Archive | February, 2009

Why I Love “EAT, PRAY, LOVE,” & Inspiring Elizabeth Gilbert TED Talk

13 Feb

Three years ago, a guy I was dating on-again, off-again, gave me a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “EAT, PRAY, LOVE” during an off-period, and said the book made him think of me, or I reminded him of her, or something to that effect. 

Initially, I was just excited to have any contact with him, because contact, especially that involving giving one a book, especially a book reminding him of me, or the admittance that he thought or was thinking of me, usually led, shortly thereafter, to an on-again period.  So I started reading the book…

Now, sometimes you read a book and you’re like, “I can relate to this book, this author, these words, these thoughts.”  And other times, it goes a step further, when you’re like, “These are my exact thoughts!  This is ME!”  That’s how I felt when I read “EAT, PRAY, LOVE” and the way I imagine countless others connected with her words as well, seeing how people pour over her recognizable mala bead-marked pages on subways.

For instance, on page 20, I underlined “something like a cross between a golden retriever and a barnacle,” Elizabeth Gilbert’s description of how she is in love.  “That’s ME!”  I thought.  “I’M a golden-retriever-barnacle!” oscillating between feeling validated that someone had given a name to my behavior in love, and feeling sullen remembering that on-again/off-again guy thought of me when he read this book, and possibly those words, and did he think, “Jen is SUCH a golden-retriever-barnacle, I’m going to give this to her!”?  And then back to feeling understood, and coming to terms with and even embracing my golden-retriever-barnacle-ness.

After many more on-again, off-again periods, the guy and I have become off period.  And after each on turned into an off, I would purge the things he gave me – books, emails, whatever – to symbollically break our ties and make room for a new relationship, a new guy, who would hopefully just be “on.”  But “EAT, PRAY, LOVE” survived every single purging, and there were many (at least 2 pre-“EPL” and 4 post-“EPL”).  And over time, I got custody of this book, and it has become more mine than something he gave me.


A group of friends and I email daily gratitude lists to each other, which is something I have been doing for close to 4 years starting with a small core group, and expanding over time so I now send and receive lists to/from about 20 women.  People often include inspiring quotes, resources, and links at the top or bottom of their lists, and this week, one of the women included a link to this Elizabeth Gilbert TED Talk about creativity.  It got me thinking back to when I read “EAT, PRAY, LOVE” in February 2006, and how, when I finished the last word on the last page and closed the book, I felt a twinge of sadness, like I wasn’t going to see this friend anymore, who I had gotten used to meeting on the page everyday, and hearing her stories, and I would miss her.  I am a voracious reader and always have many books lined up on deck, so when I snap one book shut, I immediately open another and start devouring it.  But when I finished “EAT, PRAY, LOVE” and closed it for the last time (not counting the times I have opened it to refer back to it since), I deliberately did not start another book right away, and I decided to wait a day, and sit with what I had just read and let it marinate.

When I find a book I feel this way about, when I hear my thoughts and worries and dreams in someone else’s words, I know early on, from the first passages of the book, and dive into the pages breathlessly, thrilled by the sense of recognition, and spend every free minute and spare second reading it and only surface when I’ve finished.

This is a huge part of why I read – to find that connection on the page, with another person, and with myself.  For that moment when I am reading and feel, “This writer is like me.  I am not alone.”  And this is a huge part of why I write – to connect with myself and through that with others, on the page, computer screen, or in an email.  And hope that someone will read my words and know that they are not alone.

We all have stories, thoughts, words, and dreams to share with each other.  Reading each other’s words, we will find that we have commonalities that will surprise and soothe.  Put your stories, thoughts, words, and dreams down on paper, online, or in an email and share them with someone or someones; it may be exactly what they need to read to know that they are not alone.  And together, through our stories, through our greatest fears and our grandest dreams, we are all, connected, we are all, not alone.

Happy Valentine’s & Presidents’ Day Weekend, and check out this inspiring video to kick off the holiday weekend!

Lots of love!

Jen xoxo

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam

Happy 3rd Birthday Writeous Chicks! (Celebrate Good Times!)

10 Feb

Celebrate good times, come on!  (Let’s celebrate)

Celebrate good times, come on!  (Let’s celebrate)

There’s a party goin’ on right here

A celebration to last throughout the years

So bring your good times, and your laughter, too

We gonna celebrate your party with you

 Come on now!

     -Kool & The Gang, “Celebration”

This past Saturday night was the Girls Night Out Plus Hip-Hop and R&B Dance Party that was inspired by seeing the movie “NOTORIOUS” three weeks ago.  The GNO started out with dinner near Union Square, and one of my friends had booked a reservation at Gonzo, which was super-yummy and had the perfect festive atmosphere to kick off the celebratory night, which was cause for celebration merely because my friends and I, who are rarely able to get together with one another individually, and almost never as a group, were able to all coordinate our schedules at this one intersecting point of Saturday night. 

I was running late and when I arrived all my friends were already seated around the table, which was quite amazing considering that most NYC restaurants require parties to be complete before being seated.  But anyway, as I was scurrying to my seat apologizing for my delay, my friend hoisted up a chocolate-colored gift bag with deep purple tissue paper puffing out from it, and handed it to me.  “Happy Birthday!” she exclaimed.

My mind raced – my birthday is in September…my half-birthday is in a couple of weeks so maybe she was referring to that?  “For Writeous Chicks!” she explained, seeing my puzzlement.  Writeous Chicks was turning 3-years-old the next day, but I hadn’t thought to call it out and celebrate it.  But my friend had, and turned our already festive GNO into a full-out celebration. 

I opened my gift on behalf of Writeous Chicks, and it was a canister of Godiva Hot Chocolate and a couple of packets of flavored hot chocolate, because my friend and I are both dinah girls at heart, and know something that I discovered early on at about 5-years-old:  that on a cold winter night, nothing really beats going to your local diner for a grilled cheese sandwich, a hot chocolate with fluffy whipped cream from a can, and conversation with good friends.  The only thing that could possibly compete is recreating that scenario at home so you don’t have to venture out into the cold at all, and upgrading the hot chocolate to Godiva.

After we completed our delicious meal (I split a Caesar salad and the rigatoni with homemade meatballs with my friend sitting to the left of me, which we decided was the perfect meal to give us the required sustenance for a night of hip-hop dancing, but not too much to give us stomach aches and/or put us in a post-dinner food-coma, thus severely limiting our dance moves.  It turned out, it was the perfect balance), the busboys and waitress cleared our cleared plates, and the waitress set down small dessert plates for everyone.  “Are we getting dessert or coffee?” I asked, thinking that the protocol of this particular restaurant was just to automatically place plates/saucers down for everyone after the meal.

After a chorus of mumbled “Uh, I don’t knows…” from my friends, the waitress arrived with the crispy meringue praline ice cream sandwich sporting a sparkling candle, and set it down in front of me.  They had requested it when they were all assembled before I got to the restaurant, so I guess sometimes it pays to be late and miscalculate your Saturday night subway commute, allotting just enough time to get to your destination on time if the subway slides into the station as you set your foot on the platform, and not accounting for, say, non-rush hour infrequent schedules and weekend service delays.

I joyously beamed at my alighted ice cream sandwich, so happy to be celebrating Writeous Chicks’ birthday for the very first time, complete with a gift, a decadent dessert with a candle sprouting out of it, and the opportunity to look into the flame and make a wish(es) before blowing it out. 

After dinner we moved on down to our next destination and onto the dance floor.  More of our friends showed up and joined us in waves, until we were more than 10 ladies on the dance floor, shaking it from the HIP to the HOP.  The DJ played the perfect mix of old school and new school hip-hop and R&B, and we threw our hands in the air for Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray,” and stepped on down memory lane to “Here Comes the Hotstepper” by Ini Kamoze.  The DJ even took my request for “Real Love” by Mary J., and dancing to it brought me all the way back to dancing to that same song in the summer of 1993 with my high school best friends at The Pinewood in Riverdale, where you had to be “18 to party, 21 to drink,” but even though I didn’t turn 18 until the fall, I had already attended my college’s summer orientation and received my school id, which, if you had asked me that last summer before going away to school, was the best investment of college.  Wearing my standard summer of ’93 uniform – body suit/Daisy Dukes/faux Doc Martens/beaded choker – my friends and I mimicked this dance a couple guys in our class did involving taking big exaggerated steps, sticking your arms straight out in front of you, and alternately flipping your palms up and down, and sang along as Biggie came on with the breakdown:  “Look up in the sky!  It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Mary J., ain’t a damn thing changed!”  And we would act surprised like:  Is it a bird?  Is it a plane?  No, it’s Mary J.!  Celebrating in that way that comes so much easier when you are in high school, when every Friday night is a cause for celebration, and when you are in your last summer before college, where every single night is a cause for celebration.

This past weekend, my friends and I turned a regular old Saturday night in February 2009 into a cause for celebration, celebrating our group of friends and the joys of new school and old school hip-hop and R&B, by taking the time to plan a Girls Night Out when we are at an age where people are hectically busy, usually over-committed and over-extended, often tired and depleted, and schedules don’t seamlessly or easily fit together anymore.  It took work, pro-active effort, and planning to make it happen, but it was more than worth it for the joy of adding a splash of festivity and a dash of celebration to regular old winter night.  And my fabulous friends took it to the next level by calling out the event of the 3rd birthday of Writeous Chicks, and mixing in an extra-special celebration for it, and for having these wonderful friends with which to celebrate the joys and accomplishments of life, and to bring out the celebration and joy in the everyday occurrences of life as well, I am so very grateful.

It is my experience that we do not celebrate nearly enough – we don’t always (and sometimes even rarely, or never) call out and acknowledge our accomplishments and milestones – both big and small – and share the celebration with our friends and families, and we don’t have time to have a party for “no reason” when “nothing special” is going on.  We can maybe celebrate the big things, like anniversaries and holidays and birthdays, but then trudge along for months at a time in a celebration deficit.  Soooooooo….

Is there something you can celebrate – this month?  this week?  today?  right now?  Something you feel extra-great about that you want to call your friends and tell them to meet you at a diner, or a restaurant, or a coffee shop, or on a dance floor, to celebrate?  Or something that you think is no big deal and brush off, but when you start to think about it more, you realize that it IS a big deal, and you are proud of yourself, if you let yourself be, and it absolutely IS reason to celebrate?  Or, could you have a party for no reason at all, where YOU are the something special?

Make a list of everything you have to celebrate in your life RIGHT NOW, of everything you could possibly celebrate, and then flip through your calendar, pick a date, pick a time, AND HAVE A PARTY!  And forget the pencil – write it down with a brightly colored Sharpie!

Happy Celebrating To You, Happy Celebrating To You, Happy Celebrating Dear Yooou-ou, Happy Celebrating to You!

See you at the party!



Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam

Put The Cart Before The Horse On The Road To Your Dreams

6 Feb



Writeous Chicks hatched three years ago this month.  On Wednesday, February 8th, 2006, I met a friend for an after-work drink at what was formerly Link Bar near Union Square.  We were talking about jobs and my career frustration when she said, “It would be cool if you started your own writing school in Brooklyn.”  I opened my mouth to offer my standard litany of excuses:  I didn’t have a graduate degree, I already worked full-time and I didn’t have enough time or energy left over, I didn’t have enough money…  But suddenly, I was really sick of all my regular old excuses, so instead what I said was:  “Yeah, that would be cool!”


To backtrack, the year before I had applied to, and been rejected by, several MFA Playwriting Programs.  I had put so much into my applications and had wanted to teach writing so badly, and I was devastated by the rejections, taking it as the end of the road for my dream.  Then, a few months later that summer, the road started up again as I began to get an idea about teaching classes for women that would combine writing, self-care, and personal growth.  At that time, it was just this vague, far-off notion that that was something I would like to do in the vague, far-off future, maybe when I had more time, energy, and/or money.


Having given myself the permission to override my excuses this time, I was so exhilarated by the idea that I could start something, I could create something from scratch that combined my interests and my passions, and that I could put my whole self into.  I immediately filled up two notebooks with ideas for classes and assignments and even business names, voraciously read books about writing that I filled with underlines, margin notes, and Post-It flags, and excitedly and energetically immersed myself in this project.


Now, I know a thing or two about myself, and one of those things is that I happen to have a tendency to self-sabotage, and a pattern of getting really excited about an idea, taking a few actions in the direction of that idea, meeting with some discouragement and disappointment, and giving up.  I also knew that I did not want that to happen with this idea, and I was too passionate about it to have my notebooks wind up in the back of a dark closet and my inspiration disintegrate into a fine mist of what once was a good idea, what could have been something really cool…


So, I started to trick myself into following through to the next step.  Conventional wisdom suggests putting the horse before the cart so that said horse can pull said cart.  But what happens when that horse has self-sabotaging tendencies and just refuses to move, and the cart goes nowhere?  What I did instead was put the cart before the horse so that the horse would have no choice but to get its ass in gear and MOVE to catch up. 


One of the first things I did was pick the dates for a six-week course a few months out, book the rental space, and put down a deposit.  Investing in my idea made it concrete, and I didn’t want to lose that money to the bandits of self-sabotage and discouragement.  Taking this action enforced my confidence that I would keep my promise to myself of following through on the creation of this particular dream.  Feeling giddy as I hung up the phone after making my space reservation, I knew that I had cleared the first hurdle. 


A few days later, I went on vacation with my family in the Colorado Rockies.  My family is very outdoorsy but after one day of snowshoeing, I opted to spend the rest of my vacationing days warm and toasty inside, sipping hot coffee at Starbucks, hanging out with my books and notebooks and ideas to keep me company as the rest of my family braved the cold and rugged terrain, and I prided myself on the fact that Starbucks baristas in both Brooklyn and Colorado could identify me by name and beverage-of-choice.  One day though, my aunt took a break from rugged outdoors-ness and joined me at Starbucks, and from our conversations over coffee and hot chocolate that day, she then designed my logo, and the flyer for my first class.


I had the concept for my class and two notebooks full of ideas, so the next thing I did was plunk that cart in front of the horse again, and promoted the course by talking about it with friends and sending out emails to people I knew.  And then.  People started to sign up.  People I knew, and also people I had never met, who had been forwarded my email by their friends.  As soon as people signed up and I knew there would be students, I holed myself up in my apartment one cold and dreary Saturday with my notebooks, books, highlighters, and laptop, and formalized the curriculum for my first class.


That spring, I taught my first six-week class, which I had begun creating in conversations over a beer in Union Square and over coffee in Colorado, and which took shape over the next few months in notebooks, in my mind, and on my laptop.  I had not gotten derailed by self-sabotage and I had successfully followed through and completed everything by when it needed to be completed.  The horse had caught up to the cart and was now leaning against it, catching its breath, basking in the sun, and sipping on a margarita, proud of all the obstacles and excuses it had left in the dust.  However, I think, that had I tried put that horse before the cart from the start, had I tried to follow the path of conventional wisdom and done everything in the “right” order, there is a good chance that I never would have made it out of the gate, and that today, three years later, I would be lamenting about that great idea I had a few years ago, wondering where those notebooks filled with my ideas, excitement, and inspiration went, wondering where my ideas, excitement, and inspiration went, and wishing I had taken that first step.


If your ideas, excitement, and inspiration are locked away in some dusty cart in the back of a dark closet, and you are overwhelmed by how much it will take to line everything up in the perfect right order to make your dreams into a reality, just take the first step and plunk that cart down in broad daylight.  Even if the horse isn’t in front of it, even if that horse is nowhere in sight, once it sees that you are keeping your promise to yourself this time, your passion will lead the way and fuel it to catch up and keep racing forward on the road to your dreams.  And remember to take time to bask in the sun of your accomplishments frequently, and enjoy the view along the way…


Have a Fantastic February!


Lots of love!


Jen xoxo


Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam