Monthly Archives: February 2015

On moving, stillness and cardboard cocoons

“Books.” “Office supplies.” “Picture frames/Turkey souvenirs.” My entire life rests in boxes and their corresponding labels, it seems. Memories, portraits, friends, experiences, failures and triumphs neatly organized in one- or two-word labels, quieted inside each cardboard cocoon.

Between moving out of my college apartment, back to my childhood home, then to my new apartment downtown, along with the recent rearrangement of the office where I work, packing and rifling have practically defined the early era of my post-grad life.

Moving unnerves and exhausts me — but I can’t blame stair-climbing or lifting part of it. My mind naturally and somewhat cruelly shifts from, “Where should this go?” to, “Where has this been?” And without warning, I’m perched in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a lopsided ring of souvenirs, photo frames, blackmail-worthy childhood photos and handwritten cards from my little sisters.

Maybe if I put them in a neat, little circle, they’ll make more sense, feel less overwhelming. “That happened years ago. You should be over it by now,” I tell myself as I sit here, boxes and mementos surrounding me like a fortress of sorts. I know I should return to unpacking, alphabetizing, color-coding and organizing. Like the responsible, productive big kid I’m trying to become.

But there’s something about moving that makes the stillness sweeter, reminding me it isn’t a sign of laziness or in this case, procrastination, but a lifelong means of reflection — something I should pursue consciously.

I’m tempted to organize the mayhem, to put everything in its new place as quickly as I can to curb the blitz of memories. But adulthood, I realize, isn’t as much about an organization system or sophisticated décor (my father says Andy Roddick posters don’t count, by the way) as it is about integrating positive thought patterns and behaviors. About finding peace in stillness.

On awkward phases and pseudo adulthood

Awkward phases — I thought they were supposed to strike for a few relatively insignificant teenage years, provide valuable life lessons about self-esteem/time/patience and then leave us alone.

I suppose I should have expected otherwise, per the fact that I have my beloved Roger Federer poster hanging on one wall and the phrase “classy teal artwork” typed in my Google search bar. For the record, the “classy teal artwork” is entirely too pricey; until it comes on clearance, tennis is my interior design motif.

My newfound awkward stage is more nuanced/cerebral than teenage Taylor’s inability to tame her natural hair or that time my senior year Homecoming date ditched me for Dairy Queen (I know Blizzards are pretty great, but really?).

I’m trying to find my ground as a young professional — in public relations, a field I never expected I’d pursue, let alone love.

I’m in a weird place in terms of social circles. A bulk of my friends are finishing up their senior year of college, a world I left nearly three months ago. At YP events in Des Moines, I’m typically a minimum of four to five years younger than much of the group, deserving of eye rolls if I were to say, “When I was in school … ” yet unable to discuss graduate programs or promotions.

My physical home is the emblem of awkward. For over a week, my TV perched on one wooden stool, I on the other, watching sports in my otherwise empty apartment. I tried to hang a curtain the other evening and wound up with a bump on my head, a rod in two pieces and a pile of black-and-white fabric in a heap on the floor.

But maybe awkward phases aren’t a sign of inadequacy or forever-behind social status. Maybe they’re life’s natural way of reminding me not to get too comfortable.

On bad news, over-thinking and surprising peace

Over-thinker — maybe it belongs up in the top-left corner with “Editor, Writer, Federer Fan.”

February has been a challenging month, leaving me, unfortunately, with ample opportunity to consider how I cope with bad news, both personally and in the workplace. Amid all my ruminating on the unfortunate, I’ve become more conscious of the things that bring me peace.

Now I’m not talking ‘peaceful’ — I can’t sit still, I talk entirely too quickly when I get excited and I once drank eight mugs of highly caffeinated tea in a day. I’m talking brief, even if fleeting moments of peace, moments when menacing, nagging feelings of inadequacy, doubt and worry fade, replaced with gratitude for the pure, beautiful things I rarely give due credit.

Tennis, strangely, is ‘peace’ defined in my world. There’s something starkly beautiful about the game. Without on-court coaching and crowded sidelines, tennis is a gorgeous spectacle of mental and physical athleticism.

Tennis is lonely, to quote Andre Agassi, but that’s why I find it comforting. No one else experiences the narrative of the game like the player, with fans, coaches, umpires and announcers perched high above, ball kids and photojournalists crouching below.

There is uncontested ownership of the tennis narrative you can’t find in any other sport, I argue. A profoundly internal game fit for the over-thinker in me. On the court, I can exist in my natural state of being, meditating and reflecting in peace without anyone invading my narrative.

Peace, for me, also exists in bookmarks and baked goods. Even as a professional communicator and writer, I sometimes have trouble telling others I care for them. Writing a custom Arabic bookmark or baking a batch of my favorite snickerdoodle muffins provides a tangible way to express it without the pressure of organizing my often-rambling thoughts.

I admit when I decided to blog tonight, I initially felt the urge to rant, to be negative, to linger on the disappointments and sad news of the past month.

But “over-thinker,” I realized, isn’t always a negative trait. Rather, it’s an opportunity to be mindful of that which I ponder relentlessly, almost painstakingly, at times.

Tonight I made a cognizant choice to over-think a few things that really bummed me out, yes, but I likewise made a choice to over-think the little moments of peace that pepper even the bad and ugly.

Much like the moment the umpire calls, “Quiet, please,” silencing all the heckling, booing and other sport-fueled angst. Then, finally, a beautiful narrative can unfold on the court.

In-between status and the illusion of adulthood

Yesterday I worked from 9 to 5. I wore a practical dress-and-scarf combination. I packed a balanced lunch the night before.

After work I returned home only to binge-eat Funfetti cake batter with a spoon.

My point here: I feel too young for many things, too old for many others. And yet, I’m enjoying this bizarre, pesky stage of my forever in-between existence.

Yeah, I hummed “Shake It Off” while filling out my retirement plan. Yeah, I texted my 16-year-old sister to clarify the meaning of “IDEK” the other day (“I don’t even know,” by the way) but managed to logically incorporate the word “rubbish” in a text to a fellow 20-something.

Sometimes I hate that I can claim neither the wild-and-free world of teenage Taylor nor the “grown-up” world. I dream of a neat little label, maybe some witty one-liner to throw in my Twitter bio, something that establishes me as a grown-up lady in the city.

I bought a big-girl workbag (you know, the kind that holds everything yet keeps you from finding anything at the desired time). I gave walking in three-inch heels another valiant effort.

Then I remember there is no emblem of adulthood, no memento or moment that will somehow signify I’ve entered it, leaving behind the juvenile era of cake-batter binging, tripping (again) in too-tall shoes and unabashedly proclaiming my love of Taylor Swift’s “1989” (complete with mild flailing and a brief shriek permissible only at a One Direction concert).

Everyday juxtapositions and evidence of my in-between-ness aren’t a sign of social delay or an inability to catch up with classmates or friends and their ‘milestones.’

Interesting, fun people, I like to think, are part Funfetti cake batter, part “I Knew You Were Trouble” (the goat version, of course) and part sensible retirement plan — all at once.

Why Des Moines is a ‘real city’

DesMoinesThere are several things in the world about which I’m forever ready to ramble, even, dare I say it, fangirl: Roger Federer, Taylor Swift lyrics, tea, Turkey, sweaters and Des Moines.

But since my Twitter feed was essentially one big ode to Fed for two straight weeks per the Australian Open, and since I’ve ruled I can make the bad guys good for a weekend, today I’ll fangirl over Des Moines.

“It’s not a real city,” I often heard when I went to Drake. And, “Look at the Des Moines ‘skyline’ — how cute.” For me, though, the ‘realness’ of a city isn’t explained by the number of skyscrapers or the time required to commute from some suburb.

A “real” city is the one that makes me feel comfortable and challenged, all at the same time. One where I can try new things with certainty that other people will back me up.

One where being 22 years old isn’t cause for anxiety but optimism.

When we define a “real city,” I hope its culture, opportunities and optimism come to mind before its silhouette. I hope the “real city” is the one defined by real progress, real relationships and real excitement.

For me, that city is Des Moines.

Time to reflect is equally productive and dangerous

Time to think is typically a positive opportunity, a luxury, even, to acknowledge all I have in life. Too much time to think, though, is dangerous, even menacing. It’s a fearful reality I’ve confronted daily since graduating from college.

In the three weeks after graduation, I didn’t have a job, leaving me ample time to practice Arabic, run, read and watch the “Pi-vot!” episode of “Friends” on repeat. In the evening, though, with each dimming moment mocking me, I awaited the menacing patterns of uncontrolled reflection.

I obsessed over that which no longer mattered and that which never did in the first place. The productive construction of rudimentary Arabic (“Is your car large or small?” is one of my more labyrinthine sentences) gave way to cluttered, damaging thoughts.

My new job, which is amazing, thankfully focuses me, but on the 45-minute commute each morning and night, I find myself cranking up the music (probably T. Swift, let’s be real here). Sometimes my thoughts overpower it, weaving their way into the pop-infused cacophony of my mind.

At first, I wanted nothing more than to silence it. A couple days ago, though, I realized the cacophony of my wandering mind isn’t something to silence but to crank up, much like “Blank Space.”

Yeah, it’ll probably sound terrible and feel soul crushing for a while, but maybe, someday, I’ll have the wisdom to reconfigure it.

Maybe, someday, I’ll be able to belt out, “I can make the bad guys good for a weekend,” along with T. Swift as I evaluate my latest 20-something mistake. I imagine I’ll like how it sounds.

Finding stillness in swirling snow

Finding stillness in swirling snowI love snow. It’s breathtaking and conducive to sweater weather. More than anything, though, I love snow because it suspends me in the moment, reminding me to be happy and thankful right where I am.

Impatience is one of my primary character traits.

When I bake bread, I gravitate to the oven practically every minute. I open it, the heat warming me, to check the progress of what isn’t yet bread but still a sticky vat of batter.

When I watch a movie, I have to occupy my mind with a secondary activity — folding origami, maybe, or practicing my Arabic handwriting.

Even as it angrily whirls outside, the snowfall reminds me to stop, to be still. And for once since graduating, I stop ruminating on my commute, my lack of a big-kid apartment and the fact that I’m too old to shop in the junior section yet too young for the women’s section.

Right now, for once, I’m still, calm, suspended in the moment. The snow is swirling, flying, floating, pelting my face. It’s the impatient, hurried one.

The snow reminds me that stillness isn’t synonymous with passivity. Rather, it’s an active opportunity to pause and capture the present. To take silly, squint-laden, windblown photos with my little sister. To wipe the delicious remnants of a s’more from my face.

To confront in writing what often makes me uncomfortable: the choice to be happy and thankful even as snow — or uncertainty — swirls around.