The Value of Italian Gold

I don’t remember when I stopped wearing the golden Italian chain that hung around my neck. I think it was sometime around the death of my grandfather, years ago. On his death bed, from what I was told, he took off his gold chain, hung heavy with a thick crucifix, and told my father to give it to me to wear. Yet, I’ve never been a very religious person, so I felt as if I was going against myself to have such a thick gold crucifix hanging around my neck.

And yet, almost five years later, I find myself wearing my grandfather’s golden chain around my neck as I write this newest entry. During my time at home this weekend, I found myself creeping into my parents’ closet, where most of the gold is kept, slowly opening the creaking box, and revealing all of our Italian gold.

Among the treasure was my golden chain. Keeping the crucifix company was il corno, a small golden horn that signifies good fortune, and an Italian trio of charms that signifies hope, love, and charity. Soundlessly, I slipped my grandfather’s crucifix off the chain and back into the jewelry box. With the two other relics still on the chain, I cautiously clasped the jewelry around my throat; it felt heavy at first. However, at the same time, I felt like I had been reunited with a piece of myself that had been missing for all these years. I felt whole again. And as you can tell from the main photo, all of my other family members also choose to wear similar gold jewelry.

Like the chain, I am now ready to be reunited with some values that may have been sitting on the back burner. Which is why, for this week’s post, I want to talk about values as a twentysomething. I wish I could write an advice post on this topic. Something like: “Ten Tips on How to Maintain Strong Values.” But I can’t do that. Values are so personal to each of us. What I can do, however, is share some of my own experiences in hopes that some of you may be able to relate. Because chances are, as a twentysomething, your values will waiver a bit. They may even change completely. And that’s okay. And in an attempt to convince myself of that, I want to share three values that I’ve been reflecting on lately. Three values that I’m going to be focusing on a lot more from this point onward.

Wearing a golden chain won’t make me any closer to my family, geographically speaking. But when times are tough, or I’m having a bad day, I know I will feel that chain brushing against my neck and lifting me up with my family’s best wishes. Ever since I moved away to college, this is a value I’ve struggled with. It’s challenging to remain close to people who are hours and hours away. And during all this time, my family has changed. I have changed. And because I don’t see them every day, the changes seem so drastic. It’s easy to get caught up in my own world away from everyone, but at the end of the day, my value is in my family.

For me, this is a tale of placing most of your self-worth in one single person, only to have that same person slash it to pieces. It’s been over a year since this happened, but damn, some days it still feels like I’m climbing an uphill battle in trying to get back those pieces of myself. Thinking forward, I’m reflecting on where I place my self-worth. My job? My schoolwork? And that is a very big question. I think it’s more of a journey, something that will be continuously ongoing. But I’m going to be more intentional about building my own self-worth as a single man. Because that way, when I do meet someone else, I won’t fall into the old habit of completely morphing into them. I will stand tall as my own person.

How many of us have heard the phrase “work-life balance?” Well, to be honest, I’m freaking tired of it. I get it, we all need to have balance in our lives. But unfortunately, what that phrase has turned into for me has been two selves: Work/Professional Michael and Personal Life Michael. Which didn’t work out well, because incidentally, Work Michael became Life Michael. So rather than trying to figure out all these different selves, I am making a vow to myself to Just Be. I want to be congruent with myself, have all identities merge and agree and compliment and mix with each other. And Just Be.

What are some other values you may be struggling with as a twentysomething? Or any that you are currently reaching towards? Feel free to share your own stories!


L’arte d’Arrangiarsi: The Art of Making Something Out of Nothing (…including a twentysomething life)

Have you ever read a book and just knew you were meant to pick up that exact book at that exact moment in your life?

I have.

This weekend, I started reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert…a book that has been on my To-Read list for at least three years. And yet, it wasn’t until now that I finally picked it up, and I’m not sure why. In my room, I have an entire shelf filled with books. Then under that shelf, more books. Then on the end of my bed, there is another stack about twenty books high. My book collection has a natural way of expanding itself…

Regardless, I chose this book. And I promise, I have not been given any endorsements from the author to promote it. Yes, it’s a great book so far, but for the purposes of this post, I’m less interested in the quality of the book and more interested in its message, especially for us twentysomethings.

In the book, the author travels to Italy and learns the phrase l’arte d’arrangiarsi. “There’s a wonderful Italian expression,” she says. “L’arte d’arrangiarsi—the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this.”

This quote, more than any other so far, has really stuck with me. At first, I imagined my dad in the kitchen back home. Regardless of how empty I thought the cabinets were, my dad always had the ability to look in the same cabinets and make a meal that was both satisfying and delicious. I could never figure it out. To my surprise, I did the exact same thing yesterday! **Relevant update from last week: the no-carbs situation did not go well this week. So as I was looking through my cabinets for my usual snacks (tortilla chips or wheat thins), I came across nothing except raisins and steel-cut oats. The freezer was worse: frozen fruits and vegetables. Nothing that I wanted. At all.

But, an idea popped in my head, a little nugget of information from my dad. Soups make the easiest meals!  I remembered a meal from my favorite Indian restaurant on campus – curried cauliflower and peas – and knew I had the ingredients to try to make something similar from my empty cabinets into a meal. So, I made a little broth (hot water and some spices), added the curry powder, and then tossed in some frozen cauliflower and peas. Voila! A homemade soup. Making something out of nothing. L’arte d’arrangiarsi.

Yet, my soup is not why I’m writing this post. I think the author’s point goes deeper than making a feast out of a few simple ingredients. More than a curry soup from a seemingly empty pantry. Why, I thought, can’t l’arte d’arrangiarsi be applied to life? Especially for a twentysomething…the art of making life itself into a feast out of a few simple “ingredients.”

As a twentysomething in this new phase of life, I don’t want to say I have “nothing,” because that’s not true. But some days, it certainly feels that way. Even though I’m not really in a new city anymore, I don’t know nearly as much about it as I thought I would at this point. My social circle is not as big as I wanted it to be, and my job isn’t necessarily as meaningful as I once found it. Yet, at the same time, I know friends are about quality as opposed to quantity, and I also know that I am fortunate to even have the job I do have. That’s one good thing about being a twentysomething…having an acquired sense of insight to the things that actually matter.

But in general, I think life is like a blank slate. An empty canvas, to some extent. Right now, on my canvas, I have my job, my few friends, my family…and that’s about it. But why not embrace l’arte d’arrangiarsi? Why can’t I make my own life into something that I want? A beautiful piece of Italian art that I would be proud to display.

Right now, I have the paintbrushes. I have the tools. And my artist’s palette is full of options for ways to make my life of a canvas meaningful in some way. Especially now since classes have ended, I’ve been thinking about volunteering more and maybe even taking an Italian class. And I’ve already done some things, like getting a part-time job at Starbucks that I know I will love, writing parts of a musical, and I’ve been reading a lot more for pleasure.

This canvas is mine. And if there are some blank corners, or if I accidentally mix some colors that I’m not happy with, it is up to me to paint the canvas that I want displayed. To make something out of nothing. L’arte d’arrangiarsi.