Tag Archives: Turkey

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 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.

Rethinking the souvenir

Tangible items have logical homes, places they belong. Ice cream in the freezer. Picture on the mantel. Tea in the mug. Where we store the physical remnants of memories and experiences remains a bit blurrier, more complicated.

RethinkingTheSouvenirWhen I got back from Turkey on Jan. 24, 2014, I immediately hid all my tickets, boarding passes, maps and brochures in a drawer with a thick rubber band corralling them. Eventually, per my lack of crafting ability, I moved them to a new home, a jar. An original feat, I know.

“I can’t craft.” “They look cool in there.” “They won’t get crumpled that way.” I explained my ‘project’ with all of the above, each a new way to deny the reality of an unnerving blend of emotions.

I felt happy, thankful, inspired, nostalgic and hurt when I thought of Turkey — a fusion that lingers in painful, magical clarity.

Sealing my emotions in a 500-milileter jar, I thought, would quiet the cacophony, leaving me to return to my everyday life in peace. Tonight for the first time, I removed the physical remnants of my Turkey experience from the jar.

Once a clear Mason mortuary, the jar now represents a realization, maybe even a revelation. Experiences worth meditating on aren’t solely those defined by unrelenting, uncompromised glee.

More often than not, glee and pain coexist in experiences worth exploring and, for me, worth writing.

While ice cream belongs in the freezer (though it rarely stays there for long, in my case), and Earl Grey tea forever belongs in my favorite owl mug, memories of Turkey don’t belong in some 500-mililiter mortuary.

They belong in my mind, where happiness, gratitude, inspiration, nostalgia and pain can roam through my life in unexpected, impactful ways.

Journaling offers release from perfectionism

For a long time I hated the idea of journaling. Pouring the meandering nature of my mind into the keyboard felt wrong. Per my copy editor brain, I felt compelled, even forced, to edit each word until it fit perfectly, never moving to the next idea until I had perfected the previous one. An agonizing, limiting writing pattern.

In July 2014, after months of trying and failing to heal from a painful experience through my typical brand of ‘perfect-or-nothing’ prose, I found my brain and keyboard working in bizarre harmony, each keeping pace with the other. With my beloved AP Stylebook stowed and my Oxford English Dictionary tab hidden, I wrote. And I didn’t worry about that errant idea, that not-quite-right verb or the comma blunder in paragraph two.

A lot of it wasn’t good. At all. But the triumph, I realized, was in relinquishing the control that had limited me for so long.

I continue to journal three or four times per week, typically in the evening, with a mug of tea nearby. This week, it’s been particularly natural, even automatic, per the upcoming anniversary of my trip to Turkey. Journaling provides a private, tangible world where I can scroll back into past problems and selves.

Tangibility fascinates me: the way we the physical and emotional link and the lingering gap between them. You know those cheap key chains you can buy 10 for $1 in any tourist hub? I love them. They provide a chance to examine how the tangible and intangible connect, how we get from one to the other involuntarily.

Journaling, I’ve realized, lends a tangibility to thought. While journaling (er, ranting) the other night on the woeful state of modern dating and my general inability to navigate it, I wrote some cringe-worthy melodramatic prose. (It’s notable that I was listening — fine, jamming out to — Taylor Swift’s “1989” at the time.) Yet, when rereading all my girlish tomfoolery, I came across a sentence I still can’t get out of my head: Pain and joy can coexist in confusing clarity, each tiptoeing around the other.

Journaling offers release from perfectionismWhen I think about Turkey, all the beautiful scenery, fantastic food and, of course, the swoon-worthy accents, I likewise feel intense and painful longing. I want to be that happy and free again.

Maybe, it’s that feeling of freedom that drew me to journaling. In Turkey, I didn’t have the right word for, well, anything, and I didn’t care. I tried to learn it anyway, picking up a random word here and there, enjoying every clumsy attempt at Turkish conversation. With each tangible word I write, journaling transports me back to that freeing mindset, an unfamiliar world in which I can wander without fear, without having it all figured out.

What Turkey taught me, a year later

What Turkey taught me, a year laterA cup of black tea sits at my side, its circular shape tossing a fuzzy shadow on my childhood dresser, a physical space that houses my past and present selves in unnerving harmony. Each item on my dresser represents one self or another, and the tea cup is no different.

I never write without it, for it reminds me of many things: my relatively newfound need for caffeine, Turkey (the country that drinks more tea than any other) and, most of all, the importance of an expanded definition of love.

A year ago today, I began packing for my Jan. 9-24 trip to Turkey (a major feat for me, given I’m typically pack in a fury the night before). While I gained new experiences and learned new things on the trip — including a taste for tea and an interest in Arabic — above all, I learned it’s possible to fall in love with a place.

Too often, the definition love is limited to familial or romantic relationships.

And when you go abroad, no one informs you that you might fall in love with a country. That it will be intoxicating, thrilling, nerve-wracking and sometimes, painful, all at once.

I think of Turkey every day, remembering the time I sipped sketchy pomegranate juice from an Istanbul street vendor’s limping cart. The time I admired the Arabic writing in the Hagia Sophia — and realized a nagging desire to read the swirly script.

Every time I find myself flipping through my Turkey photos, I remind myself that love manifests in myriad ways, and I’d be silly to trivialize or ignore them.

I love writing and its role as my go-to source of healing.

I love the Arabic language because it’s beautiful, and it reminds me not to take myself too seriously.

I love life-writing. Even as it invites me to explore others’ worlds, it subtly forces me to examine my own.

As I sip my obligatory writing-time tea, two things happen: I time-travel back to a country I love. I remember to actively expand my definition of love.

I’m grateful to Turkey for tea, baklava, Arabic and questionable fruit juice. But more than anything, I’m grateful for Turkey for reminding me every day that it’s possible to fall in love wherever I am.

Milestone commemoration a source of unanswered questions

My collegiate plunge into life writing produced an unexpected but welcome habit: unremitting reflection. Add in a life-changing trip abroad and an academic year defined by change and fear, and well, I have a lot on which to reflect.

All that fodder for lingering led me to think about the modern commemoration of the life landmark — a peculiar moment defined at once by the individual and the culture.

With a quick click on Facebook, for example, one can take a brief tour through each important “life event,” decided by the profile owner. And that’s where I begin to feel particularly unmoored: the ownership of life events.

Though I immediately placed my January 2014 trip to Turkey in the “high impact” category in my life, I worry adding it to an arbitrary “timeline” could trivialize the power and tangibility of it. If I type it into an electronic timeline, it’s available for a few hundred “friends” to imagine, conceptualize and ultimately, define for me. But I’m probably overthinking it.

Additionally, I’m baffled by the ownership of memory in relation to the tangibility of it — the tickets, the souvenirs and the leftover Turkish lira in my back pocket. They traveled from one retailer to another, one gutter to another, one pocket to another, one continent to another and finally, wound up in an Arabic-decorated trinket box in America’s Heartland. Yet, do I really own those mementos?

I can’t help but wonder if a traveler before me experienced a more poignant moment with them. But in the box they’ll remain, harboring my memory — and undoubtedly, many more I’ll never know.

Finally, I worry about my ability and more broadly, my generation’s ability, to comprehend the gravity of life’s milestones and memories. With the ability available to “delete” a “life event,” with an album requiring a click rather than a week of paper-cutting (and a paper cut or two, given my lack of crafting grace), are we missing valuable opportunities to linger on life experiences? Have we made memory commemoration too easy, too quick and frankly, too public, for it to impact us in a lasting and meaningful way?

Well, I’m going to try to find out. I plan to create a tangible project from my Turkey experience (with the guidance of my creative younger sister, of course). And no, I don’t mean adding a bad clip-art flower or “xoxo” to a photo and placing it in a glittery photo frame.

Whatever the project, I hope I’ll find a new kind of reflective experience and maybe, an epiphany the Facebook “timeline” and “like” could never provide. And maybe, I’ll even avoid the dreaded crafting paper cut.

Break yields new self, new goals

Every summer, a new self emerges. Energized by the balmy weather and endless excuses to eat ice cream, I find myself preoccupied by the promise of adventure and spontaneity. Qualities hardly associated with a lifelong color-coder and list-maker.

Still, something about this time of year practically forces me to pause and finally reflect on the year thus far. And in 2014 more than any other year, I have a lot on which to reflect.

My college graduation is seven months away. I completed my senior journalism capstone. I delved into the formerly unfamiliar digital realm of tablet production and TV field photography. I traveled to Turkey.

And for the first time in my life, I’ve stopped searching for conclusions. You know, the grand, sweeping declarations that neatly cap each experience, allowing me to move to the next. As if life unfolded on some kind of linear timeline, each phase culminating in an epiphany or nugget of wisdom. Ha.

Though I’d like to give my summer self a little credit for her newfound affinity for the impromptu, I’ve realized it’s a tough mentality to maintain. As the summer progresses, as adventures and experiences unfold, I’ll probably become impatient and discouraged when I can’t immediately discern their broader impact in my life.

This summer, though, there’s only one broader impact for which I’m searching: I’m determined to do things that scare me. And no, I don’t mean cliff-jumping or sky-diving. I’m talking about more deeply rooted fears.

Like meditation (anything that forces me to be still and reflect is terrifying). And wearing my natural hair down without extensive preparation (curly hair life). Like giving my beloved calendar app a vacation. Hey, some fears are bigger than others.

Rather than force hasty conclusions, I’ll simply strive to confront one fear a day. Some days, that’ll mean trying a new flavor of shake at Snookies. Others, it’ll mean forcing myself to be still and simply linger on the minutiae of life.

And today, it means writing this post — admitting I don’t have any neat conclusion, epiphany or nugget of wisdom to offer. I only have nagging uncertainty and oh, yeah, an ice cream cone. The usual flavor. Hey, it’s a process.

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.

Trip to Turkey promises a lesson in the power of uncertainty

I thrive on the thrill of certainty.

Though I’ve memorized the difference between “everyday” and “every day,” I check my beloved AP Stylebook each time I write it. I admit I relish the brief thrill in that moment of confirmation. And though I’ve memorized the family formula for caramel cake, I rifle through the recipe box each time I bake it in hunt of the now-tattered card.

Next week, however, I’ll embark on a big journey defined by uncertainty.

I’m traveling to Turkey Jan. 9-24 to learn about an unfamiliar culture on a new continent, and I’m uncertain what to expect. And weirdly enough, I’m fine with that (All right, I will be fine with it after I devour another piece of caramel cake).

When I wander the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, tour the Virgin Mary House in Izmir and try new food, I vow to let the uncertainty linger. While I get a thrill from confirming the amount of water in a top-notch cake recipe, I’m determined to realize the value in uncertainty.

I’m uncertain what that value will be for me, but I think I’ll begin the journey today, from my kitchen in Iowa: I’ll bake my beloved caramel cake recipe from memory.