If You Think Cancer Sucks…Check Out What These Guys Are Doing!

Having lost my father to cancer three years ago, I know first hand how much cancer sucks. And I think we can all agree on that. I came across this charity online the other day called Trekstock. They raise money to fund cancer research and develop educational programs for young people to learn healthy ways of living that could potentially prevent a cancer diagnosis later in life. Because did you know that most cancer diagnoses are due to lifestyle choices? The familiar faces you see in the video below are Liam Payne and Harry Styles from One Direction and I think it’s super cool that they signed on to bring awareness to this cause. It really is such an important one.

For those of you who are interested in supporting the cause, you can follow this link http://http://www.prizeo.com/prizes/liam-and-harry/an-evening-out-with-liam-and-harry for more information on donating. As the boys said in the video, if you make a donation (as small as  $3!) you’ll be entered to win a trip to London to shop and spend an evening with them.

The reward is secondary to the cause of course but I know that there are plenty of One Direction fans that would love to have a chance to meet the boys. And why not give it a shot by donating to such a great cause?! I know I made my donation!

If you do send a donation, I’d love for you to share my name as the person who brought this to your attention! It’d be a great way to spread the news around.

Let me know what you guys think and if you donate! 🙂 And if you win, you better be taking me with you! 😉

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:

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Reality:

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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 🙂

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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.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is an amazing documentary that examines women’s lives in ten countries around the world: Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia and the U.S. These girls are living under unimaginable circumstances and yet, are rising above their oppression to create better lives for themselves than generations before. These women are truly inspirational, help put perspective on our own lives and are raising awareness about the living conditions women around the world must face. I highly recommend watching this documentary in the hopes that each person who learns of these living conditions will take one step towards ending them.

Thank a Teacher Today

We’ve all had teachers in our lives that have been exceptional. Most of us can name at least one teacher that even changed our lives. I am pretty lucky though, and can name several. However, there are three in particular that have helped me in ways they don’t even know and have contributed in more ways than one to the woman I am today and the woman I will be in the future. Each of these teachers taught English. And I’m convinced this wasn’t just a coincidence.

In the tenth grade, I walked into my English class, which happened to be in the most unique classroom in the whole school. It was set up like an amphitheater with students’ desks lining each step and the teacher’s desk and materials at the bottom. The atmosphere in the room never felt quite like a standard classroom simply due to its set up and I would quickly learn that the room matched the creative freedom we expressed in class and the unique teaching style of the teacher.

Standing in front of us on the first day of school, our teacher, with brown hair to her shoulders, big blue eyes and an air of confidence that was hard to ignore, immediately proved that she was not going to be any ordinary English teacher. Instead of the usual time spent going over the syllabus and classroom rules, we discussed the difference between the words “pee,” “piss,” and “urinate” to prove the point that authors choose their words carefully because although each of these words essentially mean the same thing, they each bring a certain number of ideas with them and would not be used in every situation. It was diction, and it’s something I pay very close attention to now, in my own writing and in others’.

I immediately felt safe in her classroom and she let me stay there during lunch periods when it was empty instead of making me sit in the cafeteria. I took advantage of this time to enjoy the quiet and read. As the year continued, she opened my mind up to so many different things. Different authors, different music, different creative arts. For the first time, I was being exposed to the English Language Arts in a way I hadn’t before and I was loving it. We spent time in class discussing pieces of work in what she called “hippie circles,” wrote satires and made soundtracks to “A Tale of Two Cities”.

By December, my dad had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and since I wanted my teachers to know what was going on, I told her. We stood with a table between us and I remember feeling like someone finally understood. She didn’t rush me to tell my story or try and wrap the conversation up so she could go to her office. She took the time to actually talk to me about it and see how I felt. We had connected before, but this bonded us permanently. When I needed to talk to someone I knew I could go to her. Even after her class I continued to confide in her, ask her advice, and felt supported by her in more ways than one. I saw so much in her that I wanted to emulate in my life and I still look up to her now as a version of the woman I hope to one day become.

The following year, I walked into my English class with a bundle of nerves in my stomach. The year before I had heard rumors of this teacher that were enough to keep some kids from even taking his class. He had become like a mythical creature that the upperclassmen would talk about. He was tall and lanky, bald (by choice; I later observed that he could grow hair if he wanted) with a huge reddish beard covering his face (I’m convinced that if he shaved it I wouldn’t recognize him) with the most serious look on his face. I heard of angry letters he wrote to his students when they didn’t do their best work (which looking back, is not scary at all but rather shows how much he cared about his students). But although I was worried, I was up for the challenge. I knew his class would test me as a writer and that’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted to leave his class in June knowing that I had become a better writer than when I started in September. That was all.

I never intended however, on developing another close friendship with an English teacher. This year was particularly difficult as it was the last year my dad would be alive (although I obviously didn’t know it then) and since I believed in keeping my teachers’ aware of my current situation at home I had told him as well. One day, I stayed after school to go over a paper revision (as it turned out, he totally would kick my butt as a writer, which I’m very thankful for). When we finished talking about the paper though, he simply asked how things were. It was the first time that year that someone had asked me how I was doing and I saw that he truly cared. I saw that he could be another person I could confide in.

At a time when my own dad could barely take an interest in me since he was just trying to survive, this teacher stepped in as an almost surrogate father, just by being there to talk, sometimes for hours after school on a Friday afternoon. Like my English teacher from the year before, I never felt like I was imposing on his time or that I was holding him up. He always made me feel like I was important and that whatever I had to say was worth the time he took to listen. He made me feel like my story was important to tell and I knew that he cared about the ending. Just like my teacher from the year before, I continued to confide in him throughout the rest of high school and after. I had developed two supportive relationships with teachers who shared the same office.

So by my senior year, I didn’t think I would hit gold a third time with my English teacher, but I was wrong. From the first day of class, I knew she would understand. In a skirt and cozy sweater, her dirty blonde hair barely touching her shoulders, her personality filled the room. It was obvious that she LOVED what she was teaching. Her face would light up as she listened to our opinions on the books we read and she always encouraged us in every way possible. She felt like a mother in the way that she cared for us and our well-being. And since my world had totally shifted after my dad passed away that summer, I knew that it would be important to tell this teacher what I was going through from the start.

And to my surprise, I found yet another teacher who cared to listen to my story and wanted to be there for me. She shared her stories with me and helped me feel less alone, less isolated and like there would always be a shoulder for me to lean on. Even her class projects helped me cope with the loss of my father. Each marking period we had a creative assignment that was intended to help us reflect on our lives in some way. The first project was about something we would always carry with us throughout our lives. I wrote about my dad’s glasses. The second was to take photographs from our past and write the story behind each picture. I wrote about defining moments in my life. And the third was a book of our own poems. These showed the future I hoped to one day have. And even after graduating, she continued to e-mail me, help me with college applications, and go out to dinner to catch up on everything that was going on in my life.

I don’t think the magic of having each of these teachers in sequence could ever be recaptured. I don’t know what brought them all to my high school, to teach the classes they did, but I can’t help but think it was some sort of fate. Academically, my first teacher opened up my mind to new ways of thinking. My second teacher stuffed my brain with information. And my third wrapped it all up with a beautiful ribbon. But the things they taught me outside of the classroom are what have truly shaped me as a person and have had far-reaching effects on my life.

I’m still in touch with each of them and I hope to have them in my life for a very long time. I could write so much more about these three individuals (and I very well may in future posts). I hope that by taking the time to acknowledge their greatness and their influence in my life they will know how much they change the lives of students who probably don’t voice their gratitude. I encourage everyone reading this to think of that one teacher (or many!) who helped shape your life and send them a silent thanks (or a real thanks, if you can!). This is my way of thanking those that helped shape mine.

Homeless and Hungry

Driving back to college is always an adventure. The car is filled to maximum capacity with more clothes, more shoes, more books, and in my case, more instruments than you left with. And sitting alone while you are knowingly driving yourself away from your home and your family (no matter how dysfunctional they are) never feels right. Playing a good album is always a nice distraction, but no matter how loud you play it, it’s never loud enough to quiet your often contradicting thoughts of leaving behind the people you know to return to a place that still may be unfamiliar, yet at the same time, liberating.

So as I drove back to school this past Sunday, my mind was racing. Eager to return to my small apartment and have peace and quiet-quite the contrary to the noisy and chaotic nature of my home at my grandparent’s- I passed cars on the highway and watched the vivid blue sky pass overhead, while the sun warmed the car, despite the chilly temperature. Returning to the small, almost rural town I live in while at school was something I looked forward to after being in a more urban area for the winter break. Daydreaming about my new classes like Women Images and Realities, What Causes Cancer? and Human Biology brought a smile to my face. But slowly, as I got farther from home and closer to my own apartment, I realized new classes meant a whole new group of people to meet and try and make friends with. Loneliness crept up over me as I realized I’d be on my own again, despite having a roommate. I’d have to manage my own life again independently, and nerves began to gnaw at my stomach about whether or not I would be able to make this semester a holistic experience rather than a goal-reaching, linear one.

But as I turned off the highway and waited at a stoplight, the reality hit me in the face. I could no longer escape it. I had arrived. There was no turning back. The light turned green and right before I made my turn, I caught sight of a guy standing on the side of the road. In only a glimpse, I could tell he was a younger guy, maybe in his twenties, dressed warmly in a red hat and winter coat with a thick brown beard. He held a sign written on a piece of cardboard that said he was homeless and hungry.

Immediately, my thoughts had turned from being consumed with my life, my feelings, and my college experience, to the possible reality of this man’s life. When I was younger, my dad told me of times when he witnessed people asking for money because they were “homeless,” yet at the end of the night, would hop into a shiny new car. Not wanting to be scammed, I became skeptical of people who so obviously asked for help. Of course I wanted to help, but afraid of falling for a con artist’s scam, I usually passed these people by. I reasoned that if they really needed help, they’d know where to go (even though I don’t know where that would be) and that someone else would of course try and help. It just wouldn’t be me.

Continuing toward my apartment however, a feeling of empowerment washed over me: I had the ability to help this guy. No one could tell me to just keep driving or convince me he was a crook or to ignore the strings he had tugged at my heart. I wanted to help, but of course, I was scared. Arriving at my apartment, I unpacked my car, and began debating in my head. What if he is a crook? What if I try to help and he’s mean? What if he tries to take advantage of me? But on the other hand, What if he’s a good guy who’s had some tough breaks? What if you bring him a sandwich and you bring a smile to his face? What if somehow, by your small effort, you restore his faith in humanity, even a tiny bit?

Choosing to believe that this man really needed help, the possibility of changing his day-and even his life- seemed too important to pass up. It made my heart beat a little faster. It made me feel more alive. I decided to go back and see if he was still on the side of the road. If he was, I’d bring him a sandwich (I figured this would be better than money, especially if he was a con artist). If he wasn’t there, well…then I guess I wouldn’t. But I refused to entertain the possibility of his not being there. I hopped back in my car and drove back up the road to where I saw him, fantasizing about being the hero of the day. I could be the one person that showed this guy that he mattered and that someone cared about him. I couldn’t wait. I passed by where he had been standing, holding my breath.

But he wasn’t there.

My daydreams came to a screeching halt and suddenly deflated, I made a U-turn and returned back to my rinky-dink apartment to unpack my things. Again, I found myself reasoning in my head. You waited too long. He needed help when you passed the first time, not twenty minutes later when you finally got the courage. But then I thought, It’s the thought that counts. Shaking my head, I concluded, No it’s not. Your thought didn’t get that guy a sandwich when he needed it.

Maybe I was being selfish. Maybe it was my burning desire to be a hero. Maybe it was the unknown of what my day could be if I met this man. Maybe I just wanted to be the person to help. Maybe it was the sense of independence it gave me. Maybe it was my realization that this guy had a story to tell, just like you and me, and I wanted to be a part of it. But I had waited too long and he had left, either because someone helped him out or because he became too discouraged to stand out there any longer. I really hope it’s the former.

I wish I could find him and tell him I’m sorry I didn’t get there fast enough. I wish I could tell him I was on the way to help. I wish I could tell him he helped me realize that sure, college is scary and there are lots of new and unfamiliar things, but it’s not the only thing in the world that matters. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to get this education and I should make the best of it in all respects, but it’s certainly not all there is to life. People and your relationships with them make life meaningful. It’s not always about yourself. I wish I could thank him, because now he is a part of my story.

The Only Thing We Have To Do In Life

I had a teacher in middle school who used to say the only thing in life we have to do, is die.

As a kid, it’s unknowingly easier to understand this concept. Rather than do things because we feel we have to, for the most part we do them because we want to. We dream of becoming an astronaut, ballerina, or movie star, and unaware of the “realities” of life, believe that one day we will achieve these dreams.

As we get older however, we’re bombarded with distractions–from the media, our jobs, our teachers, even our families–that make us believe these dreams are made for someone else–that they’re too outrageous and unachievable for ourselves. And before we know it, we find ourselves swept up in the trivial things we do day to day. Waking up on time, getting to class or work, running errands, watching TV, making dinner. Suddenly, it’s easy to believe we have to do these things. But actually, we don’t.

No matter what we do in life, the end result is the same. We die. Death; it’s the great equalizer. The one thing we all have to do. Everything else simply fills the time.

Knowing that this life will end leads me to believe that the only thing we all want, while we have this time, is to be happy.

So we can choose to be happy one of two ways:

  1. By doing what we are told we should do.

OR

   2. By doing what we want to do (and sometimes these things align with what we’re told we should do-like getting a college degree or falling in love, for example).

Choosing option #1 can be easy, falling into the pre-determined track of life that has been laid out before us. Go to school, get a degree, find a job, get married, have kids, and one day retire to an over 55 living community in Florida. I’m sure there are people who do get fulfillment out of leading this type of life, but I know that there are others who do not. And since you’re still reading this I know I’m talkin’ to you!

That’s why we have choice #2. However, choice #2 requires some work. We must accept that we will die, and then strip away distractions to look within ourselves to see what we want out of life right now, regardless of what anyone else may say. It requires being honest with yourself to see what really lies within. I don’t think it’s easy. I think it takes dedication to yourself and the dreams you had as a little boy or girl. Once we acknowledge our mortality, it’s easier to go after the things we truly want in life.

Many of us have ironically read Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” in our school years. Frost writes of “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” and the narrator must decide which path to take. Ultimately he chooses “the one less traveled”. I distinctly remember my teacher emphasizing how important it was to take this road “less traveled” in our lives and to not blindly follow others in their choices. We were encouraged to make our own decisions, even if they were less popular. I’m sure others who have studied this poem have been told something similar. Ironically however, as I’ve experienced myself, if we do take the road less traveled, or make a third road of our own-by taking time off of school, or not going to college at all, for example-it’s frowned upon. Frost ends his poem by writing that taking this road less traveled “has made all the difference”.

So here’s what I say; let us make a conscious effort every day to be the judge of what will make our lives fulfilling to ourselves. Let us judge our happiness by our own standards rather than others- a kind of “happy relativism”. Let us not allow others to define what will make our lives meaningful. I think it’s something we must work on every day, but eventually it can become a lifestyle. And let’s see just the difference it can make.

yellow wood2