Alexandra Villarreal is a Columbia student and a freelance writer in New York City.
She’s been published in The New York Times, The New York Post, The New York Daily News, The New York Observer, Bustle, Mic, Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, etc. Her one true love is chocolate, but she’s had many an affair with karaoke. She’s easy to spot in NYC because she’s the only one wearing color.
Hometown: Corpus Christi, TX.
Where I live now: New York City, New York
Fave book of ALL time: That’s a tie between To the Lighthouse and Song of Solomon. I read To the Lighthouse at the end of my first year of college after following a literary syllabus that concentrated on questions of mortality, purpose, and “the good life.” The book meant the world to me because I felt that it expressed all of my doubts with a mostly self-interested curriculum, where the individual or family was often prioritized over the community, and where nature always seemed an afterthought. “Time Passes” was an especially relatable and eye-opening section for me because it explored the resilience of the Earth and the relative ephemerality and weakness of the human body. I also connected with the character, Lily Briscoe, and her unrelenting dedication to her craft — the idea that if she perfectly captured a moment, everything would be all right. Song of Solomon was meaningful for another reason. I studied some great literature in high school — The Things They Carried comes to mind — but most of our required reading felt prescriptive and uninspired. When my teacher recommended Song of Solomonfor one of my books in senior seminar, I was taken aback by the power of beautiful, emotional writing. My best friend and I were English partners in high school, and as part of our assignment, we exchanged emails on content, theme, literary criticism, character analysis, etc., so for the first time, I did a close-reading of a text. Song of Solomon was so rich that instead of feeling tedious, the emails became an exciting exchange that defied GPA, or the often superficial dynamics of high school. Through characters like Hagar and Milkman, my best friend and I were able to look inward and learn about ourselves, which was the greatest gift we could have received before heading to university.
Person who inspires me the most: I don’t think I can choose just one. My mother and her close friend, Tracie are both role models for me as caring women who have taught me how to be strong in the face of often trying situations. My longterm friends, Abby and Maylin, inspire me every day with their incredible achievements and wisdom beyond their years. I have peers at Columbia that constantly surprise me with their compassion and generosity and make me want to be a better person (my friend Mark is an example — we went to high school together, and I’m so lucky that we made the big move to New York City together). Others astonish me with their genius, like my friends Asha and Dylan. The way they see the world broadens my horizons, and I love chatting with them about pseudo-intellectual existential questions until 3 a.m. (not to mention midnight milkshakes). But really, I think I’m just inspired by anyone who’s unafraid to truly live. So many people these days hide inside a box. Not only do they not engage with others on a genuine level, but they also don’t explore or adventure. I’m inspired by those who are open about their stories, who have been hurt but still find the confidence to throw themselves into the lion’s den. The ones who I can call spontaneously for a fun eve of karaoke, who don’t shy from experiences. Most of all, I’m moved by those who can be vulnerable, as I think that’s the greatest sign of fortitude. And those who are there for others, not when they’re wanted or it’s convenient, but when they’re needed. Everyday, I strive to be more like them.
What made me want to become a writer: I actually didn’t REALLY start writing until I came to college. As I was exposed to new ideas, I found that I had this anxious energy that needed to be released. I’m not especially eloquent in conversation, and I get nervous about expressing myself — my feelings, my desires, my beliefs. I’m garrulous (to a fault), but my thoughts are often unorganized and scattered in discussion. I sidestep a lot, not wanting to offend through the kind of bluntness I dish out in print. I needed somewhere to eject all of that anxious energy, and I found that when I wrote, I felt calm but passionate. It was more a necessity than a want. If I didn’t write, I don’t know who I’d be. My writing is me; anyone who wants to get to know me just has to read.
Music I listen to when I write: I can’t listen to music when I write. However, I often go on a walk before digging into a story as a kind of creative lubricant. I always have headphones in as I ogle at New York’s incredible architecture and the people on the streets; I like to be immersed in the visual experience, undisturbed by the noise around me. Lately, I’ve been listening to Kate Nash, Milky Chance, Kasabian, Elliot Moss, Fifth Harmony, the Shins, and cornily enough, the “Begin Again” soundtrack. Favorite songs from each artist? “Birds,” “Merry Happy,” or “We Get On” by Nash; “Flashed Junk Mind” by Milky Chance, “Goodbye Kiss” (of course) by Kasabian, “Slip” by Moss, “BO$$” by Fifth Harmony, “Caring is Creepy,” “New Slang,” “Simple Song,” “It’s Only Life,” or “Turn on Me” by the Shins, and “Lost Stars” or “Like a Fool” from “Begin Again.”
Fave place to work: My room, alone or with my dog, in bed, often pulling my hair out trying to find the perfect word choice.
Writers I look up to: Joan Didion; her “Goodbye to All That” was what inspired me to write personal essays. Tom Junod’s reportage is unparalleled, and I of course love Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf. Claudia La Rocco makes incredible poetry. For comedy, Aziz Ansari, Demetri Martin, Bill Burr, Russell Brand, and Louis C.K. are top for me; I’m not funny at all, but I appreciate that THEY can make ME laugh. I’m also a big fan of dance and see it as a sort of physicalized language; my favorite choreographers are Alonzo King, Moses Pendleton, Nacho Duato, and Jessica Lang.
Favorite GIF ever: That would have to be this little gem:
This is the best meme: This brilliant young problem solver:
My favorite story I wrote/made for HelloGiggles is… my story on my father, “What happens when you find out a loved one is dying,” was particularly poignant for me because it was probably the most personal, emotional story I’ve written to date. I actually penned it right after my father received a terminal diagnosis, and I was really, REALLY struggling with how to grapple with that. I still am, of course, every single day, but there’s something so acute about those first few hours, when you don’t want to accept a reality that’s always been there: we will lose the people who mean the most to us, and we will have to continue to exist. “What happens when you find out a loved one is dying” allowed me to tap into everything I was feeling and relate to others who have gone through similar experiences, and that meant something to me. “How I became best friends with my opposite” also stands out because it gave me the opportunity to thank Maylin for everything she’s done for me since childhood; I have a feeling I wouldn’t be as content as I am today if she weren’t in my life, and she never gets enough appreciation for that. “The question that totally made me rethink how I was dating” was fun because it fostered a dialogue among commenters; I enjoy being the catalyst for heated discussion. I also thought some of the digs at me were super clever, so I appreciated that ingenuity. And finally, “A typewriter in a public park turns hundreds of people into poets” was great because for once, it wasn’t about me. I got to talk to some insightful artists, and it’s always nice to do original reporting.
The title of my memoir would be… Is My Dog Embarrassed When I Dance in the Street? And Other Questions I Can’t Just Ask Siri.