Containing multitudes is a trip

Molly and me during our freshman year at Drake.

Molly and me during our freshman year at Drake.

I tried to pack my excitement and sadness into boxes. Surely they would fit somewhere, nesting among sweaters from college I can’t seem to part with, books I always open to find a postcard or old to-do list wedged between the pages, its tasks reading like a secret English major code.

“Books, office supplies, consuming sadness, TV stand trinkets,” the Post-It on the box would say. “Photo frames, globe, guilt-laden excitement, box of cards I never open.”

It’s been a bizarre last few weeks; I had a different blog post written, one about Europe and adventure and contentedness and the electricity of meeting Twitter friends in real life. About bargaining at outdoor bazaars and souvenirs and making eyes at smoldery European men because I knew I’d never see them again.

Two days after I got back from a nine-day trip to London, Vienna and Bratislava, I found out a friend from my freshman year at Drake had passed away suddenly over the weekend. I started packing for law school in Iowa City a day later, crying on and off as I turned my sadness and anger into an apartment maze of boxes, bags and things that didn’t belong anywhere.

I approached my excitement and grief in much the same way, unsure where to put them, wondering whether I should put them in separate boxes or let them vie for space in the same one. Continue reading

Ice cream and epiphanies

80-35I carve out time in my week for epiphanies: evening walks, early mornings with hot tea and a book, my drive to Target. How soon I forget epiphanies are disruptive and delicious like the unexpected swirl of an ice cream flavor I didn’t ask for; I stir it in, relishing the strange, fleeting taste.

For weeks I’ve been typing half-realized sentences into the Notes app on my phone, searching for the anchoring words of a blog post about Des Moines, about what I’ve done and who I’ve become in six years here. It’s funny how none of them are anchored in the moments I set aside for reflection, that lurking buzzword and habit I had to establish while finishing my bachelor’s degree in English.

Cold lentil soup sat on my desk in the faded Campbell’s Tupperware I’ve had since the ‘90s; ill-advised, I packed it for lunch on a 96-degree day. Again. I usually have a to-do list for this week and next, moving and reordering items in the order I need to do them. But this final week at my job, I changed the header to, “GIRL, YOU’RE DOING THE DAMN THING.”

As I prioritized items for my last week of work and started an email to a local attorney, I realized I’ve learned to advocate for myself in Des Moines, a fitting epiphany, I suppose, as I move to law school next month. Continue reading

Thunderstorms and black nail polish

Camps SignLightning illuminates the black building across the street, revealing the quiet cubicles inside. It is silent, strangely; thunder has yet to join the display. I’ll miss these giant windows, the way lightning interrupts the darkness in my apartment. The glow seems to linger for a moment after each strike, singeing the silence. I’m painting my nails black.

I haven’t painted my nails since my senior Prom, and even then, it was that clear polish with sporadic gold flecks.

Last January I bought black nail polish a few days before I signed up for the LSAT — not that deep, deceptive maroon, but black. Shiny, black nail polish. It sat on my bathroom counter for a few days, demanding the respect a major risk deserves, I guess. As if it were smugly preparing me for the real one: signing up for the test.

With freshly painted nails, I checked the required boxes and registered for the LSAT. Somehow, the nail polish felt riskier. It interrupted every movement, startling me with its shiny starkness.

I always remove my nail polish a few hours later. I tend to pick at, stare it, obsess over it, smudges and all. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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