It’s About Happiness

This week, I interviewed one of my friends from school and another inspiration in my life, Sabrina 🙂 She talks about her life growing up in a biracial household and how it helped her learn to accept herself. She comes to a beautiful conclusion at the end so make sure you watch the whole thing! Enjoy! 

Create Yourself: I’m a Free Spirit

This week, I interviewed another great friend from school about her identity as a “free spirit.” She talks about what it means to her to be a “free spirit,” how she came to identify herself as one, and what each of us can do to become one as well. She’s awesome so you should click play before you miss out!

If Not Now, When?

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The other night I was home as usual–I know, it must be hard to believe I’m not out every night at the club—and I had yet another revelation.

It’s time for me to leave my grandparents house.

In order for me to fully begin the process of following my dream of moving to New York and becoming a writer, I need to be independent. I need to break the physical tethers tying me home so I can be free to make my own decisions.

It may seem silly to move all my things to New Paltz only to move them all the way down into the city in only a few short months, but I know that this is the right thing to do. By moving all my things upstate, I won’t have to make an interim stop at my grandparents in the winter. This will not only save time, but will keep me from falling into the same slump I fell into last winter and this summer.

When I am at school I am constantly being stimulated and inspired simply by virtue of being in an academic setting (even if it’s not perfect). I have a much clearer focus of what I want to do and how I’m going to get it done. I am completely independent, cleaning and doing my own grocery shopping and cooking (even if it is only vegetables and veggie burgers most nights).

But when I return home, I feel as though all the progress I’ve made during the semester is lost. I go back to relying on my grandparents more than I’d like to. I have to tell them where I’m going, why, and when I’ll be back. Every time I sit down to do work, my little sister knocks on the door. And most of all, it’s extremely hard to feel inspired here when everyone in my family has been living the same way for longer than I’ve been alive—and sometimes not in the healthiest ways.

By moving my things upstate now, I will begin to feel the freedom that I crave. I will make decisions for myself without worrying about what my family will or will not approve of. I will be free from criticism (that my grandfather thinks is helpful, which sometimes just hurts). I will be the head of my household. The decision maker of my life. The captain of my ship, if you will.

I always imagined this sort of independence when I was younger. Even before my dad became sick, I dreamed of living on my own at a young age and providing for myself. I wanted that sense of independence over my own life. And my dad never disagreed.

When he died though, my fierce sense of independence dulled. But now that I’ve healed and refocused my energy, I look forward to the opportunity to truly be on my own.

My grandparents have done so much for me growing up and I am truly grateful to them. But now it is time for me to live my own life. “Carve my own path,” like my grandpa just said the other day.

And if they truly love me, they will be happy with my decision. Because they know this is what will help me find fulfillment.

And if I’m not mistaken, this is what all parents’–or in this case, grandparents–want for their children. For them to be strong, determined, and independent. It means they’ve done their job right. And for me, they have.

The Time Is Now

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Now that I’ve had my revelation that the kind of life I lead is entirely up to me, (as written about here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/a-best-friend-as-inspiration/) I had another revelation in succession.

I can start making changes right now to live the life I want. I don’t need to wait until I “grow up” to start making serious decisions for myself. I am alive now. I could start today. I could start this very minute. But just like all my great insights, it’s nice that I had it—but what was I going to do about it?

Once I realized believed that I could begin making changes right now to begin leading the life I’ve dreamed of, I started doing just that.

I quit my stupid job at the accessory store. Yes, I need the money, but after a few especially sour shifts within the last few days I said enough was enough. The work I really want to—and need to– be doing—my writing—wasn’t getting done the way I wanted and since I don’t plan on becoming the manager of a retail accessory store in any future—near or distant–I figured I had to prioritize.

Now I have structured time to get writing done. Because I’m no longer just writing for this here blog. Aside from my journal, I’m currently working on pieces to submit to literary journals and websites. The moment I send my first story out, you’ll be the first to know. I want you to go on this journey with me. Because it’s about time I start practicing what I preach. Enough of me encouraging my readers to reach for their dreams and never settle while I muddle through at a school I don’t feel stimulated at and a town where everyone seems to move in slow motion. It’s time I started taking my own advice.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on the many rejections I’m looking forward to receiving as well. Because like my professor at NYU said, rejection is a part of being a writer. We can’t let it get us down. We have to keep writing and sending our work out there. If it gets rejected, that means it’s out in the world. And if it’s out in the world, you never know whose hands it may get into. And they may just love it.

Without my retail job, I also have time to get myself ready to move back to New Paltz for the fall. Which mainly involves buying extra pairs of underwear. I’m not looking forward to moving back, but now that I know I will only be there for one semester, it feels manageable. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And that light is the glowing city skyline of New York.

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A Best Friend As Inspiration

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(Michelle and I in 2009)

While I was in New Paltz earlier this week, I met up with my oldest friend, Michelle. We’ve grown up together since kindergarten and stayed best friends even when she moved away to North Carolina during middle school. We clung to each other in those years mainly because we saw a lot of ourselves in the other. We were both bright girls, living with single mothers who both had/have mental health issues, and were extremely close to our grandparents. We believed in staying on the “straight and narrow” and fantasized about the day when we would be old enough to live on our own and leave behind a childhood tainted with painful memories.

As time went on, we went down our separate paths. Michelle moved back to New York, but went to a different school and made new friends. Ones that were nothing like mine. But no matter how different we became—Michelle with her color coordinated closet, superior interior decorating skills, and name brand purses; Me with my thrift shop clothes, messy and disorganized bedroom, and more books than fit on the shelves—we always stayed in touch. Always made time to see each other every few months to catch up and reconnect.

So when I saw her this week, it was no different. She brought the newest addition to her family, Willow, her eleven-week-old puppy and we found an outdoor patio to sit and have lunch. As she told me about the positive changes she’s made in her life recently, I couldn’t help but feel extremely proud of her. And the more I listened, the more inspired I became.

She has a job that has provided her with enough money to put the down payment on her first apartment. She’s heading back to school with a clear focus on what she wants to pursue. She’s switched her lifestyle to become healthier and I can tell that all it’s done is made her happier.

It didn’t hit me till I was thinking later that night, but she is living the dream that we had fantasized about when we were younger. She’s entirely independent. She doesn’t have any ties to the unhealthy influences from her childhood. And all because she took the initiative to create the life she wants to live. It was her decision. Her choice.

And so as I thought about it, I became even more sure of my plan to move into the city in January. Studying at New Paltz was a great way for me to transition from living with my grandparents’ and moving on from the loss of my father. It was a small school, relatively close to home, in a small, quaint village, with a slow pace of life that helped me adjust to “college life.”

But now that I’ve dealt with the loss of my father and know how to navigate my way through college, I’m ready to live the life I’ve dreamed of. And as much as I wish it included New Paltz, right now it doesn’t. I not only know that I have the ability to choose my path in life. I believe it. No matter how grand or wild it may seem. I don’t need anyone’s permission. It is my decision. My choice. My life. And I can’t tell you how liberating that finally feels.

New Paltz vs. New York

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Monday afternoon I decided to take a spur of the moment trip to my apartment where I go to school during the year. My roommate is moving out and I’ll be living all alone for the very first time in my life come fall. The idea of living on my very own is a scary one for sure, but it’s also very exciting. I love the idea of choosing exactly how the place will look and feel. Being able to do exactly what I want, when I want, without having to worry about disturbing a roommate. Everything is already furnished and set up from last year and my half of our bedroom is already decorated. I just need a few odds and ends like a vacuum cleaner and a toaster oven. But although I’d like to decorate some more and really settle in, I’m hesitant to.

Mainly because I’m not entirely sure how long I’ll be living there. (Plot twist!)

After spending a month living in Manhattan, and enjoying the fast-pace of life, the abundance of opportunities, and creative minds around every corner (or at least that’s what I think of everyone there), I’m considering transferring schools. Ideally, I’d love to go to NYU since my summer writing program was so amazing. I’ve talked to professors and students alike and feel confident that their writing program would better suit me than the one I am currently a part of. And there’s no better place to pursue art than the city.

It’s a really big decision of course, mainly because my cost of living would drastically increase. And unfortunately, I’ve still yet to inherit the big bucks from my dad. (Spoiler alert! There were no big bucks.) But I’m not complaining. I’d rather work hard for what I have than have it handed to me. That way I can be proud of what I have.

Which is probably the main reason I’m busting my hump this summer. I’m teaching violin lessons, which is a fast and super enjoyable way to make money. My student is so enthusiastic to learn and I couldn’t be happier with her progress. I’m also volunteering at a children’s hospital and am grateful and amazed with the kids I get to be with. I’m also working at the same retail shop I did last summer, and although it has its moments where it’s enjoyable and fun, I’m not very happy to be back. It’s an accessory store so I’m required to wear all black and AT LEAST six colored accessories each time I clock in. (Seriously, who actually wears SIX accessories at once in the real world?!) It wouldn’t be too bad if I actually liked dressing up, but unfortunately for me, I hate it. Give me a pair of jeans and a t-shirt any day and I’m more than happy. But a job means money. And I need to save as much as I can if I want to make such a drastic move after the semester is over in December.

I imagine that if I’m accepted to NYU and am offered a manageable financial aid package, by January I’ll move into a place in the city to finally settle down. Moving into my own apartment upstate will be great, but the idea of actually finding a space in the city–even though it will be small and I’ll most likely have to share with people–sounds even better because I know that once I’m there, I won’t be leaving anytime soon. I won’t want to. Because I’ll be in exactly the place I’m meant to be.

And now that I have over a year of college and living away from home under my belt, I think I’m finally ready to take this next step in my life to follow my dream of living in the city to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. (Killing two dreams with one move?) Because although I love the school I attend now, the same opportunities just don’t exist where it is located. It’s beautiful; don’t get me wrong.

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(Both photographs taken from the bike path by my apartment)

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But I’d hate to graduate in two years and wonder what if I had spent these last two years in the city? How different could my life be? 

I don’t want to live a life of what ifs.

Why Do I Write, Anyway?

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Last night I sat down to write the first version of today’s blog post. It was a particularly personal (read: exploitative) tale about my loving (read: insane) family (as per usual) but by the end–I don’t know how–I came to think about why I write in the first place. And that’s when I realized I needed to write a new post for today.

Because I got excited. I mean, really excited. My gears started turning and I couldn’t stop thinking of things to write–about why I write– long enough to brush my teeth efficiently. I mean let’s face it; I’ve had a pretty atypical childhood and adolescence. But last night as I wrote just how dysfunctional everything can feel at times in my family, I realized that I don’t just write for fun. I write to survive.

I’ve written my whole life. Before I entered kindergarten (I never went to pre-school) I made my mom write the letters of the alphabet down the left side of a sheet of paper so I could copy each letter over and over again all the way across to the right side. In the first grade, my class spent most of the year creating our own stories that we made into books. I wrote a book about my favorite color (which was green at the time), the baby my mom miscarried before she had me, and one about a pacifist princess who was trapped inside of a castle while a war was raging outside. Each page had an illustration and at the end of each book was a page entitled “About the Author.” Here, I wrote about where I lived and who I lived with and what I wanted to be when I grew up. With each new book, my dream profession changed. In one book, I wanted to be a ballerina; the next, a mother; the next, a rocket scientist. I guess I didn’t realize that writing could be a profession.

As I grew older and the world became more confusing, writing became an outlet, like many artistic endeavors. It became, and still is, a way for me to release emotion in a safe, healthy, and creative way. In this way, writing has been a way to heal. Writing has helped me make sense of a world that I don’t understand.

I write to solve problems in my own life and to help solve problems in my friends lives. I write to help others in the hopes that by sharing my stories, someone else will feel as though they aren’t alone and that one person in the world understands.

I write to escape a life I sometimes feel too big for because my dreams sometimes feel so grand that they feel impossible to accomplish. I write to escape a life I sometimes feel doomed for. Writing is my way to create a better life for myself than the lives of my family before me. It’s not that their lives haven’t been fulfilling to themselves, it’s just that I want something different. Although I’m scared I’ll never reach my dreams, I’m even more terrified of staying exactly where I have been the last twenty years and never reaching farther than the safety of my backyard. And that fear, of never even attempting to fulfill my dreams, is much scarier than the grandness of the dreams themselves.

And so with each piece of writing I complete, I feel more motivated and more inspired to write the next piece. One great idea can sometimes spawn off a slew of other great ideas. It’s self-perpetuating inspiration. Sometimes the thoughts come so fast I’m afraid I won’t be able to capture them all. They race one after another through my mind, as if they’re testing to see how quickly I can respond to their demands of being written down before they disappear forever.

One of the most exciting things about writing for me is that when I start, I can never be sure of where I’m going to end up. Like last night for instance. I started out by writing about my family and ended up writing about my need to write. Writing for me, is like a road trip without a map. Sometimes you end up in a really cool place like a water park or a zoo. Sometimes you end up in weird places like your ex-boyfriends house. And other times you end up in really painful places, like your dad’s hospital bed. But by traveling through language, I learn about myself and suddenly, I’ve created something. What was once a blank piece of paper is now filled with my thoughts. What was once nothing, is now something.

To conclude with all my writing about writing, I’m happy (and super proud) to announce that this summer I’ll be taking the next step toward my dream of becoming a writer. At the end of May I’ll be headed to NYU for their creative nonfiction summer writing program for four weeks. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime and I thank each and every person who has ever taken the time out of their day to read my blog. You are helping my dreams come true.

Going Home…

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My Family–For Real. 

Those are peanuts in their noses mouths face holes. 

From left: Grandpa, little sister Mazie, Mom, and Grandma (in front)

It’s hard to believe my first year away at college is over. It seems like yesterday that I was moving in my furniture in the hot August air and waving goodbye as my grandparents drove away. I remember the sinking feeling in my gut as I realized I was left to start this new journey on my own. No longer would I have my grandparents right at the bottom of the stairs to talk to when I got bored. No longer would I make my grandma fruit salad every morning for breakfast. No longer would I have dinner with both of them each evening. No longer would we watch bad singing competitions every week. On the other hand however, no longer would I have to live at home where at times it could be difficult to study. No longer would I have to ask permission to leave the house. No longer would I have to answer to anyone but myself.

Don’t get me wrong though, I love my grandparents for all that they have always done and continue to do for me and I’m so happy to be returning home for the summer, but when I moved into my own place last August it was truly time for me to take the next step in my life towards my independence. And I truly can’t thank my grandparents enough for nourishing me, encouraging me, and letting me take that step all on my own.

And for the first few weeks of school, I was thrilled. I loved everything about my campus, my apartment, my classes, and my freedom. It wasn’t until around the middle of September that it finally hit me: I wasn’t going home any time soon. I had adjusted to living with my grandparents and commuting to school so much the previous year that it felt abnormal to commit myself solely to “college life,” whatever that even meant. Anxiety crept up on me and I felt out of place, shy, and confused. It seemed everyone knew what they wanted to study, had friends, and didn’t need me to hang around like a lost puppy. I felt discouraged, but persevered in the hopes that I’d slowly assimilate to my new lifestyle even though it seemed impossible back then.

In order to manage my anxiety, I started seeing a counselor once a week off campus and it made all the difference. For one hour a week, I was able to indulge my inner narcissist and talk about only myself and my worries, my fears, my struggles; and best of all my accomplishments and triumphs. Throughout the year, I learned how to cope with anxiety in healthy ways, learned how to identify anxiety-binding behaviors, was able to find my niche in my academics and with a couple of close friends, and most importantly learned to accept the people in my life for who they are.

This last lesson has been extremely helpful in maintaining relationships with my family, who at times (like all families) can be hard to handle, especially when my mom and sister moved in last summer. There are so many conflicting personalities and attitudes working against each other in such a small space that it can be hard at times to get along. I used to create expectations in my mind of what my family should be like and would be disappointed when I’d return home for a weekend or a school vacation to find that they hadn’t changed at all. But by learning to accept the members in my family for who they are—who they have been, and who they are most likely going to be—I have been able to create better relationships with each of them and know that accepting them is essential to living with them this summer and staying in a positive and healthy mindset. I have learned that there are no shoulds, only what is.

Now, as I head home for the summer, I know the best ways of how to live in an environment that can sometimes be tricky to navigate. I look forward to the plans I have made to keep me occupied over the summer (which I will be blogging about very soon! Stay tuned!) and can’t wait to have my grandma cook dinner for me. Lord knows (if you believe in that sort of thing), I’m sick of my own bad cooking.

The Jeep’s Joke

In the words of my roommate, “sometimes it feels like my life is one big joke that I’m just not in on.” I’m sure many of us feel this way at some point in our lives, whether it be when so many things go wrong after the other, or when finally things seem to be going well and then suddenly something goes terribly wrong again. The latter can almost feel worse because it’s like you’ve been tricked into a false sense of security.

Last night, I experienced just this.

It was the end of a long few weeks. Being back at school had been an adjustment and is still something I’m getting used to. I had been feeling a little isolated and stir crazy but by Friday I was feeling a lot better. I had finished two essays, took two tests and was looking forward to coming home to visit my family for the long holiday weekend. (For those that don’t know, Monday is President’s Day here in the U.S. and the college I attend doesn’t hold classes on this day. Most schools don’t.) I was in a really great mood after having a lovely day of classes and having lunch with a friend where we planned our adventures for spring break (which don’t involve bikinis, fake tans, Cancun, or booze, contrary to popular belief).

As I got back to my apartment, I was feeling good about myself and was excited to get on the road. I packed the car up, filled up my tank and headed out. Because I left later than usual and wanted to avoid traffic, I decided to take the long way home. It’s a pretty drive and with some fun tunes I can barely notice the time difference. I felt calm as I passed through mountains and admired their beauty, covered in snow. I looked forward to getting home to see my family and to the delicious meal I’d surely be having. I sang along to a catchy pop album (One Direction’s “Take Me Home” if you must know—not much has changed from my five year old self) and suddenly, I thought about the uncertainty of the future. While I may have been daydreaming about getting home there was no certainty that I would get there. So many things could happen on the road that could have prevented me from arriving. I contemplated the uncertainty of having an accident, a tire blowing off a truck into my lane, or a meteor crashing down in front of me. But never did I think of my car breaking down.

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Let me mention here that I drive my dad’s ‘96 Jeep Grand Cherokee that has been in and out of the mechanic’s shop since I’ve been driving it.

*

As I exited one highway to begin the last part of my journey on another, I noticed the emissions from my exhaust were white. So unnaturally white that they were fogging up my back windshield. I immediately checked my gauges and everything was perfectly fine. My gas tank was still full, I wasn’t speeding, my battery was charging, and my engine wasn’t overheating. Well, it wasn’t overheating for the first few minutes at least.

Defying the law, I used my cell phone to call my grandparent’s house. I never use my cell phone while driving so I’m really not good at coordinating these two activities but there was nowhere to pull off and I knew my grandpa would know what to do. With the phone on speaker, he answered and I told him what was going on. And as I did, my temperature gauge slowly began to rise. The Jeep was entering dangerous territory and I worried it would overheat before I would get the chance to pull over.

Luckily, the next exit wasn’t too far off. With my grandpa still on the phone, I silently encouraged the Jeep to make it off the highway—just to the gas station. Come on little Jeepy, you can do it. We can make it to the gas station. You’re so beautiful. Come on; I love you.

Once off the highway, I had to wait at a red light. With limited time and the temperature gauge rising, I began panicking at the idea of my engine burning out. Suddenly, an image of my dad blasting the heat when the Jeep was going to overheat one day when he drove me to school popped into my head and I immediately switched the heat on full blast. It roared on and finally the light turned green and I was able to make it to the gas station by the skin of my teeth. Quickly pulling into a spot–completely crooked, I might add–I shut the car off and finally exhaled. I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath since I had called home.

Smoke came billowing out from under the hood. I groaned as I came to terms with the severity of the problem. My grandpa still on the phone, I waited for the car to cool down before I checked under the hood.

I don’t want to perpetuate gender stereotypes anymore than the next guy but I can’t help but admit that whenever I look under the hood of my Jeep I look something like this:

GrumpyCat

I have no clue what I’m looking for. Everything looks exactly the same. Asking me to find the problem is kind of like asking a goldfish to ride a bicycle. It’s just not going to happen unless you’re in a Dr. Seuss book. I can learn how to play Bach; I can list all the books J.D. Salinger’s written; I can count to thirty in French; I can name any Beatles song; but I cannot tell you anything about what goes on under the hood of the Jeep.

Knowing that I would not be able to diagnose the problem myself, I walked up to the gas station’s entrance. But right as I was about to enter, a fire chief pulled up next to me and I decided to ask for his help instead. He checked under the hood and immediately saw the problem. It’s fixable (THANK THE HEAVENS–if you believe in that sort of thing) but couldn’t be fixed then and there. Instead of getting it towed the fifty miles to my house, my grandpa decided to come and retrieve me and today he and a friend/mechanic will go and pick it up. I got off the phone and sat in my car and stewed.

I felt like I’d been slapped in the face. Everything was finally going so great and then out of the blue, bam, another crappy thing happened. I couldn’t believe my car had broken again. It was becoming routine. Each time I would get in, I would wonder what problem would arise next. But in my happy state of mind before, I simply didn’t think the Jeep would break down this time.

I didn’t want to wait an hour by myself just sitting in the Jeep alone while I waited for my grandpa but everyone I called was busy. Realizing that I couldn’t change what had happened, I put my headphones on and put on a different album than before, one less energized and happy. As the music matched my mood, I felt a slight change within. Sure, my car crapped out. But it could have been a lot worse. I could have been in an accident and gotten hurt. What if I had taken my usual route home and got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with my car overheating and no chance of turning it off in time? What if I hadn’t been able to pull over at all? Gaining some perspective, I continued to think that my attitude was really something from within. Outside forces will always try to threaten to change my moods but ultimately, I am the one who gives permission for these forces to do so. I have control over how I feel about every situation. As I came to terms with the fact that I couldn’t change my situation and that I just had to accept it, I calmed down and enjoyed the time to listen to a good album and relax.

I think it’s really easy to get caught up in the external forces that threaten to alter our moods and lose focus on the positive attitude we always have within. I believe that we all have this sense of self within and that with a lot of focus on this strength, we can maintain an attitude we are happy with even when things go wrong (especially with such trivial things, like a car breaking down). Life suddenly isn’t some joke filled with cruel punch lines, but a comedy that sometimes has a series of unfortunate events that we can choose to laugh at.