Monthly Archives: July 2014

Facing the illusion of a ‘unique’ writing voice

“Mine.” The word pervaded my childhood home, courtesy of an ever-important exchange: “Mom! (Insert name of sister) stole my (insert name of plaything I suddenly deemed precious in the unfathomable event of abduction)!”

Growing up in the forever-unfair realm of sisterly sharing, I developed a keen awareness of ownership at an early age. And maybe, a little stubbornness accompanied it. Maybe.

Though I long ago bid farewell to the days of sharing Birthday Barbie — a then-unthinkable horror — I find myself struggling to relinquish ownership of my writing voice. In particular, I still have a difficult time admitting my ‘voice’ is merely a compilation of experiences, events, interactions and ultimately, other voices.

As a life writer, I’ve long felt the need and right to defend my ‘voice.’ For a long time, that meant resisting edits, revisions and suggestions. “But I’m more unique than you!” I longed to proclaim, but settled instead for a subtle eye-roll at far too many valuable ideas from insightful writers.

After a friendship abruptly ended earlier this year, though, I detected an immediate change in my ‘voice.’ A sharp, biting cynicism emerged, sometimes overpowering the ‘Taylor-trademark’ tone that preceded it. It frightened me.

In that sudden shift, I finally faced a fact I had known all along: My ‘voice’ — much like Birthday Barbie — was never only mine.

Though I’m sometimes still tempted to proclaim, “but I’m unique,” I’ve developed gratitude and appreciation for the voices that have impacted, shaped and molded my writing.

Finding a forever home in the newsroom

When I left my college newspaper in May after three crazy and challenging years, I admit I entertained the idea of never returning to a newsroom.

While the combination of running a twice-weekly publication, printing a 40-page special edition and completing my senior journalism capstone (all in one semester) contributed to that idea, I worried I’d never find another newsroom in which I felt equally inspired. Where community defined the experience.

After my first week as a sports news assistant at The Des Moines Register, I’ve realized the power of the newsroom isn’t in a witty headline, a moving story or even the name at the top of each page.

For me, the newsroom is a home and a haven, a place where I feel comfortable and challenged, productive and peaceful, all at once.

My tea mug expresses how I feel about the newsroom. Also, note the newsprint detailing.

My tea mug expresses how I feel about the newsroom. Also, note the newsprint detailing.

Maybe it’s that extra cup of black tea I inevitably pour when I copy edit. Maybe it’s the thrill of finding the dreaded Oxford comma and drawing a thick, red line through it. Maybe it’s the fact that I dedicate my time to content I hope enables readers to make decisions about their lives.

In typical Taylor fashion, I’m not certain — about a lot of things. Where my career will lead, where I’ll live after graduation.

But I know I’ll always have a home in the newsroom. And the best kind of home, at that: one with an endless supply of red pens, AP Stylebooks and people who believe in me.

Modern culture of the ‘milestone’ limits power of life writing

When I inform people I write about my life in an academic context, they typically reply, “Really? I could never do that. I’m not that exciting.”

It’s disheartening to me. Life writing, for one, has profound benefits, including self-discovery, self-awareness and reflection. Furthermore, that reply reveals a disturbing trend in the culture of defining milestones.

Now I’ve never climbed a mountain. I’ve never experienced a tragedy (thankfully). I’ve never gotten married or even dated anyone. And yet, I have much to write about my life.

Recently, I opened a credit card under my name. I adopted a plant (named Lorenzo). That reply to my question, however, practically eliminates the potential for growth and learning inherent in every life event. The rigidity in the definition of the modern ‘life event’ worries me.

With the ever-popular celeb memoir supplying the grandeur of multi-million-dollar weddings, crumbling public relationships, athletic fame and more, personal milestones feel minute, even unimportant.

Facebook likewise complicates the ‘life event.’ I wrote the following excerpt in a fall 2013 mini-memoir about my identity, and it feels more applicable than ever, particularly as I enter the post-graduate era of ‘Facebook-official’ engagements and marriages.

* * *

Now, a timeline is more than a notion in my mind. More than a guide from one experience to the next. More than a frame of mind, a valiant attempt to comprehend and organize the awkward in my life. Now, a timeline is clickable, likable and alarmingly, deleteable, thanks to Facebook. No longer an entirely individual or private concept, the timeline is public proof of milestones hit — and missed.

Likewise, a blog functions as a type of organizational record that eases the disorder inherent in life, where I can decide which moments to include and exclude, highlight and downplay. Plus, with a quick, clickable tag or category, my world somehow feels more defined, more manageable. The uncertainty I loathe is compressed in a neat, maybe even alliterative tag of one to three words.

* * *

In the tradition of life writing, I can’t provide an astute ‘conclusion.’

Moving forward in my goal to comprehend the ‘life event,’ I merely pledge to abandon the concept of an established ‘milestone.’

I am not behind. I am not ahead. I’m learning not to depend on the cultural definition of the ‘right time.’ It’ll never be the ‘right time.’ It’ll always be my time, though.

While I won’t add an engagement or marriage to my Facebook timeline in the near future like many of my classmates, I’m keeping my plant, Lorenzo, alive. And for me, that’s a pretty big deal.

Meet Lorenzo, my plant.

Meet Lorenzo, my plant.

New role at The Register fulfills longtime dream

I found comfort in my morning routine: a bowl of apple-cinnamon oatmeal in the center of my placemat, a cup of ice water to the right, The Des Moines Register sports section to the left. Growing up, my place at the breakfast table provided certainty amid the ever-turbulent teenage years. Reading the Register’s sports page offered a break from the impending reality of homework and the inherently awkward nature of young-adult life.

When I realized my interest in journalism (I’d say “calling,” but I like to think I have multiple callings, including amateur ice cream expert-hood and origami-folding), working at The Register immediately became my then-faraway dream. The sports section had helped me conquer morning lethargy, and it featured my favorite city — perfect.

The further I delved into the news-Internet curriculum at Drake University, I developed a more profound appreciation for the publication and its content. I like the balance of feature and hard-news pieces, and I can’t go without the Reader’s Watchdog stories.

Tomorrow marks a new era in my longtime tie with The Register; I’ll begin working as a news assistant in the sports department.

Though I’ve completed all the required paperwork, toured the newsroom and signed my official offer letter, it doesn’t feel real yet. Because part of me still expects the sports section to occupy its perch next to the oatmeal, ready to awaken my groggy, dreaming brain.

Dictionary research reveals problematic nature of labels

At the beginning of May, I named summer 2014 a season of risk-taking. I would try new things and reinvent myself!

Two months into an ever-erratic Iowa summer, I’ve realized the season has transformed into something else. Thanks to my senior journalism capstone, Think Mag, I developed a procrastination-worthy (but generally welcome) compulsion to analyze the origin of words.

Amid a word’s winding journey through cultures, languages and time, it often reveals a valuable nugget of insight — something even the modern reader can derive from an ancient definition.

While wandering the Internet recently, I searched “risk,” the word that had (supposedly) guided me. According to my beloved Oxford English Dictionary (I’m dreading the day my online subscription ends, due to my Drake graduation), “risk” means “the possibility of loss, injury or other adverse circumstance.”

The negativity in the word’s historical journey surprised me. I mean, I understand the potentially grave outcome of something like cliff diving — all I wanted was to find my inner rebel.

But that’s the power of word etymology: It forces me to rethink my frame of mind and the way I process language and its significance. Etymology reveals the alarming extent to which I simplify words.

Without exploring a word’s origin and ever-evolving definition, it loses complexity and beauty — cue the quick, neat label for my summer. No longer did I have to ponder the meaning of “risk” and “risk-taking” in my life. That word eliminated the productive potential of innate ambiguity.

Though I’ve since abandoned the “risk-taking” theme, it manifested in an unexpected way. I’m no longer searching for a theme or any means of defining my summer, and for a conclusion enthusiast and champion organizer, that’s pretty risky.

The discourse shapes the definition of ‘truth’

News-Internet and English writing: The two sound compatible, as if they might grab a beer and split a plate of cheese fries at the local pub on a Friday night. In reality, though, I imagine they’d confront one another in that, “Greeeeeat. You’re here,” way. The bartender might even have to break up a potential literary brawl.

Though my majors appear compatible, I find them clashing more as I enter the final stage of my undergraduate career. A combination that initially felt natural has created an incessant sense of internal ethical conflict — but hey, that’s what college is designed to do, right?

While they differ on the Oxford comma (my news-Internet degree being the wiser of the two in that regard), a much larger issue (I know, it’s hard to believe there’s something more divisive than the Oxford comma debate) separates the two: truth. In particular, the expected degree of truth and the writer’s responsibility and accountability in providing it.

As a journalism student, reporter and copy editor, I dedicate my time and energy to ensuring the highest degree of truth and accuracy. That means fact-checking everything, calling sources to confirm quotes — and then double-checking it all over again.

As an English student with an emphasis in life writing, however, I examine how the inconsistency of memory warps truth, preventing the fair, objective writing for which I strive every day in my journalistic work. By asking questions like, “Does it matter if I wrote that I wore a blue dress when it was, in fact, a red dress?” I engage both the literary and journalistic tenets of truth and accuracy in a new, complicated way.

For me, “truth” is no longer as simple as confirming every name, number and quote in an article. “Truth” is more elusive. It transforms with the discourse — and I like it that way.

As much as I’d love to join English writing and news-Internet for a beer and an order of cheese fries on Friday night, I admit I savor their incompatibility. Because somewhere amid the moments of raw befuddlement and internal conflict, I move a little closer to understanding how “truth” manifests in my life, academically, professionally and ethically.

Reflection experience optimum in the summer

With June complete, I feel an inevitable wave of reflection. Fear not, though, I won’t launch into an extended, sugary monologue about how much I love “SUMMERRRRR <3” (to quote the title of a teenage Facebook album that, thankfully, has since entered the digital graveyard).

Rather, summer provides a time to reflect on what I’ve learned. Without the chaos of exams, essays, applications (and the incessant fear that another Drake squirrel will leap at me from his fortress inside a campus trashcan), reflection is more organic and less fragmented this time of year.

Between working in the communications department at the Science Center of Iowa and freelancing for The Des Moines Register, I’ve embraced versatility and variety this summer. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about journalism and perhaps more importantly, about myself. And since I’m not yet ready to break my streak of list-style op-eds, here are three things I’ve learned this summer.

Don’t limit yourself. While I admit I first thought of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream when I wrote that tagline, I’m talking about my journalistic focus. When I began my Drake University career, I had my mind and heart set solely on a bigwig career at a fancy, metropolitan daily newspaper.

I didn’t need to learn any of that digital business. I was already en route to a print-exclusive career defined by fame and fortune!

The Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication has pushed me outside the cozy, familiar realm of ink-stained palms and red pens, though, and I’ve realized the scope of the big, beautiful media world in which I thrive.

This summer, for instance, I’m producing and editing video, running a Pinterest account, writing and managing a website — all in the PR field. A world I never imagined I’d experience.

Don’t forget what motivated you at the beginning. And while I’ve enjoyed dabbling in a new field and delving into the digital world, I haven’t forgotten what drew me to journalism in the first place: sports writing for print.

In my work freelancing at The Des Moines Register, I get the chance to re-experience what I loved about playing prep sports in Iowa: the hometown pride and the state’s rich, highly competitive athletic culture. And I admit I’ll never tire of seeing my name in print.

Write every day. I heard it again and again growing up, but I only recently realized the merit of that advice. Whether I’m crafting a quirky caption for a pin or detailing another traumatizing squirrel incident, writing daily helps me process the minutiae of life and develop my voice.

Besides, I may never again have the opportunity to write about squirrels, ice cream and “minutiae” in a connected manner.