Monthly Archives: November 2014

Why I write about my life

Why am I compelled to write about my life? Why, after a day rife with deadline anxiety, the inevitable awkward door encounter and fear of never finding a big-girl job, would I rather write a blog post than break open a bottle of something strong (per the college social scene in which I currently exist)? Life writing, frankly, is one of the few realms in which I feel validated. Worthy. When I write about my life, I am good enough.

When Ander Monson wrote an entire chapter about his love of flavored Doritos in Vanishing Point, I realized I could capture the time I got hit in the head with a bowling ball in ninth-grade gym (it really happened). The time I fell hard for a European guy after only knowing him for my brief journey abroad — like a character straight out of the romantic comedies I frequently call unrealistic but love anyway. The time I qualified for the state tennis tournament as a high school senior and learned I may be down, but I’m never out.

I write about my life because I’m permitted to explore the same experience, suspended in a single moment, time and time again. Life writing and I both know I’ll never fully capture or comprehend it, and that fact neither agonizes nor deters me. It invites me to explore and redefine my existence on my own timeline.

I write about my life in all its minutiae to encourage other people that their experiences, too, are worth exploring on the page. The act of capturing identity in writing is a conversation between past and present selves, a friendly battle that is never resolved.

My senior capstone project began strictly as an analytical portrait of tennis memoirs, but my experience of the game crept into it, eventually weaving its way through the narrative. Life writing is automatic, and in the end, I realized I like writing about tennis more than I ever enjoyed playing it.

My identity as a tennis fan is no longer limited to the physical act of hammering forehand after forehand, botching volley after volley. Thanks to my friend life writing, it’s more nuanced, manifesting differently in my fan, player, spectator and writer identities. Life writing is my faithful source of self-discovery, growth and recovery.

On embracing life’s lingering tensions

After baking another round of apple cinnamon muffins while watching “Mean Girls” (and reciting the Kevin G. rap with alarming finesse, I might add), I felt the compulsion to produce some sort of epiphany, proof of my personal growth in the past year. I’m 22 today, after all.

Naturally, that quest led me to life writing, a realm in which I am at once challenged and comfortable. I have no grand epiphany or a syrupy sweet list of, “The 22 Things Every Girl Should Learn by Age 22.” (Hey, fellow 20-somethings, can we please get over the how-to-live-your-life article format?)

While it does not feel like a perfect night to dress up like a hipster (though I am on board with the whole breakfast at midnight thing), per Taylor Swift, one part of “22” is on point: the word “confused.” As the dreaded question, “What are you doing after graduation?” swirls around me, I admit I’ve been feigning certainty, that I have my proverbial adult act together.

“I’m going to continue working part-time and continue the post-grad job hunt,” I reply with a smile, quickly changing the subject to how awkward I look in my graduation gown or how I plan to continue learning Arabic after I graduate.

All the while, I really want to say, “Uh, um, ah, not sure yet. Please let me flounder and fret in peace, thank you!” In my work in autobiography/memoir, however, lingering tensions and unresolved issues are not problematic. They’re positive, enriching and strengthening the act of capturing oneself in writing.

My entire life feels like a lingering tension/unresolved issue at the moment, and that basic principle of life writing challenged my perception of uncertainty. I’m not a failure, despite the uncomfortable, obligatory response of, “Well, I’m sure you’ll find a job in no time! You’re a good writer.”

From now on, I think I’ll reply, “I don’t really know,” to the formidable, menacing senior-year question. Because right now, the only thing I’m certain about is that I’m passionate about writing, journalism and telling stories (and inhaling pancakes at unconventional hours — thanks for the tip, T. Swift). And that’s good enough for me.

Identity: ever evolving and ever the same

I turn 22 on Monday. I’ll complete an internship I’ve loved on Dec. 5. I graduate eight days later. It’s no surprise themes of change and growth have pervaded my recent writing, morphing from thoughtful commentary to trite ‘motivational’ sayings and back again.

You know, that dreadful ‘artwork’ that lined the hallway of your elementary school? I’m talking the posters with vague words like “perseverance” or “determination” in some, “I will bestow knowledge upon you, young peasant!” font.

Amid all my meditation on change and growth, it’s easy to overlook the ways in which I haven’t changed. As a life writer/perpetual reflector, I like to think of myself as some ever-evolving, improving being. I’m in college, after all, the socially sanctioned place for visceral transformation (Sounds like something in a university mission statement, doesn’t it?).

Exploring the ways I haven’t changed in the last three-and-a-half years isn’t admission of failure but of humanity, of the beautiful fact that identity is fluid, forever evolving and forever the same, all at once.

The self, I’ve learned, isn’t something one can organize or color-code, as I do every other aspect of my life. It’s darker, messier. Maybe that’s why I’ve spent the last four years writing about my life and others’ lives. There’s eternal tension on the page no matter how fancy my word choice, no matter how ‘smart’ that Hamlet reference.

And perhaps most importantly, there’s tangibility in experience that organically guides me beyond it, a space that permits me to explore past and present identity in conversation rather than isolation.

While my understanding of identity has evolved, my journalistic philosophy hasn’t changed, thanks to late Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor Rick Tapscott. Even as new forces, new stresses, new pressures emerge (Cue the now-expected, “So, Taylor, do you have a job? Are you dating anyone? Have you bought a house? So are you ruling your own country yet?” OK, kidding about the last two.), Rick’s wise words echo daily in my mind, a constant amid the chaos of almost-post-grad life: “It’ll all work out. It always does.”

Nearly a year after his death, I have yet to completely shift from present to past tense when I refer to him. His gruff, concise wisdom meanders its way through my life both in and beyond the newsroom, a classic Rick one-liner the remedy for my 20-something angst.

I admit I’ve questioned my career choice numerous times in the past year. Even on the days I struggle to piece together my words on the page — the act to which I’ve dedicated my existence — I return to the Rick quote that has influenced my life more than any other: “If you go into journalism for the right reasons, it’s a fun and honorable profession.”

Birthdays provide tangible proof of personal growth

Funfetti cake. Brief peril in the proximity of my crazy hair to birthday candles. The yearly barrage of, “Hey, [@EveryTennisProEver]! It’s my birthday — please tweet at me!”

I love birthdays. There’s something irresistible about their innate tangibility.

Whether I’m flipping my calendar from November 2013 to now or mentally preparing myself for 24 hours of Taylor Swift’s “22,” I crave tangible proof I’ve grown in the past year.

And yet, the tangible things I’ve counted on over the years have lost some of their luster this time. Fear not, I’ll still bake Funfetti cake with blindingly pink frosting, and Roger Federer will tweet at me this year (wishful thinking italicized for dramatic effect). This birthday, though, I’ve reinvented some of the tangible experiences I once clung to for evidence of personal growth.

Like tennis. When I quit playing my junior year of college, courtesy of homework/work/life in general, I felt lost. The physical act of playing tennis was ingrained in my identity. It provided a go-to means of relieving whatever trauma I faced that day.

Thanks to my senior capstone for my English writing degree, I’ve realized newfound complexity in the game of tennis. Though I can’t hit a forehand with the same finesse as my 17-year-old self, I’ve realized I love writing about tennis far more than I ever enjoyed playing it.

Plus, there’s a bizarre dichotomy in tennis. It’s intensely private and public, simultaneously. The player is alone on the court, as fans, coaches, photographers and even the umpire experience the narrative from a different vantage point. A fan-sanctioned form of solitary confinement.

Exploring this complexity in writing has renewed tennis’ purpose in my life.

Birthdays remind me it’s OK to be ridiculous (i.e. fangirl tweeting at Roger Federer while inhaling one-too-many Funfetti cupcakes), but they also remind me that personal growth transcends those 24 hours. It blurs into something more nuanced, in which the tangible and intangible are inextricable.