Monthly Archives: May 2015

On reflection, intention and sitting still

Intention: It manifests tangibly in my everyday world. The stack of library books perched on my coffee table in the order I’ll read them. My prioritized, color-coded to-do list. The growing nest of Command strips, nails, hooks and tools on the counter, each a promise to my blindingly blank walls that they’ll one day house the “grown-up girl” art I claimed I’d buy after college.

Even my well-intentioned world of cryptic, multilevel to-do lists is its own illusion. Intention, I realized recently, is about more than checking items off my list or adding a new interview-worthy skill to my resume every few months; it’s about deliberate efforts to break old habits and, for me, returning to a few really ugly moments.

I’ve only recently found the gumption to reflect on the semester of college I spent binge-drinking cheap, terrible booze (example: my roommates and I had practically every flavor of UV vodka emptied atop our kitchen cabinets as decoration … decoration). My lone intention that semester was to feel as little as possible. I felt bad for feeling bad about something that my logical side said shouldn’t have broken me like it did. I felt lost after a beloved professor’s sudden death.

(If you derive one nugget of wisdom from this post, let it be this: UV lemonade is the awful, 21-plus version of errant bug spray floating into your mouth before that summer trip to the lake.) Back to the constructive commentary.

I’m rethinking intention through a series of daily changes. Rather than wandering the Internet each morning in search of the answer to some existential question (i.e. “Which Taylor Swift ‘1989’ music video are you?”), I’ve started reading one chapter of a memoir or autobiography (I recommend Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies). There’s something about peering into someone else’s soul at 5:34 a.m. that invites me, gently, to examine my own.

I noticed the stark, beautiful contrast of these streetlights in a moment of stillness on one of my evening walks.

I noticed the stark, beautiful contrast of these streetlights in a moment of stillness on one of my evening walks.

After I finish that chapter, I force myself to be still for five minutes. Before the commotion of my pre-6 a.m. playlist, before my morning ritual of emptying my entire jewelry box to find the necklace that best complements my (probably) black outfit, I’m slowly finding it more natural to confront my fears in a positive, focused manner.

In the spirit of intention, I’ve embraced the idea that you should like what you damn well like, and it doesn’t matter if anyone else thinks it’s hip. Recently at an outing with a friend, I was amid one of my usual, “I love tennis! I love Arabic! I love dinosaurs! I kick ass at Centipede!” flail fests, and I realized it’s cool to be passionate about a lot of things.

With it, the tangibility of intention has faded in my life. Yeah, I still enjoy the satisfaction of checking another task off my to-do list, but I find myself feeling most productive and purposeful, bizarrely, when it’s 5-something in the morning and two minutes remain of my “Taylor, sit still” time. It’s in those ticking 120 seconds that I feel a little bit more like the intentional, mindful grown-up girl I hope to be.

Why I like diagramming sentences

Errant droplets of tea create a path in my apartment, clinging to the lip of my favorite owl mug until they fall. When I can’t make sense of my life, I pour a mug of tea and pace.

Sometimes as I pace, I find myself trying to strip pivotal conversations of their emotional value; break them down into something formulaic, impersonal. An unexpected application of my English degree.

A few days ago I found myself dwelling on the end of a relationship, rereading old text messages as I admit I’m prone to do. Rather than succumb to the usual, toxic practice of pinpointing specific places I could have been funnier/wittier/smarter/etc., I began diagramming and labeling the verbs in my mind. Intransitive, monotransitive, ditransitive, copula, complex transitive. I plotted the form of each sentence, using colored text, italics and returns to reimagine my pain as a pattern, one I can plot, map and organize.

The terminology I once feared has become not an academic tool, a means of getting an A on the next essay, but a means for visualizing disappointment — proof that my pain exists in tangible, color-codable clarity.

I’m no longer worried about how I could have been funnier/wittier/smarter/etc. I was and am a complete being; my writing, whether it’s a text, tweet, press release or letter, reveals my pattern of thinking, feeling, being.

Tangibly mapping language is proof that my feelings and pain are real — that I’m real. Proof that order can exist amid erratic emotions and hurt that resurfaces when unexpected.

Each familiar sentence form and unconsciously recurring verb form are proof that the only thing I ever am — and will ever be — is authentically, innately me.

The girl who should probably buy a coaster for each piece in her mug collection, regularly spills her tea and diagrams sentences in her free time.

On running, dwelling and why I’m over “getting over” it

Running and dwelling: I’ve been meditating on the two lately; a strange pair they are. When I run — the physical embodiment of moving forward in pursuit of that faraway goal of the Des Moines Half Marathon in October — I find myself dwelling, immobilized by unmoored thoughts rooted in what was.

I remember the European boy who was mean to me on a 2014 study abroad trip. How I swooned over the two-and-then-some languages he spoke; how he admired my English vocabulary and the obscure words that wind their way into everyday chatter.

I think of the semester of college I spent binge drinking cheap, terrible booze, completely paralyzed by the incident and unable to cope in positive manner.

Arabic NotebookI relive the time a textbook taught my Arabic class to use the same word for “friend” and “boyfriend,” and I spent an entire week introducing every guy in class as my boyfriend. The dwelling isn’t entirely founded in negative experiences or memories.

This blog emerged on a run, sentences punctuated by moments of breathlessness, some fueled by the exertion, some by the painful memories themselves, I think.

There’s a certain preoccupation with “getting over” things, one that doesn’t give us permission to work through anything on our own timeline.

For me, there is often an extended period of intense, well, ranting. I’m talking swear-word laden, repetitive, teenage-Taylor-worthy rubbish. But every once in a while I find a valuable nugget of wisdom or useful sentence amid that rubbish, something that later leads to a blog post, an essay or simply a day-to-day epiphany.

When I run, I dwell; when I find myself dwelling on something, I run. Maybe it’s dangerous to simulate a sense of progress by physically moving forward while I return to some ‘traumatic’ experience that then felt like the collapse of my proverbial universe. But maybe running is the safe space in which I’m free to ruminate, replay and relive the painful. And when I regain my breath, I often find that I’ve gained perspective.

I’m over “getting over it.” I’m the one running through it.

On finding my voice as a young professional

Young professional: It would be an immediate shift, I imagined. College student turned alumna turned YP. And with it I would somehow innately arrive at a series of epiphanies: how to properly network (without flailing about Roger Federer or Istanbul, for instance). How to express plans for the next five years without abandoning that quintessential “in the moment” Millennial attitude. How to achieve that ever-elusive “work/life balance.

Being a YP, though, is less about the big A-ha! moments and more, I’ve learned, about little moments of listening, peppered with little moments of speaking up. As a really young YP (December grad life), I often feel too young, too new to the working world, to jump in and talk about, say, economic development. Yeah, me, the one who nearly wrote her last rent check in neon-green crayon because she couldn’t find a pen.

Bubble BayFor now, then, I’m happy to listen most of the time. I’m sharing news on Des Moines’ latest accolade, I’m reading about growth in the metro and I’m learning to appreciate local attractions in new ways.

And slowly, I’m learning to speak up and contribute to the conversation. No, I can’t talk about job promotions, I still don’t have a “five-year plan” and economic development is not my go-to talking point. For now, my go-to phrase is something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s really cool. Can you tell more about it?” As a YP I’ve learned, the most powerful thing to say isn’t always a statement. Often, it’s a question. Or even a phrase I once avoided: “I didn’t know that.”

It’s funny how finding my voice as a Des Moines YP and a writer sometimes stems from listening and more importantly, admitting what I don’t know. That realization is equally comforting and challenging; it gives me permission to question, to be vulnerable, but it likewise inspires me to be a lifelong learner.

Along the way, I’m striving to make my invisible thinking visible, to borrow an education term, taking little notes. Whether it’s a mental note, a new entry in my journal or an idea scrawled on a Post-It in neon-green crayon, embracing my role as a YP is a process, one that’s all about little moments of listening, learning and maybe even some tennis-fueled flailing.