Monthly Archives: November 2015

On birthdays and broken glass

Broken glass fascinates me. As I run by, I step around it, disturbing the chaos my main concern over the jagged edges. I try to resurrect the whole; I wonder about the glass. Who held it? How did it fall? With a thud, maybe, or with a spinning shatter. I’ll never resurrect the complete story, so I cling to the fragments.

When I started pondering the theme of my traditional birthday blog post, I searched for the complete picture, some defining event or epiphany that captured the whole of 22. This morning, though, as I craned my neck to glance back at another broken-bottle mosaic on the sidewalk, I realized that fragments defined my year. Each milestone, mistake and memory is part of a broader exercise in synthesizing, in embracing the wholeness of a year — an existence — I’ll never be able to wholly resurrect in writing.

Here, then, are fragments of me at 22, of the transition from college to wannabe-adulthood, of the year I redefined two of the most important things in my life, language and sport.

Within one month, I turned 22, passed my first semester of introductory Arabic, submitted my 40-page senior English thesis and delivered the first-ever public reading of my writing. The juxtaposition of that semester still lingers in both languages. I learned to read and write all over again, butchering foreign Arabic sounds as my pencil hobbled from right to left across the page. At the same time, I wrote and wrote and wrote, more than 13,000 words in total, each the defense of my degree, confirmation that somehow, someday, I could teach this craft.

Half Marathon 2015After graduation, I ran and I wrote, the sometimes-relentless solace replacing college brainstorming sessions. As I trained for the Des Moines Half Marathon in October, I tucked words, phrases and sentences in my mind, deriving strength from them during the tough, tiring stretches. Rather than obey the beat of music as I ran, I learned to craft my own rhythm, rearranging and repeating sentences until they seemed to inhabit the impact of my shoes on the pavement.

In those eight months of training, I lost five pounds and went vegetarian. “It’s better for the environment. It’s healthier. It’s cheaper,” I said, all of which were and are true. Yet I chose to abandon meat then in part because I desperately needed to manufacture a transformation, proof that I changed and grew even as I dwelled on painful feelings of raging inadequacy and the unresolved departure of someone I cared about.

Geometry PlaygroundJanuary 19 will mark one year at my first big-kid job. Every day, I get to write about science and awe, peppered with opportunities to decorate for special events, climb the geometry-inspired playground exhibit and, of course, geek out about dinosaurs. I found an unexpected home in the museum world, one that invites me to be nerdy and curious and childlike and professional, all at once. Writers are Makers and inventors, much like the robotics experts, scientists and math gurus I meet, whose stories I have the chance to share.

After taking a break from the game for much of college, I got back into playing tennis at 22. It is, perhaps, the culminating experience of a year colored by my past and present existing simultaneously. I quit playing in college because I needed to learn how to live without tennis as a defining factor of my identity; picking it back up, I didn’t know how to reintegrate it in a non-competitive, soul-absorbing way. I found that avenue through writing, on the day I presented my senior English thesis last fall.

I had spent six months analyzing professional tennis players’ memoirs, weaving in my own experiences with the sport. When I read six pages of my thesis out loud to a room of friends, professors and a few strangers, the game and tennis had transformed from the single manifestation of my identity to a frame of my mind for all my identities, all at once. Playing and watching tennis helps me make sense of my life beyond it.

Tomorrow, I turn 23. Until then, I think I’ll listen to T. Swift’s “22” on repeat and maybe, I’ll go for a run. As usual, I’ll step around the inevitable pieces of broken glass on the sidewalk. I’ll ruminate on the shards and bits of another year. I am fragmented at best, and I think I’ll keep it that way.

On swirling words and the Grand Bazaar

Istanbul is one of those places that weaves its way through my everyday existence and forever will.

Istanbul is one of those places that weaves its way through my everyday existence and forever will.

The lamp created an opaque mosaic of little morsels, candy molding into one big window display. I gravitated to the glass. “It’s called ‘lokum,’” he said. I had probably heard of it as “Turkish delight.” That experience in Turkey got me addicted to awe. It got me addicted to a lot of feelings. Awe, wonder, (healthy) rebellion. The pretty feelings gave way to ugly feelings, feelings I craved for too long after the real-life experiences morphed into wall decor.

Along the way, each new feeling came with its own lingering, nagging foe, peppered with wanderlust and an insatiable craving for Turkish tea.

In the English-speaking world, language emboldens me, providing power, glimpses of authority even, my non-threatening physical presence irrelevant, replaced by booming words. In the Turkish-speaking world, language provided me a glimpse of perpetual uncertainty, of recklessness and rebellion in all their unkempt glory.

On the final day of the trip, I walked back from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul to my hotel, probably 10-15 minutes away, following only familiar landmarks. The hazy aura and pungent smell of hashish on that corner. The windows of wedding dresses, some white like Americans wear, others bright, satiny colors like a Prom dress, per Turkish tradition.

When I walk in the U.S., I find my gaze unconsciously falling to the concrete below; I already know where I’m going. There, I walked with my head up the whole time, emboldened, oddly, by the rebellion and innate recklessness. By the fact that I couldn’t communicate — the thing that foremost defines me in professional and personal capacities.

I didn’t tell my professor or anyone I would split from my group in the Grand Bazaar. That I would walk alone in Istanbul for several blocks both ways. That I was meeting the charming Turkish translator I had met 13 days before. My own language, for the first time, felt insufficient to express any, let alone all, of the above. As I walked, I mumbled, trying to pronounce each of the street signs, thrilled by my own inability. My own intoxicating, dizzying inability.

In the spirit of cyclical, well, everything, that intoxicating, dizzying inability helped me heal, finally, nearly eight months later. Revenge, for me, is often rooted in language. Sometimes, it is the silent rehearsal of what Teenage Taylor would have said to her then-so-called “soulmate” if she ever got the chance. For the record, I typically realize halfway through this ritual that what I’m plotting is not comprised of my own words but lyrics from a Taylor Swift song. He had told me he wanted to learn Arabic; as my own personal form of revenge, I decided I would take it my final semester of college and be better at it.

There’s something deeply empowering, I learned, about accepting my own naiveté, about remembering never to take myself too seriously. I found all of the above in Arabic class: jumbled sounds that still aren’t embedded in my native-English-speaker brain, the reality of taking three solid minutes to write, “Hi, my name is Taylor,” the time I accidentally spent an entire week mixing up the words for “male friend” and “boyfriend” (a key distinction, I assure you).

It wasn’t a product of external signage swirling together like in Turkey; with practice, the Arabic swirling stopped. I made slow sense of this otherworldly alphabet with squiggles and swoops and dots all its own. Its beautiful, mesmerizing, difficult own. In reclaiming language through language, I reclaimed an experience I couldn’t write about it for nearly a year-and-a-half, doubting not only the validity of my own expression but also the validity of my own existence.

A few months ago while reading Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, I arrived at a sentence that captured the whole wreck in seven words: “I write about it because it happened.” Reclaiming and validating one’s existence is a terrifying thing, and Jamison achieved it in that single thought. The present-to-past-tense shift soothes my soul in a way Turkish tea never could. I write about it here, now, at my kitchen counter in my big-girl apartment, one that’s decorated with the remnants of my experience. Acknowledgement of that coexistence is what I had craved all along; I could be wrecked, challenged, changed, all because it happened. I could be wrecked when I wrote about it and when I write about in the future. It was OK to be wrecked.

I write to survive, I’ve long said when I explain the compulsion to journal and blog. The time my need to write transformed the Des Moines skywalk system into an obstacle course as I practically walked into windows, walls, people as I furiously tapped typo-riddled notes into my iPhone on the way to work. The words beyond my touchscreen blurred, making no more sense than the unintelligible Turkish that had before lined the cobblestone streets as landmarks guided me. I was months and miles removed from that experience until the eerie parallel emerged in familiar territory, drawing me to the idea that familiarity is, perhaps, a figment, something that deprives me of the potential to derive new worth from the past. I write about it because it happened.