on.

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But, these people that historically were spoken of in third person were mostly gods or heroic figures of history or people who seemed larger than life. They are beings that we may aspire to resemble, but will never actually become them. In contrast, we always tell anecdotes of ourselves in the first person. This allows for a subjective perspective rather than objectively factual (remember Hercules did this, then he did that). As the words come out of our mouth, we have the ability to embellish the “I” as fancifully or plainly or victoriously or victimized-ly as we want. This unreliability of first person is what draws me to the viewpoint the most. I’m fascinated by the psychology behind human credibility. Can we really trust what we see? Or do feelings get in the way and we end up seeing what we want to see? What motivation does a character have of lying to his/her reader? Then again, what motivation do we humans have when we omit parts of the truth from the stories we tell? This doubt and uncertainty is what makes our characters the most human. This is what readers bond to when they read a first-person story – the humanness of the character. Essentially, this tenuous relationship between truth and story is what makes them read on and perhaps read a bit more closely.

Now to the mind-blowing. Turning in my ninth draft of a first person narrated story I’ve been writing, my professor says, “You can cut down on wordiness by letting the narrator do the talking and just have your character experience the events happening around her.” My eyebrows pinched together in confusion. “But aren’t my narrator and the main character actually the same person?”

“No,” she responded. *poof* went my brain and the lie I’ve been living.

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I asked my professor to give me an example. She explained: Your character, sitting in an airport, could say, “I saw the janitor drop his cell phone in shock.” But, if you get rid of the words “I saw,” what do you have left? The janitor dropped his cell phone in shock.

So, what do you achieve by omitting the words “I saw?” Well, a few things actually. First, you move the sentence and the action along, so your reader doesn’t get caught up in extraneous words. (This is along the same lines as why we are told to omit the words “I think” and “I believe” in academic papers). But, the crazy thing is that it leaves the sentence up to interpretation. Did the main  character see this happen or not? A writer can use this scene description to showcase other activities going on around the main character to heighten drama OR to draw attention away from the character for whatever reason OR to emphasize that something is happening simultaneously to the main character’s actions that the character may or may not have seen! This “showing” rather than “self-reporting” narrator gives the reader a VIP pass inside the scene, in the same vein as dramatic irony. It allows us to know more about the story and fictional world than the main character herself.

This discovery was especially timely because there is a sense of this narrative split in the movie “The Lady in the Van.”

In the (mostly true) film, the main character Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) is a writer who allows a homeless woman (Maggie Smith)  to park and live inside her van in his driveway for 15 years. Although the plot itself has its own bizarre and unique qualities, I was struck by the choice to double Alan Bennett, much like Lindsay Lohan in the Parent Trap. Indeed, throughout the film, we see identical images of Alan Bennett next to each other, talking to each other, mostly arguing with each other. The two representations symbolize the split personalities between “the writer” and “the one who lives”, or the narrator and the experiencer. I’ve never seen this portrayed in a film before but it made me begin to understand what my professor was trying to tell me in class. And perhaps it begins to explain my own psychology as a writer. There indeed is always one hand on reality and one hand writing the next sentence.


To NaNoWriMo or Not To NaNoWriMo

The season of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is almost upon us. What is NaNoWriMo? It’s a non-profit organization that sets up an annual challenge where starting November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. And sadly, I will not be throwing my gauntlet into the ring.

I took part last year and looked forward to it every night – to get back to the story that was coming to life, film-like, on the computer screen in front of me. I explored the life of three children, growing up in post-Hiroshima Japan, one of the most realist stories I’ve written in quite a while. I found myself caring about these characters more and more, found myself wanting to hear their voices, their fears, to take part in their adventures rather then venture out into the greater world of Ann Arbor and classes and homework.

As senior year in the English and Creative Writing departments draws its cloak over me, I find myself writing so much already that I couldn’t possibly work on a 50,000-word novel right now. I admire all college-age Nano-ers who can find the balance between classes and this writing challenge. But, if Nano-ing is not in your near future, do not fret. It can often be a very brave thing to know your limits and know when to say ‘no.’ The good thing about Nano is that it’s like an annual holiday. It comes every year. If you’re not participating this year, then next year perhaps! No one even has to know if you participate or not. It’s like a secret with yourself. (Though, there is an incredible online community of Nano-ers who are available for support, for ideas, for writing gatherings, etc, for those who enjoy that kind of groupie-ness.)

There has been recent backlash from ignoramuses who think that NaNoWriMo is meant for people to write 50,000 word first-drafts and send it to agents on Dec. 1. This is by no means the purpose of NaNoWriMo. It’s a challenge, a chance to push yourself to write the story that has been cooped in your head, no matter how bad or hyperbolic or boring or flouncy or cheesy or cliche or wonderful the writing. It’s a chance for you to get in touch with your creativity stores, to think through your own beliefs and opinions about society, and project them onto characters who are forced to make decisions and heck, maybe even fight a few ninjas or two. I can’t imagine criticizing anything that encourages storytelling. No matter if you have written a Pulitzer or if you write car manuals, everyone deserves the chance to participate in this challenge.

If you’re lucky, you’ll walk away from NaNo with a “The End” as your words numbered 49,999 and 50,000. But, don’t think of this as “your end.” This is just a draft. The real writing, the revision, hasn’t even begun. And if you want, it doesn’t have to begin. You can write it and on December 1, come out from your writing cave and return to normal life. But, if you believe in your novel, you can make it stronger and keep working on it. To quote Da Vinci, “art is never finished, only abandoned.” But, something abandoned, doesn’t have to stay abandoned. Nor does it only have to be worked on during the month of November. That means that my story, about the three Japanese children, need not fear! I plan to pick it up again and continue the adventuring…just maybe after college settles down.

From one Nano-er to the next, I give this bit of advice to all of you brave writers who I will be living vicariously through this November:

Don’t delete anything. Even if you can’t stand to look at it, just highlight it in black and keep writing. (It creates this cool “blackout poetry” feel to your piece.)

If possible, log in the words while you have the time.  Try and get ahead in the first few days, which will give you flexibility as life and reality catches up to you later on in November.

-Make sure to give yourself breaks. Get up, take a walk, go to a museum, do yoga, paint your toenails, learn how to do headstands. Shake up your brainwaves so the ideas have room to breathe.

-Back up your work. Press Save a lot, become best friends with flash drives. Also, you can save to that whimsical of all things, the all-hailed Cloud.

Take risks. No one else has to see this writing if you don’t want them to. Be daring. Be silly. Add a dragon or two. Write scandalously. Mix the two and include the most scandalous of dragons.

Let yourself be surprised. 

To all my friends who are Nano-ing this year, I wave flags of encouragement and wish you happy writing and delicious snacks that don’t sticky up your fingers so much that prevent you from typing and I hope that you find yourself on the other side of the month, pleasantly surprised with the strength and courage and productivity that you achieved in just 30 autumnal days.

Write on, folks, write on!