Nothing in This World is Harder Than Speaking the Truth

“Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth and nothing is easier than flattery.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment

I don’t know about flattery being the easiest thing to say–I’d argue for evasion–but the truth? The truth is near impossible.

Mostly, you just don’t have the nerve to say it. You’re too caught up in fulfilling expectations and becoming your imagined self to risk the vulnerability. Shame and humiliation turn something that was once simple, something possibly understandable, something that ought to be revealed and dealt with into a giant impasse.

And the longer you wait, the easier it becomes to dance around admission. You’re skilled with excuses, white lies, and avoidance. But now it’s snowballed and somehow managed to get even bigger than before. You carry it around with you like an emotional tumor that’s always weighing on you, messing with your thoughts.

If you ever manage to screw your courage to the sticking point and spit it out, maybe because you got tired of the pain or because it was the lesser of two evils, you know the way that the truth catches in your throat, somewhere between your vocal cords and tongue; you know how it’s spoken slowly, haltingly, carefully and then all at once in a deluge of words and fear and shame; you know the scary moment before the other person responds, when you stand naked before them, waiting to see if the world is going to collapse around your feet; and you know the conclusion when the judgement is rendered and you are free to breath in gulps of wonder and relief or be buried under loathing, disappointment, and shame.

The truth can be so painful, like you’re dying while you’re alive, and I think that toying with saying it is the worst sort of emotional sickness to suffer.

In other words, tomorrow is going to be brutish. But I’m ready. Bring it on.

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Ella and the Silly/Serious Dialectic

There are times when I feel very much like eighteen, and then there are times where I feel as young as ever. Take this evening for example.

During dinner we chat about the presidential election, children’s book authors, my lunch with Sadie, and British peerage, and my father remarks that he’s very impressed by how much I’ve matured in the past three years. I thank him and feel slightly smug.

However, five minutes later I’m lying on the floor, teasing the cat with a feather, and trying to imitate how a sick dog would whine. Then, the phone rings, and I take off running to answer it, hunched over, making zooming noises, with my arms out like Superman. I almost immediately trip over the edge of the carpet and smack my chin against a chair. It’s Pippa, and I inform her in an overly giddy voice that I have just sent her seven or so links to Downton Abbey stills, along with a link to several interviews with the cast.

Phone call complete, I go back to discussing regional accents and British architecture with my parents until eleven when I decide to go finish reading The New York Times Sunday Magazine and prepare for bed.

It all feels so seamless, like it’s only natural to go from imitating dogs and dangerously running around like Superman to talking about serious topics, when it reality there’s an incredibly sharp deviation in the level of maturity involved. I like the freedom to be goofy and silly without judgement, but I bet that there will come a day where I don’t feel the impulse to do these sorts antics. When that will come I don’t know, but until then I will probably still be making up songs about the things I have to do and pretending to be on a cooking show when I make my lunch.

Eleanor and “French Math”

My mother’s side of the family is French and when I was young, we used to spend my birthday weekend/Memorial Day visiting with them. And while there were many aspects of these trips that I enjoyed, the visits were never very kid-friendly. I usually felt underfoot and like one of the adults was doing me a favor by watching me*. Then, when you factor in all of the adults speaking French and/or (though usually and) about France, relatives I didn’t know, and art/music, it was like being in a constant state of confusion.

And every year, things really came to a head when we went out to dinner on my birthday. It was a big affair that involved fancy clothing (often my arch-nemesis, the pale blue frilly blouse that had a habit of unbuttoning itself every few minutes and the flowered skirt that “I-was-absolutely-under-no-circumstances-to-spill-anything-on”), my very best table manners, and sitting across the table from my 100-year-old great-grandmother who terrified me.

My mother insists that she has never met anyone who has ever lived up to my grandmémé’s standards, and while I understood that it was probably true, I still was determined to be the anomaly. Of course, things never went as planned, and I somehow always managed to mess up and be swatted at within five minutes of sitting down. The swatting would be accompanied by some remark in French that I did not understand, and some adult would whisper in my ear what I supposed to say in response. I would manage to bungle the sentence, the adult would have to apologize for me, and the cycle would continue until I finally gave up on trying to be perfect and got incredibly antsy.

It was on my eighth birthday that my dad introduced me to what he called “French math.”

“Okay, Eleanor, so you know how you have to kiss everyone hello and goodbye? Now, I want you to add up how many kisses that is going to be. Remember Mémé, Grandmémé, and your great aunts each get four, and everyone else gets two.”

I’d work out the sum in my head, and then my dad would change it up so that I had to come up with the number of kisses for the people with blue eyes or everyone wearing black. Eventually, this turned into me making up my own rules for calculating kisses, and I’ve done it during every long family dinner since.

So the next time you find yourself stuck in a room full of French people you are going to have to kiss, you can pull out this trick and go wild.

Note: You can adopt it for hugs when you’re not with the French, but the level of difficulty and fun vastly decreases, so I’d suggest that you instead spend your time changing the lyrics of Yankee Doodle or plotting escape routes in case of an attack.

*Or often not watching, with the case in point being the time I nearly drowned in the pool when I was five because all of the adults thought someone else had an eye on me.

Ella and Cecelia Go to Europe: The Pre-Departure Jitters

In exactly a week, Cecelia and I will be flying to London. I am equal parts excited and petrified.

Excited, of course, because, my goodness, it’s Europe, I’m going to turn nineteen there, and I get to spend nearly two weeks traveling with my best friend. The thrill of getting to have that kind of independence and knowing that I’m quite nearly a true adult is indescribable. Plus, the thought of all of the museums and historical places we’ll visit makes me make weird excited facial expressions that have my parents questioning my sanity.

But at night I have stress dreams of dying on airplanes and having meltdowns in the middle of Trafalgar Square. They’re so vivid that I can feel the fabric of the seat against my thighs and the metal seat buckle digging into my abdomen. There’s whiplash, and I can feel myself falling, the pilot saying, “brace for impact,” and the screams of the other passengers. Or I am curled in a fetal position on the ground, tiny bits of grit digging into my face as I stare at an infinite sea of shoes and grey stone, crying. I wake up, twisted in the sheets, breathing far too quickly, and paralyzed with anxiety. It usually requires the entire one hour and thirty-three minutes of the Downton Abbey Christmas Special for me to calm back down again.

And then there is the fear that my anxiety will ruin the trip for Cecelia. Unfortunately, I get overwhelmed very easily and often need to rest in the afternoons to maintain a certain level of emotional stability. I can only close my eyes and say, “one, two, three, GO!!!” to myself so many times. Too much and I burst into tears, get unbearably haughty, or just refuse to move. And I do not want to prevent Cecelia from doing fun activities simply because I’m feeling anxious.

This trip is supposed to be all about being young, carefree, and spontaneous. We officially decided to go to Europe at one a.m. on a Tuesday morning and then immediately purchased tickets and booked lodging so that unlike the past few years, our European adventure wouldn’t remain purely hypothetical. The whole trip is supposed to be about things like me singing “I Live in Trafalgar Square” in the actual Trafalgar Square just to drive Cecelia nuts:

(Ignore the reenactment of The Battle of Hubbardton, this was the only youtube video I could find with the song.)

It’s supposed to be about sitting in a café in Paris on my birthday and clinking glasses and biking in the Alps near Geneva; and it’s also supposed to be a little bit of rebellion where we get to do things our way at our leisure and no parent or other adult can tell us otherwise.

Disclaimer: Of course, by rebellion I mean one that doesn’t involve clubbing or getting drunk. I’m as straight-laced as you can get in that regard with no cursing, caffeine, drinking, smoking, drugs, or any other morally lax behaviors. (And no, that does not mean that I am a Mormon or an evangelical Christian–I’m Episcopalian–and no, I don’t think that everyone should be required to or frowned upon if they don’t make the same lifestyle choices as me.)

Disclaimer Sidebar: In the spirit of honesty and full-disclosure, unlike the other things, I have tried caffeine before and had it occasionally between the ages of thirteen and fourteen and then once again on my seventeenth birthday. The last time ended with me getting incredibly jumpy for a few hours and then very tired. I do have a picture of my first sip from that day, however. As you can tell from the picture, I think that Coke with caffeine in it tastes funny. I have not had it since, don’t feel like I’m missing much, and don’t plan on ever having it in the future.

Say hello to Cecelia’s elbow. Sadly, that’s probably as close as we’re ever going to get to a proper picture of her on Eleanor Called Ella, so you better soak it in. It is a very nice elbow.

So I hope that when Cecelia and I do arrive at the airport next Saturday afternoon, I don’t find my anxiety in overdrive and that we’re able to enjoy a trip free from any of my meltdowns. I figure that if I truly put my mind to it, I’ll be able to successfully use my coping skills and that with the boost of regular medication and extra Xanax, we’ll be okay.

In the meantime, I will try to stop watching youtube videos of plane accidents, looking up United Airlines’ safety record, and practicing airplane and train crash positions.

Eleanor and the Ridiculous Injury

Tonight in weird injuries, I would like to report that I have badly strained my right forearm from too much writing and typing. It hurts. Today’s post was going to be quite long, but will instead sit half-drafted until I no longer have to do everything left-handed.

I’m not sure how these things happen to me.

Eleanor Eats Ice Cream

There is an often-told family story about my first reaction to ice cream in which I have a complete meltdown because it’s too cold and sweet. It ends with my mother having to actually take apart the stroller to clean up the sticky mess I made.

I always assumed that I remained stuck in my only-broccoli-and-sweet-potatoes-please phase for much longer than I apparently did because I recently discovered photographs of me at the age of three devouring a very large bowl of chocolate ice cream and making a huge mess in my grandparents’ dining room.

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At least, I make an attempt of helping to clean up.

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