On Looking Forward to the Summer

Lately, I’ve been trying to focus on pictures like this one, instead of all the stress and unhappiness. It isn’t going so well.

I really wish I was at the beach right now.

On Becoming Best Pals with Kate Chopin

I have been focussing on finishing the draft of my thesis and doing some editing. It’s a blast and a half.

I will now tell the story of my afternoon and evening through pictures.

This is what my life looks like.

Plus a billion papers with notes and outlines. Plus a binder full of a carefully underlined scholarly essays. Plus several annotated bibliographies.

My bed and desk are a mess. And by mess I mean, there are neat piles of paper (sorted by type and importance!) covering it. I can’t wait to do spring cleaning over the break.

I’d love to be able to report that writing this is easy and that my only difficulty is navigating around three cats who all want to be next to me or on me all at once.

Wearing huge hand-painted shirts and peace boxer shorts are a major plus of working at home.

In reality, I spend about a quarter of my time working, a quarter of my time spacing out, and half of my time making strangled moaning noises into this pillow.

But despite all of this agony, I am going to finish this paper. It will get done. It has to. I just know it. After all, the cats seem to believe in me.

So, You Know, A Piece of my Scalp Fell Out Today

Today, I was all like, “I am going to get so much done today. I’m going to finish my journal on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, write my essay on Frankenstein, and do a butt-load of studying for the three quizzes that I need to make up in AP Government and Politics. And I did/am doing it.

Miraculously, I was able to write the essay without having a panic attack. I required lots of breaks and there were two-and-a-half glasses of orange juice involved, but that essay is complete. Complete, complete, complete. It’s been hanging out on my to-do list, making me anxious, since December. And now it’s done. All I have left to make up in AP English is a long essay on The Heart of Darkness, which I’m sure I will enjoy doing. And even that essay is already outlined.

But that isn’t the important part. Sure, it’s a triumph, but the essay-writing story gets a lot more interesting.

Watching me write that essay is probably quite amusing. There’s a lot of sighing, hand wringing, groaning, lip chewing, and running of my hands through my hair. When I was in therapy today, I ran my hand through my hair, as I am wont to do, and noticed a bump. So when I was writing the final paragraph and getting increasingly frustrated, I put my hand in my hair and leaned on my elbow that was resting on the desk. When I drew my hand away, after a minute of deep breathing, a piece of my scalp came away with it. Yes, a piece of my scalp. It was a circle about a centimeter in diameter and there was hair attached to the skin. My first thought was, This is just like the Indians and the scalps they got by scalping people! Cool!

Soon, reality set in, and I realized that my head was bleeding and that I was literally holding a piece of my scalp in my hand. And it wasn’t so cool anymore. I tried cleaning it with peroxide, which was an abject failure because I was so scared that I would end up bleaching my hair with it that I didn’t get enough on it to fizz. (I learned that from The Outsiders, a book I throughly hated, in seventh grade.) Now, I’m walking around the house, with my hair pinned out of the way and sticking up in funny directions. My mother is freaked out, and I think that I look like a lunatic.

I have a big scar on the back of my head from when I was little and fell off of the chair I was spinning in circles on and hit my head against our steel and glass coffee table. Thankfully, it’s well hidden by my hair, and is low enough that it doesn’t even show up when I pull my hair half back. But if this scars the way the other one did and the hair doesn’t re-grow, I’m going to have to walk around with a really obvious bald spot right in the front of my head. Lovely.

At the very least, this should make for an interesting story to tell when people ask me tomorrow about my weekend. Well, this and my trip to the city.

On Homework, Coffee Shops, and Putting a Girdle Round About the Earth in Forty Minutes

So once again I find myself at Starbucks doing homework. And once again, this method is mostly working.

I was writing my journal entry on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I adore; I’ve got my pencil in my hand, and it’s the nice  mechanical type, with lead so thin it never wares down to a dull, flat edge; I’m writing; and it’s just easy. There’s the pencil, the wide-ruled notebook paper, the neatly organized binder, and me. Of course, Cecelia is on the other side of the table, typing away as she works on her French Lit assignment to design a Facebook profile for one of the characters in a Molière play. But I felt undeniably alone–not lonely, just happily alone–and calm in the crowded, loud, coffee-aroma-filled Starbucks. I had all the answers and they were just flowing down my arm into my hand and marching across the paper as my pencil moved, creating words in my neat handwriting, as the bottoms of the letters slurred together because I couldn’t be bothered to fully pick up the pencil in between letters.

Of course this perfection didn’t last forever, it never does, but I live for moments like those. Because there are only so many of them, and they are rare for me. Suddenly, I had the reigns for once, and the horses were walking at a nice, dignified pace. But the horses soon spooked, and I freaked out. Partially, this was the result at looking at the grades I got on the multiple-choice parts of my midterms and the stress of trying to write an essay with the added nerves of medication changes, vast loads of make-up work, and my post-graduate application sitting in an admissions office.

But I calmed down again after emailing Cecelia (who, yes, was just sitting across from me, but I didn’t want other people to hear us talking about it) and got back down to business. I didn’t feel the same way that I did when I was writing about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I did getting things done without tears or hyperventilating. So, you know, I think that, all in all, it was a job well done.

(Oh my goodness, commas. When will I figure them out?)

Dare to Suck

So I was applying to schools for next year, and I got one of my least favorite essay prompts.

What is the best advice you have ever been given, and when have you found that advice helpful?

(Sadly, what used to be a short list of bad prompts is now a mile-long, thanks to APPLICATIONS. But I’m not frustrated or anything…)

Of course, instead of writing, “You stink. Go get ideas from the University of Chicago“, I tried to think of incredibly strange advice. At first, I thought about using “leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub”, which is what Conrad Hilton said when asked on his deathbed if he had any last words of wisdom for the world. And yes, I probably could have written about how a shower curtain and a wet bathroom floor was a metaphor for life, but then something much better came to mind. Something so good that it made me laugh and my mom say, “Don’t say that; it’s offensive!” And here is that piece of advice and essay.

The novelist Maureen Johnson once said, “Give yourself permission to suck”. Now, I know that it sounds like lousy advice. Advice is supposed to encourage you, teach you to persevere, help you become a better person or improve a certain skill. However, as dubious as Maureen’s advice might sound, she is absolutely right. You have to “suck” to eventually succeed. You cannot sit down at a piano and expect yourself to be able to play Brahms’s Hungarian Dance #5. No, you have to spend years learning, making mistakes, and being terrible. And if you don’t give yourself permission to initially be horrible at it, you will never make it to Carnegie Hall.

Young children never seem to have any trouble with repeated failure. They fall down constantly when they learn to walk and they stumble over words and write their letters backwards while they’re learning to read and write. But as we grow older, the fear that we might fail and look “stupid” prevents us from trying new things. Like any teenager, this is entirely true for me, and it consistently works to my detriment. For example, when I sit down to write an essay or a speech, I can become so nervous that I can’t type a single word. But then I step back and say, “I give myself permission to suck”. Suddenly, the anxiety fades away. I can write an awful first draft and it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all. I’m not turning in my first draft as a final product. I can end all of my sentences with prepositions or write entirely in the passive voice, and no one will ever know. And with this knowledge in hand, I put fingers to keys or pen to paper, and the words pour out. Being awful just becomes part of the process, and “sucking” is what ultimately leads to my success in anything that I try. So, as crazy Maureen’s words might initially sound, I can’t think of any sounder advice.

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 Essay Panic

Over the course of Winter Break I was supposed to write three essays that I hadn’t written earlier in the school year, due to absences and anxiety. When I made this plan, it seemed like a great idea. I would have ten and a half days to move at as slow a pace as I needed to, and I could I take lots of breaks when it became overwhelming.

This is where I am one day after the break ended: I have one sentence written for one essay.

No, this is not the result of procrastination. This is the product of what I like to call “Essay Panic”. Essay Panic is what happens when you give Ella a nice, large, difficult writing assignment. (There are also many other types of panic, like Calculus Panic, Test Panic, Quiz Panic, but those don’t matter right now.) Lovely ole Essay Panic likes to manifest itself in the form of crying, hyperventilating, rolling about on the floor in the fetal position, running my palms down against my cheeks so that I develop slight jowls and crazy eyes, making desperate phone calls, etc. Isn’t it wonderful?

This isn’t to say that I am incapable of writing essays. Logically, I know that I’m actually good at it and that I wouldn’t be in AP English (which I LOVE, despite all the essays) if I couldn’t. But the memory of all of the assignments that I did get handed back with nicely circled, red ink A’s just flies out the window the moment that I try to start writing.

And so here I am on day Eleven and a Half trying to write one of my essays and failing miserably. Cecelia came over to read “Beloved” while I worked, and I wrote a sentence. One measly, not-very-good sentence. But that sure is better than a blank document.

Throughout our nation’s history, the President’s power as commander-in-chief of the army and navy, as designated by Article II, Section Two of the Constitution, has been a necessary and beneficial one.

And that has been where I have stopped. There have been many attempts at a second sentence, deletion of said attempts, and two bouts of crying, cheek craziness, and fetal position rolling. I’m a real essay-writing champ.

Let’s hope that I’ll be able to have this monstrosity hammered out by the end of the night without much more distress. I’ll let you all know how it goes.