Tag Archives: Des Moines

On racing, running and itty-bitty epiphanies

Half Marathon 2015There’s a bag of ice on my ankle, I fell off my bed this morning and I can’t count how many happy hours I skipped over the past eight months. Yet I’m sad the half-marathon is over.

Running is lonely in a lot of ways, much like tennis. Maybe that’s why I like both. When I committed to the miles, I committed to hours locked inside my own brain, hours of dwelling punctuated by the quest for oxygen.

At times I ran to escape my feelings; at other times I ran to confront them.

In the past eight months, I went vegetarian. I lost five pounds. I worked through a failed relationship, sometimes with mid-run muttering. I learned to run in the morning, something that had left me dazed and dizzy before. Once, I cried mid-run as I ran through Waterworks Park, where a beloved coworker and friend tragically passed away in February. I woke up at 4:45 a.m. and watched the sun rise from the Capitol steps, rare city quiet a sharp contrast to my rambling morning mind.

As I hobbled from the finish line wearing my medal, I realized the moment I crossed it isn’t what I had been working for all along. It was all the itty-bitty epiphanies throughout the eight months of training — every “Holy shit, you’re crazy,” every 7:30 a.m. Sunday run. Every lonely, exhilarating moment trapped inside my psyche, my body battling the desire to stop and walk, my brain battling the usual blend of raging inadequacy and 20-something angst.

There is bizarre comfort in knowing that running, for me, will never be about times or splits or speed, but about the potential in loneliness, in a goal that belongs to me and only me. When I started running, I perceived it as an act of survival. Eight months later, I perceive it as an art of survival, one that has produced myriad blog posts and essays-to-be, two new friendships and an environmental consciousness that led me to vegetarianism.

I didn’t feel particularly beautiful when the photographer snapped my official race photo at mile 11 (but really, who put the camera there? Why not mile one?), but there is something deeply, enigmatically beautiful about taking on that which helps me survive.

Maybe I’ll move from surviving to thriving someday – but I suspect that milestone is a more than a few bowls of post-race pasta and ice packs away.

On finding my voice as a young professional

Young professional: It would be an immediate shift, I imagined. College student turned alumna turned YP. And with it I would somehow innately arrive at a series of epiphanies: how to properly network (without flailing about Roger Federer or Istanbul, for instance). How to express plans for the next five years without abandoning that quintessential “in the moment” Millennial attitude. How to achieve that ever-elusive “work/life balance.

Being a YP, though, is less about the big A-ha! moments and more, I’ve learned, about little moments of listening, peppered with little moments of speaking up. As a really young YP (December grad life), I often feel too young, too new to the working world, to jump in and talk about, say, economic development. Yeah, me, the one who nearly wrote her last rent check in neon-green crayon because she couldn’t find a pen.

Bubble BayFor now, then, I’m happy to listen most of the time. I’m sharing news on Des Moines’ latest accolade, I’m reading about growth in the metro and I’m learning to appreciate local attractions in new ways.

And slowly, I’m learning to speak up and contribute to the conversation. No, I can’t talk about job promotions, I still don’t have a “five-year plan” and economic development is not my go-to talking point. For now, my go-to phrase is something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s really cool. Can you tell more about it?” As a YP I’ve learned, the most powerful thing to say isn’t always a statement. Often, it’s a question. Or even a phrase I once avoided: “I didn’t know that.”

It’s funny how finding my voice as a Des Moines YP and a writer sometimes stems from listening and more importantly, admitting what I don’t know. That realization is equally comforting and challenging; it gives me permission to question, to be vulnerable, but it likewise inspires me to be a lifelong learner.

Along the way, I’m striving to make my invisible thinking visible, to borrow an education term, taking little notes. Whether it’s a mental note, a new entry in my journal or an idea scrawled on a Post-It in neon-green crayon, embracing my role as a YP is a process, one that’s all about little moments of listening, learning and maybe even some tennis-fueled flailing.

On seeing Des Moines in a new light

Travel: When you venture beyond the routine, beyond the everyday, you find yourself, right? I long believed that concept, upholding the plane ticket the ultimate symbol and source of discovery.

Des MoinesYet here I am, rooted for a good, long while. I live in Des Moines by choice, and I love it. But for a long time — too long, really — I wondered how I could “find myself” in my familiar world. The same web of skywalks I weave every morning, stopping in the same spot to snap a quick photo of the blinding light, swearing it looks a little different, a little hipper than the last time my iPhone lens gave it the limelight.

In familiarity, though, there is subtlety. Beautiful subtlety. Like the minute shifts in the shadows of my morning photo op.

This city charms me in subtler ways these days. The height of 801 Grand no longer dizzies me as it did during those magical, maze-worthy childhood waltzes through the skywalk to the most glamorous place on Earth: the Younkers Tea Room, of course (well before I realized my love of tea).

At 22, I’m captivated by the bright light of the Financial Center, racing to my window every evening to enjoy the color. I’m captivated by the community-oriented nonprofit work in the city, including that of my own wonderful workplace at the Science Center of Iowa. I’m captivated by the ornate, whirling staircases at the Law Library at the Capitol.

Downtown Des MoinesMy Des Moines love list includes the sensible logistics of living, too. I like that I can pay my rent. I like that a trip to my grandparents’ house in the suburbs takes only 10 minutes.

Finding myself, it seems, isn’t determined by my next plane ticket but by a lifelong commitment to pause and capture the beautiful subtlety in shifting shadows. Somewhere in the daily mosaic of skywalk shadows, I’m seeing Des Moines in a whole new light.

New places impact identity

Gray, felt walls created a maze in the top floor of the old Younkers building in downtown Des Moines. For my father, then a buyer at the department store, the cramped space and eternal din of the fax machine represented the practical: a way to make money and advance his career. For my younger sister Tara and I, they represented a trip to the top of the world.

As suit-clad bigwigs waltzed by en route to the famed Younkers Tea Room, I entered the Iowa definition of a fairy tale. Delicate crown molding and gold trim decorated the Tea Room. I can’t remember what I ordered (probably grilled cheese, given I was an even pickier eater then than I am now), but I began to realize the power of place in those childhood outings to the Younkers Tea Room.

That power felt particularly real in January, when I traveled to Turkey for J-term. I couldn’t comprehend much of the language, but I felt at once at home and in another world. New places, I realized, have a way of linking the familiar and unfamiliar in the perfect balance, forcing me to reflect on — and adapt — my identity. While the Tea Room let me try on the identity of a queen, Turkey helped me find my wanderer identity.

The power of place hit me again in March 29, when the Younkers building — and my beloved Tea Room — caught fire. Though a large portion of the iconic building burned down, I cling to the memory of the gold trim and the coveted kids’ meal toy, a miniature ceramic plate hand-painted with a pink tulip. Somewhere between the tangible memory of gold accents and doll-sized dinnerware, I realized the role of place in the never-ending creation of my identity.