#NaNoWriMo

Three-quarters of American high school seniors lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent survey by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. 40% of those who took the ACT writing exam last year lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to complete successfully a college-level English composition class. I once was one of those students, not ready for English 101 when I started university. Even though I loved writing, I struggled with spelling and vocabulary. I was determined to be the best journalist I could be (and get A’s in my English classes) so I practiced writing. I journaled daily, read about writing strategies and joined the campus writing club. I also participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Every November, the National Novel Writing Month creative writing project encourages participants to write. Last year, over 431,626 people participated, logging in their written work on the NaNoWriMo website. On the site, you can read pep talks and connect with other writers. Sure, we shouldn’t wait until late autumn to write but if you’ve been seeking inspiration, NaNoWriMo is better late than never.

This year, my NaNoWriMo goals are to 1) write every day (even if I can only crank out a paragraph- and social media posts don’t count . Sorry, Twitter. Technically, the goal is to work on a novel but sure, why not a couple of blog posts? 2) Reach the goal of 10,000 written words by December 1st (NaNoWriMo asks writers to write 50,000 words but I’m realistic with myself).

Why write? Writing is essential for everyone in order to be successful in school and in the workplace. Students write  in order to demonstrate knowledge and express ideas. Outside of the classroom, writing is necessary skill for employment. We need to write well in order to express ideas, persuade and advocate.

I write to communicate. I write to help clear my head and escape. I write to understand and be understood. I write to connect with others. I write in order to discover. I write to express myself. I write to transmit. I write for change. I write for money. I write for the purpose of being published or the intention of being read. I write because I’m good at it. I write in order to get better at it. I write because I love stories and storytelling. I write for love of the craft. I write for the sake of writing itself. I write because I can’t imagine not doing so. I write because I must.

So, write on, dear reader… And only 9,578 words to go.

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#InternationalDayOfGirl

There are an estimated one billion little girls around the world. Each year, 15 million girls marry before the age of eighteen. Every ten minutes, a girl dies as a result of violence. Approximately 130 million girls are denied a basic education. Selective abortions and female infanticide are still practiced today. 63 million girls have undergone female genital mutilation. Girls are also twice as likely to be infected with HIV.

International Day of the Girl focuses on these challenges faced by girls in their everyday life and is working to create a better future for all. Created five years ago by the United Nations, Day of the Girl helps increases awareness of gender inequality worldwide.

Today, we celebrate girl power. Because, after all, who runs world? Our future IS FEMALE.

What can you do to support girls across the globe? 1) Support (financially or with your time) female-empowered organizations like Girls Scouts (former scout here!), GirlStart and the Malala Fund.  2) Encourage conversation and remind every girl, no matter the age, that she is important and powerful. Girls are a source of power, energy and creativity and each one is an essential part to our future as a community- locally, nationally and internationally.

Be strong like a girl. Be smart like a girl. Be brave like a girl. Be empowered like a girl.

Check out the hashtag, #FreedomForGirls, dear reader. And celebrate all of girls and women in your life.

#SeekingSupport

These past weeks have been difficult ones. Many of us are fortunate to have strong support systems- I’m happy to see the stigma of mental illness falling away as more people open up about their struggles. However, I know that accessible and affordable mental health care is still lacking. Some of us are going through these trying times without the support we need.

Below are some affordable options for those seeking help. I have tried some of these resources. Others we recommended to me. Please note that I’m not a doctor of any sorts. Your mental health is your business and responsibility. There are no substitutes for actually talking with a professional. However, if I can help you steer in the right direction, snaps.

Headspace Last month, a friend invited me to the local Buddhist Center for a free mediation class. I fell in love with the course- I could finally clear my “monkey mind” and focus on more positive avenues. However, the mediation class is only held twice a month and I wanted more practice. Another friend recommended the app, Headspace. The free app teaches you simple ten-minute mediation that cover mindfulness, letting go and relaxation. I listen to Headspace on my phone right before bed. The host’s soothing voice relaxes my tense mind and muscles and allows me to get a good night’s sleep.

Podcasts Sometimes, we don’t want to talk about our feelings but need to feel that empathy and connection. Podcasts are perfect for that. Terrible, Thanks for Asking is this terrific program that honestly asks people how they’re doing. I like listening to each story and being reminded that no one is perfect- no one has it all together- and that’s okay. It’s more than okay. It’s beautiful. The Love Bomb I first fell in love with Nico Tortorella after watching him on “Younger” (and maybe the fact that he looks like an old ex). He also hosts a wonderful podcast about love and relationship- both with yourself and others. It’s the ultimate comfort food. The Hilarious World of Depression is a weekly podcast that talks with celebrities about their mental health and how they deal with the day-to-day. The most recent episode features Wil Wheaton of “Star Trek” fame.

7 Cups of Teas This site connects listeners together. Individuals can sign up for free to give and get advice, video chat and send thoughtful messages to each other. 7 cups is a welcoming safe space where you can find someone with whom you feel comfortable chatting without fear of being judged. The site also features online therapy at a fraction of the price and their message counseling can be done anywhere at anytime.

Campus resources Back when I was a university student, I took full advantage of my campus health center, especially on-campus counseling services. Counseling was “free” to students (students paid for such services in their tuition). My university’s psychology department also offered free counseling in their Master’s programs training clinics (which is a great option when you’re not enrolled as a student). I also checked in with my teachers quiet often and talked to them about college struggles. The hours I spent in some of my professors’ offices are some of favorite memories and most enlightening moments from my undergrad years.

Good luck, dear reader. I hope that you find the help you need.

#ForgivingYourself

Forgiveness, can you imagine?” 

The quote above is from “Hamilton: the Musical.” Alexander’s young son just died and his wife discovers his affair with her sister. He sings about his guilt, unable to forgive himself for the mistakes he made. “It’s Quiet Uptown” is on constant rotation on my Spotify playlist. You listen to that song twenty times a day and can’t help but think about forgiveness. How we forgive others. How we forgive ourselves.

For most of my life, it has been easy for me to forgive others. However, when it comes to myself, I hold on to past mistakes long after they occurred. Poor financial choices I made in my twenties. Not taking certain key opportunities. For burning bridges and acting inappropriately in certain relationships. Not focusing on my health- especially my teeth and my anxiety.

To forgive ourselves is to accept responsibility for our actions both compassionately and seriously. Forgiveness is a process, one that doesn’t happen overnight. When we can really wrap our head around the fact that we can’t undo the past- the past is DONE- we open ourselves up to more acceptance. It’s now time to turn the page and accept those events as part of your story. They’ve all contributed to making you who you are. Perhaps we can find a silver lining in each mistake, a learning lesson. Yes, it doesn’t excuse you from being an asshole but when you’re constantly living in the past as I do, forgiveness can lighten your mental load.

Forgiveness is about mental toughness and emotional fortitude. To wrap it up in one simple word, it’s about kindness. We are our own toughest critic. I beat myself up all of the time for every single mistake and poor choice I’ve made. I beat myself up all of the time for being human. Humans are not perfect even though in my head, I think that we are. I think that I should be. I give myself impossibly high standards and expectations. But even the incredibly stupid acts are part of being human. Life is a series of mistakes. We go from one to the next, learning, shaping, and molding us along the way.

Forgiveness- it is imaginable. It does happen.

How have you forgiven yourself, dear reader?

 

#DACA

Earlier today, President Trump announced his plan to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allows for thousands of young undocumented immigrants to remain in the country.

DACA was formed through an executive order by President Obama back in 2012. It allows certain people (the Dreamers) who came to the United States illegally as minors to be protected from immediate deportation. Recipients are able to request “consideration of deferred action” for a period of two years (which is then subject to renewal). Congress now has up to six months to find a legislative alternative after it was announced that new applications will no longer be accepted. For those currently in the program, their legal status and other DACA related permits (i.e. work permits) will begin expiring in March 2018.

Dreamers are able to request DACA status if 1) they were under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012; 2) they came to the State before turning sixteen; and 3) have continuously lived in the country since 2007. Dreamers must also have a high school diploma or their GED, been honorably discharged from the military or still be in school.

There are an estimated 800,000 Dreamers in the United States. Most Dreamers are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras; with the largest numbers living in California, Texas, Florida and New York. They currently range in age from 15 to 36 years of age, according to the White House.

With this new executive order, Dreamers will all lose their status by March 2020. As their statuses lapse, they could be deported and sent back to countries of birth many have no familiarity with. Trump has referred to DACA as “illegal amnesty,” arguing that those in the country illegally are lawbreakers who hurt native Americans by taking their jobs and increasing crime.

We know better.

Dreamers are our friends and loved ones. They are leaders in our communities. They work hard. They’re good people. They deserve to be here- after all, that’s what their parents wanted for them. A better life- and Dreamers deserve to live such lives here in the United States.

I encourage you, dear reader, to contact your senator and demand that they fight for Dreamers. On the local level, discover if your city is a Safe Haven for Dreamers and find ways to help (hit the streets and start volunteering!). Together, we stand with DACA and will show the world that we are a nation who comes together instead of being forced apart.

#WithALittleHelpFromMyFriends

The Three Musketeers- plus one!

Where would we be without our friends, dear reader?

Friends are a necessity. They matter. They are a priority. 

I’ve always realized the importance of friends. We may doubt our decisions and abilities but our friends will never do so. They see us in the ugliest appearances and situations of life and yet, they still decided to stick by. They’re the cure for loneliness. Friends accept and love us for who we are. Good friends will push you to be your best. Check on you when you’re at your worst. They will be there when ish hits the fan. Invest in your friendships. We’re not meant to do life alone- good friends are there for the long ride. If you have good friends, the kind of friends who would bail you out of jail in Tijuana at the crack of dawn, know that you are blessed.

With Telaia, my BFF from Brooklyn

Friends are the family we choose for ourselves, after all. There is a recent study that says friendship maybe be more important than family or your significant other, especially as we age. Friends are a major life influencer– they really do help us live better, more healthier lives. If your best friend eats healthily, you are five times more likely to have a healthy diet yourself. If you have a “best friend at work”, you are seven times more likely to feel engaged in your job. In my life, listening to my friends saved me a lot of anxiety (especially during key break ups). They always can always see something in me that I can’t see within myself.

Lately, my friends have been my saving grace- talking me through terrible panic attacks; opening up their homes for hanging out and watching hours of “Stephen Universe;”  getting me out of the house to try new things like Buddhist mediation; laughing with me  over cups of coffee, Indian food and bottles of hard cider.

Today, let’s cultivate our friendships. It’s Labor Day. Many of us have the day off. Today is a good day to reach and spend some time with a good friend.  And to all the friends in my life- past, present and future- thank you for your love.

#KeepFightingTheGoodFight

To those dealing with lots of negativity from strangers, from your loved ones, from your job, from the news, from the world, from yourself- I’m with you. Keep fighting the good fight.

If you’re feeling stuck in life, feeling directionless, depressed and confused- I’m with you. Keep moving forward. Keep fighting the good fight. 

To those who are working incredible hard; sixty, seventy hour days, and are tired. And those unemployed or underemployed, praying that they could work so much- I’m with you. Keep fighting the good fight. 

If you’re sick, physically and/or mentally, or are caring for or watching a loved one who is ill struggle in pain- I’m with you. Keep fighting the good fight. 

To those who are repairing relationships with their partners, with their families, with long-lost friends; if you know this relationship may be wrong, toxic and you need to end it-  I’m with you. Keep fighting the good fight.

If you just got out of relationship of any kind and are mending your heart. If you’re feeling lonely and alone without any support-  I’m with you. Keep fighting the good fight.

To those who have lost everything or feeling like you’re about to-  I’m with you. Keep fighting the good fight.

If you’re feeling hopeless, as if everything is wrong, and and that your life is one incredibly large mess-  I’m with you. Keep fighting the good fight.

To those who are trying to simply make it through another day without any tension or crisis, trying your best to keep it together- I’m with you. Keep fighting the good fight.

If you have taken on more than you can chew. If you’re feeling the weight of your world on your shoulders-  I’m with you. Keep fighting the good fight.

To those who are trying their hardest to better themselves and make their dreams come true; who know that the future will be a better place for all and something good is just around the corner (even those who are wishing on stars and dreaming BIG things in your head)- I’m with you. Keep fighting the good fight. 

Keep fighting the good fight, dear reader.

#SelfCareSunday

After a rough “breaking news” weekend like this one, it’s important to remember to take care of yourself. We all need some sort of self care. When I feel the worst of the worst, that’s when I know that I need to step back and focus on bringing me back to a place where I can think clearly and rationally.

Self care takes various forms. I turn off my computer and my phone and focus on me. I take showers- LONG showers (close to an hour). Often times, I will stand under the water and mediate, trying to think about nothing.  I’ll watch an ASMR video or something mindless that will make me laugh. I’ll grab my cat and snuggle. I’ll push myself to get dressed, get outside and hang out with good people (a little bit of exposure therapy, if you will). I will do whatever it takes to get out of my head.

But self care does actually mean taking care of yourself physically, as well. I learned this trick on the playa at Burning Man. If you’re feeling off, ask yourself these three questions: Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Are you tired? What does your body need? I feel a 1000x better when I brush my teeth, giving them a hard scrub. I feel a 1000x better when I drink eight ounces of water. I feel better when I take my vitamins. I get out of my head and focus on my body.

Millennials have been accused of focusing too much on self care. But let’s be real- there is nothing wrong about taking care of yourself. We’re raised to think we should always put others before ourselves and ignore our own needs; that it is somehow arrogant or selfish and not a nice thing to do. But Just think how they tell us to put on our oxygen mask first on an airplane before we help others. Yes, absolutely support others, but nurture yourself first.

How do you take care of yourself, dear reader? And don’t forget to treat yourself- treat yourself well (#TreatYoSelf2017!)

#AnotherWall

Creative constipation. Oh poo.

I’ve been struggling with writing these last couple of months. It’s a rare moment when my brain blacks out and stops racing but lately, no matter how long I stare at the computer screen, nothing comes to mind. Although this is a welcomed moment of pause, not writing (whether it’s a blog post, an freelance piece or even a to-do list) is foreign to me. Writer’s block just doesn’t happen.

However…

Creative ruts happen.

How do we overcome writer’s block? The ‘net is filled with suggestions: Write an outline. Type down every single idea floating around; small and big; silly or smart. Be like Ron Swanson and start typing every word you know. Step away from your laptop or your yellow legal pad to take a walk and clear your head. Have someone else read your work and give suggestions. Maybe grab another snack…

Breaking my own writer’s block down further, a lot of mine has to do with self-doubt. I feel like I don’t have much to say anymore. Perhaps it’s the recent roads I’ve been traveling on of late- I stopped feeling interesting. I’m like a dentist pulling teeth, searching for something profound to write. It is in those moments- when I nearly have a panic attack, combing my memories for something to blog about- that I take a step back and remind myself that it’s okay to take a break. All writers go through these blocks. I gently remind myself that you’re still a writer- a good writer- and something brilliant will come to mind soon. You’re just taking a break; you’re not giving up.

What do you when you’re in a creative rut, dear reader?

#EveryoneHasAStory

For the last couple of years, I’ve sat on the idea of creating a web series, gathering snippets of people’s lives and telling their story. Honestly, I’ve wanted to do this since my early 20s- I just never really believed in myself and thought I could create quality and compelling work. But a switch recently happened and I realized that this is something I really want to do.

Skyping with Saffeya

Saffeya is a jill-of-all-trades. An official Brooklynite, she’s worked in various positions ranging from healthcare to real estate to software coding. Saffeya explains how a certain career setback brought her closer to her mother.

“I was working two jobs. I started to notice very quickly that I was burning out. I was working about 60 hours a week, to the point where one day, I just missed work. I lost my job. I felt bad. I felt dirty. It was the first time I failed at something. I started to lose my way and I gave up on myself; I just gave up. I sat down with my mom and told her that I didn’t want to try anymore. She gave me money to cover my bills. I don’t know what I would have done without a supportive mother. I love my mom.

It took someone else believing in me. We all go through similar life cycles. I’m glad I had those experiences because I learned a lot about myself. We shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. We need hardships; we need to make mistakes.”

As I figure out software and find people to interview (volunteers, please!), stayed tune, dear reader, for future video posts.