Monthly Archives: May 2014

How-to-live ‘listicles’ offer stale, generic advice

I can’t resist a good listicle. You know, that literary gem about the “20 Most Important Sloths You’ll Ever Witness” or the life-changing “15 Biggest Cat Moments in YouTube History.” But every time I surf the Internet for my daily helping of cute-animal entertainment, I’m hounded by my least favorite type of listicle.

And no, I’m not referring to the “20 Least Important Sloths You’ll Ever Witness.” I mean the dreaded 20-something how-to-live listicle. Every time I scroll through my Twitter feed, at least five “[Insert arbitrary number] Things Every Girl Should Do In Her Twenties” listicles appear, providing the conclusive handbook for the next nine years of my life.

But frankly, I’m done glancing at them with the inevitable eye-roll and audible groan. Today, I’m fighting back (all right, more like ranting back) about the inclination of nearly every web writer to inform me what I have to do in the next decade.

The 20-something how-to-live listicle employs a one-size-fits-all approach in processing life milestones. Suddenly, landmarks like living on your own, traveling abroad and quitting a terrible job are equally beneficial and impactful for all 20-somethings. Though they initially appear inspiring and informed (seeing as they’re usually written by some wistful 30-something), age-specific, how-to-live listicles generalize and trivialize.

My stubborn side is probably coming through as usual, but I’m a big believer in the freedom to make my own mistakes. Now, I don’t mean I’m living my 20s in pursuit of grievous errors and subsequent regret. Rather, I’d like the freedom to make mistakes organically and learn from them in a way catered to my life and future.

The 20-something how-to-live listicle provides a ready-made conclusion about the impact some experience or error should inevitably have. Please let me make my own mistakes on my own timeline, and more importantly, please give me the freedom to reach my own conclusion.

Clearly, if you read the post before this one, I’m all about unanswered questions as a means of self-growth and reflection. Twenty-something how-to-live listicles strip life experiences of their innate ambiguity. Sometimes, a conclusion or sweeping statement of growth and learning simply doesn’t exist. Sometimes, the uncertainty is productive in its own unexpected way.

So, this summer, the only listicle I need is the “25 Most Important Hedgehog Moments This Week.” Or the even more important “10 New Ice Cream Flavors to Try This Summer.” If you write that listicle, I swear I won’t groan or roll my eyes.

Milestone commemoration a source of unanswered questions

My collegiate plunge into life writing produced an unexpected but welcome habit: unremitting reflection. Add in a life-changing trip abroad and an academic year defined by change and fear, and well, I have a lot on which to reflect.

All that fodder for lingering led me to think about the modern commemoration of the life landmark — a peculiar moment defined at once by the individual and the culture.

With a quick click on Facebook, for example, one can take a brief tour through each important “life event,” decided by the profile owner. And that’s where I begin to feel particularly unmoored: the ownership of life events.

Though I immediately placed my January 2014 trip to Turkey in the “high impact” category in my life, I worry adding it to an arbitrary “timeline” could trivialize the power and tangibility of it. If I type it into an electronic timeline, it’s available for a few hundred “friends” to imagine, conceptualize and ultimately, define for me. But I’m probably overthinking it.

Additionally, I’m baffled by the ownership of memory in relation to the tangibility of it — the tickets, the souvenirs and the leftover Turkish lira in my back pocket. They traveled from one retailer to another, one gutter to another, one pocket to another, one continent to another and finally, wound up in an Arabic-decorated trinket box in America’s Heartland. Yet, do I really own those mementos?

I can’t help but wonder if a traveler before me experienced a more poignant moment with them. But in the box they’ll remain, harboring my memory — and undoubtedly, many more I’ll never know.

Finally, I worry about my ability and more broadly, my generation’s ability, to comprehend the gravity of life’s milestones and memories. With the ability available to “delete” a “life event,” with an album requiring a click rather than a week of paper-cutting (and a paper cut or two, given my lack of crafting grace), are we missing valuable opportunities to linger on life experiences? Have we made memory commemoration too easy, too quick and frankly, too public, for it to impact us in a lasting and meaningful way?

Well, I’m going to try to find out. I plan to create a tangible project from my Turkey experience (with the guidance of my creative younger sister, of course). And no, I don’t mean adding a bad clip-art flower or “xoxo” to a photo and placing it in a glittery photo frame.

Whatever the project, I hope I’ll find a new kind of reflective experience and maybe, an epiphany the Facebook “timeline” and “like” could never provide. And maybe, I’ll even avoid the dreaded crafting paper cut.

Break yields new self, new goals

Every summer, a new self emerges. Energized by the balmy weather and endless excuses to eat ice cream, I find myself preoccupied by the promise of adventure and spontaneity. Qualities hardly associated with a lifelong color-coder and list-maker.

Still, something about this time of year practically forces me to pause and finally reflect on the year thus far. And in 2014 more than any other year, I have a lot on which to reflect.

My college graduation is seven months away. I completed my senior journalism capstone. I delved into the formerly unfamiliar digital realm of tablet production and TV field photography. I traveled to Turkey.

And for the first time in my life, I’ve stopped searching for conclusions. You know, the grand, sweeping declarations that neatly cap each experience, allowing me to move to the next. As if life unfolded on some kind of linear timeline, each phase culminating in an epiphany or nugget of wisdom. Ha.

Though I’d like to give my summer self a little credit for her newfound affinity for the impromptu, I’ve realized it’s a tough mentality to maintain. As the summer progresses, as adventures and experiences unfold, I’ll probably become impatient and discouraged when I can’t immediately discern their broader impact in my life.

This summer, though, there’s only one broader impact for which I’m searching: I’m determined to do things that scare me. And no, I don’t mean cliff-jumping or sky-diving. I’m talking about more deeply rooted fears.

Like meditation (anything that forces me to be still and reflect is terrifying). And wearing my natural hair down without extensive preparation (curly hair life). Like giving my beloved calendar app a vacation. Hey, some fears are bigger than others.

Rather than force hasty conclusions, I’ll simply strive to confront one fear a day. Some days, that’ll mean trying a new flavor of shake at Snookies. Others, it’ll mean forcing myself to be still and simply linger on the minutiae of life.

And today, it means writing this post — admitting I don’t have any neat conclusion, epiphany or nugget of wisdom to offer. I only have nagging uncertainty and oh, yeah, an ice cream cone. The usual flavor. Hey, it’s a process.

Redefining my summer to-do list

At the beginning of every summer as a child, I’d create a to-do list for break. You know, the type of list that would undoubtedly reveal the bad girl 14-year-old Taylor clearly embodied beneath that baggy Aeropostale hoodie and jean skirt (shudder).

My bad-girl summer list typically included staying up all night (I’ve yet to pull an all-nighter, even in college) and rearrange Walmart (a small-town Iowa thing I thankfully never achieved).

Clearly, we’re not all meant for the bad-girl life. Rather than create an equally anti-Taylor list this summer, I’ve adopted a more practical, realistic option: a summer 2014 journalism to-do list.

Add “but.” This summer, I’ll admit what I don’t know — but I’ll add five key words after it: “But I’m willing to learn.” That attitude already led me to a love of editing video in Premiere Pro, and I can’t wait to find out where it’ll lead me next.

Write daily. Apparently, writing daily wasn’t badass enough for 14-year-old me. Really, though, I should have added this goal years ago, in place of something life-changing like the inevitable, “Crank call [insert name of latest middle school ‘hottieeeeee]’”). Extra letters necessary, duh. But seriously, I’m determined to update my blog at least once a week with media-related musings.

Remember it’ll all work out. As I confront the fact that my junior year is, in fact, over, and I’m a semester away from graduation, I turn once again to the wise words of late Drake journalism professor Rick Tapscott: “It’ll all work out. It always does.” As the daunting task of applying for “big-kid” jobs looms, that phrase provides a constant anchor (even amid the unmoored moments of panic).

2014 has already proved a year of transformation, change and risk-taking (and I don’t mean crank-calling my latest “soul mate”).

In this past semester, I’ve redefined the rebel spirit of my 14-year-old self. I’ve embedded the uncomfortable — new technology, new challenges, new experiences — in my daily life.

Along the way, I realized I don’t need the thrill of a crank call at 3 a.m. or the tired delirium of a caffeine-fueled all-nighter. I need only the simple satisfaction of knowing at the end of every day that I challenged myself a little bit.

New places impact identity

Gray, felt walls created a maze in the top floor of the old Younkers building in downtown Des Moines. For my father, then a buyer at the department store, the cramped space and eternal din of the fax machine represented the practical: a way to make money and advance his career. For my younger sister Tara and I, they represented a trip to the top of the world.

As suit-clad bigwigs waltzed by en route to the famed Younkers Tea Room, I entered the Iowa definition of a fairy tale. Delicate crown molding and gold trim decorated the Tea Room. I can’t remember what I ordered (probably grilled cheese, given I was an even pickier eater then than I am now), but I began to realize the power of place in those childhood outings to the Younkers Tea Room.

That power felt particularly real in January, when I traveled to Turkey for J-term. I couldn’t comprehend much of the language, but I felt at once at home and in another world. New places, I realized, have a way of linking the familiar and unfamiliar in the perfect balance, forcing me to reflect on — and adapt — my identity. While the Tea Room let me try on the identity of a queen, Turkey helped me find my wanderer identity.

The power of place hit me again in March 29, when the Younkers building — and my beloved Tea Room — caught fire. Though a large portion of the iconic building burned down, I cling to the memory of the gold trim and the coveted kids’ meal toy, a miniature ceramic plate hand-painted with a pink tulip. Somewhere between the tangible memory of gold accents and doll-sized dinnerware, I realized the role of place in the never-ending creation of my identity.

Editing, broadcasting experiences redefine future plans

Happy equals certain. I long equated the two, convinced that planning — the knowledge of where I would go next and ultimately, who I would become in the future — led to fulfillment. And it did, for a while, anyway. I could depend on my color-coded calendar to guide me to the next meeting, week, month, year. But junior year marked the end of that beloved equation, and weirdly enough, I’m content with the change.

Before the year began, I had my life largely figured out: I would love being editor-in-chief of The Times-Delphic at Drake. That experience would inevitably lead to a summer internship at some big-name daily newspaper. After graduating in December, I would get a full-time reporter job at the same big-name daily.

Though I loved my time editing the TD this past school year, I admit it made me rethink my longtime plan to be an editor. Leading the bright, quirky TD staff taught me accountability and patience, but I missed the thrill of reporting and writing — that beautiful moment of finally securing an interview with the source. You know the one I’m talking about: the one you’ve been playing phone tag with all week, the one who gives your story that final, essential nugget of insight.

That certainty for the future got even muddier when I delved into the realm of TV field photography this semester. As the packages and editing got more complicated — and as I grew more comfortable with the work — my plan grew murkier. I reached a turning point when a friend recently asked me the quintessential college question: “What are you doing after graduation?” And for the first time since, well, ever, I didn’t have a ready-made reply.

“I don’t know,” became my go-to. After a few paralyzing moments of, “I, uh, um, well, I don’t really know yet,” I redefined certainty — and created a new reply to go with it: “I don’t know. I could write for a daily paper. I could work at a broadcasting station. But I could go into web management. Maybe social media.” It’s in that reply I’ve found a new kind of certainty. Wherever I go after my graduation in December, I’m certain change is the only guarantee — and I like it that way.

After three years of working in the print world, I’ll make a big change May 20 when I begin my job as a communications assistant at the Science Center of Iowa. There, I’ll be blogging, working with social media and editing and producing video. And when my future work friends ask me what I’m going to do after graduation, I know exactly how I’ll reply.