Volunteering Rocks

This past weekend I was a volunteer for the All-American High School Film Festival, which took place at the AMC Theater in Times Square.

Late Friday afternoon, I hopped on the train and headed down to the city. As always, my heart raced as I started to see the buildings rise around me. After hitching the subway and some confusion finding AMC Theater (there are just way too many people and way too many shining lights in Times Square) I had finally arrived.

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That night, I was assigned to work at the information booth. I took the escalator to the fourth floor (nevermind my irrational fear of those machines) and met some of the volunteers I’d be working with.  Everyone was immediately friendly and welcoming. We were even written about here, at yojenks.com!

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As I sat there answering questions about the festival and handing out stickers with our logo on it:

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I watched streams of people come in and take their place on the red carpet for interviews and pictures.

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This was definitely one of the cooler things I’ve seen in my short little life.

As the evening progressed, everyone headed into one of the theaters for the opening ceremony. Co-founder Andrew Jenks would give a speech welcoming everyone, upcoming musician Kait Weston would perform, and the newest version of Romeo & Juliet would show a week before its release this Friday, October 11th.

Unfortunately, I didn’t witness any of this first-hand as I stayed outside at the information booth with a few other volunteers. I didn’t mind at all though, as I got to talk to some amazing people.

Over the course of the next two days, I got to know so many of these great volunteers. Each one that I talked to was incredibly friendly, excited to be a part of this event, and each were artists in their own right. I met musicians, television and radio majors, inventors, graphic designers, filmmakers, and fellow writers. This by far, was the best part of the entire festival. Having the opportunity to meet people my age who are pursuing the arts as I do, was incredibly inspirational.

But Saturday was probably the most inspirational day overall. First, with a fellow volunteer, I introduced myself to Andrew Jenks, the co-founder of the festival and creator of the TV show World of Jenks (written about here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/world-of-jenks-and-why-its-awesome/). I’m typically a shy person, so this was a pretty big deal. It was important for me to do this however, because I truly admire his work. He was super nice and I’m so glad I got the chance to meet him.

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That night at the awards ceremony, the best high school films were chosen in categories such as Best Comedy, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, etc. The awards for these filmmakers included scholarships, private screenings with industry professionals, and the opportunity to talk with successful filmmakers. It was amazing to see the quality of work these students had created. I was reminded that if they could make such amazing movies at such a young age, there is no reason that I can’t create equally amazing art through my writing. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned—from an amazing high school teacher—was rather than be intimidated by such great artists, be inspired. And that’s exactly how I felt.

Both Ed Burns and Dylan McDermott spoke during the award ceremony as well. I even got to meet Ed Burns! And yes, his voice is just as raspy in real life too.

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The one thing that really stuck with me that Dylan said (I talk about him like we’re friends now) was that as artists, we come from a need to create. Sometimes we don’t want to do it. We simply need to. This is often how I feel about writing. Sometimes I don’t want to do it–I’d rather take a nap most of the time—but it’s something I need to do. I even wrote about it here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/why-do-i-write-anyway/.

Another thing that really resonated with me was when Chris Eyre, who worked on Friday Night Lights, came up to present Best Director and said, “It’s not about being the best. It’s about being the bravest.” I think this applies to each of us as we travel through life, especially for artists. Taking risks may seem scary at first, but once you suck it up and go for it, the end result can truly be amazing. But if it’s not, don’t worry. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure yields to learning.

By Sunday, exhausted and running purely on excitement, I returned to the AMC Theater for the last day of the festival. The day was slower than the ones before, so I finally had a chance to watch all of the winning films. As I sat in the dark theater, I thought about ideas for my own work and what my next project will be. I’ve had ideas swirling around in my head ever since and I’m starting to get them down on paper. This is invaluable.

I didn’t get the chance to truly tell the co-founders of the festival (Andrew, Tom, and Brian) as well as the head of the volunteer staff (Leah) just how grateful I am to have been a part of this event. Not only did it provide great opportunities for the high school filmmakers, but it affected each of the volunteers as well. I believe we all feel a little more inspired, a little more motivated, and a little more encouraged to do great work.

Thank you so much. And I can’t wait to see you all next year!

What? I Actually Learned Something This Summer?

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The end is near. This Saturday I leave to start my third semester at college. And I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my summer.

Part of me is upset that I didn’t make this summer as memorable as last. Back then, I had made a list of things I wanted to do and made sure that on every free day I had, I crossed something off. This summer, I ended up spending most of my time trying to balance work, volunteering, writing, packing and moving and “free time.”

So maybe it was a bit of a bust. But I must admit, even though I didn’t have the most amazing summer of my life, I managed to learn a lot about myself and life in general.

And since I like making lists…

1.     The names of the people on the books we read are of real people. In other words, there are people out there that have careers as writers. It is a real profession. It could be my profession. Somebody’s gotta do it, right?

2.     The lesson of why not? As in, why not follow your dream? Why not aim higher? Who says it can’t it be you?

3.     The ability to laugh at yourself. You can’t always take yourself so seriously. Accept it, we’re human. We make mistakes. And instead of beating ourselves up over the silly ones, we need to laugh at them. Find the humor in the things you do. The more you laugh, the happier you are, the more you enjoy life.

4.     Technology does not have to be the enemy. It can be a blessing in disguise. It allows us to share our work with people all over the world. We don’t need to be published in order to have our words affect the lives of others. Part of the dream of being a writer can be realized simply through the blogging community.

5.     The belief that everything that has happened in my past and that is happening now will somehow connect in the future. The people that I love and spend time with now will help me achieve my dreams. The things I do now will affect the work I do in years to come. It might not all connect now, but someday it will.

6.     The best compliment to receive is one about your work. Whether it be the work we do to improve ourselves or in our careers. It is nice to have someone recognize the things we put time and energy into rather than something as easy as, “I like your shirt!”

7.      The biggest inspiration is people’s minds. And admiring their hard work.

8.     And the most exciting one for me: you never know who you’re going to meet.

For example, I was volunteering at Blythedale Children’s Hospital for five weeks over the summer. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I’d greet the thin, white-haired man that sat behind the Welcome Desk. A short “Hello, how are you?” and “Have a nice day!” It wasn’t until my last day of volunteering that I mentioned I was getting ready to head back to university. He asked what I study and I hesitantly replied, “Creative Writing.”

His eyes widened and a small, closed mouthed smile formed on his lips. At first, I couldn’t tell if this was the same grimacing smile I typically get when I tell people I’m pursuing Creative Writing. It’s usually followed by a, “That’s nice…” while I know all too well they are thinking, “Good luck with that!”

Instead he said, “No kidding! I had worked in the corporate world for many years and gave it up to pursue creative writing.”

I was shocked, to say the least.

He told me that even though he was making a good salary at his corporate job, he knew that if he hadn’t stopped when he did, he would have never taken his writing seriously. He’s written three novels so far and is focusing on getting them published now.

Then he said, “If there’s one piece of advice I would give to you, it would be this…”

9. “Don’t wait. Don’t push it off. Do it now.”

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Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech

I’ve had my J.D. Salinger kick before. Now, I’m on a Steve Jobs kick. I listened to the audiobook of his biography the winter it was published and remember being so intrigued by his mind. I recently saw the newest movie about his life, Jobs, and once again became fascinated. I came home the other night and wanted to see the real Steve Jobs speak. This was the first video I watched. And I can’t tell you how inspirational it was. Just watch for yourself. It may just change your life.

“Your work is going to…

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”~Steve Jobs

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