Monthly Archives: March 2015

On post-grad doubts and newfound permanence

Des MoinesA bulk of my friends will graduate from college in May; they’re buzzing with talk of trips, abroad experiences, new cities, new worlds, uncertain everything, practically. Meanwhile, I’ve been meditating on what it means to stay put. To establish a self in one place: Des Moines.

There’s something about travel that compels me to capture everything, whether in photo form or in writing. I re-read all the emails I sent my family from Turkey in January 2014. Without warning, the nagging misconception of life writing hit me, one I’ve long fought: “Nothing exciting ever happens to you. Who would want to read about your life, especially now?”

Well before I studied life writing, I believed my own world too boring, too mundane to be worthwhile in writing. Yet in the natural transience of college — the organization-sponsored trips, the yearly move to some new room or apartment, the (near) necessity of study abroad — even my routine world felt exciting. I’m finally realizing college Taylor cheerfully doled out that nice, little nugget of advice but never really experienced it.

801 GrandHere I am, though, battling my own writing philosophy.

I’m experiencing permanence in new, riveting, frightening clarity every day. I ordered checks with my big-kid downtown address on them. I’m not thinking about where I’ll move at the start of the semester. My life no longer operates in five-month bursts of extreme stress followed by agonizing down time, one of the post-grad adjustments I hadn’t expected to struggle with so much.

And I’m honestly excited about all of it. But without the promise of some upcoming trip or move, I find myself wondering once again why I write about my life. If I’m “good enough” for it.

I never expected gaining more control in my life would fuel this menacing, pesky doubt regarding something I once considered a cornerstone, even a writing philosophy, as I mentioned earlier. It turns out you can exist in a permanent environment yet feel completely unmoored, betrayed by your own guiding force.

“Touristing in the motherland.” It’s a caption I like to write on Twitter with my latest wannabe-artsy photo of Des Moines, snapped typically on my late-night wandering in the city. I’m not traveling in the near future, but I’m making the effort to explore my home with the intent of discovering something new about me, about it, every time.

Capturing, say, the same building from different angles is a tangible, physical reminder that permanence and discovery aren’t exclusive. They coexist, and they’re worth capturing — whether in photography or writing.

On writing as an act of survival

I wish I could tell you I write best at some colossal, oaken desk with a Tiffany lamp tossing multicolored shadows on charmingly worn paper. That was novelist-wannabe Taylor’s mental portrait of a “real” writer, anyway.

Writing owned a certain glamour then. It was something fancy, something many would aspire for but few would realize. I grew up throwing that little word in front of “writer” — “aspiring,” that is. Without the looming desk and the dim study, without the crinkled paper, I couldn’t be a “writer.”

When I reached college, though, writing became not some distant goal but a conscious act of survival.

And survival sure as hell isn’t always pretty. It means sitting on the floor with a fourth mug of Earl Grey at my side. It means mumbling, “Michel Foucault, I hate you. But I kind of love you, too. Damn it.” It means composing a cliché rant following some “end of the world” (but not really) heartbreak — and having the good sense to revisit it with my red pen and briefly abandoned logical self.

As I slowly traded my idealized portrait of the “writer” for my own messier reality, I let go of that little word altogether. I am not an “aspiring” writer.

I am a writer; I always have been. And I don’t need a gargantuan desk or a best-selling novel to tell me who or what I am. Writing is my source of income, yes, but above all it’s a source of survival and a state of being.

On seeing Des Moines in a new light

Travel: When you venture beyond the routine, beyond the everyday, you find yourself, right? I long believed that concept, upholding the plane ticket the ultimate symbol and source of discovery.

Des MoinesYet here I am, rooted for a good, long while. I live in Des Moines by choice, and I love it. But for a long time — too long, really — I wondered how I could “find myself” in my familiar world. The same web of skywalks I weave every morning, stopping in the same spot to snap a quick photo of the blinding light, swearing it looks a little different, a little hipper than the last time my iPhone lens gave it the limelight.

In familiarity, though, there is subtlety. Beautiful subtlety. Like the minute shifts in the shadows of my morning photo op.

This city charms me in subtler ways these days. The height of 801 Grand no longer dizzies me as it did during those magical, maze-worthy childhood waltzes through the skywalk to the most glamorous place on Earth: the Younkers Tea Room, of course (well before I realized my love of tea).

At 22, I’m captivated by the bright light of the Financial Center, racing to my window every evening to enjoy the color. I’m captivated by the community-oriented nonprofit work in the city, including that of my own wonderful workplace at the Science Center of Iowa. I’m captivated by the ornate, whirling staircases at the Law Library at the Capitol.

Downtown Des MoinesMy Des Moines love list includes the sensible logistics of living, too. I like that I can pay my rent. I like that a trip to my grandparents’ house in the suburbs takes only 10 minutes.

Finding myself, it seems, isn’t determined by my next plane ticket but by a lifelong commitment to pause and capture the beautiful subtlety in shifting shadows. Somewhere in the daily mosaic of skywalk shadows, I’m seeing Des Moines in a whole new light.

On authenticity, clickbait and blonde Roger Federer

“Be yourself.” The emblem of a Millennial pick-me-up. I remember tanking the shoe kick (a real event, I swear) at fourth grade Track and Field Day. As a token of my failed sneaker fling, I received the, “Be yourself!” ribbon. Those two little, well-meaning words remain etched in my mind, a permanent fixture of growing up in the ‘90s — yet I sometimes abandon them, replacing “me” with a fictional portrait of what others want.

I’ve learned a lot since graduating from college in December. For example, baking cake for dinner is one of those things that sounds like a good idea until you nearly set the oven on fire, try the finished product, realize it’s too sweet and reach for that sensible granola bar in your time of regret.

I’m also better at detecting when I’m not being myself. Typically when I’m trying to impress someone.

I often reflect on how I represent myself in person versus on the Internet. On Twitter, I proudly proclaim my myriad interests, posting photos of the latest page in my Arabic notebook, that glowing (and frightening) picture of blonde Roger Federer, news on the rapidly deteriorating status of free speech in Turkey.

Yet when meeting someone in person, I find myself hiding all of the above, deeming my interests “too out there” for public consumption.

“Be yourself,” it seems, is as difficult at 22 as it was in elementary school, something no number of shiny ribbons or inspirational posters can truly instill in you. In a conscious effort to be more “real,” more like myself, I’ve made tangible lifestyle changes.

I no longer straighten my hair, its naturally chaotic state a daily reminder that it’s OK to be my naturally chaotic self.

I give myself permission to write terrible first drafts, make that cringe-worthy tennis pun and get a little overzealous with the em dash. Though none of the above will wind up in the final piece (probably for the better), there’s something raw and beautiful about capturing the self, unedited, suspended in a specific moment and frame of being — one that will never again manifest in exactly the same way.

“29 Llamas That Just Can’t Even.” “42 Ways Istanbul Is So Beautiful It Actually Hurts.” I’m a sucker for “life-changing” cat pictures, “You won’t believe it!” headlines and some Kardashian’s week on Instagram.

But I’ve stopped clicking those “23 Things Every Girl Should Have/See/Experience By [Insert Arbitrary Age].” Milestones aren’t contingent on Facebook life events or existing a certain number of years on Earth; I determine my own milestones on my own timeline.

“Being yourself,” I’ve realized, is a lifelong journey, one in which I’m bound to simultaneously make progress and make mistakes. One where derpy llamas, beautiful Turkish mosques, the fourth-grade shoe kick and blonde Roger Federer (may his bleached presence never again grace this Earth) can coexist.

On inspirational quotes, arcade games and the power of perspective

You are enough.

Teenage Taylor probably made that her cellphone banner (remember how critical it was that your cellphone banner captured the complexity of your existence?). It sounds like something you might find on Pinterest in black, bold text on an over-filtered photo of some natural wonder.

Yet I tell myself, “You are enough,” every day, and sometimes I admit I don’t believe it. For a long time, I avoided the realm of cliché, Instagram bio-worthy quotes. I have a degree in English; I should be meandering secondhand bookstores plotting my rise as the next great literary theorist, not thumbing through pages of, “When it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for stars.”

But when something recently collapsed without warning, without a “why,” I found myself back in the syrupy sweet underworld of motivational one-liners, my tea mug and melodramatic mood in tow. Even when I reunited with my sensible side, I found comfort in generic quotes.

I’ve long publicly sneered at them; I’m too sophisticated, too cultured for that trite rubbish, after all.

Yet here I am, scrolling through the list of them in my phone, searching for brief confirmation that I’m not failing my whole family for whatever inadequacy nagging me today — that I’m still single, that my interior design concept is a wall of crooked tennis posters, that Facebook is cluttered with engagement ‘life events,’ and I’m over here like, “I tried to put Up-Down tokens in the coin laundry the other day.”

When I read those three little words, “You are enough,” I’m at peace. I rediscover the power of perspective. I realize there’s no timeline, that Roger Federer is a badass decorating motif and I have a valid excuse to play Centipede in the near future.

And that’s enough for me.

Let’s make the “Forever” stamp mean something

Let's make the "Forever" stamp mean somethingThe “good morning” text. In modern culture, it’s the emblem of effort. A sign you’re on the mind of another human being in the volatile hours before 7 a.m. A deliberate choice to maintain or build an existing relationship.

Its status as an emblem of effort should alarm us. In my life as a recent college graduate, I’ve meditated often on how I maintain relationships. Without the convenience of my entire social circle within five city blocks per the campus environment, I’ve realized that maintenance will require more effort than before.

For a long while, I considered an occasional text, maybe a Facebook timeline post and a photo of a cute goat in a weird outfit sufficient — hey, the selected goat would be tailored to that friend’s distinct personality!

But I recently realized, “Well, that’s a bunch of mediocre rubbish, no matter how well-costumed the goat,” and this month, I’m working to consciously change it.

This month is Snail Mail March, and every day for the next 31, I’m writing a card or letter to someone I care about. I fill the entire card or letter with writing. I write without the interruption of music (even my girl T. Swift), and I turn off whatever basketball game I’m (probably) watching at the moment.

Deliberately maintaining and building connections requires concentration, and it’s tough to replace the old routine with the new.

Which is what I hope this project accomplishes in the end.

I confess I probably won’t handwrite a card or letter every day after the month of March.

But the next time I type the “good morning” text, I hope I feel compelled to follow up with a surprise batch of muffins or an offer to buy the next cup of coffee.

This #SnailMailMarch, I challenge you to rethink the “good morning” text, write a letter and make the “Forever” stamp mean something.