In Which Ella Gets Suspicious

This evening I was carrying a basket of laundry to the basement when someone knocked on the front door. And when I looked through the window to see who it was, I saw an old man, holding up a badge that said he was a school security guard. The picture on the badge matched his face and the badge was the same type that all the school security guards wear, so I opened the door and asked him what he needed.

It turns out he wanted my neighbor’s phone number so that he could establish their residency in the town. He said that they weren’t answering the door. Now, I do know that the town has been having a problem with out of district students, but my neighbors have had their kids in the public school system since they were in kindergarden. The oldest one is fifteen and a high school sophomore! It’s not like they’re renting their house, either. They own it, which means that if you go town hall, you can see the official documents proving that they own the house, live in it, and pay their taxes. Having a school security officer come to their house is entirely unnecessary when one phone call or quick look over their records would confirm the obvious.

Then, the guy said that he couldn’t get into the house because of the dog, which also struck me as strange because they have a very docile golden retriever. He also said he was trying to go knock on their back door. It was all very weird, and I stood there a little dumbstruck as I watched him walk across their yard and to their gate.

So thirty minutes later, I spoke to my neighbor about what I had seen happen. It turns out that they were home the entire time and never heard a knock or the doorbell, and he let the dog out of the backyard. They had to go scouring the neighborhood to find her.

I have no idea what’s going on, but I’m really hoping that no one tries to break into any of our houses. And if they try to get into our house, the joke’s really on them. We’ve got double locking windows, no hidden keys, and a security system. They’d either be unable to get in or get caught by the police very quickly.

It wasn’t until the security officer left that I realized that I had been holding the laundry the entire time I was talking to him, and all of the underwear was on top. This is one of the many reasons I am glad I’m no longer in high school. I’m never going to have to see that guy again, knowing that he saw all of my underwear. Of course, the underwear matters very little compared the potential security threat.

In other news, no screaming and convulsion inducing nightmares last night!

In other, other news, I have eighty percent of a very long post drafted about the remainder of my adventures in the city on the day of Maureen Johnson’s book launch party for The Name of the Star. Expect it tomorrow. Warning: Good things happen.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Has to Take the SAT

Guess what’s happening tomorrow.

I’m taking the SAT.

Guess how happy this makes me.

Not at all.

On the upside, I’m going to a book signing tomorrow evening for Laini Taylor and her new book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I reviewed here.

And now I’m off to do some more panicking.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Plus Stickers Equals Embarrassment

This afternoon while unpacking groceries, I decided that it would be a great idea to peel one of the stickers off of the bananas and stick it to my forehead. After all, it said “brain fuel,” and I can never refuse the opportunity to do something silly to make someone laugh.

Of course, in typical fashion, I forgot that it was stuck there, and eight hours later, it is still firmly attached to my forehead. This reminds of me of two embarassing stories from middle school.

When I was fourteen, my waist was too small for most normal pairs of jeans, and I had to resort to the jeans from Kids’ Gap or Lucky Brand (very opposite ends of the price spectrum, I know). My mom had recently purchased me a new pair of jeans, and I was very excited to wear them*. So I put them on and headed off to school, thinking that I looked fabulous. It wasn’t until third period that someone informed me that I still had the very long vertical size sticker still stuck to one of the legs, informing everybody that my jeans were a size 12 narrow and were from the Kids’ Gap. I didn’t live that one down for about a month.

The second one is quite a bit like what happened today, only this time I went off to school with the sticker, which was both upside-down and said “slice me on cheerios.” Once again, no one pointed it out to me until I stood up to give a presentation in French class.

Thankfully, none of these things ever ended up bothering me that much, mostly because I was so wrapped up in trying to prove to people that I was smart and interesting. Weirdly, at the time I kind of liked it when people said something about my appearance because I could always come up with some snappy retort or just give them a smile**.

Do you have any funny and embarrassing stories involving stickers or from when you were in middle school? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

*In another somewhat related embarrassing story, I wore sweaters, Keens with socks, and black velour bell-bottoms for the entirety of seventh grade. I feel it’s necessary to note that my fashion sense has improved significantly since then.

**Giving someone a big smile when they’re trying to hurt you is actually incredibly effective and feels really, really good.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if you’re into that kind of thing.

It’s Cold In the House Tonight

It’s cold in the house tonight. I’m wearing jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, and I still find myself twisting my hands, trying to warm up my fingers. My nails, which have gotten a little too long again, are lightly scratching my skin, making the hand-wringing a tad uncomfortable, but I can’t write if I tuck them under my legs. So I let my fingers become a little stiff and keep tapping away at the keys, pausing every few sentences to rub them together again.

I can’t help but think back to sophomore year and those winter nights when I would stay up until three or later in the morning, doing my homework. I’d line up small tumbler glasses on my desk, filled with ice and various flavors of Vitamin Water, and every time I felt my eyes drooping, I’d grab one and chug it, letting the cold, sugary liquid jerk me back from lethargy. My cheeks would flush from the cold and exhaustion, and I would cry and cry and cry. Because I was fifteen and too young for this stress. There were too many classes and too many activities and too many people to disappoint and too much sadness.

Sometimes, I’d sneak out of the house at one, two, three a.m., walk up the hill to the street sign, sit with my back against the freezing metal pole, bury my head between my knees, and try not to think for ten minutes. But pajamas, even when paired with a ski jacket, are not enough for thirty degrees or lower, and I’d be driven back to the house with a runny nose and a mind that was racing as much as it had been when I had left. Frequently, I’d think about just sitting down on the floor of my bedroom and screaming at the top of my lungs, but every time I’d open my mouth, a whisper of a scream would come out, and I’d feel as silly as Pushkin’s hisses, which are more air than menace.

As I sat at my desk, I was freezing and burning all at once, and my head would pound. Yet I managed to keep it together through those nights. The work got done. I got my A’s. My extracurriculars were Ivy worthy. It looked like I’d be able to go to Yale. And somehow, I was weirdly happy despite the cold and the stress.

But I’m eighteen now, and sophomore me, as perfect as she was, has long been abandoned. The cold now just means that it’s another lonely night where I feel empty and oddly poetic. But there isn’t anyone to share it with. No one to message paragraphs of essays for critique, and no one to gripe about homework to. It’s just me, the cats, and my laptop.

I like my quiet, but cold nights like these are supposed to be spent communicating with people, saying things that you would never say if it were light out and your toes weren’t beginning to go numb. The magic of the darkness, the way you feel more anonymous and safe to let your guard down a little, is lost without anyone to share it with. I love those conversations when you suddenly get to actually know someone, not just their pretty exterior, but the things that scare and upset them, and discover your shared demons. I haven’t had one of those talks in ages.

Maybe I’ll call George and talk to her for an hour or two. She’ll surely listen to my theories about Billy Collins, and I’ll be able to unload some secrets.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Pippa Leaves for School

Pippa left for school yesterday. And yes, some selfish, wicked part of me was glad to see her gone. We’re like oil and water, we naturally repel the other, but there are times, like when you’re boiling pasta, when when we make an excellent team. There will be no more fights over the state of the bathroom. I won’t be able to call her vapid and petty for watching too much tv and not caring about current events, and she won’t be there to call me neurotic and lame. But she usually becomes my best friend when were in an unfamiliar situation or when one of us is afraid.

It’s kind of odd, but when Pippa is gone, I feel a lot more alone. The house is oddly quiet and still. The slightly metallic sounds of video chatting voices, muffled by the walls are gone, and I don’t hear the laugh tracks from comedies until late into the night. When I lie in bed now, it’s just me and the cats and the the faint chirping of crickets and cicadas. I don’t spend those restless minutes before sleep wondering what jokes are amusing the studio audiences so much.

So yes, I will miss her a great deal, but she’ll come home for Thanksgiving and call every few days with exciting news. It seems like every weekend the school has booked some stand-up comedian or there’s a big dance or a carnival with mechanical bulls or a bungee cord/trampoline contraption. (It’s hearing about those exciting sorts of things that make me think, Why did I not choose to go to prep school? And then I remember exactly how much I love my friends and school at home and just how much I ended up rather disliking the school when I went to visit–too many rich kids caught up in their own little WASP-y world who don’t understand that so much hardship exists outside of their sheltered lives, also there are too many uneducated conservatives who only support the Republican Party because of their economic policies that help the wealthy and big corporations and destroy small businesses and lower and middle class Americans.*) She’s happy there, much happier than when she’s at home.

I wish her much luck during the dreaded Junior year of too many APs and too little sleep, and may she find many more moments of tranquility than I did in eleventh grade.

*I believe that sentence wins the Ella’s Most Poorly Formed Sentence of the Week Award by a long shot.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Uses Her Head As A Battering Ram

I spent a good portion of today studying math for the SAT.

As I’ve said before, here and here and here, I am not exceptionally good at math, though it has never been for lack of interest or trying. (I’m that kid that does really well in the honors level class because she studies her butt off and memorizes things for the test, only to promptly forget them a day later.) It’s not that I struggle spatially, I’m quite good with navigation, I just get distracted incredibly easily and frequently end up working too quickly for my own good.

I have to admit that I am rarely able to read something entirely in order; I usually read the first sentence of a paragraph, skip to the middle, read the last sentence or two, and then go back and fill in the remaining details unless I’ve become incredibly immersed in the subject. This is not, of course, to say that I am incapable of reading–I read constantly and with a lot of ease, and I do very well in English class–I just do it very strangely.

The same sort of thing happens when I’m trying to accomplish most other tasks. I try to do it all at once. It works fine if I’m doing something simple like putting on socks or buttoning something–I’ve long since mastered the art of doing the buttoning one handed with one hand starting at the top of the garment and the other starting at the bottom and the two of them meeting in the middle, and I can put on both of my socks at the exact same time (one of my childhood “parlor tricks”)–but it does not bode well for math.

Unless I’m doing some sort of math that requires racing and thinking quickly, I begin to get really, really fidgety and my mind begins to wander as I do the problem. I usually begin to become so obsessively focussed on focussing that I’m suddenly not paying full attention to the problem I’m trying to solve. This usually leads to me doing things like declaring that one and one sum to eleven or just forgetting about some part of the equation in its entirety. And it’s mortifying.

I also really struggle to pay attention during math class. I love taking notes, but the moment I decide to look back over what I’ve written, it’s just a neat set of numbers and equations without words connecting any of it, and I can’t make heads or tails of what just happened. I’ve tried everything: I write on special paper, I have a color-coded system, and I’ve done tutoring. Nothing has helped except banging my head against the wall and dramatically moaning “WHY ME? WHY ME?”

And it makes me so incredibly anxious not be good at something the moment I try it. I’m competitive; I have this insatiable urge to be the best (which is a problem for another day). I’m used to being in the upper tier and that just doesn’t happen when it comes to math. I get A’s, but I don’t really deserve them. I just always do my homework and classwork and memorize. I very rarely understand what I’m actually doing.

But back to this afternoon’s studying. I am a HUGE fan of prep books. I’ve taken tests for classes that I haven’t taken before and done well because I studied the book. So when I opened up one of my SAT prep books to the math section, I thought that it would be pretty smooth sailing. It, however, was not. I quickly discovered that I knew next to nothing, and that the detailed descriptions in the book of how to solve the problems just didn’t make any sense.

So here I am, nine hours later, switching between problem sets in the book and videos on Khan Academy still trying to figure it out, feeling as though I am trying to ram through a castle’s walls using my head as the battering ram. I’ll let y’all know if I ever even make a dent in the stone without causing permanent damage to my brain.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella’s Name Will Not Be Affixed to the Wall

The Senior Awards ceremony is tonight. You know, the one where the winners get their names stuck to the plaques outside the Main Office to forever live in glory (and have their names ridiculed by petty teenagers). Ever since freshman year, I have wanted one of those awards. I got the big academic award in middle school and was voted most scholarly (The picture in the yearbook is hilarious. I’m wearing a green shirt with a clashing green scarf, golden brown wire framed glasses and have the nerdiest expression on my face.), which was a huge deal to me at the time. Being smart was how I defined myself and how other people seemed to defined me. It felt good to be that person.

Tonight when I walk into the Auditorium to sit on the springy green fake-velvet seats and watch the proceedings, it will not be to receive one of those big fancy awards. I’ll get my gold pin for four years of community service, and that’ll be it. My friends and many of my classmates will win awards, and I’ll enthusiastically clap and take their picture, but it won’t be the same as walking up to the stage myself, shaking someone’s hand, and getting whatever they give you to commemorate it. I know that I’m being selfish. I know that all I should feel is happiness for others, but I can’t I really, really can’t. I am far too sad over my insufficiencies and how much my emotional problems have messed up how I wanted and want to live my life.

In Which Ella Declares Her Love for the Idea of Math and Gets Defeated by Trig Identities

I am absolutely fascinated by math. I love the way that it explains the world around me and makes sure that the buildings I am in don’t collapse. I love the way that circles are actually just bloated triangles and that rhombuses aren’t the same shape as squares. I love how it can help me figure out the likelihood that something will happen, and how close I am to finishing tasks. Unfortunately, this appreciation has not transfered into prowess.

Now, I know that I am not an exceptional math student and will never be able to become an actuary or engineer, but I like to fancy myself somewhat capable. If you teach me a concept, I can quickly grasp it and repeat it with high accuracy, and this has been the case ever since I was introduced to the concept that when you put two groups of things together, you get more stuff. (Interestingly, most babies can do addition and subtraction at a few months. And by addition and subtraction, I mean they look surprised when you show them one object, put up a screen, and then drop the screen and show them two or more of the same object.)

So I’m stuck doing the entire Trig/Calc curriculum before the end of the school year. It’s actually been quite easy so far and kinda fun. I follow the directions and boom! I get the answer. Of course, I don’t know when I’ll ever use this stuff again, but it’s nice having something to do that’s methodical. No one is asking me to analyze anything, and perfect answers are both possible and easy to obtain. The security of knowing that you are entirely right and that no one will ever challenge your answer is so reassuring. (I only feel this way about simple mathematics, though. The fact there are no entirely right answers or perfect solutions is one of things I love most about the world.)

Today, I gamely headed off to the library to enjoy the air-conditioning and work on my Chapter Seven packet. I did the last few problems on the first page easily, and flipped it over to discover that 7-2 was all about Verifying Trig Identities, and for me, that is a really funny joke. I have been taught how to verify trig identities four times. Once by my old math teacher, who besides being senile, was not very good, and three times by the teacher I have now. It’s rather embarrassing.

I settled into my chair, tucking one leg between my chest and the table and sitting on my other ankle, and spent a good forty-five minutes staring at the worksheet. I answered the one my teacher helped me start correctly, and finished another that may or may not be right. (It probably isn’t since I changed the sign of a number to make the verification true, which you’re apparently not allowed to do. So much for being creative.) I felt like an idiot. It wouldn’t make sense no matter how hard I tried. I know that the problems are doable, and they make sense when other people solve them, I’m just clueless when I do them on my own.

But I am going to figure them out. There has got to be some secret that will make this all make sense, and I am going to find it. I’ve watched all the Khan Academy videos, and I’m going to go in to get help tomorrow. We’ll see how it goes, but I refused to be defeated by something as simple as trigonometry.

Field Day

Remember that time when I wrote a post called The Field Day Planning Committee? Well, that day has finally rolled around.

I went to bed at nine thirty last night so that I would be able to get out of bed on time. I really hate having to schedule myself like this because of the medicine, but a day running around in sun, playing games is worth it. I woke up at around five forty, feeling wide awake and ready to take on the day. Such a welcome change from my falling asleep in the school library at 7:45 every morning as the librarians look at me judge me from behind their desk.

After doubling back to take my medicine, I ran up three flights of stairs to one of the history rooms where we were supposed to meet. Cecelia handed me my tee shirt and I pulled it on over the one I was wearing.

I like this shirt for two reasons: one, because it is shamelessly pretentious and two, because I love Executive/Judicial so much. I may not have been able to compete with them for most of the day because I was judging, but I was able to at least physically feel that I was part of the department.

Cecelia and I walked down to the field together. It felt odd moving against the tide of bodies as everyone pushed towards the school. The air was chilled, and I thought about how a really great title for a book would be “I Should Have Worn Pants.” I mean, it would totally work for a memoir or a book about gender. I filed it away in my folder of “genius ideas” and went back to talking to Cecelia about menu planning for our beach trip. It appears that I am going to be the only meat-eater there, which puts a real damper on my hamburger and bacon eating plans.

I filled up two giant water coolers at the spigot at the bottom of the water fountain that I think is there for cleaning shoes and for dogs to drink. It took a long time, and I kept having to alternate between hands to hold the valve back. Cecelia and I carried it across the field to a table where they promptly disappeared. I know that they made their way back to the gym office this afternoon, but I have no clue where they were in the interim. Running away with 30 gallon coolers is not an easy task.

Soon enough, setting up was done, and everyone was descending on the field. Executive had won trivia and was already first in the standings. We held the boys race and the girls race, and I stood at the third corner, making sure that no one cut it. I was so close to the line that I could feel people’s shirt sleeves brush me as they ran past. Our department got second in the girls.

Relay, wheelbarrow, and three-legged races and a Beanie Baby toss followed, and I found myself desperately wishing to be with my department instead of standing on the sidelines making sure that people touched the white line before turning around. Walking around with a clipboard enforcing rules is a lot of fun, but it’s not the same as hanging out with your department and cheering people on.

Next, we had tug of war, which has always been one of my favorite Field Day events was incredibly complicated. First of all, making sure that the rope is evenly placed between both cones is tricky and nearly always leads to an argument. Second, there is no fair way to making a bracket out of nine teams. Someone will always get a by. After a lot of yelling, it was decided that three of the teams would split third place. I’m always surprised and frustrated by how much arguing it takes to get to an agreement that both parties would have found to be okay in the first place.

The more organized events were over, and it appeared like I wasn’t needed, so I skedaddled off  to eat watermelon and watch Executive play soccer. I may not be a very good soccer player myself, but I make a very good enthusiastic fan. Hopping up and down on the balls of my feet, clapping my hands, and yelling “go _____” is one of my specialties. The game went on forever. Regular time became overtime which became more overtime which turned into a shootout that became sudden death which finally turned into another shoot out with the big regulation sized goal. We did not win, but I had loads of fun.

Everyone headed over to the Badminton court to watch our department win first place, and I took a few breaks to head back to our booth for a watermelon eating contest. I discovered that if you fill your mouth up with watermelon, you can partial chew it and swallow large pieces whole. Because it’s so watery and soft it goes down just as easily as a capsule.

This post will be updated with the entire story tomorrow.

In a related story, I got into the shower with my socks on and didn’t notice for a good two minutes. I like to think that this was because I don’t often wear socks and am not used to taking things off my feet before I jump in, and not because I was too preoccupied with singing “Na na na na na na BATMAN” in various accents and pitches.