Monthly Archives: January 2015

Unpacking certainty and the self

Boxes pepper my childhood home, one in that room, two in the next, three in the other, stacked haphazardly, neither belonging nor entirely out of place. I can’t bring myself to unpack them. They’ve become, weirdly, an anchor in my life, in an era defined by change.

The boxes — each an amalgamation of stories and selves, priorities and mistakes — never move. A hodgepodge home for items nestled in the same unlikely jigsaw pattern.

Cardboard boxes bend, tear, rip, puncture. Typically a beacon of transience, of physical and psychological shifting, they’ve become my unexpected bulwark. The other day, I removed my Turkish prayer beads from their territory in one box. Immediately I had to put them back, to restore order in the one realm over which I have control and certainty.

I’m not sure where I’ll call home in a month, but for now, I’m sure the vanilla-scented pink prayer beads go between the jar of Turkey memorabilia and that novelty shot glass from two birthdays ago. Minute moments of certainty keep my overwhelming uncertainty at bay, at least for a little while.

In the past three months, change has pervaded my life, shattering a lifelong belief. “I like change,” I’ve proudly proclaimed up until now, touting my ability to move among cities, disciplines and languages (Arabic, anyone?) with grace.

Yet here I am, doubting what I considered an integral part of my being. Add turning 22, graduating from college, starting the best job ever in my favorite city in the world and moving back into my parents’ house, and every day begins to resemble a moderate existential crisis, an uprooting of my entire existence.

That’s why I like the boxes, why I sometimes wander into a room purely to admire their sameness.

Maybe, though, writing this entry is a step toward unpacking. With every sentence, every concession and admission, I unpack a bit of myself, realizing along the way that some notions, ideas and beliefs no longer fit — and that’s fine.

What I gained from my Drake experience

Free time has long intimidated me. I evaded it for nearly my whole college career, packing every minute with homework, work, volunteering, writing, running, traveling — everything.

Lingering on anything marked the departure from what I knew into the frightening realm of uncertainty. Naturally, I feared the lull between graduation and the ‘real world.’ Though I’ve found myself intermittently paralyzed by post-grad uncertainty throughout the past month, I’ve had ample time to ponder everything from my next attempt at organizing my closet to which flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream I’d buy if awarded a lifetime supply (chocolate chip cookie dough, duh).

What I gained from my Drake experienceThough my unmoored reflection often feels a bit erratic, there’s one thing I keep coming back to: my experience at Drake University.

When I bounded down the stairs on Friday shouting, “Yay! Yay! Yay!” at the arrival of my bachelor’s degrees in the mail, I realized the fancy pieces of paper with their swirly script and shiny stamps couldn’t even begin to explain or ‘complete’ my Drake experience.

Drake gave me the freedom to try a little bit of everything — app development, tablet production, broadcasting, electronic news gathering, tutoring, reporting and, of course, writing. Along the way, I realized it’s OK to admit what I don’t know, and it’s OK to change my mind.

Tomorrow, I begin my big-kid career as communications coordinator at the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines. I didn’t study public relations and for a long time, saw myself as a news reporter or nothing.

As my professors, classmates and mentors encouraged me to be uncomfortable, to try user experience design, to be the audio director for a live student broadcast (really) and more, I realized I’m not limited to any path, print journalism or otherwise.

That realization comes full-circle tomorrow, as I’ll be back in the company of amazing coworkers and 13 fully articulated dinosaur skeletons, per SCI’s latest traveling exhibition.

Drake gave me a wealth of practical, resume-worthy skills, but most importantly, it gave me a pesky desire to abandon my comfort zone.

Rethinking the souvenir

Tangible items have logical homes, places they belong. Ice cream in the freezer. Picture on the mantel. Tea in the mug. Where we store the physical remnants of memories and experiences remains a bit blurrier, more complicated.

RethinkingTheSouvenirWhen I got back from Turkey on Jan. 24, 2014, I immediately hid all my tickets, boarding passes, maps and brochures in a drawer with a thick rubber band corralling them. Eventually, per my lack of crafting ability, I moved them to a new home, a jar. An original feat, I know.

“I can’t craft.” “They look cool in there.” “They won’t get crumpled that way.” I explained my ‘project’ with all of the above, each a new way to deny the reality of an unnerving blend of emotions.

I felt happy, thankful, inspired, nostalgic and hurt when I thought of Turkey — a fusion that lingers in painful, magical clarity.

Sealing my emotions in a 500-milileter jar, I thought, would quiet the cacophony, leaving me to return to my everyday life in peace. Tonight for the first time, I removed the physical remnants of my Turkey experience from the jar.

Once a clear Mason mortuary, the jar now represents a realization, maybe even a revelation. Experiences worth meditating on aren’t solely those defined by unrelenting, uncompromised glee.

More often than not, glee and pain coexist in experiences worth exploring and, for me, worth writing.

While ice cream belongs in the freezer (though it rarely stays there for long, in my case), and Earl Grey tea forever belongs in my favorite owl mug, memories of Turkey don’t belong in some 500-mililiter mortuary.

They belong in my mind, where happiness, gratitude, inspiration, nostalgia and pain can roam through my life in unexpected, impactful ways.

Journaling offers release from perfectionism

For a long time I hated the idea of journaling. Pouring the meandering nature of my mind into the keyboard felt wrong. Per my copy editor brain, I felt compelled, even forced, to edit each word until it fit perfectly, never moving to the next idea until I had perfected the previous one. An agonizing, limiting writing pattern.

In July 2014, after months of trying and failing to heal from a painful experience through my typical brand of ‘perfect-or-nothing’ prose, I found my brain and keyboard working in bizarre harmony, each keeping pace with the other. With my beloved AP Stylebook stowed and my Oxford English Dictionary tab hidden, I wrote. And I didn’t worry about that errant idea, that not-quite-right verb or the comma blunder in paragraph two.

A lot of it wasn’t good. At all. But the triumph, I realized, was in relinquishing the control that had limited me for so long.

I continue to journal three or four times per week, typically in the evening, with a mug of tea nearby. This week, it’s been particularly natural, even automatic, per the upcoming anniversary of my trip to Turkey. Journaling provides a private, tangible world where I can scroll back into past problems and selves.

Tangibility fascinates me: the way we the physical and emotional link and the lingering gap between them. You know those cheap key chains you can buy 10 for $1 in any tourist hub? I love them. They provide a chance to examine how the tangible and intangible connect, how we get from one to the other involuntarily.

Journaling, I’ve realized, lends a tangibility to thought. While journaling (er, ranting) the other night on the woeful state of modern dating and my general inability to navigate it, I wrote some cringe-worthy melodramatic prose. (It’s notable that I was listening — fine, jamming out to — Taylor Swift’s “1989” at the time.) Yet, when rereading all my girlish tomfoolery, I came across a sentence I still can’t get out of my head: Pain and joy can coexist in confusing clarity, each tiptoeing around the other.

Journaling offers release from perfectionismWhen I think about Turkey, all the beautiful scenery, fantastic food and, of course, the swoon-worthy accents, I likewise feel intense and painful longing. I want to be that happy and free again.

Maybe, it’s that feeling of freedom that drew me to journaling. In Turkey, I didn’t have the right word for, well, anything, and I didn’t care. I tried to learn it anyway, picking up a random word here and there, enjoying every clumsy attempt at Turkish conversation. With each tangible word I write, journaling transports me back to that freeing mindset, an unfamiliar world in which I can wander without fear, without having it all figured out.

What Turkey taught me, a year later

What Turkey taught me, a year laterA cup of black tea sits at my side, its circular shape tossing a fuzzy shadow on my childhood dresser, a physical space that houses my past and present selves in unnerving harmony. Each item on my dresser represents one self or another, and the tea cup is no different.

I never write without it, for it reminds me of many things: my relatively newfound need for caffeine, Turkey (the country that drinks more tea than any other) and, most of all, the importance of an expanded definition of love.

A year ago today, I began packing for my Jan. 9-24 trip to Turkey (a major feat for me, given I’m typically pack in a fury the night before). While I gained new experiences and learned new things on the trip — including a taste for tea and an interest in Arabic — above all, I learned it’s possible to fall in love with a place.

Too often, the definition love is limited to familial or romantic relationships.

And when you go abroad, no one informs you that you might fall in love with a country. That it will be intoxicating, thrilling, nerve-wracking and sometimes, painful, all at once.

I think of Turkey every day, remembering the time I sipped sketchy pomegranate juice from an Istanbul street vendor’s limping cart. The time I admired the Arabic writing in the Hagia Sophia — and realized a nagging desire to read the swirly script.

Every time I find myself flipping through my Turkey photos, I remind myself that love manifests in myriad ways, and I’d be silly to trivialize or ignore them.

I love writing and its role as my go-to source of healing.

I love the Arabic language because it’s beautiful, and it reminds me not to take myself too seriously.

I love life-writing. Even as it invites me to explore others’ worlds, it subtly forces me to examine my own.

As I sip my obligatory writing-time tea, two things happen: I time-travel back to a country I love. I remember to actively expand my definition of love.

I’m grateful to Turkey for tea, baklava, Arabic and questionable fruit juice. But more than anything, I’m grateful for Turkey for reminding me every day that it’s possible to fall in love wherever I am.

Blogging as an act of rebellion

Much of who we are is determined by what we do, and that fact unnerves me. While I’m excited at the prospect of a full-time job in the field I love, I’ve entertained the idea that my title, two, three, maybe four words, will usurp my identity — a chaotic mixture of time, phases, values and, of course, my tendency to spontaneously rap the extended “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song.

My blog serves as an act of rebellion, perhaps, as I strive to preserve the erratic nature of my identity in a world that too often requires me to be one thing. For example, it’s tough to be Taylor the journalist and Taylor the life-writer.

I exist simultaneously in two literary realms, each with a different take on truth, time and the projection of identity on the page.

Often, I feel forced to isolate journalist Taylor and life-writer Taylor. When I’m not in need of life-writer Taylor and her knowledge, journalist Taylor steps in, offering a break to the other — a neat, orderly cycle. Yet they clash violently with every word I produce, neither genre ever really winning the battle.

“Weaving.” I keep falling back on that word to explain that my genres, interests, skills, habits and hobbies are inextricable, each contingent on all the others’ existence. It’s a comforting verb, one that reminds me I’m not one thing over another, and I don’t have to declare an identity.

More than ever lately, I find unexpected comfort not in what I know but what I don’t. There’s something reassuring about the turbulent act of identity formation, something that reminds me it’s normal to get it all wrong, go back and try again.

I likewise find comfort in the fact that whatever job I land, whatever title I throw in my Twitter bio, it’s only one part of who I am. Because I’m not about to give up wannabe-rapper Taylor.