“Change is the essence of life…

Yesterday, I went to one of the NYU computer labs which happened to be on the second floor of a building. When I took the elevator down, I stepped onto the ground level and right before me was this:

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I’d like to think it was a sign of encouragement and I hope it acts as one for you as well! Have a great day everyone! 🙂

sugar is smoking

Today’s poem is by Jason Schneiderman (anyone else LOVE that last name?) which I received from poets.org from their Poem-A-Day email. By now I guess you shouldn’t be surprised that it’s about death (since that seems to be a common event I keep writing and posting about) but this piece stuck out to me in its simplicity. It definitely makes you reflect on any unhealthy–but enjoyable–habits you may have. Here it is! Enjoy 🙂

smoking

it’s amazing how death
is always around the corner,
or not even so far away
as that, hiding in the little pleasures
that some of us would go
so far as to say
are the only things
keeping us alive

What the Big Apple Has Taught Me So Far

I’ve only been in Manhattan a couple of days and I’ve already learned quite a few lessons. Surprisingly however, none of them have to do with writing. But for the price I’m paying to be here, I better keep learning things (any sorts of things) at this rate.

1. Not every apartment (or in my case, dorm room) has a beautiful view onto the New York City skyline.

Expectation:

nycwindow1

Reality:

20130529_094025

2. The closet in my dorm room has a light that beeps like a fire alarm if I forget to turn it off. I guess this is the university’s way to conserve energy. By saving wattage…in closets…can you tell I’m rolling my eyes?

3. Dorm room mattresses are very uncomfortable. I’ve never slept in a dorm before so I highly suggest purchasing a mattress cover for anyone heading off to college in the fall!

4. You can’t go outside to see what the weather is like when you live nine stories up. This was particularly problematic for me yesterday morning when I was trying to get dressed but couldn’t really tell what the weather was actually like (rainy? hot? humid?)

5. Which leads you to learning that umbrellas (which you bring with you in the event it actually does rain) really do turn inside out. I was that girl yesterday in the rain who was fighting with the damn thing.

6. Don’t talk to people on the street who wave you down like airplanes. They’re most likely trying to sell you something (a material item or an idea) and will waste precious time out of your walk to class (which you don’t have to spare) trying to convince you to purchase something or join a cause that you will decline at the end of the fifteen minute monologue they somehow manage to engage you in.

This happened to me already while I was walking to get my student ID. I had my headphones in (which you would think would automatically signal to oncoming salespeople/activists that I am clearly NOT INTERESTED—but alas, some people are quite persistent. They like a challenge.) and some guy waved me down and commented that he liked the color of my cardigan (green) because it meant I liked the Earth. This was news to me since I thought wearing green just signified you liked the color green but hey, I’ll let him off the hook. Then he complimented my nose pin (which is in the shape of a flower—which I’m now realizing probably also encouraged him to thinking I love the Earth—which I do, I’m just not an environmental activist, which turns out is what he wanted me to 1) Sign up to be 2) Donate to and 3) Well, actually I can’t remember the third thing he wanted because after he said the word “donate” my broke-college-student-mind tuned out. I politely told him I’d think about joining his activist group (lie) and continued on my way. On my walk back to my building I got lucky as he had trapped another poor unfortunate soul in his monologue and couldn’t devote his full attention to me except to say, “I’m still waiting for you!” in a sing-song voice, in which I sang back “I’m still thinking!” and continued walking, head down.

7. Food is painfully expensive. So expensive that you don’t want to buy it. I now understand why most people in this neighborhood are skinny. Also, the term “starving artist.”

8. You should really exchange phone numbers with your suitemate. Because when their alarm clock goes off at 8PM instead of AM and continues beeping for the next half hour because they aren’t in their room to turn it off and you can’t turn it off because they locked their door, communication would be helpful.

9. There are other places in the world besides America. And people actually live there. Yes, people live in Canada, Singapore, the Netherlands, Colombia (besides Shakira), India, and China. And yes, I met people yesterday from each of these places so I have real live evidence.

10. These people are crazy enough (like me) to want to pursue a career as a writer (just like me). It’s amazing to be in a room with people who all share your passion. It’s terrifying and slightly intimidating, but it’s also inspiring and somehow feels like home.

11. Tony Bennett lives next door to the building where I have classes and Daniel Day Lewis lives across the street. The lesson learned here: Celebrities exist in real life. Who knew?

12. However, the best lesson I’ve learned so far has nothing to do with living in New York or my classes at NYU. Quite the contrary actually. It’s that nothing can make me happier than knowing the person you wrote a piece for actually read it and enjoyed it. Especially when that person does work that you not only admire, but are inspired by. It turns out you don’t need a fancy school name under your belt or be part of a “prestigious” program to have your writing give you pure unadulterated happiness by having others enjoy it.

Check out the picture below to see the reply I got from Andrew Jenks after sending him the piece I wrote about his show (https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/world-of-jenks-and-why-its-awesome/). It’s short and simple, but it’s all I need to know I did well by him and his show. It’s an amazing feeling 🙂

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 10.45.57 PM

My Last Days

For those of you who haven’t heard of Zach Sobiech, I strongly urge you to watch this video. It’s about twenty minutes long but please find the time to watch the (very condensed) story of a young man who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and how he truly embodied the saying “Live each day to its fullest.” I suggest watching it at a time when you do not feel rushed and have a box of tissues handy. Zach is an inspiration to all. Rest in peace. 

For those of you who want to listen to his song, Clouds, here it is! Absolutely a pleasure to listen to! 

“And by the way…

writing1

Today I head off to NYU to start their creative nonfiction summer writing program so in the spirit of writing, a quote by Ms. Sylvia Plath. Have a great day everyone! (If you have any advice for me as I embark on this journey, please share!) 

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”~Sylvia Plath

What Do You Want To Do Before You Die?

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In a few days (two to be precise) I’ll be moving into Manhattan to participate in NYU’s Writers in NY program specifically for creative non-fiction. I can’t believe that I’ll actually be embarking on this journey for the next four weeks. And because this is going to be one of the most exciting things I’ve done so far in my life, I’ll be using my Wednesday and Saturday posts to document my time in the program. I’m really hoping to have some great stories to tell.

I also think it’s important for me to use today’s post to reflect on what it’s taken to get me to be a part of this program. As mentioned before, (https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/why-do-i-write-anyway/) I’ve been writing my entire life. (After I wrote that piece I even remembered the two books I had started writing when I was in middle school. It’s funny how vividly I still remember them.) I always considered writing a hobby of mine, or just a way for me to express and reflect on my emotions—never really considering it something I could pursue as a career. I’ve always dreamed of writing a book but never thought it was possible. At least not right now. I just thought I would write it later, when I had more experience, or something like that.

Over winter break however, I was truly inspired after coming across a TV show (yes, another one!) that I had watched in high school called The Buried Life. Similar to World of Jenks (which I wrote about on Wednesday– https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/world-of-jenks-and-why-its-awesome/) the show is filmed as a documentary. The show is about four guys who created a list of things they wanted to do before they died and follows them as they travel across the country crossing things off their list. What made the show truly inspirational however, wasn’t just watching their shenanigans (they competed in a Krump competition, snuck into a party at the Playboy Mansion, and helped deliver a baby); it was that for each thing they crossed off their list, they helped a stranger cross something off of theirs. With every stranger they met, they asked What do you want to do before you die? When I watched the show in high school I didn’t think about it too much. I never even asked myself What do I want to do before I die? But now that I’ve experienced a loss so close to me with the death of my father, I know that I won’t be here forever and I better make the most of the time I have.

So I decided to make my own list of things to do before I die. As I read over the list, I realized just how bizarre and outrageous some of the things on it were. #48: Spend a day talking with a British accent. #33: Kiss a stranger on New Years Eve in Times Square. #56: Be a nude model for an art class. I scoured the list for something I could start working on now, because I realized that once I had written my dreams down they no longer felt so unattainable. Suddenly, they just became projects to cross off the list.

Scanning the two sheets of loose leaf I had written my list on, my eyes fell upon

#7: Write a book.

 As I sat there, I realized that there was no reason to wait any longer to start working on this dream. Because hey, there might not be a later for me. Who knows? Why not start now?

And as it began to sink in that I could start working on this dream right now I began to think about how much work it would actually take. I accepted the fact that you don’t just automatically sneeze out an entire book in one sitting. I don’t imagine J.K. Rowling sat down one night and started writing “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much,” all the way to “The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.” * It’s a lot of hard work. There are a lot of tiny baby steps to creating such a big piece. And so I thought, what’s the first step I need to take?

And with that, I went to lunch with one of my dearest friends, Brian, and posed my idea to him. Just like he had told me the previous summer when I came to him saying I wanted to write seriously, he suggested I start a blog. But this time, unlike last summer, when I had protested the use of technology, I decided that creating a blog would be the best way to start writing regularly and to an audience (something I was absolutely terrified about—the pages of my journal were the only audience I had before). It would be my way of seeing if I really had the chops to write seriously. Would I get writers block? Would I run out of ideas? Would anyone even read it?

Despite my fears, I started this blog with my first piece The Only Thing We Have To Do In Life (https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/the-only-thing-we-have-to-do-in-life/and couldn’t believe the overwhelmingly positive response I got. I’ve been writing consistently since then and I’ve got to tell you, creating this blog was the best thing I could have done. I’ve proven to myself that I have an endless amount of ideas. (And that when I have writers block, I can easily hide it from my readers by posting fiction for two weeks.) And I’ve gotten a great confidence boost in knowing that people read my pieces and actually–dare I say it–enjoy them.

The most important thing I’ve learned however, is that taking the first step toward a dream project is really the hardest part. After you’ve taken the first step, the next ones don’t seem as difficult. After you’ve taken the first step, the dream feels more achievable, not so scary, and you feel motivated to take the next steps, one after the other.

And so after writing this blog for a few months, I decided I was ready to take another step toward writing a bigger work. While my blog has given me experience and confidence, it’s now time to take my writing to the next level and focus on perfecting my craft. Knowing that this was a necessary step toward reaching my dream, I applied to NYU’s summer writing program. To my surprise I was accepted and to my even greater surprise, my grandparents agreed to let me go (with a lot of persuasion on my part). I can’t believe I’m going to have the opportunity to work with professors who are published authors and I can’t wait to see how my writing will change over the next four weeks with all the things I will learn. It’s going to be amazing.

So I’d like to thank The Buried Life guys for inspiring me to finally pursue my love for writing right now instead of waiting until it might be too late. And I’d like to thank Brian for pushing me to start a blog despite my initial hesitation. Without these two influences, I think I would still be searching for happiness even though it’s been at the end of my pen all these years.

So now I open up the question to you: What do you want to do before you die? Feel free to leave your answers in the comment box!

*First and last lines of the Harry Potter series.

Here’s a trailer of The Buried Life for anyone who’s interested!

Sitting Shiva

Although I’m not Jewish, I have friends and family who are and have heard a little bit about sitting shiva after someone passes away. In all honesty, I wish all rituals concerning death were like sitting shiva, which includes burying the deceased individual and for the next seven days friends and family visit the grieving family in order to provide comfort and support. I think this ritual creates a safe environment for grieving friends and family to mourn the loss of their loved one with others, rather than mourn all alone. I’m no expert on sitting shiva so if anyone would like to provide any more information–or correct me!– I’d love to hear from you 🙂 

This piece was inspired by the prompt: the appearance of compassion. Enjoy.

shiva

I didn’t know what to do.
She was so visibly shaken
and
upset;
but I felt
empty-handed.

As we sat next to
one another
on her couch,
the yellow light
cast a shadow
upon her face
and I noticed
tears falling steadily into
her lap.

She seemed
so separated
from everyone else
in the house.
Surrounded by
familiar faces,
yet
so
alone.

Slowly,
gently,
I took my hand
and placed it upon hers.

She looked at me,
her eyes
watery and searching,
yet
thankful.

Even more carefully,
I lifted my arm
from my side
and wrapped it around
her shoulders.

I pulled her closer
and as she wept,
her head gravitated toward
my chest
as I brushed her hair
out of her face
and
wiped the tears from her
cheeks–
only
when I felt
brave enough.

I didn’t let go.

Eventually, her breathing,
still labored,
slowed down
and the tears became
infrequent.

She began speaking,
saying things I
did not
expect
and didn’t know
how to respond to;
but I
still held her
close.

I listened patiently,
and even when she
finally
fell silent
I still didn’t let go
because

neither did she.

World of Jenks and Why It’s Awesome

world of jenks

I’ve never watched a lot of TV that I actually cared about. Sure, throughout middle school I was entrenched in the story of none other than Ms. Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, but aside from that not much else sticks out in my mind.

During my dad’s illness, I especially avoided watching TV because you never knew when a character would just be killed off. I vividly remember going to the movies with my best friend Emily to see The Last Song, a romantic drama based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel when suddenly, out of left field, with barely any foreshadowing to warn vulnerable audience members, the father gets cancer and dies. For “dramatic effect.”  Well, I was deeply insulted. All Emily could do was exaggeratedly mouth in the darkness, “I’m so sorry.” It’s okay Emily; it wasn’t your fault.

When I moved in with my grandparents after my dad died, I watched TV even less. I didn’t even have a TV in my bedroom. I even began to hate having to hear the TV when other people had it on in the other room. (For this reason, I always have either a. a fan blowing in my room to muffle the TV’s sounds b. ear plugs stuffed so far in my ears I worry I’ll never be able to pull them out c. headphones snug atop my head with music pouring into my ears or d. a combination of all the above.) And so when I do like something on TV, I really like it. I mean, really.

While I was living in my apartment during the school year, it was never a problem when I wanted to watch the one show I do follow on TV. We only had one television but I was lucky to have a roommate that enjoyed watching the same show I did. Now that I’m home though, I realized that in order to watch the season finale of my favorite show, I was going to have to ask permission to watch the television in our living room at 11 o’clock at night. This wouldn’t be an issue in a normal house where teenagers–ahem, young adults (since I’m no longer a teenager anymore)–stay up late and grandparents go to bed early, but since my house is anything but normal, my grandpa watches TV every single night into the wee hours of the morning. Every. Single. Night.

And so I planned my attack to ask him at the opportune moment. Right after breakfast, before anyone had seriously bothered him (yet).

“Hey Grandpa, I have a question for you…”

“Yea, sure.”

All right, at least he seems open to hearing your idea.

“Well, tonight my favorite show is having its season finale at 11 and I was wondering if I could watch it?”

“Why are you asking me?”

Is this a test?

“Well, you always watch TV at that time.”

“You do realize we have more than one television in this house, right?”

Apparently my grandparents had made some changes to our house while I was away. Oh the joys of being a college student returning home for the summer.

 “Oh….okay. Duh. I hadn’t thought of that.”

Home free. Get out fast before he asks more questions!

And just as I stood up to walk upstairs…

“What show is it anyway?”

Oh here we go.

It’s not that I don’t want to share the interesting, exciting things that I love with my grandpa. Really, I do. It’s just that with every interesting and exciting thing I do or discover he seems to question me.

For example:

1)   I became a vegetarian. FOUR YEARS AGO.
THIS Thanksgiving: “Abigail. Why would you want to be a vegetarian? I’ve never known a happy vegetarian. You’re missing out on all the good things in life!”

2)   I wanted to be a music major.
“Abigail. What kind of a job can you get with that?”

3)   I wanted to go to NYU’s creative nonfiction summer writing program.
“Abigail. How is that going to help you at all in life?” (Thanks to all my followers I managed to change his mind about this one!)

4)   I pitched my first book idea to him.
“Abigail. Why the hell would anyone want to read that?”

5)   I cut all my hair off.
“Abigail. Why did you do that? Are you a lesbian?”

Seriously. The list goes on.

So it’s no surprise that I didn’t want to reveal the one show on TV that actually makes me happy just so he can tell me why he thinks it sucks  stinks. But I can’t ignore him since he’s my grandfather after all so I took a deep breath in through my nose to prepare myself for what I knew was coming next and said,

“World of Jenks.”

“World of what?”

“Jenks, Grandpa. Jenks. It’s a guys last name.”

“And what’s it about?”

Time to say goodbye to the one show that brings you joy. It was nice knowing you Jenks, Kaylin, Chad, and D-Real.

Clenching my jaw, I hesitantly began. Because when I find something I really like, I don’t want people questioning why I like it, I just do. And sometimes, it’s hard for me to understand how some people wouldn’t also find the things I like as awesome and completely amazing and inspirational as I do.

 “Well…it’s about this guy…Andrew Jenks. And…he lives with these three people for a year and…documents their lives….

And with a blank stare that seriously suggested I continue on, I said,

“This year he lived with a young man with autism, a new father who is trying to promote peace in Oakland through dance, and a young woman who’s had cancer twice who just moved to New York” you know, that big city with all the lights that’s only a half an hour away from our house “to pursue a career in fashion.”

Perfect. Good job Abigail. Sweet and simple.

 “Abigail.

Oh for the love of God.

Why would you want to watch that? Who cares about those people’s lives? Don’t you want to watch the lives of interesting people, like movie stars?”

Movie stars? Really? That’s the best you got?

 “Because it shows that even though these people aren’t famous, they’re leading amazing lives all on their own!”

“It’s amazing that that girl had cancer?”

“No! Of course not! It’s amazing what she’s doing in spite of her cancer, Grandpa.”

You’re losing the battle Abigail.

“Alriiiiight.”

I didn’t say you had to watch it, did I?

And with that, I walked away and counted the hours until I could sit in front of the new television we apparently acquired while I was away at school to watch the season finale of my favorite show on TV.

*

I guess there are other people who wouldn’t understand why I love World of Jenks so much. So maybe I should try and explain it here. And then maybe my grandpa can read it and understand a little better (since verbal communication isn’t exactly my strong suit—as you can tell from our conversation).

The biggest reason I love this show is because it’s real. The people being filmed aren’t actors. They’re just regular people like you and me. And that’s super cool, because it makes me feel like I could be doing just as cool things as they’re doing.

These people’s stories are true. Neither their pain and struggles nor their victories and triumphs are made up for dramatic effect (take note, Nicholas Sparks). And the best part is that they don’t let the obstacles in their lives—whether it be autism in Chad’s case, Kaylin’s pain after chemotherapy, or the violence where D-Real lives—identify them or keep them from doing amazing things. Jenks and his crew use the show to humanize these individuals instead of letting stereotypes define them.

chad

For example, despite the challenges that Chad faces because of his autism, in the year that Jenks followed his life, he graduated high school, got himself a job, and even moved with his family despite the anxiety it brought him.

dreal

D-Real (who I posted a video of here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/dancing-in-the-rain/) created dance competitions in Oakland to promote nonviolence and his dance crew performed for Mac Miller and even got signed with an extremely well-known choreographer.

kaylin

Kaylin said f*ck you to cancer and moved from California to New York while in remission, published a comic series about cancer, got a job with a fashion designer, and even put together her own line that was shown at Brooklyn’s Fashion Week despite having to make it all in a few short days when her sample maker failed to make the pieces correctly.

I especially relate to Kaylin since I watched my dad battle cancer. I was so proud to see the way she handled her diagnosis (with a kick butt, take names later attitude) and the way she persevered to create a better life for herself while she could. Kaylin has a blog, which I highly recommend checking out here: http://cancerisnotfunny.blogspot.com. Unfortunately, from what I can tell from her blog, Kaylin’s cancer returned and it appears she’s needed help paying for medical services. I don’t know Kaylin personally but I do know her story and believe she would greatly appreciate any donation, no matter how small. (Despite this jab at trying to advertise on Kaylin’s behalf, I really recommend checking out her site, if only to read the unique way she has documented her experiences with cancer.)

I also love that the show is a documentary. There is rarely a time when the camera isn’t rolling because you never know when something important may happen. I think this is a testament to both the people behind the camera and the people on it because there is really no time to “take five,” making this the most demanding type of filmography (is that even a word?) there is, in my opinion. Not to mention all the editors who have to watch all the hours of footage and piece together the important parts to create a cohesive story for each individual. They work through the night, through the tears, and through the smiles of each of their subjects gracefully and honestly. And by doing so, Jenks and his team educate their audience on different ways of life and expose the audience to different perspectives, something we can all learn from. Jenks has my dream job. Telling other people’s stories.

Most importantly, I like watching these individual’s lives because it makes me feel like I stand a chance in this world that at times makes no sense at all. If these people can overcome the obstacles in their lives, I can certainly work my way to create a life that is different from the one I have been born into.

I guess the best way to put it is that the show gives me hope for a better life.

And so I write this post as a way to say thanks to everyone who was a part of the show for keeping that light at the end of the tunnel shining bright for me.

Here’s the trailer for the show if you’d like to check it out!

Feel Good 101: How You Look And Why It Doesn’t Matter

I came across this video on my Facebook last week and couldn’t help but click to watch it after seeing the title. The girl speaking is Emma Blackery and in this video she talks about why our appearance shouldn’t–and doesn’t– matter in how we live our lives. It’s a great confidence boost to watch and if anything, it’s really fun to just listen to her wonderful British accent. I hope you enjoy watching and I hope it gives you a little self-esteem boost for the day (if not longer!) 🙂