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.

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