Monthly Archives: June 2014

Recognizing limitations, expectations key when giving, getting advice

Advice: the fleeting attempt of one to engage and imagine the problem of another with clarity, and provide an immediate, not-before-realized epiphany.

The dictionary would likely offer a more official definition, but applied to my life, the above fit. Recently, I’ve been meditating on the culture and complexity of advice: how we give it, how we receive it and the action-centric nature of it.

Accompanied often by, “What do I do?” the act of providing and requesting advice strikes me as irrational for several reasons. The prevalence of that corresponding question suggests its innate impulsivity.

Frequently, I turn to family or friends not for advice regarding a major hitch in my mentality toward something, but for a quick fix — a tangible action that will immediately remedy a complicated problem.

And when friends or family ask me for advice, I typically assume I’m one step to closer to an illusive sense of enlightenment. I am a pseudo-adult, after all. They trust me with that anxiety-laden next action; therefore, I am wise.

Yet, I recall the advice sessions of my teenage years and realize, to my chagrin, little has changed.

For teenage Taylor, an advice session began with a friend recapping her latest, drawn-out dating woe (interspersed with pauses to text the “love of her life,” clearly) in a breathless span of a minute.

And with that knowledge, the other friends were expected to deliver an articulate solution in another minute or two (we had important things to do, after all, like Facebook stalk the cute, new kid who moved to Newton from Florida or somewhere equally exotic).

Though my problems have grown more complex and more significant in the long-term, I admit I still expect the irrational from advice. I expect a perfect fix in little time.

With more difficult decisions headed my way, rather than exclaiming, “What do I do?” in panic, I’ll contemplate and, if needed, change a deeply ingrained mentality that may provide a more permanent, powerful fix for my problem.

Writing daily becomes a welcome habit rather than a chore

Every year in every English class, my teachers repeated the same principle of writing: “The best way to become a better writer is to write.”

“Well, duh,” I thought to my already refined, all-knowing teenage self. Yet I wrote exclusively for the purpose of checking a class assignment off my to-do list or writing another paragraph in the ever-painful cover-letter battle.

As a longtime writer and future English major, I didn’t really need the extra practice, and I would work on my craft plenty in college, right? Ha.

This summer, though, I’ve set a goal to write every day, whether that means composing a series of related and/or funny tweets, updating my website bio or blogging. And inevitably, I’ve realized my teachers were right all along (and I’m extremely stubborn).

Though it took me a while to admit, I’m now able to write more efficiently, thanks to that teacher-ly advice. Before, I would expend up to an hour (or even two) crafting the perfect sentence. Yeah, I’m talking about a single sentence.

But after challenging myself to write every day, I’ve discovered I enjoy the act of spilling my thoughts onto the page (with a purpose, of course). For a lifelong perfectionist, that’s a big step.

Now that I don’t immediately have to find the ideal but ever-elusive synonym for “madness” (throwing it back to the year I studied revenge tragedies of the English Renaissance), I’m free to let the content of my writing reveal itself in an organic manner. Even if that organic writing inevitably leads to a few more, “What in the name of corn on the cob?” moments later in the revision/editing process.

Writing daily became a welcome habit more quickly than I expected — something that’s ingrained in my daily routine, much like tossing a random assortment of fruit into my beloved blender and calling it lunch.

I’ve skipped writing some days this summer, I admit, but every time, I feel a nagging emptiness, as though something is missing. My thoughts are more disorganized and unmoored.

Besides, when I abandon my writing challenge for a day or two, I miss valuable opportunities to say, “What in the name of corn on the cob?”

Blogging: a place for experimentation and my wannabe-rebel self

When I informed my sister I planned to update my blog tonight, she responded with the expected question: “What are you writing about?” And in the rhythm of family banter, I responded with the usual, “I don’t know yet.”

That brief exchange provided the focus of this post (I swear I approach each entry with a topic in mind, despite my writing’s often-meandering nature): why I blog. Yep, today I’m blogging about blogging — maybe I can coin the term “meta-blogging.” All right, never mind.

But back to the “why” of blogging. In my methodical world of color-coded, well, everything, blogging provides an outlet for my spontaneous side (it exists, I promise). Without the confinement of a detailed prompt, a target word count, a page limit or an impending deadline (unless my bedtime counts), blogging is a space to ramble with a point and challenge/develop my writer voice — to free my wannabe-rebel alter-ego through intentional sentence fragments, unconventional capitalization and (gulp) the occasional expletive.

Blogging is more about the process than the product for me. I typically write about what I’m baffled by, what I’ve barely begun to ponder. The blog I created for a class assignment has since evolved into a realm for everything from fangirling over ‘90s sitcoms to exploring the value of reflection. A place to experiment.

And perhaps most importantly, blogging is a place to begin sentences with the forbidden “and” or “but” — like a total badass.

“Blossom” provides a healthy dose of authenticity

I sometimes write about deep-ish things like the power of reflection and the enigmatic nature of time. But sometimes, I trade my wannabe-philosopher self for, well, my inner fangirl. And tonight, I’m fangirling over “Blossom.” Remember that show starring Mayim Bialik that ran from 1990-95? Yeah, that’s the one.

There’s something about ‘90s TV I find irresistibly endearing and most importantly, real. While I feel alienated by the overwhelmingly artificial world of modern TV, the ‘90s put reality in the spotlight. And no, I don’t mean ‘reality’ in the context of “Jersey Shore.”

I mean ‘reality’ in the context that ‘90s TV sitcoms featured plausible problems and people.

After exhausting reruns of “Frasier,” “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Full House” and “Friends” (an era keen on the letter “F,” apparently), I turned to “Blossom.” As a longtime fan of Mayim Bialik’s Amy Farrah Fowler character from “The Big Bang Theory,” I already had a good feeling about “Blossom.”

After one episode, I immediately raved to my younger sister Jordyn about the show’s witty characters and frighteningly accurate portrayal of sibling camaraderie (or rivalry, really). Here are a few reasons I love “Blossom.”

Blossom Russo is a total badass. No, I don’t mean that in the sense that she cliff-dives or bungee-jumps. She’s a badass because she’s open about her feelings, sex and relationships. When things aren’t working in the Russo family, she’s quick to step in with a quirky solution, and in the sitcom realm, it always works.

Blossom is a feminist, yet another reason she rocks. She isn’t afraid to express what she wants and go for it, and she’s more interested in self-development than finding the love of her life (even if Bobby Brewer is ‘totally gorgeous’).

Finally, Will Smith and Blossom shared a beautiful bonding moment in the second season, and all was right in her world and mine.

While too many children are sitting at home watching some Nickelodeon or Disney Channel show in which the characters can’t have a conversation at a normal volume or discuss any issues relevant to growing up, I’ll post another episode of “Blossom” on my 15-year-old sister’s Facebook wall.

In part because Blossom’s latest hat rules (that flower, though). In part because Six’s sassiness is envy-worthy. And in part because I want my little sister admiring a character who’s awkward and talks too much at the wrong time and too little at the right time — a character who’s real.

Return to beloved hobby proves the power of leisure

I recently reacquainted myself with a longtime love: reading for fun.

While I appreciate literature whether reading for homework or leisure, there’s a certain thrill in picking up a memoir with the confidence that no essay prompt or pop quiz awaits. In the fall, I’ll complete my English writing degree with a course dedicated to life writing; I deemed David Sedaris’ memoir Naked the ideal choice for renewing my (complicated) bond with the genre.

Already, unapologetic honesty defines the memoir, and though I have little in common with the author, I find myself clinging to the universality of his bizarre tales — all moored on the page with that trademark Sedaris wit.

Even rambling a quick analysis of Naked reveals leisure’s sneaky power. Though I’m reading for relaxation, I automatically engage the more academic, formulaic part of my mind.

And the whole involuntary rambling thing felt productive. Wait, what?

Too often throughout my college career, I’ve felt guilty after taking an hour or two off to watch a movie or delay my homework for an impromptu ping-pong match. After all, that kind of ‘relaxation’ detracted from my ‘career path’ or whatever other jargon I created for an all-purpose guilt trip.

Since taking up leisure reading again, though, I’ve realized hobbies and interests are neither conniving nor determined to invade my life and steal precious time from work.

Rather, they’re opportunities to engage a different, too often dormant part of me. And maybe, in the uncanny haven of an author’s tale about ‘that one time way back when,’ the career-minded, ‘productive’ part of me might discover something valuable — something far beyond the cubicle.

The value of job-hopping

Real people work one job from 9-5. They drive to the office every day, probably in a reliable car with a “Drake alumni” decal (in my world, anyway).

At the beginning of the year, I had it all figured out. In May, I would begin a full-time job with standard hours and a steady paycheck. I would drive to work. That’s what real people do, and damn it, I’m nearing real-people-dom, with my graduation approaching in December.

Forever on the brink of fledgling adulthood, I wanted to meet my preconceived definition. That would prove I’m ready for the ‘real world,’ right? But the year turned out dramatically different — and I’m content.

Rather than drive to work, I ride the bus. Rather than work one job from 9-5, I work two part-time jobs and three on-and-off freelance writing and videography gigs.

Though I initially dreaded rambling off each job when asked the inevitable question, “What are you doing this summer?” I’ve come to embrace and even appreciate the array. Job-hopping proved to be exactly what I needed.

I devoted nearly all my time and energy last semester to two beloved publications, Think Mag and The Times-Delphic. Though I gained a wealth of practical experience and fondly remember my time with both, I often felt trapped in the grueling cycle of each publication.

Job-hopping, however, has allowed me to try a wide variety of skills and projects. Yet again, my pesky (but ultimately dear) friend chaos has returned and proved a beautiful part of my life.

In a ‘typical’ workday at the Science Center of Iowa, I sometimes go from producing video to editing a blog post to writing a press release to pinning periodic table puns (comedic gold, I swear). And that’s only job No. 1. After that, I might update an Excel spreadsheet at job No. 2 before heading to a local softball diamond to cover a high school game for The Des Moines Register.

Along the job-hopping way, I’ve created my own definition of real-people-dom. Rather than a realm defined by a practical car, regular paycheck and “Bulldog Pride” auto decal, real-people-dom, I’ve realized, can be whatever I make it — screeching Dart bus brakes, periodic-table jokes and homeruns included.

I hope to eventually trade my job-hopping habit for something a little closer to the aforementioned definition, but whatever I do, I know I don’t need to meet a predetermined definition of adulthood. I can create my own definition of it. Well, fledgling adulthood, anyway.

Life writing leads to meditation on concept of time

Time confounds me. And don’t worry, this post won’t turn into one of those, “Time heals all,” monologues from Tumblr. This post is more like, “Hey, big, bad world! I’m Taylor, and here’s a nugget of the innumerable things I don’t quite get and maybe never will!”

One of the many results of my interest in life-writing is incessant meditation on the concept of time and how it manifests day to day in my world. And, again in the life-writing tradition, I’m wary of any hint of a “conclusion” or “culmination.” I figure it’s more than likely fleeting, to be replaced by a deeper, more informed epiphany reached only by an older, more worldly version of me.

But back to the concept of time and my raging uncertainty (I imagine there’s a handy “20 Reasons Being Uncertain in Your 20s is Totally Normal” listicle waiting to guide me to eternal enlightenment).

I’m particularly confounded by the ability of time to at once fly and lumber. When I park my (inevitably) senioritis-afflicted self in the library next semester to memorize that pile of Arabic flashcards (wish me luck in that endeavor, blogosphere), time will probably lumber by.

But then, in the middle of one of my breaks (Hey, I memorized 10 cards; therefore, I’ve earned a 15-minute Twitter break, right?), I’ll probably glance at my calendar (more avoidance) and realize it’s November or something crazy like that.

In November, I’ll turn 22. A month later, I graduate from college. Damn it, time.

I’ve long believed I could control time — a side effect of my trademark stubbornness. From color-coding, to mapping out my entire day, to dreaming about losing my calendar (a nightmare, rather), I’m pretty good at trying to control time.

Emphasis on trying. It’s time I realize the limitations of my schedule, internal clock and even the holy grail of time-control: the multicolored Sharpie pack that recently rocked my color-coding world.

Rather than draw a thick, neon line through my next appointment, I think I’ll write my name in bubble letters. It’s one of the few things I know for certain, after all.

Embracing my inner teacher

Growing up, I heard it again and again: “Are you going to be a teacher like your mom?”

“Ha! No way!” I’d exclaim.

I would be a writer, perched behind the gigantic mahogany desk of my imagination, a pile of books framing me on either side as dust particles danced in the glow of an antique lamp. A realistic goal, clearly.

In my time at Drake University, to my surprise, I’ve adopted the teacher role — and for a long time, I didn’t want to admit it. There are five generations of female teachers on my mother’s side of the family, but I clung to the notion of, “I’m an individual, damn it! An editor. A rebel.”

In 2013, I trained to be a writing tutor at the Adult Literacy Center at Drake.

“I’m a mentor, not a teacher,” I’d clarify, channeling my inner ‘rebel.’ As my student — a native Spanish speaker — and I worked through foreign sounds and dedicated over 20 minutes to the pronunciation of a single word, at times, I discovered my inner teacher and the role I had been loath to acknowledge and engage before.

Teaching, I realized, manifests in unexpected ways, no matter my self-proclaimed ‘editor’ title. That unpredictability felt particularly real when my Teaching Writing class was assigned a real-world project.

No more hypothetical “Student 1” and “Student 2.” We would provide feedback on essays about The Great Gatsby for high school seniors in Guadalajara, Mexico, via the Internet. Talk about intimidating.

In my initial feedback to Rocio, my student, I provided vague suggestions and tiptoed around big-picture possibilities for development. To my anxiety, it was no longer my responsibility to add commas and correct pronoun/antecedent agreement; I had to become a teacher and abandon my beloved editor role.

The dramatic shift from an editorial role to a teacher role forced me to examine writing in a big-picture way.

Rather than stay in my comfort zone of editing for grammar and mechanics, I had to step back and ask myself what I hoped to achieve in the long-term. Though that shift in the way I examine writing — and think, in general — was uncomfortable, I have a better understanding of the discourse in which I work and a newfound ability to approach writing in big-picture way. Plus, I saw growth in the clarity, development and communication of Rocio’s analysis of The Great Gatsby.

I entered the project hopeful I’d see her grow as a writer. I didn’t realize how much I would grow as a respondent and teacher in a few short weeks.

As I continue to tutor my Adult Literacy Center student for a second year, I’ve adopted another unexpected teacher role. I’m teaching the new Times-Delphic editor-in-chief how to survive — and thrive — in one of the toughest jobs on campus. How to learn from the inevitable error on the page. How to balance fun and productivity in the workplace. And a whole lot more I can’t even begin to predict.

Along the way, I hope I’ll teach her how to be a better editor, writer and maybe, teacher.

Social media management provides a lesson in patience

When I baked banana bread the other day, I wandered to the oven approximately every minute to monitor its progress. Every time, I heard the trademark reply of my friend and former roommate, Katie: “Taylor, if you open the oven that often, it’ll never bake. Be patient!” Me, patient? Ha. Good one.

That tale of baking impatience recently became relevant beyond the kitchen, when I began managing the Science Center of Iowa’s Pinterest and Instagram accounts. As I Instagrammed photos of a 60-year-old box turtle, Peaches (in celebration of World Turtle Day), and pinned the instructions for at least 15 variations of the classic volcano experiment, I realized a peculiar juxtaposition in the realm of social media.

Though social media revolves around the modern need for immediacy, it requires patience from those on the management end.

I’ve learned you can plan and plan a complete social media approach, but if users don’t engage with your content, you have to be ready to take a whole new route. And the inherent uncertainty has provided a powerful test in patience. That ‘brilliant’ idea for a Pinterest board? Total flop. That ‘eh, maybe’ board I created with caution and expected to garner limited engagement? An immediate hit.

Flexibility is the pinnacle of successful social media management. Not clever hashtags. Not eye-catching photos. Not a homely turtle. Not even that blackmail-worthy Throwback Thursday image.

And hey, one day in the near future, I might even wait until the timer dings to check on my banana bread. And I have an aging box turtle to thank for it.