“If we were content…

“If we were content, we would not wonder about things…When we ponder and wonder about this universe we are living in, we see that it is very vast, mysterious and incomprehensible to us.”~Ajahn Sumedho The Four Noble Truths 

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Goodbye Summer!

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Today I head off to New Paltz to move back into my apartment for the semester. It’s shocking how quickly the summer went by. In my last post, I complained that the summer was a “bit of a bust” (https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/what-i-actually-learned-something-this-summer/) but when I thought about it, I did a lot of cool stuff. And since we all know I like lists…here’s another one!

The Cool Things I Did This Summer (this blog is becoming my second journal…uh-oh):

1. Writers in NY at NYU. 4 weeks. 2 Writing classes. 2 amazing professors. Countless friends. Invaluable experience. group shot writers in ny1

2. Volunteering at Blythedale Children’s Hospital. Assisting in a second grade classroom where the kids taught me more than I could have ever taught them.

3. Wisdom Tooth Removed. Never want to relive that. Too bad I still have two more to get pulled. Yikes.

4. She & Him in Concert. Probably on the hottest day of the summer but who cares? Zooey and M. Ward brought the house down!

5. Got a tattoo! In my dad’s handwriting.

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6. Made a significant dent in a dessert at Serendipity’s in New York.

Before: (There’s a slice of cheesecake hidden under there!)
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After: IMG_0009

7. Taught my first violin lessons. On our first lesson, she didn’t even know the names of the strings. Now, she’s reading music and plays “Happy Birthday” like nobody’s business!

8. Read An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp and My First New York (various authors). I should’ve read more.

9. Spent time with my second and third families. My dad’s best friend, Nina, and the Garecht’s, from which Aunt Kara comes from. I got to see her two daughters perform in great community theater productions and was so proud of them!

10. Finally decided to pursue my dream. New York, you don’t know what’s coming for ya!

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Now that I’ve reflected on the past, I want to vow to do some really great things this upcoming semester. Here’s a list of resolutions that I think I will be more likely to stick to if I share them with all of you!

1. Strike a balance. Between classes, friends, writing, and music. That should be easy enough, right?

2. Eat healthy. Eat happy.

3. Read more books outside of class. My list is already a mile long. No joke.

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And that’s only the books I don’t own yet. I’ve got about twenty unread books on my shelf that are waiting for me. Not to mention this one! photo-34. Make a writing schedule and stick to it (aside from the blog). Otherwise, nothing will ever get done!

5. Complete my NYU application. There’s no way I’ll be able to get in if I don’t accomplish this!

6. Concerts! I’m already going to see Grace Potter & the Nocturnals and the Allman Brothers on September 7th. Jake Bugg on the 17th. And Johnny Flynn on the 23rd. Music is my religion.

7. Keep up on current events. Good Morning America does not count.

8. Most of all, ENJOY MYSELF.

“It is impossible to live without…

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all–in which case, you fail by default.”~J.K. Rowling

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For those of you interested in hearing the entirety of the speech from which this quote came from, here it is! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHGqp8lz36c

It’s Waiting For You

Last night I was lucky enough to attend the book launch for one of my professor’s from NYU, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh (say-rah-fee-zah-day). Yes, I did just take the book off of my nightstand to spell his last name. Before the first day of class, I read his name on the front of my course reader and was certain it was a test to see if I’d mastered the English language.

His collection of short stories is titled, “Brief Encounters With the Enemy” and from reading the first story and a half on the train ride home, I must say I love it. Saïd’s voice is clear. His sense of humor is unique and off-beat. And after taking such an amazing class with him, I can almost hear him reading the stories to me.

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When I arrived at McNally Jackson’s Bookstore on Prince Street in Soho, I initially stood all the way in the back. All the seats had already been taken. Behind me, a group of several women were commenting on how stuffy it was where we stood. I had come to the event not only to support my professor (and dare I say it, friend) but also to try and meet some other writers in New York. Some may call it “making connections,” but in class, we always called it “making friends.” I was determined to meet at least one new person.

I turned around to the ladies and said, “It is really hot back here, isn’t it?” Very original. Thought provoking, even. The older of the ladies laughed and commented on how she wasn’t a good judge of temperature. “Hot flashes,” she said. The two other women laughed as well. One had milk white skin and wore a light turquoise dress. Her hair touched her chin in dark ringlets. The other wore a white blazer and black pants with long sandy hair past her shoulders. I wasn’t sure if I had officially entered their conversation so I stood there quietly, halfway turned towards them and halfway towards the microphones at the front of the room.

Through the labyrinth of bookcases, I caught a glimpse of one of my classmates. I slipped past the women, who by then had forgotten my silly comment about the indoor climate, and snaked my way to the front of the room.

“David!” I shouted, but in that quiet way as to not disturb anyone. He didn’t turn. “David!” I tried again a little louder.

He looked up from the pastry he carried through tortoise shell frames reminiscent of Woody Allen. He looked exactly the way I left him at the end of June. Gray hair turning white. A matching beard. And when he caught sight of the lone girl who called his name, he smiled. The same goofy smile that reminded me of my dad the first day I met him.

David had been a real estate lawyer for many years in New York. He lives in Manhattan, only a block away from where we had class, in what I imagine is a beautiful (read: unbelievably expensive) apartment. After decades, he’s left his law firm to pursue a writing career. “Time for something new,” he might say. Courageous, I might reply.

Saïd read an excerpt from the first story in the collection, called “Cartography.” I was reminded of the first time I heard him read.

It was my second night in New York, and all the writing students for the Writers in NY program had been crammed into the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers house. A podium stood in front of the stained glass window looking onto 10th street. Rain streamed down the window in rivulets. Outside, it looked like a black and white film.

Small black folding chairs had been set up in rows across the entire floor. The chairs were so close together that if you shifted even an inch to either side, you’d bump into your neighbor, who, chances were, you just met earlier that day in class. Not awkward at all. But there still weren’t enough seats. Bodies littered the staircase.

I imagined how funny it would be if the people in the building across the street, with their curtains opened, walked across their living room naked. The reader at the front of the room would have no idea, with his or her back turned to the excitement, but we would all laugh. The reader would think he or she was funny. Oh, I hoped the readers would be funny.

After the first professor read, I remembered a friend telling me how she used to record the audio of all our lectures on her cell phone during the spring semester. I didn’t think people actually did that.

But I took her advice and pulled my cell phone out and hit record. Each night after, I did the same thing.

I’d only had one class with Saïd at that point, yet I felt a certain pride in seeing my professor up in front of all the students of the program. Those in my class and not.

He introduced the piece. “This was written ten years ago. At the start of the Iraq war. For those of you who live in New York, you’ll understand by the title alone, some of the significance…it’s called War and Duane Reade.”*

Like a switch had been flipped within, he began. Animated and lively, yet incredibly articulate, pronouncing every syllable. “Day 14: U.S. Troops four miles from Baghdad. It was 9PM and I was out of Breathe Right strips.” I knew this was going to be good.

By the time he finished a few minutes later, I couldn’t be happier that he was my professor. A few weeks later, my other professor from the program had us read the piece he had read aloud that first night. I loved it of course. But there was no way it could even compare to his reading of the piece. It wasn’t even a reading. It was a performance. And when I learned that Saïd was once an actor, it made perfect sense how he knew just how to lilt his voice to create the most dramatic effect, or how to time his phrases just so, as to emphasize the funniest part. On one particularly lonely night in the dorm room, I listened to him perform his piece. It was just as funny as I remembered.

Last night was no different. I noticed how he guides the listener through the story, sometimes in the wrong direction just by the tone of his voice. The place we end up is even funnier, wittier, and more clever than we expected. He’s not afraid of silence and pauses to not only demand attention, but create curiosity in his listeners.

The woman in the turquoise dress had come to sit up front. As another friend of mine would say, she had “rock star seating.” It made complete sense when Saïd mentioned his wife and motioned towards her. Karen.

After the reading, I introduced myself. I hope she didn’t remember me as the incompetent small-talk girl. If she did, that was alright too. I had met my one person for the night.

Saïd had spoke of her in class a few times. It was obvious how much he loved her. It was in the sound of his voice. If you listened ever so closely, a special tenderness could be heard that was only saved for mention of her. I could have been imagining it of course, but when I saw the way her eyes gleamed with pride while Saïd read, I knew I hadn’t.

I felt that sort of pride too. Not the that’s-my-husband-and-I’m-so-proud-of-him-because-he’s-worked-on-this-book-forever-and-now-it’s-finally-published-hallelujah-now-we-can-actually-talk-again sort of pride. More of the holy-crap-that’s-my-teacher-(and-I-like-to-think-friend)-who-I-am-watching-live-his-dream-that’s-so-cool-I-hope-one-day-that’s-me kind of pride.

I couldn’t help but crave to be a part of this literary world. It hadn’t ended when I left New York. It’s still going on. And I guess Saïd knew I’d realize this because he signed my book, “Here’s to everything in NYC…It’s waiting for you.”

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*For those of you that want to read “War and Duane Reade,” here’s the link: http://mrbellersneighborhood.com/2003/04/war-and-duane-reade

Steal Like An Artist*

I’ve been home for about a month now after being part of the creative writing program at NYU and I have to admit, I feel I’ve hit a creative slump. It probably seems ironic that after being part of such an amazing writing experience, I would come home and feel my inspiration and work ethic had dried up. But after thinking about it for a while, I don’t think it’s ironic at all.

Because while I was at NYU, I was living in a fast-paced environment, surrounded by others who were working hard just like me to achieve their dreams. I was supported by a group of fellow writers and I watched them succeed. But now that I’m home, I feel I’m in the doldrums.

I no longer see and speak with my writing support group every day. I no longer have the opportunity to attend literary events that were so common in the city. And I’ve had too much time on my hands to think about projects I’d like to do. So much time that I think too much about them and instead of getting them started, think about how overwhelming the possibilities are.

But not creating work has been bringing me down. I need to get back into the swing of things. So instead of sitting on my butt one more day, I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands.

A few weeks ago, I was given the book “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon as a gift from a fellow writer.

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What better way to get out of my creative slump than to read someone’s advice about getting out of your creative slump?

I won’t list the ten secrets here because I really want you to read it for yourself, but I will share a few key things that I got out of it that I know will help me kick my butt into gear in order to get work done.

  1. Study one writer that you love inside and out and then study the writers that influenced him/her. This is your creativity family tree. Look to them for advice. Even if they’re dead.
  2. Write down your favorite passages from books, print out your favorite photographs, paintings, and headshots of your favorite authors and put them in a notebook or hang them on your wall so when you need motivation all you have to do is flip the pages or look around your room.
  3. Write down your ideas when you have them. That way, if you are ever sitting at your desk unsure of what to write, you can look through the book and start working on one of those ideas.
  4. Don’t forget to use your hands to create! Computers are extremely useful when it’s time to finalize a project, but when starting out it can be too easy to erase and edit before you’ve even got your idea down.
  5. When you run out of ideas, do something boring like folding laundry so your mind can wander.
  6. Don’t be afraid to create stuff that isn’t “good.” Now is the time to experiment. Enjoy it.

There’s so much more that this small book has to offer, so I highly recommend checking it out for yourself. I think each of us can take something different away from it. So for those of us in a creative slump, let’s get some art made!

*I stole the title from Mr. Kleon himself!