Tag Archives: autobiography and memoir

Bits and Pieces

Between learning Arabic, fearing/eagerly awaiting the ‘real world’ and writing my 40-page thesis on pro tennis players’ memoirs, my final semester provided plenty of blog fodder. When I completed my final undergraduate obligation today (beyond wearing that ugly gradation cap this weekend), I didn’t know what to say.

I’m not one for grand nuggets of ‘wisdom’ fit for some teenage girl’s Twitter bio. It’s been a mismatched, odd semester, which unexpectedly led me to an idea for my blog. Rather than feign some, “I found myself in college,” rubbish, I compiled a few excerpts of my life-writing endeavors from the last seven semesters, ending with a longer excerpt from my senior thesis project, “Tap.”

I believe writing is a direct reflection of the self as it once existed, suspended in a particular moment in time. As graduation nears, as I both welcome and fret a new “stage” of my life, there’s something particularly natural about the act of reflecting, reminiscing. It’s too easy to craft some syrupy Facebook post about the “bittersweet” experience of leaving the campus community — and fear not, I won’t post a #ThrowbackThursday photo of my move-in day adventures.

I’m into the darker, more violent elements of writing: extracting tangible bits and pieces of me from their computer-archived safe havens, each comfortably nestled in one distinct moment.

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Spring 2012 (apparently, I was at the pinnacle of my em-dash phase at the time of this piece): Therapeutic texts push readers — like writers — into tender territory, again forcing trauma recollection and restructuring.  Ultimately, therapeutic writing meshes personal and social purpose, benefiting — and even transforming — reader and writer alike.

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May 2013: As my adult life looms, I feel I should rely less and less on outside emotional help, so I do it all on my own; I know it’s not realistic. Now, I realize the value of outside emotional help, but I am still hesitant to admit that I need it.

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December 2014, senior thesis: It strikes me as funny that tennis’ healing power is no longer limited to the court for me. Today, it encompasses the court, television, tweets and most importantly, the keyboard on which my fingers flutter right now. When I read and write about tennis, my player, writer, fan and coach identities converge harmoniously on the page, making the game more beautiful than ever. It’s funny to me, too, that a game I guarded, locked in the privacy of my mind, materializes naturally on the page. Maybe, watching the game and capturing it in writing are my personal means of expressing everything I couldn’t when I only experienced it on the court. I rarely play now, yet I experience the game more deeply, as it weaves a path through my myriad interests, disciplines and habits.  

I took up tennis at 15, late even by the standards of the Midwest, where it simply isn’t a lifestyle like it is on the coasts. I’ll begin with the end of the court’s reign as the cathartic place in my life. When I arrived at Drake University, I was determined to continue playing tennis. In part, I enjoy playing and wanted to stay in shape (and the Hubbell Dining Hall sugar cookies were a dangerous force in my life from the outset of my illustrious college career). In another part, though, tennis was ingrained in my identity and provided a go-to — and almost too easy — means of relieving whatever so-called trauma struck me that day. Tripped up the stairs (again)? Hit the hell out of a bucket of tennis balls, and I promise you’ll feel better for a little while. But I quickly realized time on the court relieved only the initial hurt of my problems, some far more concerning than flailing up the stairs in front of, say, the ‘love of my life.’ Then, as the demands of schoolwork and adjusting to college cut into my nightly serving ritual and tennis time, I felt lost, unsure where to turn. Eventually, with the help of Twitter, I realized my passion for tennis writing and expanded my earlier definition of healing through sport. I began following more and more tennis players and even live-tweeting matches. Yeah, a bulk of my tweets read something like, “Roger Federer is the man and/or a divine being and/or the greatest,” (and so on), but in those teenage-Taylor Twitter binges (“rants” feels a bit harsh, I think), I discovered a new dimension of the game and the healing it provided me.

With the help of my favorite players’ post-match interviews and their books (I once impressed the guy I liked by lending him my copy of You Cannot Be Serious — literary classic, people — by John McEnroe), I began to form my own connections between tennis and life. Connections I realized didn’t require a pristine court, a certain color of tennis skirt or some fancy trophy. Per my generally un-athletic background (I was assigned to the outfield in first grade T-ball — the ultimate form of rejection), I never planned or expected to become some collegiate tennis star. But I never thought I would stop playing, assuming that if I did, I would relinquish a key part of my identity. In high school, I was known as the girl who liked to play tennis and was somewhat decent at it. Without the physical act of striking forehand after forehand and grumbling, “Why can’t you hit anything in today?” I didn’t know what would become of me. The physical and psychological felt inextricably intertwined; without one, the other would cease to exist.

Though I haven’t forgotten the proper way to hit a forehand, a backhand or serve with my trademark degree of mediocrity (even with all that revenge-fueled practice, I never could figure out the whole power-serve thing), I seldom play tennis anymore. And I’m fine with it. Thanks to a fuller portrait of tennis beyond the physical match, and a better sense of identity that inevitably comes with experience, I can continue to engage its cathartic capacity as I type away, reconstructing other players’ game and life narratives. Amid that process, I’m constructing my own.

Why I write about my life

Why am I compelled to write about my life? Why, after a day rife with deadline anxiety, the inevitable awkward door encounter and fear of never finding a big-girl job, would I rather write a blog post than break open a bottle of something strong (per the college social scene in which I currently exist)? Life writing, frankly, is one of the few realms in which I feel validated. Worthy. When I write about my life, I am good enough.

When Ander Monson wrote an entire chapter about his love of flavored Doritos in Vanishing Point, I realized I could capture the time I got hit in the head with a bowling ball in ninth-grade gym (it really happened). The time I fell hard for a European guy after only knowing him for my brief journey abroad — like a character straight out of the romantic comedies I frequently call unrealistic but love anyway. The time I qualified for the state tennis tournament as a high school senior and learned I may be down, but I’m never out.

I write about my life because I’m permitted to explore the same experience, suspended in a single moment, time and time again. Life writing and I both know I’ll never fully capture or comprehend it, and that fact neither agonizes nor deters me. It invites me to explore and redefine my existence on my own timeline.

I write about my life in all its minutiae to encourage other people that their experiences, too, are worth exploring on the page. The act of capturing identity in writing is a conversation between past and present selves, a friendly battle that is never resolved.

My senior capstone project began strictly as an analytical portrait of tennis memoirs, but my experience of the game crept into it, eventually weaving its way through the narrative. Life writing is automatic, and in the end, I realized I like writing about tennis more than I ever enjoyed playing it.

My identity as a tennis fan is no longer limited to the physical act of hammering forehand after forehand, botching volley after volley. Thanks to my friend life writing, it’s more nuanced, manifesting differently in my fan, player, spectator and writer identities. Life writing is my faithful source of self-discovery, growth and recovery.

Identity: ever evolving and ever the same

I turn 22 on Monday. I’ll complete an internship I’ve loved on Dec. 5. I graduate eight days later. It’s no surprise themes of change and growth have pervaded my recent writing, morphing from thoughtful commentary to trite ‘motivational’ sayings and back again.

You know, that dreadful ‘artwork’ that lined the hallway of your elementary school? I’m talking the posters with vague words like “perseverance” or “determination” in some, “I will bestow knowledge upon you, young peasant!” font.

Amid all my meditation on change and growth, it’s easy to overlook the ways in which I haven’t changed. As a life writer/perpetual reflector, I like to think of myself as some ever-evolving, improving being. I’m in college, after all, the socially sanctioned place for visceral transformation (Sounds like something in a university mission statement, doesn’t it?).

Exploring the ways I haven’t changed in the last three-and-a-half years isn’t admission of failure but of humanity, of the beautiful fact that identity is fluid, forever evolving and forever the same, all at once.

The self, I’ve learned, isn’t something one can organize or color-code, as I do every other aspect of my life. It’s darker, messier. Maybe that’s why I’ve spent the last four years writing about my life and others’ lives. There’s eternal tension on the page no matter how fancy my word choice, no matter how ‘smart’ that Hamlet reference.

And perhaps most importantly, there’s tangibility in experience that organically guides me beyond it, a space that permits me to explore past and present identity in conversation rather than isolation.

While my understanding of identity has evolved, my journalistic philosophy hasn’t changed, thanks to late Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor Rick Tapscott. Even as new forces, new stresses, new pressures emerge (Cue the now-expected, “So, Taylor, do you have a job? Are you dating anyone? Have you bought a house? So are you ruling your own country yet?” OK, kidding about the last two.), Rick’s wise words echo daily in my mind, a constant amid the chaos of almost-post-grad life: “It’ll all work out. It always does.”

Nearly a year after his death, I have yet to completely shift from present to past tense when I refer to him. His gruff, concise wisdom meanders its way through my life both in and beyond the newsroom, a classic Rick one-liner the remedy for my 20-something angst.

I admit I’ve questioned my career choice numerous times in the past year. Even on the days I struggle to piece together my words on the page — the act to which I’ve dedicated my existence — I return to the Rick quote that has influenced my life more than any other: “If you go into journalism for the right reasons, it’s a fun and honorable profession.”