New Start, New Blog

Dear friends and followers,

Well, it’s official. I have officially decided to start a fresh new blog! This will be my last post on Just Al.

First off I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to read and follow this blog. It definitely wouldn’t have been successful without you guys! Blood, sweat, tears, and some serious courage went into starting this thing and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. I’m still overwhelmed by how many people shared my posts and enjoyed my writing. Reaching close to 40,000 views was surreal and honestly something I never in my wildest dreams thought would happen.

My writing journey is far from over though. I’ve recently moved to Nashville, TN and am beginning my career in the music industry. So far I’ve been having the time of my life and have already learned so much about myself and the business.

So for those of you wanting to keep up with my crazy life here it is- According to Al. Cool name, right? Anyways, thank you again for taking the time to read my work. You guys are the best!

Much Love,

AL 

Orlando, Florida – A Letter to My Hometown

 

This is our city. This is our home. This is the place where I was born, where I took my first steps. It’s where I grew up. It’s where my family lives: my parents, my grandparents, my aunts, uncles, and cousins. This is where I have always felt safe, protected, and shielded. It’s a place I have always held so close to my heart.

For me it was just another day. My alarm went off and I frantically got ready for work. I was scrolling through the news on my phone when I saw the headlines and instantly my heart sank. I read phrases like “biggest mass shooting in US history” and “at least 50 dead and 50 or more injured.” This couldn’t be my hometown. Orlando is a place of celebration; people from around the world travel to our city for their birthdays, anniversaries, or vacations. It’s a place where memories are made, a place where the innocent gather. Nothing lights up a child’s face like saying, “We’re going to Disney World!” I know this first hand. As a kid growing up in Orlando I remember the kindness that my city illuminated. We celebrate all different types of people, but still prejudice exists. For many, Orlando is where they feel sheltered and protected. Although much of the world harshly judges the LGBT community, places like Pulse are where we are all welcome to celebrate, to get to know each other, and bridge the gap that stands between us. After all, we are all people and love is love.

Only one day has passed since this tragedy and my heart remains broken, as I fear my city might have become. I scroll once again through my social media feeds and all I see is hatred. I see blame-games, I see anger, and I see narrow-mindedness. During a time where we should all stand together, where we should all be united, I see bigotry. Why can’t people see that mindsets like this are what created this situation in the first place? Why can’t we love and accept those who so innocently long to be happy in a way that’s different than us?

Take away color, religion, sexuality, and political affiliation and you’ll find the same thing underneath. The same organs, the same bones, the same hearts beating to keep us going. We all are reaching towards the same universal goal, happiness. It’s time to put our differences aside, get off our high horses, and talk about issues like these, issues that cause so many American lives to be lost each year. We must have an educated discussion instead of an argument and we can’t avoid confrontation with those who don’t agree with us anymore. In order to move forward, we have got to address these problems in a professional setting instead of over a Facebook comment war. We have got to stop calling each other names to feel better about our ideas and ourselves; yes, I’m talking to both liberals and conservatives. Most importantly, we must unite. We must stand together.

In the midst of all this sadness I came across a video from a local news station in my hometown. It showed hundreds of people; probably even more, that were standing in a massive line to donate blood for the struggling victims that are continuing to fight for their lives after this tragic night. I was reminded of a Helen Keller quote one of my favorite professors once told me, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” As we recover we must keep this in mind. We must never forget that separation and prejudice are what got us here, but that most certainly isn’t what will push us forward.

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“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

 

As I often say at the start of many of my posts, I sadly have had to put writing for pleasure on the back burner these past few months. The good news though, is that I had an amazing semester last fall. For the first time in my entire college career, I felt as if every single one of my classes was engaging and beneficial to my future. I fell back in love with American poetry, perfected my resume, wrote two fiction pieces, and attended a three-day writers conference on the beautiful Sanibel Island. Part of me wishes school had been this enjoyable throughout my four years here, but it just goes to show the true value of engaging and inspiring professors.

Now I’m looking ahead towards the finish line: graduation. It baffles me that I’m graduating from college this year. It seems as if I was applying for schools and taking SAT’s just yesterday, and now here I am, one month into my last (on campus) semester before I get to wear a cap and gown one final time this summer.

While I know the second half of 2016 will be life-changing for me, for now I’m stuck here waiting, and oftentimes with waiting comes overthinking. The more I think about it, the more excited I am to end this chapter of my life and begin writing the next one. I may be a little nervous, but I’m excited, I’m eager, and I’m ready.

A part of me wishes I could skip over this chunk of time and go straight to Nashville; honestly I’d move there tomorrow. Life right now feels almost like a treadmill; I’m trying to move forward but I’m suspended in one place, a place I feel I’ve been way too long. I wish to find inspiration, creativity, and purpose. I don’t want to simply exist and here I feel that’s all I do, that’s what all the people here do.

Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly happy. I have amazing friends and the perfect boyfriend, but I feel like at this very point in our lives we’re standing still. It’s like the couple of seconds that lie between runners lining up at the starting line and the shot of a gun signaling the start of the race. We know what’s coming and we’re ready, but it’s just not time to go yet.

I know what everyone always says, “Don’t grow up too fast,” or “Enjoy it while you can,” but I’ve always been the type to grow anxious over the next adventure. I know it’ll be terrifying, I know it’ll be drastically different, but change is something I embrace and anticipate. To me, a life of monotony is not one of happiness and I’ll take whatever life throws at me with grace.

For now, I’m just trying to make the most of this semester and learn as much as possible before I finally get to move.

“Beauty is when you can appreciate yourself. When you love yourself, that’s when you’re most beautiful.”

It’s all over social media nowadays, “the dad bod.” For those of you who don’t know, it’s starting to become a university-wide trend. While this body type has several different definitions, the common trait seems to be a bigger belly area. Men and women alike are now accepting the fact that not every man needs to have perfectly chiseled abs or defined arm muscles and pecs, but instead they’re embracing whatever body type they have, big or small.

Don’t get me wrong, this is GREAT! It gives me some hope knowing that our image-driven society is finally gaining a new perspective on physical appearances and people are starting to accept men of all shapes and sizes, but what about women?

There is no doubt that women have always been pressured to strive to attain the perfect body. The media has a great deal to do with this. We turn on our televisions to see picture-perfect celebrities with their trendy clothes, D-cups, flat stomachs and flawless hair and make-up. We open a magazine to see at least one, if not more, pictures of stick thin models in swimsuits or lingerie. When we only see such images, we’re forced to assume that it’s the only way we’re desirable and that it’s what all women should look like. Anything else is deemed unappealing. Women come in all shapes and sizes, why have we let the media define what it means to be a beautiful woman?

Recently I’ve also seen a lot of bashing towards slimmer women, which is also extremely sexist. We’ve all heard Meghan Trainor’s obnoxious song, “All About That Bass” where she claims that being skinny is unattractive and that men “like a little more booty to hold at night.” Once I got past how annoying the actual song itself is, I realized that this too gives the wrong message to women. Curvy or skinny, A-cups or double D-cups. Every woman is a REAL woman and what matters is how YOU feel about yourself, not what the media says is right or wrong.

So what kind of body should we strive for as women then? The answer is simple. We should ignore sexist claims and do only what makes us happy, obviously! The reality of it is that women come in all shapes and sizes and we need to change this stereotype of “the perfect woman.” We need to teach society to not only embrace the “dad bod”, but to also encourage women to feel confident and beautiful no matter what. You don’t need to be a specific size in order to love yourself.

One year later…

My junior year of college is finally coming to a close and for the first time in what seems likes forever, I can finally breathe again. I feel like over the past year, I have learned SO much. Not just necessarily in the classroom though. I feel that this year I’ve learned a lot about life and myself in general. I ultimately feel like I’m taking those first few steps towards adulthood and that I know who I am and what I stand for now for the first time in my life.

Here’s a list of some of the life lessons I’ve learned in my junior year that I feel will always be valuable knowledge for me in the future.

  1. School is necessary. I hate school. No, not hate. I loathe school, but dropping out would literally solve nothing. As much as I hate to admit it, some (very few) things that we learn in these classes we will use in the future. That isn’t why it’s necessary though. The sad reality is that most careers require a degree. It sucks but we have to give in to this conformist lifestyle where formal schooling and a piece of paper are considered more valuable than actual experience, but it’s better to spend a few years suffering through school than to complain about it and not make as much money. If we have to spend a minimum of four more years doing this, we may as well take advantage of what we can learn in these classes instead of being miserable thinking about it.
  2. Relationships worth having are slow. Real love that sticks around doesn’t just happen over night. Set yourself to a standard and NEVER give up your self-respect because moving slow helps you get to know someone. You can’t experience truly falling in love when you don’t know someone on a deeper level, but that’s something you can’t force. Taking your time is a crucial part to falling in love, but trying to make a relationship accelerate faster than you can handle just leads to disaster.
  3. My mom is (still) my best friend. Zoe’s a pretty cool lady if I do say so myself. A mom with wit and charm is a valuable possession to have. She’s perfect company when I’m in need for a good laugh (and a few margaritas) but at the same time, if I’m having a crisis she’s the first one to answer the phone immediately with about a million solutions to my problems. College and life in general would be impossible for so many reasons without her.
  4. Going out kind of sucks. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think college nights at the bars around here should be considered a form of torture. Drinks are overpriced. Cover is overpriced. Honestly I don’t know why anyone feels like being packed like sardines in a smelly bar with everyone they’ve ever interacted with since freshman year when they could simply have people that they actually like over for a couple glasses of wine and go to bed at a decent hour. But to each his own, I guess.
  5. Candy is not dinner. Hahah yeah, just kidding.
  6. Surround yourself with positive people. It’s true when they say that people with negative attitudes can suck the life out of you. It’s important to avoid these kinds of people so you can focus on improving yourself and those around you. You can’t better yourself when others are dragging you down.
  7. Stop spending money on things, start spending it on experiences. Traveling helps you find yourself and learn without even realizing it. Continue exploring and making lists of places to see and things to do. It’s important to step out of your own comfort zone and discover new things about the world and who you are. The only time it’s okay to go broke in college is when you’re spending money on trips (at least in my book).

Well, there it is! I just realized- today marks the one year anniversary of having this blog, I actually kept up with it! 38,000+ hits, 365 days, and 12 blog posts later I’m so happy that I decided to create this page! 🙂

“I’m not scared of growing old, I’m just scared of not achieving everything I want to”

This is something I’ve really been meaning to write for a while, and now seemed a more fitting time than ever to write this, given all I can think about is school ending in a few months!

My junior year has been hectic to say the least; I’ve been fighting to graduate slightly earlier than my projected graduation date (one more year woo!) and it’s been tough juggling five classes, a new job, and my sanity. Luckily I was able to venture back up to Longwood for a brief trip over Christmas where I got to visit with some family members I hadn’t seen in way too long.

Like most gatherings with my wild and crazy (in a good way!) family, there were many conversations that were interesting to say the least. From football smack talk, to poking fun at each other over many mimosas and peach bellinis, there wasn’t a topic left untouched.

One conversation though, trumped the hysterical jokes and stories and that was my conversation with my Grandfather. For the past few years he has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, a sickness where victims gradually start losing their memory. It’s been a painful process for us all, but I know there isn’t a stronger family out there.

Like any sickness there are both good and bad days, but the sparkle in my grandfather’s eyes and the passion behind his voice when he spoke made this day one I will absolutely never forget.

I walked over to the couch as I saw a spot next to him open up and I was immediately greeted with cheerful congratulations. He never forgets to let me know how proud he is, no matter what this disease puts him through. We began to talk about my writing and how I had saved him every single FGCU newspaper with my published articles for him to read. He asked more about how I was doing in school and I replied with the typical rant I give about how I just want to be done with school already and travel.

The conversation quickly started to evolve as he began to tell me a story. He spoke of when he was my age and how he thought he knew everything, then he started to leave the comfort of his hometown and his parents. It really put things into perspective for him. He realized how there’s an endless amount of beauty to see in the world and how exploring and traveling are essential to growing. He urged me to see new places, try new things, and meet new people. He told me that to this day, despite his age and his disease, that he still aims to learn something new every single day. His voice became lively, his eyes lit up and I could tell he knew he was really getting through to me as he paused and smiled, “There’s so much to see,” he said, “and even more to learn!”

And with the announcement that our food was ready, our conversation ended and we both snapped back into reality.

Herman Hill is easily the smartest man I know. Not just because he was a rocket scientist, LITERALLY, but also because he knows how to live. He shows strength through his suffering and continues to persevere. You won’t catch him without a newspaper or book in his hand and he always has an insightful story to tell. He and my grandmother are the glue that keeps my family together and I hope that one day, I leave a legacy as great as his.