TED Talks and Cleaning

I have watched well over ten hours of TED Talks today, and by watched, I mostly mean listened to. I was doing the laundry, ironing a huge number of shirts, and doing lots and lots of cleaning this afternoon and when left entirely on my own for hours on end in the laundry room or kitchen, I usually end up going stir-crazy or singing made-up songs very loudly and very, very badly.

So instead I just played TED Talk after TED Talk, learning about motivation and productivity, how our brains operate, creativity, data analysis, the direction of the tech industry, etc. It was fascinating, and the work seemed to slide by much more quickly. Initially, I had tried putting on a movie, that early 90s Jane Austen movie, Emma, with Gwenyth Paltrow, but like most movies based on Austen novels, you actually needed to look at the screen to figure out what was going on, and when dealing with very hot irons, it’s not exactly advisable to look away from your hands for more than a second.

Cleaning turned out to be a very nice way to spend a large portion of my day, and I topped it all off with watching the first section of Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War. (I don’t know if you’ve noticed before but the “Ken Burns Effect” seen in iMovie and iPhoto on Macs, is named after the technique he used for showing pictures in this documentary.)

But since I talked about very hot irons and the possibility of burns, I thought that I would tell you about my predilection for accidently dumping very hot liquids into my lap or onto my torso. It involves me wearing the advent wreath on my head and a spectacular fall on the stairs, ruining a section of the carpet and badly hurting the skin on my stomach. I’ll post it tomorrow.

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Reads Six Books at Once

I was cleaning my room this morning when I realized that I am in the middle of a lot of books right now. A lot of books.

No matter how much time I spend lint-rolling my bed, I never seem to be able to get rid of all of the fur. There's always at least one cat sleeping on it and shedding up a storm.

It may seem like it would be crazy and confusing to read so much at once, but it really isn’t. It’s fun! Whenever I get bored of one, I just pick up the next. Besides, certain books just suit different feelings.

Spud, a book about a South African guy at boarding school, is great for post-cry readings because it’s hilarious. Laughing while having post-sob shudders is a very funny feeling, and the best way to return from being down and out. (And yes, I do know that this book is not geared towards nearly 18-year-old girls.)

I usually read Lorrie Morre’s Self-Help when I’m supposed to be doing something else. It’s a book of short stories, so it’s perfect for crouching on the floor and feeling guilty about ignoring chores and homework. Procrastination at its finest in twenty-minutes or less.

Dog Stories is my go to book when I can’t sleep. It’s happy, light, and about dogs (Way to state the obvious, Ella.). Nothing goes wrong that can’t be fixed, and each story is less than ten pages. At the rate I’m going at, it’ll take me ages to finish, but I don’t mind. It’s like training wheels–there when I need help from falling over into nighttime paranoia.

I like to read Oil! in the afternoons, but only when it’s sunny and preferably while drinking juice. I’m no socialist, but the Sinclair’s matter-of-fact style is alluring and comfortable. It’s like reading a novel-length newspaper article, and gosh darn it do I love the newspaper.

No Plot? No Problem! is about to become my Bible. I’ve read it through twice, and with Senior Option only three-weeks away, I’m sure to reread again. 50,000 words in 30 days seems doable enough, but I’m still moving forward with trepidation. If it’s anything like Chris Baty says, it’ll probably turn turn out to be one of those things that makes me enormously happy while immensely stressing me out. If I can just learn to put doubt and self-criticism on the back burner for a month, I should be okay. Besides, if I can write here and do three pages of creative writing a week, I can totally do 1,666.67 words a day.

Salt is one of those books that I purchase and say that I’m going to read, but never do. It hangs out on my bedside table, staring at me and saying, You just purchased me to look impressive, didn’t you? I’m way beyond your level of comprehension. You’re not good enough for history books like me! I’m pretty good at laughing back and reminding it of the 1,000 plus page book I read on Kennedy’s assassination and why conspiracy theories are the stupidest thing ever. I swear, one of these days, I’m going to get beyond the first three pages. It’s just not going to be tonight, or tomorrow, and probably not next week, either.

Of course, I’m not counting my forays into poetry. Those extra snippets out of my Victorian Poetry book for class totally don’t count. Neither does reading Emily Dickinson’s poems online. They’re just too impulsive and sneaky to be added to the record.

And while I very much want to crack open Azar Nafisi’s memoir, Things I’ve Been Silent About, I can’t. I really, really, really can’t. Because, you know, seven would just be pushing it.

Explosions and Swimming Notebooks

Today, I was sitting in AP Government and Politics when I decided to open my seltzer bottle. I had already had a little bit of it to drink, so I thought that I didn’t need to ease it open the way that I normally do. Well, I was wrong. It exploded, soaked my dress, and got all over my books.

Instead of reacting, I just sat there, staring at it, dumbfounded. Cecelia, being the reasonable one, jumped up, reached over, and rescued my floating notebooks and binder. Finally, I got up from the rapidly forming puddle in my chair just as a boy was coming back into the room with a giant wad of toilet paper in lieu of paper towels. And, being toilet paper, it didn’t do a stellar job of wiping it up, so I had to walk all the way down the hall to the other side of the building only to discover that there were no paper towels in the girls’ bathroom either. Apparently, our school has decided that paper towels aren’t necessary and that our hands should drip dry.

By the time I made it back to the classroom, trailing toilet paper like it was my job, class was in full swing. I had the distinct pleasure of bursting into class looking like I was carrying a vary bizarre bouquet, having everyone look at me while I mopped up the puddle in my seat, and then sitting down to discover that I hadn’t done as good of job of drying my chair as I thought.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t in a bad mood.

In today’s other news, my scalp has been doing an awesome job of healing. I’d post a picture, but no one wants to look at the scab on my head or so says my mother.

“Life is a Road to Death” and Other Assorted Knowledge from 8-Year-Olds

Instead of feeling empty and sad and spending all day in the shower, I’ve been throwing myself into writing, because I know that harnessing all of this emotion into something positive is essential. I’d like to actually be able to get out of bed and keep my arms free of scratches, and frankly, right now, this is the only way I know how to do it. So I’ve been transferring everything from Word to Scrivener and re-outlining the novel. But because I am incapable of doing things one at a time, I am also writing two essays and going through journals and school work from elementary school.

Apparently in third grade, I took several math tests where I flat out refused to use subtraction, and turned all the -‘s into +’s with a marker. Then again, my ADHD wasn’t controlled by medication, and I was an otherwise emotional wreck who spent a lot of time hiding in the staircase or going to the nurse’s office. In the binder, there were a lot of worksheets, plenty of drawings, and many, many little “books”.

I have always been an awful (though enthusiastic) artist.


I wrote seven books about honesty that year. Surprisingly, I pretty much was a pathological liar when I was eight. I also must have been a very modest child to award myself the Newbery Award.

But my best find was the letter I wrote that won the Politics and Prose Essay Contest for third-grade that year. I’ve posted it below.

I seem to have cut off the final “n’s” of “garden’s” with my fingers. Oops!

I remember standing on a step stool, behind a podium, reading the letter aloud and thinking, “This is what I want to do: I want to be a writer when I grow up.” And looking back on it, the lines, “Life is a road to death,” and “Life is war,” are particulairly striking and rather good. I clearly wasn’t off to a half-bad start. Of course, whether it actually becomes a reality is an entirely different story.

Note: I’m not sure why I said “a pretty small house,” considering the fact that we had a fairly large house at the time. Of course, I could have made up some cottage that I wanted us to live in and was actually referencing that when I wrote the letter. I do remember convincing one of my seat-mates that I lived on a houseboat at around that time. Goodness knows what I was on about.

Clearly, I Am Not Human

You know how I wrote about watching the sun rise yesterday? Well, I had serious doubts about whether or not I could make it through the day. Going over 24 hours without sleep usually leads to zombie status, but I plugged along quite cheerfully and energetically without a single energy crash. The last time I pulled an all-nighter to finish a paper, I had dissolved into a giggly mess by noon. But not this time. This time I was a working machine.

I reread my 30+ pages of notes and my lines for my US Government and Constitution competition on Thursday, I read the majority of a long JSTOR article on the purpose of committees, I went through the Constitution to memorize the exact wording of the sections that related to my group’s three questions, and that was just before lunch. After lunch, I wrote seven 300+ word essays for postgraduate applications. I cleaned my room, Cloroxed the living daylights out of my bathroom, and got my backpack all set to go for this morning.

The productivity was great, but there were two things bugging me all day. First, I had the most energy that I had had in months, despite the fact that I hadn’t slept. There were few depressed thoughts, and only one anxiety attack. Sure, the OCD wasn’t exactly under control, and I still couldn’t stay completely focussed on one thing at a time or stop fidgeting (ADHD meds, it’d be nice if you started working better, seeing as I’m on the maximum dosage and all), but I haven’t had this good of a day since forever. It was sunny outside, and things seemed halfway (okay, more like a quarter-way) normal.

The other weird thing was that the day seemed to be lasting forever. I suppose this has to do with the fact that I had been up and moving since four thirty, but every time I’d glance over at a clock, I’d think to myself, How on earth can it be blank o’clock? It has got to be later than that! Also, considering the fact that I have a lot of trouble hauling myself out of bed most days, this behavior was particularly abnormal. When was the last time that I was drinking tea and having a cheerful conversation with my mom at nine in the morning? This summer, probably.

I have come to following conclusions:

1) I have become a robot that gets its ability to go without sleeping from reading Kate Chopin into the late hours of the night.

2) I should give up sleeping in its entirety for the sake of my mental health

On New Year’s Parties and White Gloves

Yesterday, I was the proud hostess of a New Year’s Eve party. Every year my friends and I have one, and each year a different person hosts it. We’re a well-behaved bunch, and the parties are always dry, so none of our parents particularly mind having 20 teenagers invade their house for the evening. Nothing gets broken, and no one is too loud.

These parties typically get thrown together very quickly. The host provides drinks, and everyone else brings food for a potluck dinner. But could I keep it that simple? Oh, no. I can never do things halfway.

When we had just moved into our house five years ago, the basement flooded. Of course this happened after the basement was finished and after we had set up the whole room. I can remember spending that day carrying pieces of sodden carpet up the basement stairs to the garbage cans. It was heavy, the rain was still coming down, and I scratched myself up with the little pins that they use to tack the carpet down. It was great introduction to a new home. Then, we had to get the basement re-waterproofed, tear out the wet drywall, etc. And we haven’t fully refinished the basement yet. However, it’s completely furnished again, and my dad even set up his music studio down there. But I digress. The point is that the basement is still a tad dirty around the edges.

For some insane reason, I decided that I was going to clean the bathroom down there. It’s a nice bathroom, but half of the shower had to be ripped out, and no one has really used it since the flood. Everything in there was slightly gross. The toilet had hard water sediments that I spent forever trying to scrub out. (And by forever, I do mean forever. Three rounds of bleach and a ridiculous amount of scrubbing. And then both my parents took a whack at it.) I cleaned all of the grout, and scrubbed all the tiles and sink. Clearly, some delusional part of me thought that the success of the party would depend on a clean bathroom in the basement despite the fact that the house has plenty of other bathrooms.

I vacuumed the floors which were covered with cat hair. (One of our cats, Pushkin, essentially lives in the basement and sleeps on a brass, lacy doll bed under the fooseball table. With his black and white coat, he ends up looking very regal when he’s curled up down there.) It wasn’t working because I failed to recognize the difference between the floor cleaner and the carpet cleaner settings, and had settled for just using the super tiny attachment and crawling on my hands and knees. Not a very efficient or intelligent method. It’s decisions like these that explain why I’m in four AP courses. Thankfully, my mom came to the rescue and helped me.

I’m stopping with the cleaning descriptions now, but I’m sure you get the point. It’s like I was trying to prepare myself in case some of my friends decided to bring their white gloves.

I stuck all the drinks on the stairs outdoors so that they would be chilled and carefully arranged napkins, plates, little snack bowls, etc. And then everyone arrived, and I remembered that this truly was a high-school party. No one noticed the way that the napkins were fanned, popcorn ended up on the floor, only few people figured out how to use the cheese knife, and no one wanted to eat dinner at eight on the dot.

It struck me at that moment that I don’t like parties very much. They’re loud, things that were clean become dirty, and people forget to shut doors and put the caps on bottles. It was making me incredibly anxious. But I didn’t want the party to be different–everyone was enjoying themselves immensely–I just wanted to enjoy it. Audrey gave me a huge hug and told me that I was a great host, and Cecelia helped me clean up at every turn. And it ultimately was okay. We danced to Kids by MGMT right before midnight because that was the first song we danced to in 2010, and after we rang in the New Year, we danced to Waka Waka.

But my favorite thing that happened was when we hiked up my street and sat in the middle of the road to watch the fireworks go off in the valley, the fireworks exploding in the City, and the City skyline. I felt tiny, but that good sort of tiny. I was one person out of millions who was outside in the middle of the night, craning their necks up at the sky to watch the explosions of color. I was part of a universal new beginning. 2011 stretches out in front of me the way that it does for every human, and I get to celebrate with every one of them as we start again. And that feeling made up for all of my obsessive cleaning and party anxiety.

P.S. I not only lit a match last night, but I also lit a firework. A real firework. I conquered my massive fear of fire, and I didn’t die! So how’s that for a new begining? I’m already on a roll and feeling pretty darn good about it.