Explorations in the World of Ella’s Nutrition

Winning the reader-selected topic poll with an impressive 33.33% of the vote, I thought I’d talk about nutrition and body image today. However, instead of focussing on my own nutrition and body image, I thought I’d talk about some of my second-grade students and how the girls are already beginning to perceive themselves as fat and unattractive.

I was standing in the hall today, while the students were lining up to go to the bathroom, and one of the little girls came up to me and gave me a hug. It was incredibly sweet, and as I untangled her arms and sent her back to her place in line she said, “Wow. You’re so skinny. I wish I were thin like you. You ate a huge bowl of soup at lunch, and you’re still soooooooo skinny.”

(Necessary background information: I am currently around five foot four and around 104 pounds. In short, I am underweight and probably look it.)

I was shocked. Sure, I get bizarre questions and comments from kids all day long (Today, one of the boys wanted to know if the carved wooden monkey bead on my necklace was a real monkey that I had trained to stay still, and another boy is convinced that jalapenos don’t actually exist.), but I’ve never heard anything like this. It certainly would have been easy to laugh it off with a “thank you, that’s very sweet,” but I do not want to become another member of society telling these girls that in order to feel good about yourself, you have to be underweight.

While I stood there trying to come up with an appropriate response, other girls started to chime in as well, making comments about the small size of my waist and wrists. If I wasn’t teaching second-graders, I would have loved to be able to have a frank talk with the girls about body image, but seven-year-olds aren’t ready for that. Instead, I pointed out that my mother is also quite thin and that metabolism and size are often hereditary. I told them about my frequent bike-rides, and pointed out that while I did eat a lot of split pea soup at lunch, it was low in sodium, organic, and homemade. My entire lunch was well below four hundred calories.

I tried to emphasize that being thin doesn’t mean that you are healthy and that you do not need to worry about being thin while you’re seven. I have absolutely no idea if any of it sank in, but I’m glad that I did not allow myself to become part of the silent majority that urges girls to be thinner, thinner, thinner and makes them feel bad about themselves if they don’t look like the ideal girl that the media portrays.

I know that it is impossible for a world to exist where people never worry about body image, but I do know that if whenever possible we all take a stand and model healthy body-image and food relationships, we can create a world where I don’t have seven-year-old students obsessing about their weight. As a still recovering anorexic who started down that path when I was eight (if you want my anorexia story, click here), I know that it is imperative for girls (and boys) to have healthy role-models in their lives if they want to prevent themselves from falling down the rabbit-hole of eating disorders.

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/. I’d love for you to follow me on my trek into the wilds of tumblr.

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Ella Writes

I’m working on a new project, and I thought that since people have requested more fiction in 2012, I’d post the first few hundred words here. I’d love to know what you think.

I am standing at the edge of the pond. It’s midnight, and I am absolutely naked. The moon is waning, a crescent that seems as small as the white of my fingernail, hardly bright enough to be reflected off of the water. I’m not illuminated enough for anyone to see me.

My mother would call tonight “jacket weather,” just cool enough that I would be shivering just in my tee shirt and too hot in a coat. But as I stand there naked and ankle-deep in the water, feet sucked into the mud, it feels even colder, and the breeze touches me in places that should be covered up. I don’t have a bathing suit to wear.

I feel as if each gust of wind that wraps itself around me knows all of my secrets. It knows about December fourteenth, and that it is T minus 61 days. For a moment, I worry that as it whisks along, it will share all of my private thoughts and plans. But I reassure myself that the air is just air, a mixture of a thousand million trillion elements that thankfully lack the ability to speak words, even if the rustle of the tree branches behind me does sound a little bit like my classmates softly talking about last Friday’s party and who got drunk and hooked up with whom. I can’t help glancing back. I’m still alone.

George is waiting for me in the car, so I can’t stand naked on the shore forever. I take another step until the water hits mid-calf, frigid and biting. The pond may have been quite warm in August and even early September, but it’s October 1st now, and no sane person would attempt to go swimming. But I have to do this. Tonight I need to go in deep enough that it will cover my head when I kneel or sit down on the bottom. I only have 61 days left to prepare.

I can’t feel my toes at all now and my legs suddenly feel very hot. I try to run forward until I’m in up to my waist. The water pulls at me, and I move as if I have weights strapped to my legs. But then the water is deep enough, and I sink down. I feel my hair rise up as I try to get as close as I can to the muddy bottom, and I have to dig my hands into the mud to prevent my all too buoyant body from floating up as well. I hold my breath and count until my lungs and throat burn and my head throbs. Seventy.

I jump back up, spitting water and gasping for air. I am done. I did it.

Now that this new layout has been around for close to five days, please participate in the poll or leave your opinion of the design in the comments. I’m worried that the vintage wallpaper makes the blog look like a sheet of white paper on the wall of a powder room.

The reader-selected post will be up tomorrow. Feel free to vote in that poll as well.

In Which Ella Attends SCBWI: Part One

If I were not so exhausted, this post would go one for hundreds more words as I gushed about how amazing the Society of Children’s Books Authors and Illustrators New York Winter Conference has been, how many kind and wonderful people I’ve met, and the awesome speeches and breakout sessions I’ve attended, but I feel like I could fall asleep even if I were curled up on a sharp and ragged boulder, so we’ll save the longer post for Monday, and do the reader-selected post on Tuesday.

But I will share some quick snapshots before I crawl off to my boulder to catch a few hours rest.

I wore my leopard print flats so that nothing would go wrong.

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And then I was surrounded by sparrows who were apparently confused about the weather. For a few minutes, I felt like the bird woman in Mary Poppins. It was lovely.

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Ella Eats a Face at Starbucks

Amid today’s chaos I managed to find this adorable smiley face in a very berry loaf at Starbucks. Naturally, I bought it. Like most of the baked goods from Starbucks, it looked better than it tasted. However, how many of you can say that you ate a face made out of berries today?

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In Which Ella Prepares for the NYC Winter SCBWI Conference

Tomorrow, I attend the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference in New York City. I’m both excited and tremendously nervous.

I may be eighteen, but even if I’m dressed up, I look younger. A year ago, I got carded for a PG-13 movie, and I really do not want people to write me off because I look too young.

I know that I don’t have the years of experience that most of people attending the conference do, but I am not a clueless idiot. I know a lot about the industry. I read author’s, agent’s, editor’s, and publisher’s blogs daily; I attend many, many author events; I keep a daily blog; and I’m spending an entire gap year writing a novel. I can assure you that this is not some fleeting interest. Being part of the publishing industry, hopefully as an author, is what I want to do with my life, and going to conferences like these and writing seriously is the way to do it.

And then, of course, there is the constant worry of not being good enough. How can I, lowly Eleanor, think that I am a good writer, that I am worthy of being read, let alone publication. The fear of inadequacy is always lingering, even on days when I’m pleased with what I produce. But such is life. Even people working on an assembly line must surely worry about the quality of their work. Anything anyone produces is going to affect someone else, and aren’t we all even marginally scared of being perceived as a fool?

But more than all of those anxieties, I’m excited. I’ll get to spend two days entirely surrounded by other writers and members of the industry. I’ll be completely submerged in literature, just the way I like it. I’ll have the opportunity to learn new things, listen to speakers I admire, and connect with people. I honestly can’t wait. These next two days should be a blast!

In other news, I acted like a real adult today. I sat down at a desk for over twelve hours to do work, rather than curling up in bed with my laptop to write. I even hauled myself all the way to the pharmacy and grocery store even though I didn’t want to and it was raining.

Also in other news, take a look at this fancy new layout! Additionally, you can now contact me by clicking on the “Contact Ella” page underneath the header. I’d love to hear about what you think of the new look and any other comments you have on the blog! I will soon be updating the About page with a more detailed and current bio.

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/. I’d love for you to follow me on my trek into the wilds of tumblr.

Ella and the Misery of Normal Sleeping Hours

This week’s project has been to get up early, and I must say that it’s got me confused.

First of all, who put all of this extra time in the morning? Is breakfast really supposed to be eaten five hours before noon? What about lunch? Isn’t that supposed to be eaten at three in the afternoon?

And what’s the deal with needing to go to bed before midnight? I mean, who does that? How am I supposed to spend hours in my room, hunched over my laptop, typing if I have to go to bed at ten? This is insanity!

On a much more serious note, it’s been very difficult to get back to a regular sleeping schedule. For the past six months, I’ve been blessed with a very flexible schedule that allows me to become the nocturnal creature that I love. It’s been completely acceptable to stay up until four or five, sleep until noon, and take a cat nap from five to six in the evening.

Unfortunately, the real world does not operate on this marvelous schedule. They clearly don’t love the quiet and darkness of night the way I do. It’s such a pity that its magic doesn’t call to it, alluring and exciting. They don’t love the feel of being the only one awake in the world. They laugh when I tell them that they can’t go to bed because something exciting is going to happen! “Ella, it’s nighttime,” they’ll say, “Nothing happens at three a.m.” But they don’t know the wonder of the dark, and I’d rather not share it, anyway. After midnight until five a.m. is my time.

So join me on another night of climbing into bed absurdly early and dragging myself back out of bed at an hour that I would normally be just falling asleep. It’ll be fun, and I promise not to hog the pillows. Max can attest to my ability to remain stock still while asleep.

This week’s reader-selected post was “How to Shut Up a Bully in French Class.” If you click on the link, you can vote in the poll at the bottom of the post for the topic you’d like to read about next week.

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/. I’d love for you to follow me on my trek into the wilds of tumblr.

Young Ella and the Unfortunate Outfit

I recently discovered this picture of me from elementary school.

And I have to wonder, why on earth did I think that this was a good idea? My mother’s sneakers, my soccer socks and shorts, various bizarre necklaces, a vintage negligee*, pink feather boa, literal rose-tinted glasses, and blue bow clip. I have memories of actually wearing this to school and running around at recess trying not to trip over the toes of the too big shoes.

Though I must admit that as crazy as this outfit was, I’m very blessed to have parents who were okay with me wearing it out of the house. It was rare that I was ever constricted creatively, and it’s always fun to look back at the insane things I managed to get myself into.

*Thanks to my grandmother and great-grandmother, I have a lot of (very conservative–we’re talking ones that go down to your toes) negligees from the early twentieth century. They make excellent wall art or fit wonderfully in Pippa’s closet where I occasionally drag them out and wonder what to do with them. I have determined that whatever I did in that photograph is not a good look.

How to Shut Up a Bully in French Class

The reader selected post for last week was a tie between “How to Shut Up a Bully in French Class” and “Explorations in the World of Ella’s Nutrition.” And as I’ve spent a portion of this evening discussing classroom dynamics with my mother, I’m going to write about the former.

Freshman year of high school was terrifying. I began the year with few friends in my classes, and the high school was huge–two buildings and close to two thousand students. I was absolutely adrift. I don’t think I had any friends over at my house until about March, and if it weren’t for meeting Cecelia and hanging by Tal at lunch and Audrey in English and History, I would have turned into even more of a wallflower. My life revolved around reading in my bedroom and observing other people. It was pathetic and extremely depressing.

Ella at fourteen.

What I probably looked like 90% of the time, minus the billowing flannel nightgown.

Of course, none of this is to say that my life remained this way for the rest of high school. The next year, everything did an almost a complete 180° shift, and I was constantly busy and surrounded by friends.

But for that first year, I was downright miserable, and it showed, the way that those things often do. It wasn’t that I cried or walked around looking distraught, I was just wide-eyed, quiet, and very timid–a perfect combination for being bullied.

French class was the worst. I knew no one, there was extreme familial pressure to do well (We’re French for pity’s sake, Ella! You should be able to communicate with your grandmother and great-aunts by now!), and my fear of making mistakes was amplified tremendously. I was not going to be the person who made themselves look ridiculous in front of the entire class. And of course, the exact opposite was what went down.

There was a senior boy still stuck in French II, who despite not being particularly smart, had a mean streak a mile wide and managed to extremely intimidate me by flippantly breaking rules and constantly talking about being on the varsity wrestling team.

You should never doubt the fear that a letterman jacket with the words “Varsity Wrestling” can instill in a freshman girl. Some part of me was sure that if I did anything to offend him, I would be find myself with both arms pinned
behind my back and my face smashed into the linoleum. And having once slammed my face into a concrete curb while being chased by a vicious goose (true story), I was already intimately aware of the sensation of hitting your head on something hard enough to bruise your brain and nearly fracture your skull.

So a few weeks into the class, this kid (who amusingly shares a name with an ex-boyfriend, though the similarities stop there), discovered that I was rather vulnerable and very worried about grades.

He may have been seated all the way across the classroom, but he managed to find out what I scored on everything from homework to the midterm and mocked me for it. The teasing got worse whenever I had to give a presentation or do anything that required me to speak in front of the class. But having been heavily bullied in elementary school, I tried to do what I did then and just turned the other cheek. I figured that if I ignored him long enough, he’d give up.

Unfortunately, turning the other cheek does not work in all cases of bullying. I just had to ride out large portions of elementary school, and this charming boy was making it look like I was going to have to spend French class the same way. You can spend all the time in the world thinking about Jesus, the Scriptures, and the importance of forgiveness. You can even pray quietly in class for God to grant you the ability to forgive the bully and for the tormenting to stop, but it’s pretty rare that the bullying will entirely stop unless you also take some form of assertive action.

One day in the spring, I was staring our of the window thinking about the Confession of Sin while our teacher passed back our latest test. When my teacher dropped mine on my desk, I noticed that I had earned a 93%, despite all of the time I had spent studying. I had been worrying about the oral section for days, and seeing that I had, in fact, not done very well on that section was frustrating and very discouraging. I knew at that point that I was going to be spending the summer in France studying at a university and living with a host family. My current speaking skills needed quite a bit of improvement. Close to six weeks alone in a country where I didn’t speak the language was already stressing me out. So I tugged on my hair, bit my lip, and tried very hard not to cry.

At this point, the boy had already noticed not only my grade, but also that I was close to crying. But as he began to mock my reaction, I realized something: I have a high A average in this class, I thought, He is nearly failing it for a third time. Putting aside the morals of bullying, he just doesn’t have the authority from which to criticize my grades. And I knew what I needed to do.

I looked up, tucked my hair back behind my ear, and said in a voice loud enough to be heard by him and most of the class, but still be ignored by the teacher, “Hey, at least I get ninety-threes. When was the last time you even got close to an A?”

A few people made ooooh’s and laughed, but he just opened and shut his mouth like an unintelligent goldfish. I turned back to my test and neatly filed it away in my binder, smiling a little at my jab. Score one for Ella.

And while I wish that I could say that he never did anything to me again, that would be a lie. But the teasing certainly did decrease, and I got better at standing up for myself.

Years later, I’ve continued to think about the incident–my joy to have come up with my own stinging retaliation, his shock, and the bullying before and after–and I must admit that I actually feel bad for him. Being a senior in a room full of freshman and sophomores must be rough, particularly if you are very close to failing the course. You can’t graduate without fulfilling your foreign language requirements, and I’m sure he was worried about not being able to leave in June. No one wants to be in high school forever, and I also know that when I feel stressed and ashamed, I don’t always act with grace.

This is not to say that I’m okay with what he did–hurting people, no matter how you are feeling is wrong and deplorable–but I understand how he must have felt. No one ever acts without a motivation, and that motivation is almost always emotion-based. I hope that my response to his bullying didn’t further harm his own self-esteem, and I wonder now if it would have been better to just continue turning the other cheek, even if what he said upset me. But such is the way of the past and former choices–what happened happened, and getting stuck debating what could have been is never productive.

Here’s the poll for next week’s post.

Rules: You can only vote once and select up to four choices before hitting “vote.” Unfortunately, if you hit “vote” without selecting multiple options, you will be unable to go back and select other choices as well. I’m sorry, but that’s the way the poll website runs. Additionally, when I did have unlimited voting on previous polls, some people used it to vote upwards of eighty times for their favorite. And as I’d prefer for this blog to run as fairly and democratically as possible, rules have become a necessity.

Happy voting!

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/. I’d love for you to follow me on my trek into the wilds of tumblr.

Ella Surrounded By Books

I have always lived surrounded by books.

As a child, it was normal to check out at least twenty titles a month from the library and receive copious amounts of literature on holidays and birthdays. I assumed that it was common for people to constantly run out of shelf space and have long discussions about where to put new bookcases. The first thing we thought about while renovating was where we were going to put new shelves. Books have always mattered intensely to my family, and I thought that everyone else felt the same way.

Of course, by the time that I was school-age, it became quite obvious that the rest of the world did not operate as a mirror image to my home life. Some people don’t know what lentils are or prefer to spend large amounts of time watching television. We all make different choices about how to spend our free time that–as long as no one is being hurt–are all equally valid. But I still can’t shake my surprise that other people don’t care for books the way I do.

Last year, I read easily over a hundred books for school and pleasure. It wasn’t hard, and I still feel like I should have read more. I could have spent a lot less time on tumblr and watching The Office. I still feel like I have a huge book debt left over from high school when I was too busy to read over forty books a year.

Besides, I like to use books to sort of spy on people. When I’m at someone’s house, I love reading the titles of books they have lying about. You can learn quite a bit about someone from what they’re reading. (i.e. Audrey’s bookshelf is littered with books about the Middle East, a testament to her passion for social activism and human rights, and works from the Beat Generation, reflecting her interest in counterculture.) It’s a wonderful way to gain insight into their lives. Free time is limited, and people rarely read something they don’t have any form of connection to. The books we read are extensions of ourselves and our interests.

My bookshelves are stuffed, books cram my desk and bedside table and sit on the floor in rather precarious towers. I own fat tomes about American history and silly YA romances. I have Salinger’s complete works inches from my pillow, and I keep a few books in bed with me. (I’ve woken up with weird crease marks on my face too many times to count.) Test prep books and heavily annotated school texts sit in two fat stacks in a corner, banished as far away as the room’s perimeter will allow. If you were to look at the hundreds of titles in my room, you’d have a fair understanding of my personality and interests without ever meeting me.

I simply can’t imagine a life without books.

Day two of being sick draws to close. I think I managed to bruise my nose by hitting my face on a cabinet.

Here’s a third of my books that are currently without a home in a bookshelf. This is the stack of books I’ve purchased or been given in the past six months. I’ve read all of them.

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I Wonder If I Can Make the Tissue Box Fly Across the Room so I Don’t Have to Get Out of Bed

There are times when life goes according to plan, and there are times when it does not. Today, unfortunately, seems to be falling into the latter category. Being sick does not normally lens itself to productivity, and today is no exception to this rule.

As most people don’t enjoy extensive melodramatic missives about how poorly someone is feeling, I will spare you of the details. Tomorrow, I’ll write the reader-selected post, which looks like it will be about food.

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/.

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