Cecelia and Eleanor Are Traveling to Europe!

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Cecelia and I will be traveling around Europe for twelve days at the end of the month.

We will be visiting London, Paris, and the Geneva area.

Now, I’ve already spent substantial time in both London and Paris, but I know that there is so much more to explore, and I have never spent anytime in Switzerland.

And that’s where you come in, dear readers. I need some advice. Do you have any favorite spots in these areas? Any place that you think that we would enjoy seeing? Please leave any suggestions in the comments!

Expect many exciting travel posts in the coming weeks as we prepare for, go on, and return from our trip.

I also realize that I haven’t plugged my tumblr in quite a while. If you’re into that kind of thing, it’s also called Eleanor Called Ella.

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“Being Alone Together” and Eleanor’s Return to Blogging

So I took a break from blogging.

And then I took another one.

And another one.

And now I want to write about that and a whole lot of other things, mainly how blogging everyday impacts my life and how it felt abandoning it for a while.

So here it goes:

I recently read an article in The New York Times called The Flight From Conversation. It was all about how people today, especially young people, have trouble being alone or having face-to-face social interactions. The journalist, Sherry Turkle, characterized it as needing to be “alone together” and wanting to have complete control over where and when we have our social interactions.

And I identified with this up to a point. While I am a huge fan of and am entirely comfortable with having a proper conversation in real life and also spend a lot of time in true solitude without the distraction of mobile devices, I do enjoy being “alone together.” I love it, in fact. And being “alone together” is exactly what blogging has been to me.

Here, I get to choose the time and place of the interaction, say what I want to without being interrupted, and then wait to see if anyone responds. I don’t have to get out of bed  or make myself presentable to do it. I could be typing this in a bathing suit while wearing my National Zoo chimpanzee mask, and you wouldn’t even know. (For the record, I am not, and you’ll see the proof in a little while.)

And you, dear reader, get to do the same. You get to choose if, when, and in what emotional and physical state you read my words. Then, if you do decide to turn it into a conversation by commenting, both of us can refuse or choose to respond further. It’s easy when we can both hide behind so many levels of defenses, and the scared, shy, misunderstood part of me loves that protection.

Of course, the real reason why I blog is because I love the written word. I like the feeling of writing, putting down words on the screen or page that fit the rhythm of my thoughts. It’s incredibly calming, and when I don’t feel like everything I produce is worthy of litter box liner, it makes me happy. Writing is love and safety and something that belongs entirely to me. I adore the feeling of mine.

When I took my blogging vacation, I did it out of sheer exhaustion. I was/am depressed and the energy of keeping up with writing good daily posts was becoming more than I could handle. I was plain-old burned out. The me a few days ago’s mind boggles at the fact that I was blogging daily while going through last year’s endless medication drama. Apparently, I was better at blogging while heavily drugged. Go figure. Those floating sensations and frequent sedation must really get the creative juices flowing.

I have to admit that I was feeling really fed up with my writing in general. Nothing was coming out the way I wanted it to, and I felt like I was pursuing an utterly pointless dream. And in the way that self-destructive thoughts go, all of those negative writing thoughts snowballed to the point where I didn’t even want to think about replying to emails. Instead, I read about ten books in seven days, took way too many naps, and tried to avoid leaving the house.

And here’s what I found while I was on that writing break: I was entirely alone. I had all of these ideas, narratives, opinions, jokes floating around in my head, and they just became entirely ephemeral. Because I wasn’t keeping a record, I forgot them quickly, and without the record keeping of the blog, the days tended to blend together into a never-ending march of dull-grey solitude. No one else knew about the significant things I thought or did because I didn’t share them. Life was silent.

At times, I loved that silence and the solitude. It was numbing, emptying, indulgent. I got to be totally in love with my depression. I suck. I am a failure. I am so utterly, hopelessly misunderstood. I could repeat these thoughts on loop without anyone telling me to snap out of it or noticing how ridiculous it looked when I put down on paper. I got to be worthless, and in a way that was just wonderful. Depression loves permission to control, and I handed over the keys, climbed into the passenger seat, and said, “drive.”

I was guilty for abandoning the blog. So terribly guilty. And the guilt just got worse the longer I refused to write. My imperfections were glaring, and I couldn’t even bring myself to open my account to respond to comments. I spent one day lying in bed with all of the lights off.

But now I’m back.

Hello again.

Let’s get reacquainted.

Did you get a haircut? Is that a new shirt?

Whatever it is, you look especially nice today.

I’m ready to get back into the rhythm of paying close attention to the world and always being mindful that I need to collect something worthy of sharing with the internet every night. I want to resume keeping a public record of my life. And I want to be alone together again.

And remember that time when I said that I would prove to you that I wasn’t typing this  in a bathing suit while wearing my National Zoo chimpanzee mask? Well, here’s a picture of me taken a few minutes ago, though my laptop is out of the shot.

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And yes, sometimes I hang out in the bathtub while not taking a bath. I just really like the way my bathroom looks and the way it feels to be in a very small room with the door closed.

Also, I do know that I have a lot of different shampoos, etc. for one person. I kind of end up collecting them. There are four sets in there right now.

Hawaii Photographs

My father arrived home from Hawaii today without his luggage (thanks for that, United!) but with a camera full of hundreds of pictures. I asked him to pull a few together–some highlights from his trip with my mom–and these are the ones he selected.

Ella and The Red Suitcase

So you know how I often like to end a post by writing “in other news” and then throwing in some odd tidbit from my life? Well, tonight I decided to begin my blog post writing by putting it out there that I dislike gardening and then an hour later, I ended up with a full post bemoaning the injustice of having dirt under your fingernails and what a waste of water and energy it is to keep a proper lawn.

But now isn’t the time for griping. Now, is the time for vacation storytelling. And so we begin.

And we begin not at the real beginning but with Monday morning when one of my doctors was shocked by the number of bruises on my legs. This was the result of The Red Suitcase.

Now, I love The Red Suitcase. It has a garment bag built into it for dresses, shirts, blazers, etc, and its wheels are really unrivaled. However, when you are traveling like me, have week arms, and pack ten books (most of which were hardcovers) and a lot of electronics that take up more space than your clothes, you are going to struggle to lug it everywhere. I swear I didn’t overpack, either. I wore everything in my bag, read all of the books, and used all of the electronics, it was just way too heavy.

I take public transportation in the city a lot, and I know that there are a lot of stairs, but as someone who is young and reasonably fit, the prevalence of stairs has never appeared to be a potential problem. That is, until I had to lug The Red Suitcase with me all the way from home to the train station. And let me tell you, when you are carrying a very heavy bag, staircases seem to go on forever.

We went down into the subway, transfered lines three times, into the train station, down to the train track, down off of the station platform into the parking lot, then up the front steps, back down the front steps, up the steps at the station, down the steps from the track, up the steps into the station, down the front steps of the station, up the steps to Cecelia’s dorm room, etc. I’m sure you get the picture.

I didn’t want to hurt the handle or the contents by dragging the bag, so I kind of picked it up by the side-handle and tried to use one side of my body to support The Red Suitcase as I climbed the stairs. And you can see exactly where it was resting each time I carried it. My right side is like an over-ripe banana.

But other than that, the transportation section of my vacation was nice. I like riding on trains. On the long ride out to my grandmother’s, I wrote in my notebook about how odd it must be a conductor, to get to travel to all of these cities everyday, but never get out and explore. And even though you’re traveling in and out of so many stations, there’s a good chance that the only part you’ve seen of them is their underbelly, the dark, damp tunnels running underneath the grand, stone concourses so often the sets of movies and old photographs. Coming back from visiting Cecelia at Yale, I finished up Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Top of the Stairs and caught glimpses of the Sound out of the window. Two women in saris ate curry and the whole car smelled wonderful.

And then, of course, there was the wonderful feeling of relaxation every time I put my suitcase down in the room I was staying in and then finally home. I’m here. I am the proverbial snail, now able to shed its shell and stop lugging my home around with me. Is there anything more wonderful than that feeling of relief?

In other news, while writing this post, my laptop overbalanced on my knees and the top edge of the screen whacked me very hard against the bridge of my nose, giving me a very cute and swollen red bump. Never say that blogging isn’t dangerous.

In other, other news, for the past half hour, Maxwell has been (literally) unconsciously pushing me out of bed. He keeps inching closer in his sleep, so that I have to move over to have space to write, only to have him move even closer. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to get up and walk around the other side of the bed or wake him up and deal with the guilt of disrupting his sleep. Eleanor Called Ella really is your one stop for Eleanor and Maxwell sleeping drama.

In Which Ella Apparently Only Likes to Photograph Trees

I figure a good way of beginning to talk about my trip would be to share some pictures.

Ideally, I’d have loads of interesting ones: some of buildings at Yale, one of me making some sort of goofy face, and plenty of shots from all of the walks I took. Unfortunately, that’s not how things turned out. My parents took one camera to Hawaii and Pippa took the other to prom, so I was left with the one on my iPhone. As a result, my selection of photographs is both meager and mostly shots of flowering trees, as Cecelia and George probably don’t want me posting all of my shots of them.

But before we get to pictures of springtime in New England, enjoy a picture of the awesome lemon sorbet I ate at an Italian restaurant.

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On Returning Home and Storytelling

Mom came home from Hawaii today, and I ate slices of sweet dried mango on the green couch while she told me about hiking a trail slick with red mud and snorkeling with a turtle. She brought home peices of sea glass in a sandwich bags and brightly colored snail shells the size of a single clove.

I also gave her a token from my less exotic travels–a rather broken up slice of carrot cake I purchased at her favorite bakery and restaurant, Claire’s Cornecopia. When they were attending Yale, my father had to set a time limit for how long she could savor her piece of cake, otherwise they’d be there for hours. Tonight, she made the cake last through three 20-minute TED Talks, and I promised to buy her a whole cake for their twenty-fifth anniversary in August. She smiled.

When I saw her walking up the front path, I had the funny urge to go running out of the door and leap on her, the way I did when I was three and thrilled to get to see her for a few hours before I went to bed or left for school. But eighteen is too old for leaping into your mother’s arms, no matter how light you are. Instead, I helped her lug her bags inside and asked her about her trip. She started her stories several sentences in, leaving me to wonder who on earth Patty was and why my father momentarily thought he had broken his back. It’s like skipping the first chapter of a book because it looks boring, only to find out that you don’t understand the interesting parts.

I thought about my blog, my electronic storytelling, and got ready to begin posting again, internet access restored after a week of almost no connection. I missed reading Shell’s, Libby’s, and all of my other favorite blogs. I missed sharing thoughts and stories with my mostly anonymous readers. I missed the joy and intellectual engagement of TED Talks, mental_floss, and The New York Times. I missed Humans of New York and perusing artist’s websites. And I missed things that weren’t the internet, like lying in my bed in those early evening hours when the sun light shines through the blinds and creates horizontal lines of light and shadow across my body. I missed the comfort and stability of knowing where everything is and living out of a dresser and closet, instead of a large red suitcase.

And now I’m back home with all of those things. We’re together again and happy. My mother is putting the house back in order, and Max is lying beside me in bed, annoyed that I’m tapping away on the computer and not curled up with him. Pippa went to her prom last night, and my father is still doing something important and science-y in Hawaii. We’re all bursting with things to share, and I’m excited to share my stories with you tomorrow and the next day and the next. Infinite storytelling!

Ella, Tee Shirts, and Holden Caulfield

I am not the sort of person who normally wears boxy tee shirts or shirts with words on them–I don’t even own many shirts with patterns–but I do have an extreme weakness for shirts with literary references or clever jokes. The last time Pippa and I were at The Strand, she physically dragged me away from the shirt selection and this was done after I had already selected a The Great Gatsby sweatshirt to buy for her.

I am currently sleeping in a metal_floss tee shirt that says, “Hyperbole is the Best Thing Ever!”

Then, this afternoon I discovered that DFTBA Records is selling this shirt:

Catcher in the Rye is one of my favorite books by far, to the point where I once told my mom, while heavily doped up on medication, that I was going to name my children Holden and Gatsby, even if they were girls.

Of course, I don’t *need* this shirt, but I certainly predict that one will be in my possession within the next few months.

In Which Ella Wants to Kill a Groundhog and Has an Infant for a Cat

I was woken up in my least favorite way at four a.m. by screaming. It was not the most pleasant way to start the day.

Max, our self-appointed alpha cat, does this thing where he transforms from a very cuddly sweet kitty to a puffed-up, screaming fur ball of teeth and claws whenever he sees something that looks vaguely alive on the back deck. And I am nearly always the person sent in to diffuse the situation. My arms bear witness to Max’s momentary lapses in sanity.

But because it was four a.m. and I was feeling rather foggy, I put a sweatshirt (which ended up being backwards because I hadn’t bothered to turn on the light), stumbled down the stairs, wrapped Max in a towel, and started pacing around the hall, begging him to calm down so that I could go back to sleep. He ended up falling asleep on my stomach after around twenty minutes, and I dozed off shortly after, only to wake up two more times to repeat the whole cycle. It was like I have an infant for a cat.

This afternoon, I seriously debated buying a gun and shooting the groundhog that’s taken up residence in our backyard and has been the instigator for all of Max’s screaming fits. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that it’s illegal to shoot animals in your backyard, and I don’t know the first thing about firing guns. Instead, I made my dad promise to take me to a shooting range so that I could learn and found a website that sells humane traps for large vermin. Groundhog, your days are numbered, my friend.

Things I Know to Be True: The Phone Rule

I am, without a doubt, a talking on the phone master.

And I’m not talking about my ability to press buttons, something I learned how to do when I was four and my mother spent the afternoon training me how to place a call. (Once again, I am sorry, random people in D.C. who I accidentally called and promptly hung up on in a panic.)

I mean that I am very good at clamping a slowly warming phone between my shoulder and ear and talking for eons.

I’ve tried explaining this before to my mother, who looked at me as if I was touched in the head, but I’ve always felt like when you talk on the phone, you enter this other place. The only sense you get to share with the other person is hearing. So much could be going on that you’re not aware of, but it doesn’t matter because it isn’t part of the shared interaction.

You don’t have to worry about looking as professional as possible when doing work. In fact, I usually call people while I’m lying down in my bed. And if you’re telling or listening to something difficult from a friend, you don’t have to worry about body language or facial expressions–all that exists is the words. And then, there’s the tremendously fun aspect of trying to describe something so that the other person can imagine what it would be like to experience it.

Perhaps it’s because I love reading and writing so much, where you don’t get anything more than the author’s descriptions and explanations the same way you only hear the other person’a words on the other end of the line. I love the freedom of interpretation and the way you have to be both careful and creative with your word choice. It’s like improv writing, if you will.

And maybe it’s because that other place feels safer and people often let their guard down more, particularly if it’s nighttime and you’re both tired. I love the way that the phone strips away those barriers. No one can see you fidget, turn red, or tear up. It’s okay to be visibly emotional, because the other person can’t tell. Just say it.

I suppose that I’m only thinking of this now because I just spent over an hour on the phone with George and another hour before dinner with my aunt. But it’s true. The other place is close to the top of the list of The Things Eleanor Knows to be True About Her World, right under “vulnerability is the key to happiness” and above “you will always feel weirdly calm after sobbing.”