The longest “thank you” I’ll ever write. Probably.

After what was by far the most incredible experience of my life, I still find myself wondering if any of that was real. Regardless, I have my own list of people to thank:

Thom Tran: At times, I wondered if I wouldn’t have been better off never knowing you existed. Now I know that without you, I would have just been another college student shuffling through life trying to find a place in the world. Maybe it took some convincing on my part for you to even give me a chance, but that just made it all the more worth it in the end. The late nights and early mornings and dealing with you and your West Coast shenanigans were only part of the adventure, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And so I thank you, for a life-changing opportunity, for a shot at playing producer, for supplying me with an ocean of inspiration and motivation that will never run dry.

Tom Irwin & Jose Sarduy: I hold you highly responsible for keeping Thom and his ambition within reason. Thank you for making some of the longest days of my life so much more enjoyable. For the comic relief, for not being absolute divas, and for letting me be a part of what you do, I am grateful. Working with you was an honor.

Paul DeWald: I still remember the day I listened to a voicemail from you saying “we need to talk, ASAP.” Nobody ever wants to get that voicemail. I suppose we could–for the sake of a good story–rewind to the reason I missed your call in the first place: That being the fact that I was on the phone with a recruiter from HSN and was just offered an internship in Florida over the summer. When I finally called you back, little did I know I was about to be offered an even greater opportunity to produce a comedy show that may or may not be in the running to air on Comedy Central. Thank you for fighting for me, for believing in me, for standing by me every step of the way.

Patrick Trinkley & Ken Giangreco: But where would I be if it weren’t for you? From the moment I accidentally discovered IR, you two have been the sole force keeping me at Buffalo State College. Everything I’ve learned–really learned–has been from you and your patience and your guidance and your encouragement. For almost two years, every ounce of my “can-do” mentality has stemmed from you, and there’s not a chance I’d be anywhere near the person I am today without you guys. Your friendship and mentorship means the world to me.

Rodman Schley: The borderline clinically insane guy who agreed to work with a bunch of college students on a television production that Comedy Central might buy–if it was good enough; the guy who was willing to put his studio’s name on a production that could have been just as much of a disaster as it was a success; the guy who I ran to, frantic, about things I had no idea how to handle and he effortlessly kicked every problem or worry I had in the teeth. Working with you was every bit as terrifying as it was exciting, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity. You’re boss. When I grow up I want to be just like you. (;

Cayce Brown: The guy who took mental and verbal abuse from a 20-year-old wannabe for almost a month straight is, ironically, the guy that STILL bought me a beer–or two–when all was said and done. You know as well as I know I couldn’t have done it without you, and if I learned anything from this whole shebang, 93% of it happened in the three days that I got to work alongside of you, and during the 87,349 phone calls that we exchanged not even a week before the show. But perhaps most importantly, I learned that puns are always intended.

Kat Kowal, Frank Ishizaki, Anton Fresco, Travis Loving, & Rob Hume: I can’t even begin to explain how much of an honor it was work with and for such an amazing group of professionals. You are what everything I one day hope to be a part of is all about. Watching you work and watching the show come to life because of it was by far one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever experienced. Thank you for bringing this show to the next level and for letting me be a part of it.

Nikki Styliades: The girl that was my right hand for the past two months. I very specifically remember praying “God please give me someone in this class that has a brain and knows how to make things happen.” Lo and behold, there was Nikki. Thank you for taking the reigns when I went and got into a car accident a week before the show and filling in for me until I was back in action. I can’t think of anyone else I could have trusted to put Thom’s life (and mine, for that matter) in their hands. It certainly helps that you understand gibberish and can essentially read my mind. I would have gone crazy without you.

COM434: You guys seriously are and incredible group of people to work with. At times when things were really crazy and my head was spinning, I just thought about how many solid people I had working alongside of me and I knew we were going to pull it off, somehow. Thank you for sitting through weeks and weeks of uneventful classes while we were pulling this together, for setting your lives aside to make it happen, and for owning it when the circus finally came to town. You were, and are, awesome.

My friends–especially Leah, Liz, Taylor, Crystal & Bari–and my family, who put up with my random and frequent disappearing acts and for all but completely neglecting you while my life consisted of little more than Thom Tran and the GIs of Comedy. I don’t know what I would do without you by my side through thick and thin. Thank you for listening to my rants and hour-long venting sessions when I was afraid this thing would never happen. Thank you for not exiling me when I only half-listened to conversations and never made eye-contact because I was distracted by “GINA TAKE CARE OF THIS NOW OR I’M GOING TO MURDER SOMEONE” texts from Thom, and for putting up with countless last-minute cancellations when things inevitably “came up.” You have been the best support system I could have ever imagined.

Johnny: You, though. You put up with the worst of it–the worst of me. The cranky, hungry, overtired Gina that was dealing with a handful of people from three different states that needed me to “do this right now” for almost the entire time we’ve been together. Thank you for sacrificing and investing so much time and energy into getting me through this adventure. Thank you for getting me where I needed to be when I needed to be there for an entire week when I didn’t have a car, and for making me breakfast for fear I wouldn’t eat all day, and for so many cups of hot, delicious coffee to keep me going. Thank you for listening to me complain about the silliest things and freak out when things weren’t going exactly how they were supposed to go and for reminding me every time that I can do this. Without you, I don’t think I could have. I love you.

 

Everything Is All Around You.

A cowboy hat hangs upside-down from the end of a curtain rod, holding countless, unparalleled memories of the teenage adventure of a lifetime. 

The outline of a vintage picture frame draped in pearls houses a string of moments frozen in time. 

A waterfall of twinkling white lights laces the windows and runs down the wall, emanating the beauty of Christmas on a still summer night. 

Tassels from high school graduation; flowers from an unsought love shriveled by the power of time; maps of wandering destinations near and far; greeting cards from birthdays, holidays, and just because days; pages torn out of coloring books brought to life by childhood friends; ticket stubs from concerts and movies and fairs and sporting events stuffed like sardines in a mason jar—the memories they hold running together like watercolor paints; empty tomato soup cans housing paint brushes, writing utensils, scissors, and rulers; license plates from various states and decades; half-finished crafty Christmas presents; a patchwork quilt hand-sewn by my beautiful mother; an eclectic assortment of novels, biographies, poetry, and picture books; hundreds of pennies multiplying like bunnies in a mason jar; timeless photographs of Marilyn, and one very iconic kiss. 

The things that cover my walls and stock my shelves tell the story of my existence. I am five years old and I wear the size seven and a half shoes of a twenty year old; I read classic novels and children’s books; I have been as far as Cancun without even leaving my bedroom. I am both old and new, borrowed and blue. I now own more hoodies that used to live in the closets of my closest friends than those that belonged to me to begin with.  

If I never complain about anything ever again, it will be one time too many.

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The World Will Keep Turning

“One always begins to forgive a place once it’s left behind.” -Charles Dickens

Why have we not yet invented a way to be in two places at once? Why can’t I have the security of my steady job where I learn and excel and everybody knows my name and I can show up and clock out whenever I please, and the listless adventure of spending a summer—my last, before this whole “real world” thing takes over my life—in Tampa with my dad (who’s already missed out on more than half of my life,) and my best friend, all at the same time?

I’ve always been a homebody. Friends want to hang out? Sure, come to my place! Long day at school or work or stuck in traffic? I just want my kitchen, my shower, my bed: Mine. Home has never been a mere convenience to me, but a highly valued possession. Simultaneously—and however ironically—I’ve never hesitated to leave home for the sake of adventure, spontaneity, escape.

So doesn’t it make all the sense in the world to pack up my life and move south for the summer, taking advantage of my last opportunity to spend time with my dad and (possibly) the last time I’ll live with my best friend for any extended period of time? Hint: That was rhetorical. The undisclosed answer is yes; absolutely; without a doubt; what are you waiting for?; get the heck out of here.

I’m not afraid to leave home—in a sense I’m actually going home, leaving one home for another. There is something, though, that I can’t deny, can’t smother into the back of my mind with happier thoughts: I’m scared to death of missing somethingBuffalo is—and always has been, and will be—Home. Home is where my friends are (some of them, still, anyway) and my family is (most of it, anyway) and my job and my school and my church is. Home is where I built my entire life–from the ground up. In a way that is equally as vain as it is humbling, I hate that the world will keep on turning without me. I don’t want to miss the laughs, the opportunities, the beautiful summer nights in Buffalo, the Thursdays at the Harbor, my nephew’s 8th grade graduation, the birthdays, the bonfires, the drive-in movie nights, and the midnight adventures with the same old people in the same old places.

Except this year, nothing would’ve been the same anyways. I’m just another thing that’s changing, evolving, leaving, moving on. I’m moving on. This is my dry-run at life after college. I’m leaving home, I’m taking off, I’m giving myself another chance to discover who I am, what I want, and where I’m going, but in order to discover something new, you have to go somewhere new, do something new, and be something new. I’m taking refuge in the fact that in three months, home will still be home, and it will always welcome me back.

Stop that clock–it’s stealing all my time.

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Give Water. Spread Hope.

Four months ago, my best friend coerced (okay maybe that’s a bit of a strong of a word, but we’ll roll with it) me into signing up for a Tough Mudder. Let it be known that while I was admittedly excited for a challenge of this caliber (I mean, who doesn’t want to run through a jungle of live electrical wires and jump 12-foot walls?) even the mere thought of myself running induced a sort of phantom case of asthma (not that I have asthma, but I really had no running ability whatsoever; nada, zip, zilch). And so I consider today, May 4th 2013, a day in which the force was very much with me. Today, I ran my first 5K. And I even won a medal for finishing 3rd in my age group. But that’s not really what’s important.

What’s really important is how I made it.

I didn’t make it because I’m suddenly a good runner, or because I have the endurance of a racehorse and the willpower of a triathlete. Because I’m not, and I don’t. It’s easy to give up, to phone it in when you’re on your own schedule. It’s easy to say “I can’t do this today; I’ll try again tomorrow, maybe.” But it’s impossible to ignore the sinking truth that almost 1 billion people don’t have access to clean water, and that it causes more deaths every day than you probably want to know. Water. The thing we most likely take for granted every single day. We brush our teeth, wash our clothes, cook our pasta, and fill our swimming pools with it. Sometimes we even avoid it because it’s boring and “it tastes like nothing.” So instead we pour a glass of some sugary, delicious substance and pour that fresh, clean, life-sustaining substance down the drain. “There’s more where that came from.”

Maybe for us.

But for them, it’s not such a pretty picture. They walk miles and miles and miles. Every single day. And if they’re lucky, they might return with a bucket of some water-like substance that might be safe, but it’s more likely teeming with one or more life-threatening diseases. But because of this project, this picture is becoming less and less prevalent, and is being replaced with an indescribably beautiful image of hope, and of love, and of laughter, and most importantly, of life. Long, beautiful life.

The scenic, winding route of the Running Water 5K was sprinkled with lawn signs that reminded us that we were running with a purpose. Some presented us with the dry facts: “Approximately 1 billion people in the world don’t have access to clean water. That’s 1 in 7 of us.” Others cheered us on: “A community here for a community there.” But the ones that pulled me up the hills and pushed me to the finish line were the photographs; the ones of very real, very alive people–many of them children–that had just seen, touched, tasted clean water for the first time in their lives. Those are the ones that wouldn’t let me stop, even when it hurt, even when it was hard. I was running for a purpose greater than myself, and it emotionally wrecked me when I realized that after two miles, I was thirsty. Thirsty. I don’t know the meaning of the word thirsty. But because of Let Them LOL, these beautiful people know the meaning of hope.

Click here to learn more about Let Them LOL and how you can help give water and spread hope.

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The E-mail I Almost Didn’t Open

I was sitting on the top of the steps in the kitchen of my childhood home when I heard the all too familiar Apple “Ding” sound effect echoing from my phone. After a long day, my eyes had no appetite for another “special offer” from an overzealous retail company, or a message from a professor about this weeks class assignments, or even a message from my beloved supervisors at any one of my three jobs, and especially not a “Meet local singles now!” matchmaker advertisement that would only exacerbate my current record-breaking run of singleness; all I wanted was a cup of green tea and one of those mini eclairs left over from yesterday’s Easter feast that I had been fantasizing about since lunch time. Naturally, my Generation-Z instincts forced me to tap the little white envelope on my iPhone’s home screen anyway, despite the urge to throw the entire device remorselessly across the room.

And then I saw it–well, part of it, anyway. The contact read “HSN Recruiting Team” and the preview, “Dear Gina: We appreciate your interest…” and I braced myself for another soft rejection similar to the one I had received just hours before from Bright House. The dark-and-twisty masochistic side of me decided to read it anyway. Over. And over. And over and over until I knew what the next sentence said before I even finished the last one; until I knew it was real.

Dear Gina:

We appreciate your interest in HSN and would like to invite you to schedule an interview for the TV Productions – Summer 2013 Internship position…

That’s when it hit me; I knew I would want to remember that moment for the rest of my life. That precise moment was where my dreams met reality on an entirely new level. Grounding myself with the reality of the fact that I am still one of many, I let myself bask in the moment. Out of potentially thousands, I was chosen; I advanced to the next level, not because of who I know, but because of who I am (and who God is, but that’s a given), for the first time ever. And whether I get the position or not, I will move forward knowing that at the very least, I have what it takes to get noticed.

These years of hard work and unrelenting determination, they might just pay off.

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Less Robot, More Human

Write write write write write write write; why can’t I just write something? All I want to do is write. It’s not like I don’t have anything to write about. I mean, my best friend just told me my life should be a reality show what with what goes on on a daily basis. I just; it all feels so trivial.

I think someone told me—or rather I read in a book or on a blog or heard on television or the radio or some other vague impersonal source—that if you can’t think of anything to do, do anything. And I fully admit to the fact that this was probably a criminal case of butchering a wildly philosophical and/or deeply meaningful statement by someone far more philosophical and meaningful than I, but I think it gets the main point across. So here I am, writing.

And maybe I’m getting somewhere, too. I feel things opening up, crawling out of their life-induced boxes and stretching their arms and coming back to life. I’m starting to feel more like myself and less like a robot, bleep-blooping through the tragic monotony of everyday life. Suddenly, I am human again; there is a person hibernating deep inside of these too-high fiberglass walls.

And maybe that was all I needed: not to hastily compose a philosophical and/or meaningful piece of writing, but to rediscover and arouse the sleeping dragon inside of me—to reclaim its existence.

I feel better.

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A Letter of Gratitude

Tonight, my Business Communication professor lectured on The Johari Window–a concept that offers a method of looking at how personality is expressed. As presented by psychologists Joe Luft and Harry Ingham, our personalities are composed of aspects that we are open about, those that we keep to ourselves, those that others observe that we are unaware of, and those that are unknown to anyone. In order to have open, effective communication and to create both trust and commonality, my professor explained, it’s vital to open our window to the public, to share ourselves with others. Tonight, I put the idea to practice in hopes of opening my window just a little more, and maybe sharing with someone something he didn’t know about himself and his impact on his students.

Professor Grieshober,

Last semester, I tacked on a Business Administration major to my degree, simply for the sake of practicality. I assumed I would be able to go farther in my professional field with a business background, and my decision was supported by a few very influential people in my life. Given the fact that I aspire to become a television broadcast producer, leadership skills and business know-how will certainly be beneficial to me at some point. Naturally, I was unenthused about doubling my required credit hours–both for the sake of time and expense, but I made the decision to go the extra mile and hopefully reap the benefits.

My first semester as a double major left me somewhat overwhelmed, and most disappointingly, bored. I found myself completely disinterested in every aspect of my business major, and was beginning to regret the decision to take that path even though I was fully aware that reversing my decision would mean wasting both time and money. As you can imagine, I was at a personal crossroads and had to make a decision as to whether or not I would attempt to change my outlook, or admit to personal defeat and revert back to taking the easy way out.

As of approximately three hours ago, my interest and ambition have been refueled. After three weeks of attending your Business Communication class, I’ve found the inspiration I’ve been looking for that makes pressing through an additional 60 credit hours not only feasible, but worth it.

I’m truly grateful for your sincere investment in the classroom, and for being such an inspiration. I’m looking forward to experiencing everything this class–and you–have to offer.

This message will self-distruct in ten seconds,

Gina Marinelli

My intent is not that this message will “self-distruct,” but that it will live on, much like this professor’s impact is likely to do in my life for many years to come. He is, in accordance with a standard set by John Quincy Adams, a true leader:

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.

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School vs. Education

I was obsessed with the idea of “tomorrow,” in high school. Then, it meant graduation: Long white gowns and flying square caps and swinging blue tassels. It meant that I wouldn’t be confined, if you will, to a series of classrooms–many of them dauntingly disengaging–for nine long months of the year, temporarily absorbing what I usually deemed as “useless information that can be found with a bit of research if I ever really needed it, anyways.” Tomorrow was college, and pursuing an education that might not come as easily, but was at least something I was interested in and maybe even passionate about. And the ticket to tomorrow? Skimming universally boring textbooks and half-memorizing what other people defined as “important” (read: stuff that will be on the final exam). And so my high school education–in it’s most basic form–was doing whatever I needed to get by. And I was good at it. I had most of my teachers thinking I put in hours of effort when really, I was just putting in a little more than the people that didn’t bother to put in any. In a sense, I have them to thank for making me look good.

And then tomorrow came. I enrolled in a liberal arts college close to home, I started pursuing a degree I knew I was interested in (and even had the potential to be good at), and was again herded into classes about a bunch of things I still didn’t care about. In those select classes, I showed up and absorbed more “useless information that can be found with a bit of research if I ever really needed it, anyways.” I worked to get decent grades so my GPA wouldn’t cease to be a money tree during my college career. Sometimes, I was surprised and got something out of them; others, I was glad to never walk into again after Finals Week.

On a scale of Today-to-Tomorrow, it’s about 4:26pm in my college education era. I’ve picked up another major for the sake of practicality. I think I might actually be on my way to becoming something. The thing is, though, that I wish I could just keep learning. Not just things that will get me a job in my field, but the really interesting things that I just don’t have time for. I want to know how to pick out constellations in the sky and I want to read about previous missions to the moon. I’ve always been enamored by the view above when I step outside at night after my sleepy town has gone to bed. There aren’t enough lights to drown out the majesty of the night sky, and I still get up in the middle of the night and step onto my roof to revel in its beauty. It makes me want to know more about it; I want to know how to get there. I want to know more about physics and chemistry and architecture. Sometimes, I even want to learn about that more than things I’m learning in my self-chosen majors. Sometimes, I even find a refuge from endless hours of papers and projects when I simply take a break to find out what else is going on in the world. Today, I spent an hour watching a live stream of the NASA Open House Mars Panel at the Inauguration. I couldn’t think of another thing I’d rather be doing.

Graphic designer Jessica Hische makes a good point:

“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”

I have 16 years of school under my belt and I feel like I haven’t learned a thing. If I could do nothing but learn for the rest of my life–if the thought of it didn’t make my bank account cry and thrash and spontaneously combust–I would. But I can’t. Someday I have to enter into the “real world” and do real things and start a real family and I fear I won’t have time to listen to incredible people talk about how there might be life-sustaining potential on Mars or read for hours about social revolutions and the robots of the future as designed by Dunne & Raby.

Now, tomorrow is the real world. Tomorrow is where and when the life I’ve always dreamed of might actually begin. And don’t get me wrong, I have dreams very relevant to what I love doing and can see myself doing for the rest of my life, and I’m excited about them. Yesterday, all I wanted to be was finished with school. And today, I still want to be finished with school, as an institution. But I’ve made a vow to myself to never stop learning, never stop stepping outside of my comfort zone to learn something new, never stop discovering what the world has to offer. And never, ever stop living in Today.

“One of the reasons we as humans are so successful is that we have this driving curiosity, the need to explore.” -John Grunsfeld

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Here and There, and Now.

In the past, I’ve visited far distant cities and towns and traveled for hours on open roads–all for the purpose of being anywhere but here. You could almost argue that it didn’t matter where “here” even was, that it was merely an idea that encompassed a burning restlessness and an unquenchable desire to be “not here,” a.k.a. “there.”

Where is this “there,” exactly? I never knew. Sometimes, it was a left turn when I should have gone right; a deviance–great or small–from the expected route, the way home. Sometimes, it was a destination with a purpose, sometimes an unplanned adventure. Today, it has a name, it is real, it is “there”. Suddenly I realized that “there” isn’t so much a place as it is a way of life. It was never about this city, or that one. It was never the place, at all, that left me in want. It was the “here,” and the “now.” It was the life I’ve grown all too comfortable with; the life that I’m simply…growing out of.

But then there’s the lingering question of “How can you grow out of a life?” You are a life. You have a life. Life doesn’t grow out of life. Quit being ridiculous.

Maybe somewhere in the mix lives a valid argument, but here is mine:

A woman named Ellen Johnson Sirleaf wrote,

“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

And so once upon a restless night I decided right then and there to turn my dreams into a horror story; just like that. Little did I know, I am an expert in the field. My first thought was something along the lines of, “What is my biggest fear?” My second thought was, “Failure.” My third was, “So I’m supposed to dream of failure?” My fourth was “I would never make it as a Producer in New York.” My last was, “Well, there you have it.”

And then all of that skin crawling fear ate itself alive and all that remained was the flesh and bones of determination, of excitement, of a passionate desire to prove myself wrong.

So here we are. Hunger, desire, gnashing of teeth. This is where “there” begins.

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