In Which Eliza And Ella Write Telegrams and Meet Authors

Authors acted STOP Got books STOP Downton STOP Rain STOP Books dry STOP telegrams are awesome STOP

– This evening as recorded in telegram format by Eliza

(It’s after midnight, and we’re a giggly mess in the train home. I’m still riding a high after having gotten to meet Barry Goldblatt (who knew who I was!!), David Levithan (who remembered my school) and Stephanie Perkins (who recognized me!!). It’s been a wonderful day for living, and Eliza and I may look vaguely drunk, despite only having imbibed mango nectar.)

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Numb Ella

I find myself not caring when a few of the colleges I’ve applied to have said no. Perhaps this is just because I always file away the big things that hurt, jam them into boxes, and shove them into the attic crawl-space, never to be looked at again.

“Don’t think about it, Eleanor. It’s gone,” I tell myself, “Let it go.”

And so I make myself numb and move on. The rejection, the funeral, the sickness, the disaster passes while I look on with steely eyes and my jaw set.

The hospital nurse is surprised that I’m cracking jokes while she hooks me up to a machine for yet another test. It’s been twelve hours in the emergency room, and I’ve been strangely calm the entire time. I read about the North African Front in WWII and another tank blows up while she attaches a cord to a sticker on my ankle.

My mother is shocked that I can get through a magazine spread of children dying from a suicide bomber blowing up a café. I don’t bat an eye and comment on the framing of the shot and look up aid organizations in the region. I send Doctors Without Borders five dollars and continue reading about the attack.

Pippa is disturbed that I don’t do much crying when people die. “What’s wrong with you?” she asks, and I find myself asking the same question. It’s a free pass to be inconsolable, and I never take it. I restock the napkin holder and search for more ice, instead.

The elementary school nurse is surprised that I have been stung several times by a hornet and reacted by walking into her office, holding out my arm, and announcing, “I think it was a hornet this time. Can I have some ice?” without shedding a tear or hissing in pain. I go back outside immediately.

You just disconnect, float above it all, and never, ever think about it again with an ounce of vulnerability. I let myself fly into that second place that isn’t here and lose myself in the quiet.

But I’m not entirely deadened to emotion, that certainly is clear. I save it all for the trivial, selfish stuff. I get depressed about nothing, spend time staring at walls and lying in bed. I have panic attacks and freak out about imagined gas fumes. I cry about writing essays. I am often consumed by shame and self-loathing. Cecelia’s phone can tell you just how often I reach out to her when I’m upset. And I am also one of those saps who bursts into tears during Water.org’s videos about bring wells to impoverished people or during Matthew’s proposal in Downton Abbey.

Sometimes I ask for the balance to be switched. How much more social acceptable, easier, and moral it would be to react so extravagantly to life changing things. Let’s bring it back to zero, re-calibrate, and begin again. Please, God? If not for me, for the people I affect?

But of course that never changes. My brain came wired a certain way. I was a glum child, prone to tears and insecurities, more likely to play by myself in the corner than hang out with other children. There are infinite memories of wandering around classrooms and playgrounds at recess, lost in my own thoughts, creating narratives describing what I saw or creating stories about lives I imagined living. Why chase people across the asphalt when you can sit under the slide and pretend to live on the Prairie in 1870.

There’s my school picture from when I was four: sad faced and looking sightly away from the camera, arms folded on top of a book, the page open to a picture of an owl swooping down on a mouse. The memory of being told to smile, but instead staring past the photographer to the other children running about and playing, wondering what it would be like to join in, but knowing all the same that I wouldn’t. One more day of walking in circles, thinking and waiting for something extraordinary to happen.

I tell Cecelia that I’m feeling sad right now, and I suppose I am on some level—the allure of lying down and enjoying the silence of my bedroom is tantalizing, a sure sign of something being wrong—but I feel just fine. I’ll have heard from all of the schools within a week, and then I’ll begin to plan.

For now, I’ll think of ways to decorate a dorm room and pretend that I’m the main character in the novel I’m writing, a girl who is always like the animated, foot-in-mouth, passionate about everything Ella. I’m so very tired.

Tomorrow, we’ll go on a rollicking adventure where I’ll be the bouncy, extroverted Ella I’m half of the time. We’ll be goofy and happy together. I promise.

On another note, I learned today that lucid dreaming isn’t something that everybody does. I’ve been aware that I am dreaming and capable of waking myself up or changing the dream ever since I can remember. When I talk about waking up screaming and punching, it’s because I’m sort of physically fighting my way awake, not because I’m suddenly in a panic.

Ella and the Way too Windy Bike Ride

It was scarily windy today, the type of windy that sends trashcans flying across the street and makes large branches fall on top of roofs.

Naturally, I decided that this afternoon was the opportune time for a bike ride.

One of the ways that I motivate myself to exercise is to convince myself that I need to be as physically fit as possible so that I can survive disasters by outrunning tsunamis and bears and live by myself in the woods in case I become a character in a dystopian novel. (This same fixation is what leads me to believe that it is also imperative that I become proficient in hunting with a gun or bow and arrow (An idea that my father laughed at when I mentioned it at the dinner table).)

With this in mind, I set out. For the first three miles, I felt fabulous. Sure, it was chillier than I anticipated and I had to do some creative swerving around debris, but I was just whizzing along. I don’t think I’ve ever done this route this quickly before! I thought and continued pedaling with a very smug smile on my face,  I could keep going forever! I am never going to die from a natural disaster now!

So biked further than I usually do, enjoying the crisp air and planning out an imaginary trip to Europe. Maybe I could convince my grandmother to take me, and we could visit her childhood home in Versailles! Scotland might be nice. What about Berlin? I thought.

And then I realized that I should probably turn around. I still need to bring my weight up by at least ten pounds, so my body continues to be fairly weak. Having to constantly stop for breaks on the way home is not my idea of fun. So I did an about face and began to head back.

This is when things got weird.

Now, I bike the same route around three times a week. I know the topography and my average speeds very well. And something didn’t feel right. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but something was definitely wrong.

(Some background: When I sit at a table, I usually angle myself so that my legs are over the side of the chair rather than under the table. It’s a terrible habit, I know, and one that I try to correct, but I naturally gravitate towards sitting this way. So when I’m cruising on my bike, I end up sort of doing the same thing. I obviously can’t ride a bike side-saddle (though if they make a bike like this, I’d be very interested in giving it a go), but I will push my left leg into the body of the bike and shift my weight so that I’m more diagonal.)

After a few more seconds, it became clear that my problem was that I wasn’t sitting the way I normally do for that section of the bike ride. I was still pedaling on a portion of the road that goes downhill. And this wasn’t I-want-to-see-if-I-can-break-the-sound-barrier-on-my-bike-or-at-least-beat-that-car-to-the-mailbox pedaling, I was pedaling in order to remain upright and moving forward. When the road leveled out, it got worse. I had to change gears several times and was wobbling all over the place. The wind was blowing directly in my face and was much stronger than I had thought. All of that extra speed on my way out must have been from having the wind at my back.

The fifth time I had to put my foot down out of fear of toppling over, I just got off my bike and started that awkward and humiliating trudge back to my house, trying not to bruise my legs against the bike (an unsuccessful endeavor). Cold air was working its way up the sleeves of my jacket, and I considered sitting down on the curb and waiting to see if the wind would die down in the way that a rainstorm would. But I persevered and walked about two shin-bumping miles before finally wobbling my way back home where I discovered lawn and leaf bags sitting in the middle of the street and a very large branch in our flower bed.

Then, I got the mail, learned that I didn’t get into one of the colleges I applied to, and started researching the Silk Road just for the heck of it.

The end.

Eleanor the Laundry Fairy

Eleanor the Laundry Fairy is currently hiding under fresh sheets and trying not to drift off while she hastily types out this post. Earlier, Eleanor observed that sock matching is like playing a much more disorganized version of children’s flip-cards memory game. Sock Extravaganza 2012 was a success, leaving the household down to only five singleton socks. Pushkin has offered to claim them as his own and make a nest with them under the ottoman. In other news, falling down the stairs while carrying a laundry basket is just as exciting and painful as it sounds.

Ella and Leigh Grow Up

I went to Leigh’s this afternoon to hang out before she jetted off across the country to college. She’s lived far away for over a year and a half now, and I have to admit that it feels weird when we spend time together while we’re home. Not a bad weird, mind you, there’s just a stark difference in the people we were before she left and the people we are now.

Today, Leigh and I talked about Kony 2012, the World Bank, and diversity in STEM at her university. I don’t think that any of these subjects would have come up previously, even when we were finishing up high school. Then, conversation would be about the people we knew, performing arts, or school. And earlier while we were in middle school, we would have been running about with dolls or planning our “Knight School” (Perhaps I’ll write about Knight School in a coming post, as the whole idea and its execution was, in retrospect, equally hilarious and ridiculous.). We were so innocent and juvenile in middle school, fiercely holding on to childhood when everyone else was beginning to think about boys, clothes, and makeup. We vowed to wear black on our thirteenth birthdays to protest becoming a teenager and would loudly object if anyone used a swear word or was remotely crass within our earshot.

But over time and especially in the last two years, we’ve grown up. Our voices still sound the same, Leigh’s bedroom still has the same Gone with the Wind poster near the mirror, I still don’t swear, but we’ve lost the childish impulse to yell “llama” or blather on and on about American Girl (Leigh performed regularly in their musicals for close to three years, and I got to use her discount when purchasing stuff for my dolls—a friendship perk which I embraced wholeheartedly.). We’re calmer now, more mature, able to talk about meaningful things, and that makes me happy.

There was always that part of me that worried that as I grew up, I turn into someone younger me would have hated. Maybe I would be too rebellious (though to twelve-year-old me that meant swearing, staying up past midnight, and wearing too much black—and I’ve indulged in the second almost every night for years now) or too serious. Even worse, I might lose interest in all of the things I formerly loved. But none of that happened.

Younger me would admire older Ella and Leigh. They talk just like adults and really understand the implications of current events, but still burst out laughing if they catch each other’s eye when someone has unknowingly referenced some old inside joke or humors memory. We may no longer play with dolls, but we look back on those days fondly, and I don’t think a day will come when we won’t get over excited or obsessive about books. I really look forward to the coming years, as we continue to become real adults, with the security of knowing that the things that matter will never change.

The Hunger Games

On Wednesday at one a.m. Pippa announced that she wanted to see The Hunger Games when it came out at midnight and purchased two tickets.

Unfortunately, I was not the most enthusiastic participant in the excursion, but I went none the less, armed with a book, earplugs, and an expression of distain and superiority that would rival Lady Mary Crawley’s.

I wouldn’t say that I disliked the experience—I ended up running into Leigh and hung out before the movie started—but it wasn’t something I ever would have chosen for myself. I don’t like dystopia. Fantasy to a certain extent is fine. Have fun trying to pry my fingers away from my Harry Potter books or Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but once we get into the fascist-government-controls-everything-we-must-rebel-because-of-love-and-other-good-things type of book, you can almost always find me sneaking out through the back window.

Of course, this is not to insinuate that I look down on dystopian literature as some lesser genre. Dystopia just doesn’t suit my tastes. Some of it is spectacularly written and excellent, but I’m just not a fan of the set-up. It would take a pretty exceptional book to get me past the first few chapters (think Fahrenheit 451).

However, I will do anything to get Pippa reading, so I bit the bullet, and read The Hunger Games. And yes, it was very well paced and Suzanne Collins created interesting characters. Sadly, I couldn’t make myself fall in love with the story. Kids fighting each other to the death is never going to fascinate me. All it makes me want to do is take a class in outdoor survival and shoot guns (I figure both of these skills will also be necessary in case of a zombie invasion, so I should brush up on my campfire starting and marksmanship abilities regardless).

It’s also worth noting that I am not a big fan of movie theatres. They’re always loud, the people on the screen are huge and intimidating, and you’re stuck in your seat for over two hours. I always wear ear-plugs and spend a lot of the experience feeling anxious. Even weirder, I have trouble watching (or reading, for that matter) movies in chronological order. I prefer to get about a third in, then do the last eighth, and then the eighth before that, before returning to where I left off and watching (or reading) the whole thing through. I also have to read or be told a detailed plot description before beginning a tv show or movie. In short, I am not the ideal person to take to the cinema.

However, even though I didn’t care for the story, fell asleep for about half an hour in the middle, and felt rather anxious about not being able to pause or skip forward and backwards, I have to say that the movie was very well done and that I had an okay time. I was impressed with the CGI—the control room for the Games was superb—and Jennifer Lawrence combined the right amount of vulnerability with grit in the role of Katniss. Even better, it stayed very true to the book, and I was absolutely thrilled that Suzanne Collins was both a co-screenwriter and producer. For a adaptation, it was brilliant. I wasn’t bored the way I thought I might be.

Afterwards, Pippa and I walked home through the humidity, and Pippa worried about the safety of being outdoors at close to three a.m. I momentarily sat down in the middle of a normally busy avenue because there weren’t any cars, and I’ve always thought about doing it. And then I crawled in bed and slept for a few hours, dreaming of knife fights.

In other news, I burned my finger with acid yesterday. The skin is all white and rough, and I can’t feel it when I poke it with things. However, just like the time I lost a piece of my scalp, I will not be posting a picture. You’ll just have to believe me that it looks super cool. Well, cool for a chemical burn on an index finger.

Ella the Molasses-Meandering Tortoise

I have two speeds: whirling dervish of efficiency and nervous energy or giant tortoise meandering through molasses.

And the speed is almost entirely determined by the amount of work on my plate.

In high school, I would work myself into the ground and get less than five hours of sleep for weeks on end. One more thing never seemed like much of a bother because the list was so long anyway, and one more hour of work felt like nothing. My room was neat as a pin, and I would do crazy things like climb onto the roof and clean the outside of my bedroom windows.

And then there’s Tortoise Ella. Tortoise Ella does things like stare at the wall, pile clothing in wicker baskets in the bathroom, leave mugs on the table, and spend ten minutes trying to come up with a way to avoid having to get the paper from the end of the driveway because that would require putting on an outfit that isn’t comprised of nightclothes. She also sleeps like an infant and forgets to eat lunch.

Currently, I’m at the latter speed. I’m behind on blog commenting and my room looks like my dresser and bookshelf both got the flu and regurgitated their contents all over the room. (You’ll have to excuse the vomit metaphor. Max puked this evening, and I unfortunately still have throw up on the brain.)

But tomorrow! Tomorrow, I tell you! Tomorrow, I will start to shift gears. I may be a whirling tortoise instead of dervish, but that’s okay.

In other news, Pippa is dragging me to The Hunger Games midnight premiere tomorrow. I have less than 24 hours to read the book.

In Which Ella is Fatigued

My body is tired. I don’t know why, but it is. I suppose that this is what you call fatigue, that type of exhaustion that doesn’t touch your head or make you feel bleary-eyed and confused.

All I want to do is lie down and rest. You know, do that thing where you close your eyes and slip into that second place that isn’t really sleep or awake, where you can just hang suspended for hours and hours at a time.

And I am a champion rester. I can rest for days, if needed. I can rest even if I’m feeling particularly poorly and my medication had just been changed, leaving me feeling every side effect listed on the bottle and then some other ones that didn’t make the cut.

But I’m feeling okay right now, a little slow, a little avoidant. I’m just fatigued. It’s weird, a bit concerning, but nothing bad, I suppose. I’ll get my energy back soon enough.

Teaching, Youth, Oxymorons, and Me

The sky was oddly bright today when it was time for the students to go home. Daylight Savings never fails to startle me–what a difference an hour brings.

I looked up from my desk which was littered with mostly graded tests and book reports, knickknacks confiscated from students’ desks, and a large bottle of mango lassi. If I were less exhausted, I would have crossed the room to open the blinds further and fully enjoy the late afternoon sun, but instead, I just looked out at the parking lot and pinched the bridge of my nose. 5:30 p.m. only half an hour to go before quitting time.

It’s odd to be the one at the big desk, the one sitting in the swivel chair of power, and it’s stranger still to actually be partially responsible for a classroom full of seven-year-olds. Less than a year ago, I still had my knees shoved under a student’s desk, fidgeting uncontrollably, and waving my hand in the air. My appearance hasn’t changed in the slightest, and I’m hardly any wiser, and yet the kids look at me as if I have all the answers. They don’t know that in many ways, I’m still as much a child as they are. I’m still wide-eyed, a little too naive, and the day when I think before I act is still a long time coming.

But I just smile and answer their questions. Yes, you’re supposed to underline the subject and circle the verb, and no, you’re not allowed to go to the bathroom in the middle of a lesson. I mess up, accidentally spell things in French instead of English when it’s late on a Friday and my brain is muddled beyond belief (5:30 wake ups are not my friend) or mess up the instructions for a grammar worksheet, and they forgive me instantly. We start over again until we all get it right.

They ask funny questions, “Are you married? Do you have children?” And all I can do is laugh and say “one day, but not now.” They don’t know that “one day” is farther away than they probably think. Give me half a decade, and then we’ll reassess. The rest of the staff can’t seem to guess my age. “Are you in high school yet, sweetheart? My daughter’s your age–she’s a sophomore right now. When did you graduate from college?” I just want to finish microwaving my soybeans and rice. I’m an oxymoron. A jumbo shrimp, if you will.

I’ve put my foot down as far as discipline goes–if you start skipping on the way to the bathroom, you will go back to the classroom door and repeat your journey until you can walk quickly and quietly, during silent reading, we are going to adhere to both words, and if you show anymore sass, you’re going to the principal’s office–but the fun remains. I tell stories at snack, sit with them at lunch, and let them dance to the Jackson Five for a few minutes in the afternoon. In a weird way, I feel like I’m babysitting, only instead of getting insomnia-ridden two-year-olds to bed, I’m just trying to get seven-year-olds to pay attention. Both tasks are not for the faint of heart or the impatient, but that moment when you sit back and take a big sigh of relief, knowing that you’ve just done something good and worthwhile, taken care of a child’s need, makes all of the frustration and exhaustion worth it.

We’ll make it work whether I’m fifty-eight or eighteen. I’ve got more papers to grade, more power-points to be created, and more lessons to be planned. Tomorrow will be here in a matter of minutes and unlike last year, falling asleep in the classroom would result in more than a trip to the nurse.