Monthly Archives: August 2015

On running, shoelaces and fitful rumination

I ran to heal, I claimed. It was a neat, tidy motivation, one I could tuck in my mind like I tuck my key in my shoelace. Committing to the half marathon would help me get over a failed relationship while providing a new milestone, something flashy to cloak raging feelings of inadequacy, something shiny to brandish when asked, “What’s new?”

Running is the constant, physical manifestation of moving forward, I theorized; therefore, my mind and emotions would follow the same progressive path. When I crossed the finish line in October, I would be healed.

But in the tired delirium of being trapped in my brain for up to three hours over 13-some miles of pavement, I found myself anchored not to the glittery, “What’s new?”-worthy future but to the past. I ran forward, reciting entire conversations in my mind, the ones I deleted from my phone but couldn’t erase from memory, the impact of my shoes creating a disjointed beat; I slid into madness even as I made physical progress.

During the particularly tough mileage days, I found myself breathlessly mumbling strings of jumbled sentences, something like, “You can do it, three more miles, I hate you, why couldn’t you have kept me around, there might be a bug in my eye, don’t say things you don’t mean, don’t say you want to stay friends, why the hell did you register for the half.”

As the training runs have stretched on, I’ve learned to dedicate each mile to one thought, idea or regret, throwing my whole body and mind into its fitful rumination, contemplation and eventually, meaningful reflection.

Sometimes I even manage to sneak in an A-ha! moment or epiphany — something new to tuck in my shoelace.

On personal branding, writers’ workshops and being brave

I was really good at being good. Maybe the best. I wrote happy stories about happy things like parades and sisterhood. I was high school valedictorian. I was really good for too long.

Then I discovered life writing, where hurt thrives on the page in raw, reflective clarity, where I felt empowered, finally, to screw up. Feeling empowered to fail is an off-putting concept, one I resisted for a long time.

The life writers I admired told me about the ways they screwed up. At 14, Phoebe Gloeckner had sex with her mother’s boyfriend. Kathryn Harrison had a years-long love affair with her father. Anne Lamott was an alcoholic and a drug addict. They screwed up, they wrote about it and life continued; it amazed me.

I slowly found an unnerving sense of power in writing about the ways I’ve failed. I wrote about how I’ve never had a boyfriend and feel I’ve failed my family for it. I wrote about the semester of college I spent drinking cheap wine and whiskey in a sorry effort to cope with a beloved professor’s death and falling illogically, irreversibly hard for a charming European guy on a study-abroad trip. I wrote about the times in college I drunkenly made out with guys I didn’t like that much.

Life writing gave me a space to learn from my mistakes without fear of judgment, without the pretense of some syrupy-sweet ‘personal brand,’ where the good, work-appropriate you falsely presents itself as the whole you.

It was in the sacred circle of undergrad writers’ workshops that I learned I could be the whole of myself, I could write about it and I could share it with strangers. There is a writerly camaraderie and maybe, a sense of bravery, those workshops instilled in me, a bravery I’ve struggled to replicate without them.

The view from my rooftop at 5:30 a.m.

The view from my rooftop at 5:30 a.m.

Though I no longer have access to the collegiate circle of writers, one I miss and crave, I’ve realized that reading life writing is a kind of workshop all its own, one I can participate in at 6-something in the morning on my rooftop, 15 stories up, or on my couch on a rainy day.

Phoebe Gloeckner, Kathryn Harrison, Anne Lamott, Cheryl Strayed, Elif Shafak … They all inspire in me that familiar wisp of bravery. I’ve replaced being really good with being a little bit braver. It’s scary to write openly about all the stupid 20-something stunts I’ve pulled, but I think it’s one step in moving toward a personal brand defined not solely by my job or professional skills but by authenticity and a commitment to the whole me.

On fear, frosting and rewriting my story

My fear has grown up with me. At times it is 13-year-old Taylor at the eighth-grade scary-movie sleepover, then the emblem of rebellion, with “The Silence of the Lambs” playing. My bowl of M&M’s is scattered across the shag carpet in my friend Katie’s basement. I sketch invisible lines from candy to candy, weaving my own invisible safety net. It’s funny how fear guides me to chaotic sources of comfort and order.

At times my fear is overdramatic and older than its age. I fret about ‘missed’ milestones and milestones that are years in the future; whether or not I’ll ever get married, funding my dream trip to the Istanbul Open, saving enough for retirement. Meanwhile, I sit here eating graham crackers caked with neon-yellow frosting (OK, so I haven’t mastered the whole wise-beyond-my-years thing yet).

Lately I’ve confronted and engaged fear in a variety of ways, through the goal of doing one thing a month that scares me.

I’m volunteering for the presidential campaign I support. I’m mentoring high school sophomores and juniors with the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Youth Leadership Initiative. I’m training for my first half-marathon.

All three terrify me in different ways, ways that weave together the complexities of fear, fear that lurks in half-empty tubs of Pillsbury frosting, spilled M&M’s and lingering disbelief.

In writing-major tradition, I debated between “disbelief” and “unbelief” in the above sentence for 10 minutes, followed by my four-mile evening run. Though they’re technically synonyms, I clung to one word in the definition of “disbelief.”

According to my dictionary app, “disbelief” is the “lack of faith in something,” whereas “unbelief” is “an absence of faith.” I like the word “lack.” It suggests not the complete absence of faith but a persistent deficiency, something I can replenish with reflection and writing.

Before I write anything about my life, I read a minimum of one chapter from a memoir or autobiography by a female writer. The other day, this newfound ritual led me to the perfect quote, one I still can’t get out of my head: “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves.” I am not hiking the Pacific Crest Trail like Cheryl Strayed in Wild; I am, however, a compilation of my own stories, and I’m consciously working to rewrite them.

I have a new invisible safety net, one found not in spilled M&M’s but in sentences, each period, exclamation point and question mark serving as the next destination in an ideological, identity-forming connect-the-dots.