Cross streets and connections

Walnut StreetSentences have been swallowed whole by my lists as of late, rambling prose reduced to items crossed off on my phone, laptop, the tired Post-It note clinging to my refrigerator by a single corner. There’s the trip, the future apartment, the other trip, the moving-out checklist. I keep them in separate online and tangible realms to maintain a sense of singularity. If I only see a single list, for a moment, it’s the only one that exists.

It is strange outgrowing a place I thought I could (and sometimes, would) stay forever. Things are winding down here: volunteer commitments, my lease, the job I’ve had and loved for nearly three years. My last Drake Relays for a while are coming up next weekend.

Everything here feels connected.

I’ve been running to different intersections from my Des Moines experience. Up Grand, up that never-ending hill with its menacingly slow gradient, up to 31st Street, where I used to live, up to Kingman Boulevard, where I first started running long distances during my freshman year of Drake. Back down Grand, where I did my first eight-mile run downtown my sophomore year, thinking I had achieved some ultimate distance. Continue reading

The first gluten-free year

My sister says my apartment has ideal selfie lighting, and I look a lot more alive in this picture than I did a year ago.

My sister says my apartment has ideal selfie lighting, and I look a lot more alive in this picture than I did a year ago.

I cried into a container of leftover stuffed pasta shells at my cubicle. It was a Monday, naturally. The kind of day that is both anticlimactic and life changing at once. I often expect major life changes to clamor in with a strange, upbeat tune like a jazz funeral.

But there I was, alone at my desk crying over bread, probably listening to “Invisible” by Clay Aiken. I’ve been gluten-free for a year, a bizarre statement that sounds trendy, almost, if it weren’t for the celiac disease that slowly sapped me of energy and frankly, body weight, for months before my diagnosis on March 28, 2016.

Today is much the same in its anticlimactic, life-changing dichotomy.

I clicked around on the computer this morning, tabbing back to Twitter a few too many times (follow me @TaylorOSoule). A few of those clicks led me to the University of Iowa student portal, where I paid my deposit and accepted my offer of admission in the College of Law. Continue reading

Divine Book Interventions

These are my words, and they're on a wall! You can (actually) read them below.

These are my words, and they’re on a wall! You can (actually) read them below.

I remember reading The Great Gatsby for the first time during the spring semester of my junior year of college. It was my responsibility to help a high school student in Mexico analyze and write about the book for a class; I was a teacher, editor and student, all at once. Yet I forgot all of those things as I read The Great Gatsby. The rich prose, symbolism, the almost characters — I got lost in the surreal, dark, glamorous world. It helped me heal after the passing of a beloved professor and a devastating ghosting experience (hey, I was 21 at the time). It was exactly the book I needed.

Divine book interventions are a thing, I swear. Last month, I selected two books for my inspiration in writing a piece for The Des Moines Girl Gang’s “The Well-Read Woman” art show at the Young Women’s Resource Center in Des Moines. I returned home with Voice Lessons by Nancy Mairs and The Opposite of Fate by Amy Tan. Both books explored what it means to go through life in a feminine body and what it means when that body turns on itself. I somehow managed to pick two books among stacks and stacks that dealt extensively with autoimmune disease, something I understand. Continue reading

Serves and school spreadsheets

My mother says Sparty and I both look dignified.

My mother says Sparty and I both look dignified.

Life hovers above my head like a tennis ball just before I serve. With a looping motion, I hit it away, along with blog ideas, career goals, my law school decision. Sometimes the next five months overwhelm me, but the future can feel like that, I suppose. Instead, I picture each decision and each change as one serve, falling into the correct box, right where I want it, every time.

I make sense of life through tennis; it distills chaos and choices into forehands and serves. A natural, if not slightly smug reminder that I need to slow down and hit one ball, make one decision, at a time.

This weekend I visited the Michigan State University College of Law in East Lansing. I had never been to Michigan, and it was my first law school visit as an admitted student. Campus is a sprawling web of beautiful, old buildings — obscured only by swirling wind and snow I had strangely missed all winter in Iowa. Continue reading

Speaking up and supporting refugees

I’ve been reflecting lately on what it means to be a life writer in a time when so many lives are in imminent danger — when there are stories far more pressing than my own. It feels like a collision of my interests: telling others’ stories through reporting while I tell my own through life writing.

In October, a month before the election, I started my role as a “family friend” to Sudanese refugees who arrived in Iowa over the summer. They are amazing, to put it lightly. The children all attend school, have new friends over every week, it seems, and still try to teach me the proper “Juju on that Beat” technique after all my poor excuses for dancing. The parents only speak Arabic, the other children are fluent in English and the younger children are starting to speak up more; we’ll all have to speak up more. Speaking up is surviving.

I visited the family last week, as I do two or three times a month.

New furniture sneaks its way into their home nearly every visit, thanks to local donors. A beautiful, beaded Arabic tapestry hangs above a chest of drawers that’s new this week, I notice. It catches the waning sunlight, light from the kitchen, light from the kids’ laptop, almost greedily — as if it was shrouded for too long and is ready to share its story with anyone who will look and listen.

A friend of the family’s is over for the evening; they all call her “Auntie,” though she’s not related to them. The Sudanese community is all family here. We talk about work, family, school; it’s all so normal, just a week after President Trump’s ban temporarily barred refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Sudan. Continue reading

I want to see and feel my world changing

My coworkers are lovely.

My coworkers are lovely.

For all the ire it draws, winter weather rejuvenates and enlivens me every year. There’s something comforting about the possibility that I could peer out my window one moment and everything will be different, obscured in a curtain of swirling Midwestern mayhem. An ice storm is set to hit this evening and the anticipation is almost intoxicating — I want to see and feel my world changing. That’s how I feel about life right now, too. It’s changing, but not yet a swirl; it’s a slow, delightfully dizzying spin.

Two weeks ago I got into my top-choice law school. I heard the news as I walked to my job from an off-site work meeting, happy tears clinging to my frozen skin in the morning cold. I don’t think they’ve completely melted; I’m still in disbelief I got in.

Part of me is greedy for all the changes the next few months will bring; I wish they could swirl in like the snow and rain, blinding what was visible, familiar and comfortable. I love my job, my apartment, my volunteer work and my friends in Des Moines, but every day, there are little reminders that it’s time to leave — and that’s OK. My impatience is confirmation that I’m moving on to something that’s right for me, that’s more challenging while fitting into my existing advocacy goals. Continue reading

2016: written, forgotten, remembered

This is where I studied for the LSAT, where I write, where I read, where I eat and where I'm usually found at home. All my mail winds up here before it nests in different places around my apartment.

This is where I studied for the LSAT, where I write, where I read, where I eat and where I’m usually found at home. All my mail winds up here before it nests in different places around my apartment.

My mail nests in different nooks of my apartment. The glittery good-luck card on my refrigerator that reminds me I’m “Da Bomb.” The letters from my friend Kevin tucked by my bed, their Taiwanese stamps framed by striped envelopes. The Iowa Hawkeyes stationery my mom turned into a cute Future Tay checklist after I took the LSAT, peeking out from my makeshift study corner. The “This Card is 100% Gluten Free” mail a friend sent me during my weekly IVs.

The law school admission packets perched behind the framed photo of me and my sisters; sometimes I open the folders to confirm they’re real, that it’s OK to want things, that I’m good enough for those things.

2016 lives in the letters and cards scattered throughout my apartment, each emblematic of something — all emblematic of survival. Sparkles from my “You Da Bomb” card flutter to the floor each time I open my freezer, dusting my home in glitter and LSAT memories. Somehow, I survived studying for the test while I awaited diagnoses, while needles carved track marks into springtime skin that should have been showing off.

I relearned how to be a pen pal this year, graduating from the scratch-and-sniff sticker days of my letter correspondence with a friend from third-grade church camp. My college Tennis Club bestie Kevin taught English in Taiwan this past year, and we communicated exclusively by mail. Time stretched as we swapped the immediacy of texts and Facebook messages for mail that arrived monthly at best. We rambled about everything and nothing all at once; milestones and minutiae collide in letters more innocently, more honestly, maybe, than anywhere else. It was refreshing and soul-quieting.

Continue reading

Carved: a vignette

I haven’t been eating enough. I know it. Snacks nest at the bottom of my hulking work bag, they nest in my desk, left to exist and expire in peace. What do you do when the thing that keeps you alive was the same thing that was destroying you? When it caused your body to wage war on itself.

Bruised and splotchy, I examine the latest apple I found at the bottom of my purse, the one I knew was there but tried so hard to forget. Finally, I bite into it, eating around the bruises. Some stretch all the way to the core, creating pathways of pain to the apple’s center. I feel like this in 2016; bruised to the core, waiting to heal from wounds that exist much deeper than the surface reveals.

My elbow rests on my hipbone as I drift to sleep; sometimes it fits there a little too well, chronic illness and a tired year carving away at my existence.

An illusion of running in place

cupcake

This is 24.

The treadmill cheerfully beeps at me, as if we haven’t been on a year-long break, as if I haven’t been avoiding it for months. I enter my age, now 24. My weight, now 120. At this time last year, I tapped the numbers of 23 and 105. I remember my pale reflection in the TV as I watched “Boy Meets World,” subtitles and sounds swirling into a dizzy cacophony, one I couldn’t keep up with.

It whirs to life, and I cautiously tap the “up” arrow — a sneering icon in a year of downs. Five minutes pass and I am still running. This time, there are no glowing orbs in my periphery, little lights that tell me to slow down, slow down, slow down. Or black out. This time, I can breathe; full, borderline-greedy breaths. The starting and stopping, five minutes of running, 10 minutes of blurred lumbering as the treadmill belt whined with inactivity, they’re all gone. Continue reading

I survived 23

birthday-blog-postWords nest on my phone by the time it’s November. Scribbled in the skywalk on my way to work. Typed furiously between meetings and happy hours and volunteering. Words that naturally mold into ideas and lessons throughout another year, culminating in my annual birthday blog post.

I’m almost out of words this year. The words I have left for 23 are fragmented at best. They exist in the infusion room, doctor’s offices, the beige and maroon waiting rooms that blur into the muted color of anticipation and silent hand squeezes.

November woke me up with a nightmare, a subconscious convergence of 2016’s lurking badness. At 3 a.m. on Nov. 1, I poured a mug of peach tea and nested not in my orderly life lessons but in the dull throbbing of a dark year. Even in my aggressively neat apartment, I felt unkempt.

I swirled the tea bag in my cup, watching the orange color form a tiny tornado before staining the water, the two indistinguishable. Sometimes I have a hard time distinguishing the good from bad in 2016; it all steeps into a murky, steaming blend that stings my lips if I sip it too soon. I am still letting 2016 and 23 cool. Maybe they never will. Continue reading