Monthly Archives: September 2015

On blank pages, bookshelves and writerly confidence

Blank pages comfort me. It’s something I never thought I’d say. The pressure of college deadlines erased the freedom of blank pages for a few years, paragraphs often sheared or stretched, tweaked or tortured to fit the word count, the required structure — something.

Since graduating, I’ve found renewed writerly peace, strangely, in blank and inked pages alike, each providing a sense of comfort etched at opposite ends of the innovation spectrum. Earlier this week, I had the afternoon off work, so I spent it at Ephemera, my favorite stationery store in Des Moines’ East Village, and Central Library.

The stationery store is a source of confidence, each blank postcard quietly calling, “Hey there, Writer. You’ve got things to say. Say them!” An assortment of empty cards and notebooks form a wobbly stack atop my bookshelf, their empty pages a reminder that there is always, thankfully, something to say.

That premise can, of course, be dangerous, which is where the library comes in. It’s appropriate that the books are enclosed in a semi-transparent, gold façade, the reflective panels inviting me while lending the building an intimidating grandeur. The library is a polite reminder that it’s OK to have confidence as a writer, but it’s equally important to read, to inhabit others’ stories and selves, shaping my own in the forver-humbling process.

My apartment, fittingly, is almost exactly halfway between the stationery boutique and the library. Every day, I strive for writing that strikes a balance between inspiration from the memoirists and autobiographers whose books are permanently anchored below the cup of tea on my coffee table (don’t worry, there’s a coaster) and the blank pages perched a tad greedily on the shelf, each giving me an overzealous writerly pep talk.

Somewhere in the middle, as I teeter between caution and confidence, the page transforms from blank to black and white.

On narcissism, running away and remembering Aylan

I ran to run away in the beginning. If I ran fast enough, far enough, my body would somehow trick my brain into running away from the grueling cycle of dwelling. It’s a tendency I’m both thankful for and hateful of, one that produces thoughtful reflection — reflection that sometimes gets too meta, dissecting text messages and conversation fragments like fodder for my next literary analysis.

When I run in the evening, the day’s events clutter my brain; I think about me, my life, my current existential crisis.

Mornings, for me, are the sacred hour of solace, before the dwelling strikes. Then, my Twitter feed is filled with Turkish news, transporting me around the world for a fleeting bit. I focus on the overwhelming, often heartbreaking news in a country and region I miss every day. Unclouded by to-do lists, thoughts of the next day’s work, my morning brain is more rational and in the moment, maybe.

As I embarked on my first-ever 5:30 a.m. run — a big milestone per my lifelong reluctance to exercise early — I consciously awaited the inevitable descent into dwelling, the ramshackle, narcissistic corner of my mind defined by teenage-Taylor logic and nagging self-pity. This morning, though, I opted to focus on one thing, one story — a story not my own: I thought about Aylan, the drowned Syrian toddler who washed up on a Turkish beach. About the pain I feel every time I hear human beings reduced to the word “migrant,” as if their names are inconsequential in light of their unjustly criminalized transience. About Turkey, a country I love, increasingly marred by violence and soul-crushing news.

At the top of the hill, when I snapped a picture of my own world at dawn, my mind and body felt removed from my here and now, from the ever-coveted “in the moment.” The thing I had chased throughout months of training felt hollow to the core.

In running away, I finally found a new “in the moment,” one that isn’t defined by the physical environment or by my latest personal crisis but by the willingness to set my world aside for a little bit, to snap the picture and enjoy the sunrise, but make a conscious attempt to emotionally inhabit another place. Today, that place is Turkey, a country that fascinates, beguiles and frustrates me all at once; today, I think of Aylan, his mother and 5-year-old brother, a family destroyed by senseless policies in a country I love. Read about him. He matters, his name matters and it is not “migrant boy.”

My childish understanding of “running away” feels different now, rash in its swift assumption of what it means to be caught in a grueling cycle.