Tag Archives: life writing

Going to the movies by myself

I don’t see a lot of movies, maybe two or three a year. I rarely plan ahead to go to the movies, instead spontaneously scrunching my still-damp hair as I shuffle to my car on a Saturday night.

“Kedi” was the first movie I saw alone. It’s a Turkish documentary about the street cats of Istanbul. I saw it when I was trying to decide which law school to attend. The sound, screen and subtitles kept me occupied, restored me to a feeling human being as I reconnected with the cats I encountered in the same city, my favorite city in the world, a few years ago.

Iowa RiverLast Saturday I saw “Crazy Rich Asians” by myself here in Iowa City. I had forgotten how heavy the silence is in law school, the way hours and hours of quiet reading sink into your soul. The sensory overload of going to a movie — the screen, the speakers, the inescapability of it all — comforts me, as if it’s possible to refill the silence, to pour sound and light and feeling right back into my emotionally drained spirit.

I sometimes joke that I was a person for a few years before I came to law school. I had a full-time job, a side gig at the state’s largest newspaper, volunteer commitments and hobbies. Sometimes I feel stripped of that personhood here. I am instead a machine who reads and studies and outlines and color-codes. Continue reading

On decisions, distractions and ‘What’s new?’

I call them life decisions but at first they are often distractions, pretty, shiny fodder for my next, “What’s new with you?” encounter. Taking Arabic, running the half-marathon, going vegetarian, returning to the tennis court: They all started as distractions from something and somehow morphed into interests, even habits. I’ve been reflecting lately on the progression from disappointment to distraction to finally, the natural healing that yields both a new passion and a form of release.

Earlier this month, I felt deep disappointment over something that didn’t work out as I had hoped it would, felled by incongruent goals and expectations. Then, it was a health scare. All the while, I have been conscious of my inevitable attempt at healing disguised as a cool, new goal.

But this time, rather than throwing myself wholeheartedly into something I can tell all my friends about, I’m running because it’s therapeutic. I’m eating vegetarian because it’s helps the environment. I’m practicing Arabic because I want my vocabulary to be better than that of a well-spoken 2-year-old. I’m playing tennis again because it’s a lifelong sport that taught me discipline as a teenager. I’m writing about distraction rather than indulging it.

Maybe I am entering into an era in which distraction and decision are independent, one in which I’m aware of my motivations and am careful to balance busying my mind and working toward something new.

Writing is both a distraction and a decision for me, as it encompasses every stage of the healing process. It reminds me that healing doesn’t exist in a new goal but what I allow that goal to become.

On control, inadequacy and (already) reevaluating 2016

I painted my nails black then registered for the LSAT, capping a turbulent week with something I exclusively can control. I haven’t painted my nails since my senior Prom, nor have I ever painted them black (don’t tell my mother), but something about making a major decision like law school led me to a wannabe-rebellious color choice. I removed the black pretty quickly, but damn, it felt good to make such a daring choice to go with another relatively daring choice.

2016, clearly, has already been an interesting year for me.

This week, I gained more control at work when my boss officially handed off the museum’s Facebook account to me, then lost it when a health scare landed me in the hospital, revealing that I’ve been sick for several months and didn’t know it. I gained control when I registered for the LSAT in June and lost it when a would-be relationship didn’t work out as I had hoped it would, leaving me feeling unwanted and inadequate.

Control is tricky like that, the way it cruelly instills false confidence, false hope, only to sneak in and remind me I’ll never have it all completely figured out — and that’s fine, by the way.

For a long time, I perceived dating as something I could control. If I’m smart enough, cool enough, charming enough, driven enough, it’ll work out, I told myself. And when it inevitably didn’t, I felt it was solely my fault, that I simply wasn’t good enough. The adult reality of different expectations, timelines and goals escaped me. They’re out of my control, a menacing, unpredictable realm that led me to intense self-loathing and nagging doubt (again, something I could control and ultimately dish out in a destructive capacity).

I faced literal inadequacy this weekend when I learned my blood isn’t properly nourishing my body. I arrived at the hospital with a hemoglobin level of 5, when 12 is normal, and am dangerously low in iron. It is a bizarre juxtaposition, really. I sought desperately to control a would-be relationship but couldn’t ultimately control my own health.

It’s Jan. 11, and this year has already left me feeling empowered and powerless. In tune with my career path, out of tune with my health. A success in my professional life, an unattractive failure in my personal life. Running two half-marathons, owning the LSAT, applying to law school — those were the New Year’s resolutions I had planned to tout in 2016. Instead, I’ve shifted to a list that’s more modest, less flashy but, I’ve realized, equally as important: Take my new medication daily, be a little bit kinder to myself and remember that I can’t control everything — and there’s something beautiful about it.

On identity, chicken noodle soup and “Star Wars”

This lightsaber photo was captured long before I ever watched the original "Star Wars" movies, and now I feel like a wannabe.

This lightsaber photo was captured long before I ever watched the original “Star Wars” movies, and now I feel like a wannabe.

Bag of gummy worms in my lap, phone in my hand, thumbs firing away questions and commentary about Jabba the Hutt’s Mucinex-cartoon-like appearance and the whole Luke and Leia situation, the clock well past my 10 p.m. bedtime. I bid 2015 farewell in the most unexpected of ways, binge-watching the original “Star Wars” films for marketing research.

It was a bizarrely fitting way to end 2015, a year of adopting new identities, each equipped with challenges and milestones that feel most real only when I look at the tangible mementos that accompany them.

“Half marathoner” still feels like a far-fetched identity, one that doesn’t acknowledge the reason I reason I embraced the challenge in the first place. I felt powerless, erased from the existence of someone I cared about; running, I thought, would restore me. It didn’t work.

While I loved training for the half and am glad I did it, the restoration wasn’t in that specific act of running but in the psychological experience it instilled in me. Before embarking on my half-marathon plan, I rarely set my phone aside for more than a couple minutes, maybe a half-hour for the occasional two- or three-mile run. Running unplugged for one, two, even three straight hours revealed the before-unrealized potential in uninterrupted reflection, as I worked through the same nagging feelings and questions, mile after mile, day after day. Per usual, I had allowed the tangible and intangible to become inextricable; in separating the physical and psychological experiences of running, I realized my physical ability to run long distances and my psychological ability to be more present in the art of reflection.

If you visit SCI on a Friday at 2 p.m., I'll (attempt to) make sure you don't fall off the green thing in the background.

If you visit SCI on a Friday at 2 p.m., I’ll (attempt to) make sure you don’t fall off the green thing in the background.

I became a marketer in 2015, and with it came the awesome role of museum professional, complete with fiery experiments, a weekly hour-long shift guarding a 10-foot tall geometric climbing structure and yes, binge-watching “Star Wars” because I had never seen it. Marketing in the museum world has taught me to embrace audiences and fandoms and experience them firsthand. While I don’t feel compelled to buy all the “Star Wars” merchandise in sight, I feel better prepared to market “The Force Awakens” and, frankly, to appreciate why so many people love the franchise.

Optimism and realism blurred in 2015 in one particular failure of mine. I let myself become an object of convenience for a guy I liked; we’d meet up for drinks or dinner but only when it was convenient for him. “Where is this going?” forever led to, We’ll see,” my naive hopeful clouded by his mesmerizing, hilarious stories and, well, the “What if?” quality of the whole thing. I kept telling myself I’d say “no” the next time he texted me suggesting we meet up. It is proof, perhaps, that New Year’s resolutions don’t have to waltz into the year with grandeur and confidence. They can exist in relatively minute stature like a silent reminder that it’s OK to say “no.”

A chicken noodle soup craving, weirdly, remains one of my more prominent memories of 2015, proof that new lifestyles are painful and whiny sometimes. Amid a week of sickness, all I wanted was chicken noodle soup. I tweeted about it, texted about it, complained about it, my, “I’m vegetarian because it’s better for the environment,” explanation giving way to, well, an ugly inability to be rational about a lifestyle change I had made months earlier. I didn’t eat the chicken noodle soup and realized that committing to things, whether it’s a plant-based diet or a half-marathon, is and shouldn’t be easy.

I found Turkish tea in Des Moines and swooned accordingly.

I found Turkish tea in Des Moines and swooned accordingly.

My Turkey enthusiasm took on new dimensions in 2015, as the Suruc and Ankara attacks, media censorship (and jailings), increasing violence between Kurds and Turks and the country’s ever-troubling refugee crisis captured the world’s attention. I saw a country I love, one that brought me unprecedented joy and peace, ravaged by division and unrest. Somehow, I finally found myself writing openly about my own Turkey experience in all its exhilarating, rule-breaking, soul-crushing early-20-something glory. Turkey, as always, remains a complicated passion for me, both personally and from an academic/newsy standpoint.

In 2015, I didn’t always eat my vegetables, I asked ridiculous “Star Wars” questions (apparently) well-known to the entire world, I ran to escape the reality of my feelings and ended up running into them, I dated the wrong guys and I ate mac-and-cheese for days on end. But I returned all my library books on time, learned how to properly cook tofu, rediscovered the joy of reading for fun, hosted my first-ever themed party and journaled 5,449 words.

On inconvenience, maybes and too many questions

If I stop writing, I fear I’ll vanish, 2015 life fading into the broader cultural era of #HotlineBling, millennial scrutiny and the introvert vs. extrovert non-debate. While I’d love to chat with you about my favorite Drake dancing memes (I mean, have you seen the tennis edition of Hotline Bling?), and while I’d love to debunk the old “Millennials are entitled and lazy” rubbish, I’m captured by the little moments that will never occupy a year-end recap or cultural lore. For me, 2015 was a battle with inconvenience; in particular, the notion that my existence is inconvenient.

Feelings are by nature inconvenient, the way they strike unexpectedly, leaving me tearing up at some seemingly minute detail. And when I’m ready to talk about something, the way audible words fail, leaving me, as usual, to furiously type one-liners in my iPhone as I walk through the skywalk on my way to who knows where, nearly barreling into walls, poles, signs, the like. The nagging conclusion that my existence is inconvenient is especially potent when I’m trying to impress someone I like a whole lot. I fear I’m texting too often, asking too many questions, trying to impart all the supposedly ‘cool’ things about me. My words become peppered with “justs,” “Sorry to bother you” and, “I was wondering if maybe,” my sense of self-esteem unconsciously negated in language.

If I stop writing, I fear I’ll vanish, and so will my feelings, exhilarating, nagging, unexpected and inconvenient alike. This post is, perhaps, a contract of sorts, one in which I pledge to quit perceiving my existence as inconvenient, quit trivializing what I have to say through “justs” and “maybes.” I’ll say, “Hi, I want to spend time with you because I like you,” and I’ll ask all the questions I damn well please.

On details, December and finding the right words

Get the name of the dog. This time, though, it wasn’t the name of the dog but a pair of earrings, rainbow earrings, gay pride earrings, that made the story. That made me cry — for the San Bernardino shooting victims, for a childhood friend’s family, for a coworker who had committed suicide and finally, for the words I still can’t find.

“Get the name of the dog.” That was code for, “Details make the story,” per my beloved Drake University journalism professor Rick Tapscott. Three days after the two-year anniversary of his sudden passing, it was a stunningly written, heart-wrenching LA Times story on the San Bernardino shooting that twisted the words on the screen as I sat at my cubicle, their swirls and swoops spinning in a teary-eyed kaleidoscope.

Amid the blur, I realized how hard it is sometimes to simply exist. The first week in December remains trying for me, forever tinted by Rick’s passing and, six days later, the tragic loss of a childhood friend’s beloved older brother, then 24 years old. There is at once nothing and everything to say, the pages of journal swallowed by page-long paragraphs.

Rick would go crazy if he saw the size of this paragraph, I think to myself, but he’d honor the editing process, too, permitting my rambling throughts to, as Anne Lammott would say, “romp” across the page.

The editing process confounds me during the time, one ravaged by mass shootings, anti-Muslim rhetoric, remembering loved ones gone and comforting those to whom they were closest. I want to rant and ramble and romp. At the other extreme, I’m tempted to be silent, knowing full well that my words — any of them, all of them — will never, ever be enough.

That’s why the LA Times piece by Alan Zarembo struck me. It was raw and beautiful, well written and painstakingly edited to capture the nuance of loss. Though I cry every time I read the story, it provided comfort as I wrote a card to my childhood friend, as I read and re-read recent journal entries, highlighting fragments of language and emotion to form this post.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find all the words I’m looking for, but this week of the year always reminds me that there’s clarity in the details. The lone tear that falls in the store when I find the right card for my friend. The folded “Rick’s Rules” reference guide I found in an old college folder this past week. The single sentence of highlighted text among a pages-long journal entry, the shaky entrance into my lifelong quest to find the right words.

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.

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 photo albums, frat houses and 13.1 miles

Readiness tastes like Hawkeye vodka. With each ping pong ball that bounced off the table and onto the concrete floor varnished with years of spilled booze, I felt more and more ready to leave. Ready to leave the game, the house, the cheap lemonade mixed with cheaper liquor, the college scene.

I had waited for the moment of grandeur. I would probably be wearing some fancy outfit at the time, and “Run The World” by Beyoncé would be playing in the background. But my post-grad readiness emerged at a “Flannel and Handles” party in the cramped basement of the PiKapp house, red solo cup of Hawkeye lemonade in my hand. Readiness is subtle like that.

In the spirit of my upcoming half-marathon, I’ve been meditating once again on readiness and how it manifests in the grown-up realm, one without the rigidity of semesters punctuated by pseudo-breaks and final-exam mayhem. Without the expected milestones, the checking off of another semester, the counting down to graduation, readiness has again taken on that innate subtlety.

Readiness looks like the latest “miracle” half-marathon plan in my running magazine, each iteration promising the PR time, the quick recovery, the invincibility. The chart is neat, orderly and, for me, stripped of the emotional element of readiness, the one that can throw me into a spell of fanatic overexertion followed by paralyzing inertia.

In eight months of training, I’ve controlled not the mileage but the emotion, pining desperately for that feeling of readiness, some celestial “You can do it!” With every additional mile, I added new views of Des Moines to my fragmented internal photo album, 801 Grand’s towering frame peeking out from behind the canopy of Water Works Park. More mileage meant more new perspectives of my city, which meant I was more ready for 13.1. Or something like that.

Eventually my mental photo book gave way to the real thing as I paused to capture my next mile, next view. Flipping through photos of the fading skyline, I wanted to feel ready. Creating tangible evidence of my progress, of the eight-month half-marathon journey, would quantify, validate and prove my readiness.

The thing I forgot about readiness is it simply happens. It happens not in filtered photos, on planned running routes or to my mild dismay, with Beyoncé’s “Run The World” playing in the background. It happens in damp frat-house basements with the sound of late-night laundry, wayward ping pong balls and “Shots! Shots! Shots! Everybody!” in the background.

After eight months, a mere 15 days of my half-marathon training remain, and I don’t feel ready. It’s OK. I’ve stopped relying on the skyline to guide my sense of progress, and I assure you I won’t indulge in a red solo cup of Hawkeye lemonade (bless my post-grad drinking standards).

But come October 18, I hope readiness tastes like a cheap, post-race Coors Light.