“where do I hold on?” {a brief reminder to find your peace}.

Summer has been an adventure, and an emotional roller coaster, as well. Well, I suppose that’s life in general. But something about this summer is especially challenging. Things are rapidly changing… more than usual. I’m transitioning into a new stage of life. I traveled, and my mind is full of fresh experiences. My life is becoming different, and I’m intrigued. There’s one part of my recent experiences that especially stands out to me: peace.

Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve had days to reflect, to process complex emotions, and to realize what is truly important to me. In the midst of a changing environment and what felt like standing on unsteady ground, I needed to find inner peace. It’s something to which I must keep clinging until the peace comes naturally and requires no effort.

Have you found that which gives you inner peace? Do you have something that fills you with joy and puts your anxiety at rest? Perhaps for you it is God, a person, another living creature, or an activity. If you’ve found it, never let it go. That peace is priceless. If you haven’t found it, keep searching and keep your eyes open, because it will encounter you, and when it does, your life will be transformed.

Once you’ve found your source of peace:

Reflect.

Remember it.

Write about it.

Spend time genuinely thinking about it.

Be grateful for it.

Pray about it.

Be happy.

A friend texted me last night explaining how beautiful life is, and that is infinitely valid.

Life is certainly unpredictable, difficult, and overwhelming at times. It is through finding our inner peace and being purely grateful for it that we can appreciate life a little (or a lot) more.

the contingency of beauty.

Spending the past two weeks in Europe has been a useful opportunity to learn exactly how my mind functions. I’ve been much more honest with myself, and I’ve discovered a lot about my mentality since I’ve been extracted from my “normal” environment. The elimination of my everyday routine, the presence of an entirely unfamiliar source of sensory input and stimuli, and the flood of emotions I’ve experienced have made this [short yet meaningful] period in my life certainly an interesting one.

Yes, I have anxiety, and yes, it affects my lifestyle. Activities such as writing and running and communicating with people who are important to me soothe my racing mind. So, what happens when I am somehow prevented from the things that my mind requires to feel a sense of calm? It races. And I get to thinking. And I worry. And it’s not fun.

My anxiety is very multifaceted, and I tend to have a lot of different worries depending on my current situation, rather than one or two general focused concerns. When I’m in a weakened mental state, as I have been from traveling, I often criticize my physical appearance. Self-image has always played a prevalent role in my mind. The past year or two, I’ve become increasingly comfortable with who I am in all aspects of my life, but my opinion of my appearance has always been a challenge (as it is for many people). One day, I feel incredible in my own skin, and then they next day, I question myself or pick on myself or look at myself in the mirror and feel unsatisfied.

Before I left for Italy, I was working out almost every day, running and going to the gym and doing things to break a sweat, which I honestly love (when I’m not trying to look clean anyway). For me, exercise offers just as many mental benefits as physical ones. Running provides me with an opportunity to process my thoughts, daydream, and focus… all at the same time. A slow two-mile jog wipes away many of my worries, especially those about my physical appearance. I usually find that after a run (paired with a cleansing shower), I feel beautiful in a particularly unique way.

So, I brought my running shoes to Italy, hoping to jog a couple of miles when I could do so in an attempt to feel this same sense of relief and acceptance of myself. At the end of a run, I always thought I found who I needed to be for my own happiness.

The first day I arrived in Italy, I attempted to jog. The different style of driving in Europe, the fact that I didn’t know the town whatsoever, and the bitter feeling of jetlag made a simple run seem exceedingly difficult.

For the first few days after my somewhat failed attempt, my mind was processing guilt, fear, and a huge desire to be at peace. I felt guilty that I wasn’t sticking to my running routine as I had decided I would back home. I think I felt like I wasn’t taking care of myself, which wasn’t true. I felt fear that my appearance would change in three weeks as a result of this change in lifestyle, which was irrational. But more than anything, I wanted to be okay with just relaxing and enjoying my vacation and feeling content with who I am and how I look, without being driven by guilt to run anyway.

I haven’t put on my running shoes since that day. Instead, I’ve worn sandals and walked miles throughout airports, Sicily, Rome, and soon-to-be Florence. I’ve broken a sweat beneath the Mediterranean sun and still felt beautiful (a little gross at times, but happy with who I am). I’ve consumed cookies and gelato and probably loaves of bread at this point (the carbivorism is so real), and I’m learning how to be happy with myself and my appearance anyway.

I realized that my beauty (or in other words, my perception of my own beauty) is not contingent upon my exercise routine or my food consumption. Neither is yours. While it’s certainly important to take care of our bodies for the sake of our health and general well-being, it’s also extremely crucial to take care of our minds. I realized how unhealthy my outlook has been, regarding my own physicality. Everyone is beautiful, 100% of the time, and nothing can be done to alter that truth.

Of course my anxiety is a huge struggle. I have a ridiculous guilt complex, and it’s so elaborate that I could easily write an entire book about it. But in the midst of a new part of the world and a new lifestyle, I’m learning how to accept and embrace the changes that are headed my way. I’m learning how to feel okay with them, and how to love myself more and more from the inside-out rather than the outside-in.

I will admit that I’m looking forward to going for a run after I recover from my jetlag. I miss the freedom that comes with a simple jog, which I absolutely took for granted back home.

I will also admit with great enthusiasm that I’m looking forward to consuming the next plate of pasta that is served to me, while also feeling at peace with my physical appearance and mental state.

I’m learning. Aren’t we all?

what it means to miss you.

This is for everyone who has ever missed someone, will ever miss someone, or is currently missing someone. Share in this experience with me.

If you did not already know, I am currently on a three-week family vacation throughout Sicily and northern Italy. I’m not by myself, I’m not restricted from technology [completely], and I’m not unable to speak with the important people in my life back home… but I’m still missing.

Just like I’ve written about what it means to say thank you, I feel like we often throw around the phrase I miss you! without really taking the time to analyze what “missing someone” really is. To miss is a far more complex internal experience; it engages the full array of human emotion, not only in the mind but in the heart and the soul, and it challenges us to our core.

I will speak from my experience, because similar to participating in physical activity, the heart is always involved, but other muscles (meaning emotions) are worked and stressed in different ways.

First, the fear. I knew I would be leaving my country for three weeks (FYI- I’ve always been known to get homesick rather easily, depending on the circumstances). I knew I would have my family by my side, but I also knew I couldn’t bring everyone else with me physically. I was afraid of things back home changing while I was not present there. My anxiety kicked in, and I began missing people before I even left them. I broke down in tears, and I said many goodbyes as though I were moving out of the U.S. permanently. People had to remind me that I would be home in a few weeks (which says a lot about my attachment style). Before I left the states, I became filled with a deeper anxiety. How will I feel being away from people I love for three whole weeks? How will my mind handle this separation? There will be an ocean between me and my home… 

Perhaps your reason for missing someone was unexpected. Maybe you were separated without knowing this would happen, and did not have an opportunity to prepare for a goodbye. In that case, perhaps you are feeling fear of how to handle the rest of your emotions, how to process your situation, or how to move on.

**Side-note: I realize how silly a lot of this sounds, considering people spend much longer periods of time apart, sometimes without any way of communicating, and handle it without experiencing these emotions… but honestly, for me, it’s a huge challenge.

Then, the sadness. At this point, it hit me. I realized how far away I was. I realized how much I was missing my loved ones, but there was nothing I could do about it. I used technology to communicate, I listened to sentimental music, and I wrote about my thoughts, emotions, and memories, but nothing was quite the same as being with those I love. This sorrow is a huge component of missing someone (so don’t be fooled by the shorter length of this paragraph), and it plants the seed for a richer experience, as I will explain later on.

Anger layered itself on top of sadness. I became ridiculously frustrated that I was stuck on the other side of the ocean. I became infuriated that I wanted to see my someone but couldn’t. I became annoyed with technological restrictions and the expenses of long-distance phone calls. I felt a surge of negativity.

Somewhere during this process, I became exceedingly aware. I became aware of exactly how important these people are to me. I have been reflecting constantly on the profound influence of my “missed” ones in my lives, and I’ve learned invaluable lessons from the distance.

The sadness and fear and frustration lead to immense gratefulness. I am more thankful than I ever have been for the people in my life. I have realized more than ever how much I need their presence, and I have felt the impact of their goodness on me regardless of any sort of physical distance.

Now, I’m in the midst of feeling everything, and more. I’m experiencing a craving unlike any other to be reunited with my loved ones. I’m grateful for this entire experience because I have been strengthened emotionally through it. However, I am still counting the days to returning to my home.

I don’t know your situation. The person or other entity that you are missing may be waiting for you at the end of a chain of experiences through which you must first pass. If your time together on this earth is finished, you might be hopeful for a spiritual uniting beyond the confines of this life. Maybe your experience is something different, but you’re still missing someone… and that’s okay.

The experience of missing is fruitful. It is difficult, often painful, and the cause of countless heartaches and headaches, but it is a rich and meaningful experience that can strengthen you in unimaginable ways… if you let it.

the sicilian adventure (pt. 2)

Hello, friends. I am currently writing you from a quaint hotel positioned in the midst of a Roman shopping district. Before I continue with my adventure throughout northern Italy, however, I must take a few moments to share with you a bit more about Sicily.

The past week was absolutely unforgettable. I really don’t know where to begin. For one thing, the feeling of being a foreigner subsided. For my sister’s birthday dinner, family members and friends gathered in perfect harmony to join in celebration. I experienced such an authentic family gathering, and it was incredible. I poured my heart out to my cousin who studies English, and she opened her heart to me. The people of Calascibetta form an exemplary community. It was inspiring to see so many people kiss each other on each cheek as a sign of greeting and goodbye. The affection there is so refreshing and genuine.

My ability to comprehend the Sicilian dialect of Calascibetta improved throughout the week. My ability to speak the language was not very strong, but I succeeded in forming simple phrases, and for that I was thankful. My ability to comprehend the Sicilian conversations, something that I will treasure as a future linguist and take with me throughout the rest of my time in Europe (unless the northerners judge me for speaking in a dialect, in which case I must accept the judgment).

I experienced the entire spectrum of emotion in Calascibetta: the frustration of a lack of communication, the curiosity of being immersed in a new environment, the stress of traveling, the sheer happiness of being aesthetically pleased, the sorrow of homesickness, the fear that comes with generally frightening experiences (possibly more on that later), the awe of swimming in clear aqua water with mountains stretching into the sky behind me, and so on and so forth.

By the end of the week, I had settled into my routine of Nutella croissants and biscuits with a cup of coffee. I adjusted to the few minutes of WiFi I had each day, and I made them worthwhile. A phone call became worth so much more to me (and unfortunately, that’s all too literal — the phone calls were expensive), and hearing a voice I’ve missed throughout my journey became all the sweeter. Calascibetta is a wake-up call to gratefulness. It is a place that lacks the modern vibe with which I am familiar, therefore stretching me in new ways. In Calascibetta, I felt far away. Sicily felt like an island in the middle of the ocean somewhere, whereas Rome to me feels much closer to home. Sicily really felt like it was on the other side of the world. Sicily had no facade.

It goes without saying that Sicily has incredible food. Among my favorites were the spaghetti sprinkled with ricotta that my godparents made for lunch, the cream coffee topped with whipped cream that I thoroughly enjoyed in Enna, and the sweet brioche bun full of stracciatella gelato that I devoured in Palermo.

Other than Calascibetta, which felt like a home away from home by the end of the week, I was enamored by the beauty of Taormina and the beaches of Palermo. In Palermo, I experienced one of the most unique things in which I’ve ever participated called an aqua-gym, which is an entire workout routine done standing in the shallow water at the beach. Squats in the ocean with at least fifty other people is interesting, to say the least, not to mention the waves that were formed by such movements. The aqua-gym was completed by a “maxi-selfie,” as the Sicilians called it. (The inclusion of English in the Italian culture is intriguing, and so are some of the translations.) I’ll never forget performing a Beatles song in Palermo, and I’ll miss dancing to songs like “Maria Salvador” and “El Mismo Sol” (there’s an interesting language blend on the radio in Sicily).

I had also never seen a wild porcupine casually cross the road in the moonlight until this week. The Sicilian days are beautiful, but the mornings and starlit nights are beyond breathtaking. I’ve never seen a such a pure sky with thousands of flickering lights. I’ve also never seen such a fantastic ball of fire burying itself behind the mountaintops. I’ve never walked through crusted lava and held the volcanic ashes in my own hands (at Mount Etna).

Spending time in Sicilia was an immense learning experience. I became more in touch with my emotions, more aware of the my experiences, more grateful for the people in my life, and more, period. I grew this past week… and that’s too much to write about right now.

We left Sicily this morning as I said earlier, and I can truly say I went out with a bang. I entered my cousins’ house to say goodbye, and I forgot how the Sicilian population is generally much shorter than I am (around five-ten). I was walking up the steps and hit my head rather hard on something that felt like concrete. Yes, I cried. Prayers for a healed skull and elimination of headaches would be much appreciated.

I’ll admit — I become homesick extremely quickly. I’m looking forward to returning to my country soon, but first, I have many more memories to make.

Tanto amore,

xoxo, Siena

sicilia in a hazelnut shell.

This is the first account of an American young woman with Sicilian roots who finds herself walking the cobblestone streets and drinking the water of the land from which her blood descends. My name is Siena, and I am in Calascibetta, Sicilia, as we speak.

My experience of Sicily is not that of a typical foreign tourist, but rather a family member. I am currently writing from my room in my godparents’ house, a simultaneously simple yet grand Sicilian flat, situated on one of seemingly hundreds of thin lane-less roads, winding and declining and ascending with little warning. Sicily is not exactly what I expected, and I’m not quite sure where to begin.

I will begin with my first moments here. My parents and I flew from the U.S. to Rome, and had barely any time to catch our flight into Catania, one of two airports in Sicily (I think, anyway). My family’s attempt to rent a car was proving difficult (not due to the language barrier, because they both speak Sicilian), and so I sat my jet-lagged self on a bench in the rental car building, and found myself speaking to an adorable elderly Sicilian woman who spoke a mixture of Italian and English. She showed me pictures of her family, gave me marriage advice, and eventually kissed me goodbye. I felt welcome.

The car rental was a success, and we headed to my godparents’ house… but I was asleep during the car ride, and had no energy to spare for even the most scenic route. I woke up as we were climbing the hill to Calascibetta, a town of utter simplicity and natural beauty that radiates with no sort of artificial assistance. Within minutes of my awaking we arrived, and we were greeted by my godfather, who I had never met before that moment, and my godmother a few moments after, who I had met only when she visited the U.S. years ago.

After settling in a bit, my sister (who had been in Sicily for almost a month before my family and I arrived) and I went to the Piazza, the town square… a.k.a. the place with the only Wi-Fi to which I have whenever-I-want access. My godparents don’t have a computer, and therefore have no need for Wi-Fi, which is a silly yet very comprehensible struggle for a person like me who is so acclimated to feeling “connected,” especially when some of the most important people in my life are an ocean away.

On the way to the Piazza, two men spoke to my sister and me, which is completely normal in a town like Calascibetta. Most people here know each other because there are only about four-thousand people in the town. Plenty of people are related, and never put it past Italian families to have crazy connections – cousins, cousins of friends, god-siblings, aunt of cousin of goddaughter of friend, who is actually your nephew’s mother, and so on and so forth. Anyway, two men greeted us, and I explained that I do not speak much Italian. Somehow I ended up having a brief conversation with one of the men in broken Sicilian, then Spanish, then French, and then we left. The other man ended up in the Piazza ten minutes later, and approached my sister to ask if he could buy her some sort of beverage – a cappuccino, a latte, a tequila. She denied all of the options, and so then he asked me, to which I explained with my bit of Italian knowledge that I have a love in America, and I would not accept a beverage. In Sicilian, he replied that he is not a jealous man, and eventually walked away.

I cried myself to sleep that first night as part of coping with a combination of my exhaustion-induced emotional struggle (#jetlag), and a feeling of pure frustration at my inability to communicate with my family and what-could-be friends. I have lived in an Italian-American household my entire life because my Italian-speaking grandmother has lived with our family until recently. However, the dialogue was mainly between my mother and grandmother and so learning their Sicilian dialect was never a necessity, although I regret not learning it sooner. Since I arrived, the frustration has only grown stronger. It is a budding linguist’s worst nightmare to be in a place where everyone can speak the language but yourself. It pains me to have thoughts and ideas and desires, and an even stronger desire to share those desires, to only find myself unable to do so (at least adequately) in an independent manner. What makes it even more frustrating is that I have a somewhat-decent ability to understand Sicilian, and I comprehend most phrases contextually… but then I usually can’t respond. Darn. Well, the future shall determine the rest of this scenario. This personal struggle of mine will either grow stronger and then I’ll be plucked from Sicily at the end of the week as my family and I continue to tour other regions of Italy, or I’ll learn more of this Sicilian dialect and move on.

After sleeping for over twelve hours, I was greeted in the morning by coffee and croissants filled with Nutella, which I consumed again this morning (yum). Yesterday, we visited Agrigento, another town in Sicily that lies outside of Calascibetta and contains beautiful Roman ruins (now that is a tourist attraction, but still not unreasonably flooded with people). There isn’t much to say about Agrigento because it really is a place everyone should experience for themselves. The ruins are breathtaking, and the aesthetics of the place feel unreal. Plus, there was an added bonus: I was surprised because I able to practice my French there, which always warms my heart.

Other than visiting Agrigento, we have yet to explore places in a touristy manner, but we hope to have a beach day tomorrow. I’ve spent the last two-and-a-half full days living the life of a Calascibetta native – consuming the fresh preservative-free meals, spending time in the Piazza, and gazing into the Sicilian skyline as I’m sure all who live here must do each day.

Sicily is an interesting place. Stray cats and dogs are a common sight, as are lizards on the sidewalk and walls outdoors. Coffee cups are significantly tinier. It has become normal to kiss those with whom I speak on the left and right cheek as a greeting and a goodbye. Technology is certainly not such an integral part of the culture, at least from my eyes. The entire culture feels different. Life is simpler; emotional satisfaction seems to have less conditions, and people are happy with their town and their families and their friendships and their nights walking back and forth in the Piazza until they run into a friendly face. I have never been in such a paradoxical place, one where I feel so much at home yet so incredibly foreign. Calascibetta is certainly no tourist spot, and so this really does not feel like a typical vacation. I have never felt so included in the immersion of the culture while also feeling so excluded by my inability to communicate properly, exacerbated by the effort exerted to reach my loved ones back in the states where I am not only literally but also mentally at home. It’s okay, though. While it may feel atypical, I am here in an unfathomably beautiful place, and that’s all there is to it.

I experience a feeling of absolute awe accompanied by a small twinge of anxiety knowing that I am currently typing away somewhere on a mountaintop of a small town of Sicily, surrounded by nothing except the brisk blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea beyond me. You are likely thousands of miles away from me… and I had to bring my laptop to the Piazza just to tell you all of this (that’s not a thing Sicilians do, by the way). Thank you for making my effort even more worthwhile. Thanks for being here with me in spirit.

On another note, I just ate some of the best cake I’ve ever had in my life. The Sicilians definitely know how to cook.

Stay beautiful.

xoxo,
your friend, Siena