A Past Life

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Last night, as the first snowflakes began to glitter down from the heavens and the howling, frigid winds blew, unwavering, through the streets of White Plains, I boarded a bus for home, tired from the day even as the night was still young. As the bus lumbered on through the icy blizzard, I marveled in the winter wonderland outside—the Christmas lights glowing empathetically from the cottages and the townhomes, the last workers driving carefully home to their immaculate families awaiting their return—all seemed still, simple, and calm. When I finally got home I turned the key and entered my tiny but cozy apartment which seemed to embrace me in consolation of the lengthy and bewildering day of work and life and love. I switched on my desk lamp and the Christmas lights I hung up last week and my homestead came to life. Sitting at my desk to collect my thoughts, I knew there were still hours of work to get done: monthly reports to write up, articles to draft, music to practice, books to read, and notes to study.

If you had asked me what my perfect life would look like a few years ago or even a few months ago, I’m not sure what I would have described. Quite possibly I would have mused about some idealized reality where I was spending my days in class, my nights gigging or listening to concerts and my weekends having dinner at nice restaurants or jazz clubs. I would have mentioned the great TV shows I would watch, the fun times I would have with friends, or maybe even the relaxing vacations I would take. I would talk about my caring and loving boyfriend (a complete fantasy of course) and the room I would own, decorated faultlessly, as though Martha Stewart herself had planned out every inch of it.

I’m sure at some point this was truly what I wanted—the ideal life. Even as I entered college a couple years ago, I think I would have talked about the same sort of rose-tinted, unblemished life. However, in the last year, emotional pain overtook most aspects of my life and these dreams of utopian grandeur faded from my mind. It was unexpected, not because it has not been present before, but because these feelings slowly and subtly took up more and more time and energy until, in a matter of months, a dark cloud hung over the entirety of my life. The problem with this type of depression, anxiety, and compulsion is that the road into it is easy, but the road out is tough, grueling, and full of even more pain than simply remaining in the darkness. There were days when I wondered if I would ever find the break in the trees, or whether I would keep wandering in the forest of despair for a lifetime.

Young adulthood is surely a tough time in life for all who experience it. It is the crossing of a bridge from the land of innocence and childhood joyousness into the complex world of adult responsibility, work, and above all, duty. Now that I have found the light, if for a brief and ephemeral moment, I can see that my despair came from the unrest of this drastic change in my life. It is hard to be told that you are on your own, that you decide what actions you take to create your life, that you have a great deal of responsibility that is yours and yours alone.

But now that I have graduated from both the childhood naivety and the anguish of the transition period, I can feel that I am beginning to let go of that past life. I no longer need that comforts of dependence any longer. With this new life there is a great deal of work to be done both on myself and for school and career as well—chores must be done, personal and mental hygiene must be kept up, and all the studying and work must be done each and every day. I should want to run in fear; in fact, for a while I did want to run on fear.

But worry, doubt, and fear are not the answer, especially in the real world. Now an adult, I know that things must be done without negotiation and I have an immense sense of duty in my work and responsibilities. Certainly it is a delicate and precarious balance between personal life, work, and sleep, but that balance must be kept up, regardless of circumstance.

With the leaving behind of my past life I accept responsibility for my actions, my thoughts, and my obligations. There is still a plethora of joy to be found in my life, but now that joy comes along with meaning, purpose, and a sense of having worked to earn it. Responsibility creates a more meaningful sense of joy.

As I looked out the bus windows last night, I knew that I could finally let go of my past life and of those empty dreams. That the work I am doing now is vital and important. That my life is not how I dreamed it years ago, but it is meaningful because in its imperfections I can find work to be done and in its triumphs and beauties I can know that my hard work has paid off. In the snowy darkness, I knew that I had found meaning and joy in the troubles I had been through and that my past life did not burden me anymore. And maybe that freedom to build my own life is the most beautiful piece of it all.

Here’s to leaving behind the past and creating the present…

– Ethan Brown Jones

Copious Variety

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The ride to the bus was quick but lonesome despite the NPR I was listening to. Stories of people all across the world were mentioned. How many different people there are in this world. Looking out the front windshield, I couldn’t help thinking of the lives of the people around me, all on their own way, following their own path, living their own separate lives. Early in the morning as it was, the gentle golden glow was only slowly beginning to crest over the mountains in opposition to the gray dawn and the roads were very lightly trafficked by both vehicles and pedestrians. For the cars that were out on the road, I couldn’t help but create narratives for each of the assumed occupants.

For the dirty, blue Toyota truck, rusting along all edges, I imagined a workman, going off to some construction site. He was mid-forties in age and somewhere well below mid-forties in income. But he was a good man, making an honest living for the family he loved so dearly.

For the spotless white Mercedes, I visualized a narrative of a woman in her late thirties. With striking red hair, perfected nails, a tight pencil skirt, a royal blue blouse, a black blazer, and a pair of empowered, peach-colored pumps, she cut quite a figure. I imagined her to be intelligent, hard-working, almost detrimentally so, and above all, in control of all aspects of her life. But with this pristine façade, I associated a much deeper story, one of loss, regret, and loneliness. I imagined that when she was young, she had envisioned herself wealthy, powerful, and happily-committed by age thirty-five. Most of her vision had come to fruition, but one crucial piece was still missing. And so, she spent many nights alone, her apartment feeling open and cavernous, the walls seeming to mock her lack of romantic intimacy. But she was alive.

I arrived at the bus, late as usual, gliding in a blur past the driver and the hordes of watching eyes. I wondered what lay behind those eyes— contempt, judgment, emptiness, or perhaps even depth of thought. The back of the bus, the last frontier in terms of seats, and the prime location for observation is where I landed. As they sat in the darkness within the bus, so did I­— observing and contemplating their lives.

I created scenarios for each of their lives too. I thought about the sorrowful-faced man. I pitied him; he seemed compassionate. But underlying his sunken countenance was a morose back- story, one of heartbreak and loss. I thought of him as average though; we all had loss. I just wondered why he seemed to take his loss so deeply, hanging on to his depression for so long.

The boy who sat next to me seemed pleasant enough with his youthful, humorous attire and attractive face, but his affliction was cigarettes. From his breath and that nervous, energetic twitchiness, it was clear to me that he was addicted, tragically and absolutely. I wondered what tormented him so that he was driven to the so-called cancer sticks. Perhaps a father that was nonexistent or a single mother who was working two jobs was the source of the anxiety that plagued him so. Still, deep within his brown eyes was a boyish hope in tandem with that childlike fear that is rooted in abandonment.

I cogitated on the young skiers in the seats just ahead of me. They poked fun at each other and chatted loudly and immaturely. I wondered exactly why they felt it necessary to converse in such a way. Had they just left home and never grown up. They seemed middle-aged in the physical sense, but in terms of psychological development, they seemed naïve, uneducated, even somewhat stunted.

My day continued on with these scenes in my head and soon, the bus ride was over. Walking along the street mall, a very different group of people surrounded me. Looking haughty and disconnected in their rich fur coats, they seemed altogether disinterested with the pedestrian world around them. A woman of considerable stature as well as apparently considerable wealth pranced past me, walking elegantly, almost levitating in her pretension. She was chattering into her phone, seemingly unaware of the entire world around her own particular realm, no doubt unaware of me as well. I wondered if she felt ashamed of her narcissism, but I already knew in my mind that she had neither interest in the outside world nor any anxiety for her lack of outward compassion.

Over the course of the day, my sense that everyone was separate and unique evolved and I became aware that my life and other’s lives are more similar than different. I began to feel that my motivations and drives were the same as everyone else’s. While I knew that my life was not without pain, suffering, and heartbreak, I realized that other’s lives were not either. Joy and love were most important in life, I soon recognized. My life is not unique; while variety exists, experience is universal for all of us.

Love, Ethan Brown Jones

The Road to Recovery: Late Once Again

Once again, I was late. As with many times before this one, I had cut it way too close, not left on time, and tried to cram way too much into a single day. I hustled out to my car, spilling coffee on myself in the process. My bags, my papers, and I flew into the car splaying ourselves across the seats. The engine roared to life as I cranked the key hard in the ignition and I raced furiously out of the driveway to my meeting. I turned on my podcasts in an attempt to calm myself with NPR but it was almost futile with how stressed I was. Swerving around corners, I drove with one hand, putting on makeup, eating a snack, and scratching down a quick note with the other one. I saw the car ahead ambling along at a less-than-satisfactory pace and roared past it in a hurried fury. Each second that ticked by was one more second of lateness.

Was it just my imagination or did every car in my way secretly wish for me to be horribly and utterly late? Each driver ahead of me went slower than the last; each one drove a little worse. I fretted and yelled obscenities inside the charged comfort of my car.

Finally making it to my parking space, I sped in and frantically gathered myself and my belongings. I slammed the door, locked up with shaking hands, and ran. Rushing into the meeting, I excused myself for the millionth time, citing the atrocious traffic as the cause of my tardiness on this occasion. It was on this day that I realized it wasn’t working anymore; something had to change drastically in my life.

And so I set to work on a plan of how to change my life for the better. My realizations scared me; I realized that because of my constant procrastination, I was constantly putting things off until the last minute, and thus, constantly being late. All of this led to a lack of stability and control in my life and so I set out to change it all.

I researched for months on end and tried a multitude of things until one night, tonight in fact, I decided that my new life was ready to begin. Tomorrow, all my plans will come to fruition and I’ll be organized and on time, or at least that’s the plan. After all, what is life if not a constant work in progress?

Every day, I work towards my goal: that one day I will be on time to everything that happens in my life. Every day too, I research more and more, learning each and every moment how to make my life better and continue to improve the problem areas. I get more inspired as well as more discouraged when I realize how much more work I still have to do. But each day, each hour, each minute is a new one, and the next one is an unprecedented opportunity to go forth and work even harder. I must have faith, and I do, that I can accomplish my goals and live a more fruitful and successful life, and thus, a more happy and fulfilling life.

Love, Ethan Brown Jones

The Skyline Destiny

Flying in, I could feel the electricity in the air, the constant state of unrest, and the love of productivity balanced with longing for the life of the party. Outside the small plane window, buildings so tall that they could scrape the underbelly of the plane were lit up, bright and perpetually awake. Everyone was out on the town from the paupers, to the wealthy, to the college kids, to the happy families from Brooklyn and Queens. New York City looked alive, as it did almost every night. From the moment we disembarked, the air was muggy and warm, even at that late hour.

The city of love welcomed us with open arms. That night, I too fell in love, not with a person, but rather, with New York City itself. It was that night when I finally felt everything that I had worked for truly come to fruition. All my work and long hours had led up to this trip, to this city.

You know how people say that they saw this one person, they locked eyes, and it was love at first sight? That’s exactly what I experienced that night. The moment I laid eyes on New York City, I fell instantly, completely, and hopelessly in love. I felt like I belonged there- like it was meant to be- like I was already at home in that beautifully-foreign oasis.

One of the best things about New York City is the incredible diversity of people, lives, landscapes, and personalities. Each street is a new neighborhood, each area full of a very different set of people. Every street is more glamourous and lovely than the last. But it is also as historic as any museum and as modern as the empire it represents. Everyone is so unique in New York, but many of them remind me of myself- dreaming always, working constantly, staying up late every single night, bitchy as ever on a regular basis, and opinionated about everything.

Maybe one day I’ll call New York home. And maybe one day I’ll get tired of all the hustle and bustle. But for today, that’s all still in the future. Today, all I can do is dream, work, and wait to see what my future holds. For now, I hope it’s a skyline destiny, and I think it will be. The city is as diverse as I am, and love is love. I made a promise to myself and the city that night that one day I would make it there and I will find it hard to renege on that. I belong in New York and I always have. One day at a time, one little step at a time, one day closer to my skyline destiny.

Love, Ethan Brown Jones

Dead, Hopefully

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It was late January and as I drove my Honda along the long, dark highway, all I could think about was the all-encompassing death I was heading towards faster and faster every day. My career was in the toilet, my love-life was on its way to its death, my hope was dead, and worst of all, my ambitions were dead-and-gone. Death had swallowed my life whole, and now it was simply spitting out the bones one by one, leading me into the dark alleyways of despair. I breathed- in…out…in…out- the simple task of breathing seeming somehow more difficult than living another day on this earth.

Lost, desperate, lonely, and hopeless, I drove on through the night, a lone pair of headlights illuminating the suffocating darkness.

What was it that they used to say back in Catholic school?

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

What a load of bullshit. When God closes a door, he fucking slams it as hard as he can in your fucking face.

Career: unemployed; spouse: none, twice divorced; kids: none; life: DEAD. The only thing I had to show for twenty-seven long fucking years of life was my old shitty-ass Civic, Marge, as I called her. Marge was my one true companion; she seemed to love me no matter what.

I was driving on the highway towards… well… towards the end, wherever that was. I was finding my new life at the other end of a long, winding highway- how fucking euphemistically cliché. Bitter, that’s how Aunt Lois used to describe me, bitter, resentful, nasty, and her favorite one, fucked-up. I was as far removed from the fucking bitch as I could get; I moved across the country just to finally evade her grasp. Lois was a poised, elegant woman when she wanted to be, but Lois didn’t often want that.

Marge purred along as my mind wandered aimlessly through the dark.

Back in Illinois, I had always believed that it would work out, that I would make it big and never come back to this God-forsaken hellhole. My whole life had been like that, always running away from something. First it was my family, primarily Aunt Lois, and then it was my first marriage, and now, it was my entire God-damned life. Running…

Cities appeared and then flashed by, my destination was unknown, but I was sure that none of this was it. I was ready for death now, nothing could stop me. Happiness had left me. You know what they say; when life gives you lemons- fucking give up. Well, life gave me a whole fucking lemon grove, and guess what, I fucking gave up.

I hated Lois for who she had become, a crotchety, selfish, old cunt who did nothing but bitch all day long. Thank God her poor husband Lester had died so at least he was in a better place now- hopefully a very quiet, peaceful one. I had spent enough years of my life with Lois to realize that death was better than having to put up with that old bat.

I was close now, the road was about to end, one more path ending abruptly in death. Mine was just one life, would it really matter? I longed for death, for only in death was the pain gone, were the voices silenced, was the anguish extinguished.

But death was too fair, suffering was much more realistic. And so I suffered. And I still suffer, and I’m alive. I guess that’s good, being alive. I wouldn’t know if death is any better since I’ve never reached it.

I guess it’s safe to say that the road never ended that night- who knows when it will end. Life’s a bitch as they say, and you know what, so am I. I’m a fucking bitch, and that’s ok, there are lots of us out there.

I hope death is a little less unfortunate, that’s what I fucking hope. Oh well…

Love, Ethan Brown Jones

A Perceived Reality

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Sitting, watching, rolling along in the world, people go by, places disappear, and we never wake up.

Lounging, observing, living life to its fullest, people go by, places disappear, and we will always remember.

A tree can be many things. A tree can be a botanical oasis, a deciduous wonder, or a sculpture of nature. A tree can be a companion, a goldenrod firework, or simply just that which it is, eternally a tree.

Driving along a highway, one’s eyes dart from the roadway sporadically, leering at a passerby, observing a provocation of mild interest. But do we really reminisce or even simply ponder what we are actually observing?

Being an artist, a musician, a designer, or a writer, one learns early on that perception is paramount to one’s own art in addition to one’s reception and comprehension of others’ art. For an artist, it eclipses purely the art world and so perception and observation become the rawest essence of daily life.

Perception is fundamentally applicable for all though, not simply the artist. From the way we perceive sounds and lights and noises and colors, to the way we observe the more subtle and inconspicuous world of emotions, personalities, ideals, and aspirations, the observations we collect and the assessed perceptions we feed off of fuel our minds and our lives more than we can begin to cognize.

And so for some the tree may be just a tree, a biological organism complete with cells, molecules, and a carbon-based composite we call wood. But to the lucky few among us, that tree is something more, something existentially greater than originally assumed. That tree is a manifestation of beauty, courage, joy, transcendentality, and most of all, vivacious, unabashed life. That tree may be gold or green or even red, but that tree is a pictorialization of life and death, pain and resilience, and most importantly, love and loss.

So perceive life how you will, but comprehend and discourse with it each day. For each day is uniquely divergent from the last; lessons are learned, people go by, places disappear, and we will always remember.

Love, Ethan Brown Jones

Urban Decay: Lonesome Beauty

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A Light Shining out over the glassy water can somehow be the most radiantly alluring corporeality when we are alone in the city. That light encompasses the longing feeling we experience sitting alone, the city living and breathing and pondering just as we do. There is something unbelievably exquisite about the cars whizzing wildly by on the freeway. In each car is another person, another story waiting to be observed. The connection everything seems to possess in the city is jarringly palpable. The magnetizing beauty of the city isn’t in the lights, or the cars, or the architecture though. The beauty is in how glamorously lonesome the city persists to be. The city lets us be alone; it lets us be together. But what the city accomplishes eminently is that it guides us to our inimitable selves and steers us to the lovely lonesome facets that make life unimaginably amiable.

All loneliness is forgotten in the lonesome beauty of the city. We become one with our feelings and we realize in the city that the times we are truly alone are the most productive and introspective that we experience. We remember most the times we are alone with nothing but our thoughts. These are the best times not only because we are alone with our thoughts, but because in the end, all of us must find salvation in no one else but ourselves. When we live and breathe and eat and touch the city, only then do we know the reality of the lonesome beauty it possesses. The cogent beauty speaks to us in a way that little else can.

The beauty of urban life is not in the extraordinary or the fame or the wealth though. The pulchritude of urbanity is in the ordinary, simple life. Meaning and inspiration are found only when living in the world of never-ending busyness. Alive all the time, the city divulges values of hard work, independence, respect and love.

I find solace and serenity in the lonesome beauty of the decaying urbanity because it is more real than most things in life these days and more transcendental than most things we call normalcy. Urban beauty is existentially relatable and yet also entirely consummate to everyday life.

Love, Ethan Brown Jones

The Greater Impact

The places we’ve gone just once sometimes make the greatest impact on our memories. When I dream about the future, I also look back into the past. I remember the people I’ve loved, the people that I will never forget. I dream about the boy I’ll wind up with, how perfect we’ll be, how I’ll never let him go for anything. I think about my dream job and my dream house. My dream unfolds swiftly before my eyes.

About a year ago, I was fortunate enough to stay at a beautiful resort in Vail, Colorado, elegantly named, The Montaneros. What made The Montaneros undeniably unique was, I think, that it was like living in a dream, living in my dream. Strangely, I had stepped into some kind of dream world, so real, yet so far away.

As I looked around the room, there was a sense of place, a character that seemed very normal to me. I imagined myself entertaining at that ornately decorated table, at home among a group of close friends. I watched myself, as if behind glass. I watched myself cuddling on the couch, a nameless but familiar boy at my side. I imagined myself standing in that kitchen. What a masterpiece the entire space was. But most of all, I could see myself as happy, worry-free, loved. I could see that without a doubt, my life had turned out how I had always envisioned it to be. But the visions faded. The room became nothing more than an elegantly decorated reality. The hopes and dreams sank back into the future.

What that trip really defined for me was a sense of self and an individualism that was suddenly more present. I could feel just a hint of what adult life would be like throughout that trip. I could feel the hardships, the prosperities, the responsibilities, and everything else that comes with being an adult.

Looking back on that trip, I realize how much of me has changed. I can see just how much I’ve changed in a short couple of years. When I look back on the past now, there is suddenly an indiscernibly larger amount of people that I miss, places I have almost forgotten, and dreams that have died off long ago.

In the course of life, one experiences many losses, but no loss is as great as that, the loss of innocence.

Looking back on that trip, I can tell you with complete clarity that it was a turning point in my life. It was, in its purest form, a rebirth of a personality and a growth of self. Since that time I have grown into what I am today. But as I always say, you cannot be who you are today without whom you were in the past and the person you are only yet to be. Our lives are shaped by people, by events, by places;  but they are shaped most extensively by the past, the future, and who we are right now, this very minute.

And that is the greater impact, realizing that all of your life has made you what you are today, and that the future is yours to create. Life’s greater impact is figuring out how to utilize your past to define yourself, while not making your past a roadmap for the future you can write today. Today is your day, will you spend it dwelling and what was or what could be, or are you going to make today the first day of the rest of your life?

Love, Ethan Brown Jones

A Utopian Abstract

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The sun shone warm and bright as I walked down the mall in the middle of September. How charming it was with the golden leaves of fall strewn across its brick walkway, how handsome the men were, how elegant the women. Each shop I passed seemed to both beckon and repel me with equivalent force. Was it just me, or did the people seem happier here, the cars shinier, the landscape somehow more content? Maybe it was all just a façade, perhaps not.

I drove on to the house of my dreams, a villa among houses, a mansion to many. The road bent right and I turned slowly onto my drive, a gravel road that grew somehow more gorgeous with each consequent bend. The road ended seductively in front of a wall of windows, shining in the afternoon sun’s warm rays. Shutting off the engine of my hot pink 1959 Cadillac DeVille, there was only one thing I wanted to do: fall into the arms of the boy behind that dark front door. I wanted to sit willfully at my deep black grand piano and play as I gazed out over the orangy-yellow hills. I wanted to walk up that flight of stairs, into my office, and just sit and sketch, a million inspirations pressing me onward. I wanted to sit back on my deck chair, a glass of red wine in hand, and write, my ideas spilling onto the page like a rushing mountain stream.

Now, I can imagine that crisp air, that perfect house, that perfect lover, that perfect life. But now, I crumple over my notebook, not in that dream house, not with that dream boy. I haven’t just driven up in that impeccable car; I am not brimming with ideas in my perfectly designed office. I sit now, in my cozy room. No lover awaits me. No view seems to inspire my artist’s passion.

But I sit and write, not because my life is absolute Utopia, but because all I want is to express that perfection. My desire is to live in that splendid dream-world, but nothing changes quickly. And as I write these words now, the ink flying effortlessly across the page, all I can think is that I am living, now. I am loving and hoping and working, now.

I must look up. I must realize the almost implausible perfection and beauty of my meager office, my all too familiar, lonesome boudoir. I must learn to accept and live, looking forward, gazing through memories. I must maintain what undeniable animation seems to exist at this very palpably existent moment.

Love, Ethan Brown Jones

Scotland, The Cutest Place on Earth

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When I arrived two days ago in Edinburgh, Scotland, cute was not the original word I would have used to describe it. Dirty, loud, foreign, these are closer to what I said when I first started walking around the foggy streets. But my thoughts on this place have changed. Scotland is actually pretty adorable. Between the incredible cathedrals and museums, the gorgeous gardens and parks, and the cute Scottish boys, Scotland is cute in the best way possible.

Since the reason that I’m on this trip is that my dad is leading it as a Study Abroad program for the University of Colorado, yesterday we went off in pairs to explore, discover, and get lost in (literally) Edinburgh and Scottish culture. And what I found was that each part of the city was different, incredible and full of beauty in its own unique way. The people were different, the food was different, even the building were very different. And it’s all pretty much gorgeous.

Toady we went off to explore again, this time with specific aims to find out more about a certain piece of Scottish culture. My group went off first to the Scott Monument, a statue and surrounding tower paying tribute to the great author, Sir Walter Scott. Next, we went to the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland, which houses all the portraits of the Scottish Royalty, as well as paintings and photographs of Scottish history, sports, authors, and artists. And last, we went off to the National Gallery of Scotland, which has a collection of other Scottish artwork, landscapes, portraits, and even impressionist paintings. All were beautiful, although one can only look at some many royal portraits before they want to run away screaming. Through the art, we learned not only about the people within the art, but also the painters, the history, and the countless stories told through each and every piece. The thing about being here in Scotland is that every piece of this place, every building and every street has meaning. Every person in each of the paintings was important in Scottish history and helped to make it the country it is today.

But to me at least, the real value of Scotland is that it’s not only historically and culturally relevant, but it also houses a level of beauty and aesthetic importance that brings in the many thousands each year. Scotland’s “cuteness” lies in its ability to captivate and inspire people. It lies in the mountains and glens of the highlands, and in each and every churchyard. Each park that I walk through every day houses a new beauty and “cuteness.” Each person (especially the boys) that I meet here is adorably cute in there own inevitable and very Scottish way.

As I was walking through one of the courtyards of a church today, I saw an adorable boy, apparently on holiday to Scotland. The churchyard was quiet and solemn, so was I, so was the boy. But there were was a hidden exuberance and lovely peacefulness between all of us. There was a shared charm , a living existence, and it was beautiful. That’s why I love Scotland, because its real, because its honest, because it’s cute!

Love, Ethan Brown Jones