Best friends and Michelle Branch

Because small-town sunsets are my evergreen mood, OK?

Because small-town sunsets are my evergreen mood, OK?

When things in life break or bend or end, I impulsively text my childhood best friend. We’ve been friends since we were 4 — almost 21 years. There’s something inherently comforting about receiving a text from someone you’ve known forever, especially in moments of transition and intense, unpredictable emotion.

“All You Wanted” by Michelle Branch started playing as I walked into Hy-Vee the other day. It’s one of those songs that would normally float above me unsuspectingly; I’d notice it for an instant but let it stir into the squeak of shopping carts, the rustling of bags, the hum of conversation during a busy Sunday at the grocery store.
It was exactly what I needed that day: a loving albeit cheesy reminder that some things just stick with you. I hummed along with the song as I debated between frozen egg rolls and lasagna, remembering every word, resisting the urge to belt out that shit from the truly blessed year that was 2001.

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Greeting cards and next-level no chill

The scene of all the times I overthink while writing a card or letter.

The scene of all the times I overthink while writing a card or letter.

I eyed the card at my favorite store for weeks, debating whether I should buy it. Blue, letter pressed, local, framed by stickers, patches and jewelry. I drafted it in my head long before I typed it out on my computer, long before I wrote the words in blue ink, fearful I’d accidentally spell a word wrong, sealing our fate in smudged pen.

Meandering the store with a free frozen margarita on a First Friday in the East Village, I picked up the card. Pink and almost too big for the tiny cup, the paper umbrella nudged me to relax, tapping my nose with each sip.

In high school I asked the boy I liked to Prom with a handmade card in red and pink permanent marker. He said no.

After the election, I wrote a thank-you card to Hillary Clinton, stumbling to find the right words when I knew none really existed. Continue reading

Saving summer

Cincy SkylineGold light bathed my apartment Monday morning, tinting my teal accents a suspicious green, rendering my curtains useless and waking me up before my alarm. It’s the kind of light that reminds me summer is coming soon, overconfident in its brightness — the kind of light that burns out too fast, too soon.

I got up, filled a glass with water and as soon as I turned around, the light had dimmed, returning my room to its familiar color. Summer is suspicious like that, the way sunlight shines with such confidence, clinging to skin and sunglasses and scalps, tattooing me with perpetual shadows.

The heat and lingering days threaten never to end, only to be replaced by fireflies when the sun finally relents, reminding me of summer’s beguiling character, its effervescent, overpromising light.

“You’re going to have the best summer ever!”

I’ve heard it several times; I mumble affirmatively. I’m traveling to London and Vienna with my mom and youngest sister. In London, I’ll finally meet the Twitter friend whom I’ve been Facebook messaging for more than a year now. I’ll play tennis obsessively, staying late at the courts until bugs hover in winged clouds under the lights. Continue reading

Trying to fill the silence

My sister is right, the selfie lighting in my Des Moines apartment is excellent.

My sister is right, the selfie lighting in my Des Moines apartment is excellent.

As I move through my apartment on Saturday mornings, watering my plants, removing a layer of dust from nearly every surface, both cursing and revering my giant south-facing windows, I listen to podcasts. I fill my home with others’ voices, their stories in rhythm with the tasks on my weekend to-do list.

For a long time, I was afraid of the silence in my own home.

There is sameness in silence, the way it always invites my pesky restlessness to the forefront, compelling me to counter it with chatter, sound, anything. I’ve felt alarmingly uninspired by my writing the past couple months amid the shuffle of law school visits, planning a European trip and making moving plans for the fall. Every time I sit down to write, I don’t know where to start: the planning, the quitting, the leaving, the moving, the resettling. It all blurs into feelings, anxieties and impatience I can’t bear to sort out.

But when I find myself unanchored in the one thing I can (usually) count on — words — I moor myself to the sounds of where I am, sounds that so often fade into the background of living, breathing, doing. Continue reading

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