Ella Writes

I’m working on a new project, and I thought that since people have requested more fiction in 2012, I’d post the first few hundred words here. I’d love to know what you think.

I am standing at the edge of the pond. It’s midnight, and I am absolutely naked. The moon is waning, a crescent that seems as small as the white of my fingernail, hardly bright enough to be reflected off of the water. I’m not illuminated enough for anyone to see me.

My mother would call tonight “jacket weather,” just cool enough that I would be shivering just in my tee shirt and too hot in a coat. But as I stand there naked and ankle-deep in the water, feet sucked into the mud, it feels even colder, and the breeze touches me in places that should be covered up. I don’t have a bathing suit to wear.

I feel as if each gust of wind that wraps itself around me knows all of my secrets. It knows about December fourteenth, and that it is T minus 61 days. For a moment, I worry that as it whisks along, it will share all of my private thoughts and plans. But I reassure myself that the air is just air, a mixture of a thousand million trillion elements that thankfully lack the ability to speak words, even if the rustle of the tree branches behind me does sound a little bit like my classmates softly talking about last Friday’s party and who got drunk and hooked up with whom. I can’t help glancing back. I’m still alone.

George is waiting for me in the car, so I can’t stand naked on the shore forever. I take another step until the water hits mid-calf, frigid and biting. The pond may have been quite warm in August and even early September, but it’s October 1st now, and no sane person would attempt to go swimming. But I have to do this. Tonight I need to go in deep enough that it will cover my head when I kneel or sit down on the bottom. I only have 61 days left to prepare.

I can’t feel my toes at all now and my legs suddenly feel very hot. I try to run forward until I’m in up to my waist. The water pulls at me, and I move as if I have weights strapped to my legs. But then the water is deep enough, and I sink down. I feel my hair rise up as I try to get as close as I can to the muddy bottom, and I have to dig my hands into the mud to prevent my all too buoyant body from floating up as well. I hold my breath and count until my lungs and throat burn and my head throbs. Seventy.

I jump back up, spitting water and gasping for air. I am done. I did it.

Now that this new layout has been around for close to five days, please participate in the poll or leave your opinion of the design in the comments. I’m worried that the vintage wallpaper makes the blog look like a sheet of white paper on the wall of a powder room.

The reader-selected post will be up tomorrow. Feel free to vote in that poll as well.

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Guinea Pigs Are Soft As a Baby’s Butt and Other Test Responses From Seven-Year-Olds

One of the best parts of having a mother for a teacher is getting to hear about the silly things that her students do. I’m a particular fan of their writing. Here’s an excerpt from one student on their recent test on banking.

Something I would want to borrow money for is to buy a guinea pig because they are solf as a baby butt. Another reason why I would buy a guinea pig is because they look adorable. The lost reason is because they are healthy. What would you do if you could borrow money?

Soft as a baby’s butt? Too funny!

Also, she only made about two grammatical errors and two spelling mistakes, which is pretty darn amazing for a seven-year-old!

And did I mention that my mom teaches at a charter school in the inner city? Nearly every kid is on free or reduced lunch, and they don’t have access to the same materials I did growing up. Many don’t have computers or more than a few books in the house. Considering where the kids started the year, seeing them being able to write like this is phenomenal!

Still. Soft as a baby’s butt? I. Can’t. Stop. Laughing.

Also, one of her students recently wrote a story called “My Dirty Shirt” about the day he got mud on his church shirt. Unfortunately, he forgot the “r” in “shirt.” That mistake has been the best one so far.

I love children so much.

I’m keeping the voting open for about a week longer on the first two polls below. I’d really like to know what people did and didn’t like about my daily posting in 2011, and what they’d like to see in 2012. Finally, you can vote at the bottom for what you’d like to see in tomorrow’s post.

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.

Bone Cancer, Monkey Balls, Funny Spam Comments, NaNoWriMo, and Other Things

You know what sucks? Bone cancer.

You know what sucks even more? When your grandmother has it.

You know what sucks monkey balls? When it’s stage four and taking up over 30% of her hip, so that she is going to need radiation TEN times and chemo for an incredibly, incredibly long time.

And now to lighten the mood, here are some amusing spam comments I’ve gotten over the past few months. I dare you not to laugh at the second one.

I’ve also decided to do NaNoWriMo, and you can find me here. I’d love to be your writing buddy. I’ll give you all sorts of encouragement and cheer, and talk you down off of figurative (or real) ledges. It’ll be all kinds of fun.

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.

Cleaning Grey Matter Out of a Keyboard Is Not a Fun Task

Somedays, the writing comes easily. Other days, I feel like slamming my head repeatedly into the table while groaning dramatically.

Today fell on the latter side of the spectrum. But because I was a Starbucks, and not at my house, melodramatics weren’t exactly an option. I had also used Freedom to turn off my internet for the next three and a half hours, so I couldn’t even escape to the world of never ending news articles. I thought my head was going to explode.

It didn’t.

But I still spent a very large amount of time imagining what would happen if it actually did. Unfortunately, because I did not have the internet, I couldn’t come up with something very accurate. (How on earth would my skull shatter from the pressure of an exploding brain?) So I just thought about how the person next to me would look with bits of gray matter dripping down onto their glasses and keyboard. They were not going to be very pleased. No one likes organs on their face, and getting blood and tissue out of a keyboard is probably near impossible. And then I was going to scar the  little kids sitting at the counter for life.

After five minutes of this, I got back to work and chipped away at writing a review and working on a scene. It was not fun, but there were words written and about seventy percent of it was at east mediocre.

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.

Dear 16-Year-Old Ella

Dear 16-Year-Old Me,

First of all, dry your tears and march your sorry self back from the street sign at the top of the street. It may feel like an escape right now and the New York City skyline is always pretty, but for God’s sake it’s nearly midnight, and no matter how far you run away, the hurt is not going to leave you. Besides, it’s your birthday, and you should not be spending it sitting on damp grass while your parents wonder where you are.

Things may suck now, but you haven’t seen nothin’ yet. Your life is about to collapse around you. Everything you’ve become obsessed with and are working towards—Yale, the perfect grades, a million activities, being president of CGI, having a boyfriend—is going to very nearly kill you. Literally. But you are a million times stronger than you think. You’re made of steel and diamonds, and you are going to learn to stop lying to yourself.

But before you discover exactly how strong you are, things are going to feel impossible. You’re going to try to jump out of windows and overdose on pills and cut yourself with razors and gouge a surprising amount of skin out of your left arm (you will see those scars everyday for years and hate yourself for it). You’re going to have panic attacks where you can’t breathe and think you’re going to die. You’ll get slapped with a million labels. They won’t just call you depressed and anxious. Now, there will be bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anorexia, ADHD, OCD. You’re going to have to leave school and a life that you’re equally in love with and hate to go to an outpatient clinic for close to six months. You will make the choice to leave, and it will be the right one. Trust your gut.

You’re going to learn that everyone has demons and that just because someone looks intimidating, it doesn’t mean that they are. Speak up whenever you can and offer people advice when you’re participating in the groups. Then, listen to what you’re saying and apply it to your own life. Stop being such a hypocrite. And don’t get yourself backed into a corner in the supply closet by that creepy boy. He will say awful things, and you’ll be too scared to yell.

That time your gym teacher told you that you were overweight if you could pinch an inch of skin on your hip is, honestly, one of the most ridiculous things ever. You need to eat more than one cup of yogurt a day, and don’t start pretending it’s a game. The weight that you will lose won’t be pretty. Your ribs are going to stick out, and your arms and legs will get incredibly weak. And if any of the traditional logic about the importance of nutrition doesn’t convince you, listen to this: None of your bras are going to fit anymore, and you will have to go back to wearing the ones you got when you were 14. It will be embarrassing. You will also have to constantly see doctors who will ask you all kind of questions, and your mom will get hyper-involved in your eating and drive you crazy.

You will also have to spend a week in a hospital. Don’t freak out about it, even when they draw your blood in the emergency room and drive you in an ambulance through a snowstorm. Instead, use the week to meet interesting people and collect observations for later writing. When they stick you in that windowless room without heating, a clock, a window, or a chair, do not hyperventilate. They will keep you in there longer. Also, stand up to that cow of a psychiatrist. She will be wrong about everything and unnecessarily cruel. Furthermore, don’t sit there silently when they try to force everyone to watch Sandlot even though one of the girls was once raped while the movie was playing. She will freak out the entire time, they won’t do anything about it, and you will regret not doing something. And wear your prettiest outfits the whole time you’re there, you’ll feel much better when you’re cute.

CGI will be what makes you want to come back to school. Return with all the glory of General MacArthur, but know that senior year is going to be rough. We the People will at first suck monkey balls, but then become your favorite thing ever. You will say stupid things in the process. Apologize for them. Your English teacher and class will make you so happy you want to cry. Trust her when she says good things about you. She will be the first teacher to really, truly like you without any ounce of pity. You will also win awards at Penn Model Congress, thanks to brutal determination and an award at RUMUN, thanks to an amazing teammate. Use this as proof that you are capable and strong.

Your case manager at school will be your hero. Believe everything he says. He will be responsible for your graduation and every good thing that happens in school that year. Thank him profusely and know that even that won’t be able to express your gratitude.

Discover youtube and The Vlogbrothers. John and Hank Green will change your life. You will become an infinitely better thinker and on several occasions put off self-destruction because tomorrow one of their videos is going to be posted, and you don’t want to miss it. Also, find and read as many authors’ blogs as you can. They will give you so many healthy adult role models and get you through nights when the self-loathing feels oppressive and paranoia is on the rise. They are worthy of demi-God status, but don’t forget that they are as human and real as you are.

Write. Write a lot. Write even when it doesn’t make sense and the words seem to come out all wrong and awkward. People will somehow like it, and it will sometimes be the only thing you like about yourself. That idea about starting a blog: do it and don’t give up, even when you don’t feel like you have anything left to put into it. You will somehow fall into the world of books and authors and publishing, and you will feel at home for the first time in years.

Additionally, do not let yourself be talked into things you don’t want to do. Just because someone tells you you’ll like it in a month, does not mean that you will, and it does not matter how much you think they’re going to be angry or hate you for it. Just don’t do it. It’ll bother you to no end when you’re older, and it will create horrible habits. And don’t take medication you don’t want to simply because adults and doctors recommend it. You will get knocked out, get confused, become manic, and sleep through important things if you don’t start using the word no. It doesn’t matter if someone has a million diplomas from fancy universities in their office or is the leading doctor in a field, they don’t know you best—you, however, do. Even if your parents say they are going to kick you out of the house if you don’t take one more pill, say no. They won’t end up doing it, and you’ll feel better, both physically and mentally.

But most of all, love. Love with everything you have. Devotion and passion and compassion will bring you everything beautiful in the world.

Love your friends and treat them well. They will hold you together when you’re falling apart at the seams. They will become the only reason you don’t kill yourself on multiple occasions. And they will make you happier than anything. Also, trust them, sometimes more than you trust yourself. They are very rarely wrong and will love you back, no matter what happens.

Unconditionally love your family as they try do the best they can to help you. Be nicer to Pippa. She deserves it. Treat your cats as if they were your children. You will discover that they can make any situation infinitely better. Don’t give up hope: Pushkin will eventually become less skittish and one day start sitting on your lap.

Love things and places and people. Just let yourself do it. The world is a million times better when you love it.

And learn to love yourself.

You’re gonna be alright, somehow, and you’re going to live an extraordinary life. I just know it.

Finally, get over yourself and stop wearing those shapeless, shiny soccer shorts when you go swimming. It isn’t a good look.

Love,

Ella

_____________________________________________________________________

I decided to write this letter after discovering that an updated version of “Dear Me” will be coming out soon. You can get to the book’s website by clicking here. Basically, the book is a collection of letters to and pictures of various famous people’s 16-year-old selves. It’s beautiful.

Earlier in the day, I had read Laini Taylor’s latest blog post, “Creating Your Life,” which can be found here. She writes about the importance of having the courage and passion to live out your daydreams and not to let them become passive thoughts in your head. And she uses two amazing quotes. The first one is by Mary Oliver, and I have also loved it for a long time.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

And the second is this:

Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.

It’s by Hafiz, and so impossibly wonderful. I love it. She even made a picture with the quote on it.

Lovely, no?

Laini Taylor is one of my favorite authors and people, and I would love to be able to live a life like hers. That post was so beautiful and inspiring, I cried. It got me thinking about how I would go about living out my “one wild and precious life,” and writing this letter was a nice reflection on how I’ve gone about that in the past and what I’m doing to live an extraordinary life right now.

About fifteen minutes later, I checked my youtube subscription box and discovered that George Watsky, one of my favorite youtubers, had made a spoken-word poem/letter to his 16-year-old self that he had performed and filmed. It’s wonderful, and you can watch it just below this text.

If you also want to write a letter to your 16-year-old self and make it public, I’d love to read it. Just leave a link in the comments.

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

In Which Ella Writes About Desperately Wanting to Be an Author

It’s way too easy to be young and want something terribly.

Heck, it’s also easy to be old and want something terribly.

And it’s also easy to be not quite young and not quite old and still want something terribly.

More than all of that, it’s even easier not to get it.

I want to be a writer and not just an I-write-things-that-a-few-people-like writer. I want to be the real deal, the type of writer that gets things published in magazines and gets book deals and travels the country doing signings and readings.

But the chances of that happening are slim to none. More likely than not, I’ll end up working in a publishing firm, talking about markets and commercial appeal. And truth be told, I wouldn’t mind that too much. I’d still be firmly implanted in the magical world of books, but I wouldn’t be what I’ve wanted so terribly for years and years and years.

I was eight when I won my first writing contest. It was for the D.C. bookstore Politics and Prose, and I got to stand on a step stool behind a huge wooden podium and read my piece to around sixty people. I had my hair in high pigtails, tied with ribbons with tiny roses, and wore a huge corduroy jumper with even bigger rose prints. Everyone was staring at me, and I loved it. I had done something good. I had a skill. I was valuable. And the moment I glanced up after reading my first sentence, I knew that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to make up stories that would make other people love me and make me love being alive and having an imagination. Because goodness knows that the only other thing I was good at that age was bossing other people around and reading, and you couldn’t make other people like you or like yourself for doing that.

So I wrote story after story. Sometimes, I took requests from my classmates. There was the story of a girl whose mother got blinded by a tree branch. The boy who died from leukemia. A family of cats. A girl who played the violin far more beautifully than I could ever hope to.

There were other contests I won. Beginnings to novels. An attempt to write a memoir at the age of ten*. That time when I was thirteen and thought that I was going to write the greatest YA romance on the face of the earth**. The idea for the novel I’m trying to write now. Experiments with writing in the second person. Short stories. Way too many scribblings in notebooks. A terrible first draft of my current novel. The deleting of that first draft. This blog. Epic length letters and emails to friends.

So here I am at eighteen, churning out word after word of bad to mediocre writing, wanting something terribly that I probably won’t get. I know that I’m not very good. I know that my chances are so impossibly minimal. But I can’t help but want it with a hunger that eclipses my need for food or books. I’m obsessed with this idea of becoming a real member of the book world as an author. I think about it constantly. I talk to my characters in my head. It’s what I wake up to and what I go to sleep to. I read YA like the novels are textbooks. I always carry something to write with and on. I take notes on what makes writing successful. My entire life revolves around becoming an author.

But one of the biggest problems with this pipe dream–other than its unlikelihood–is that everyone seems to have it. Everyone wants to be an author, and I’m just another member of the crowd. I want to jump up and down and yell, “But I’m actually serious about this! I’m special! Believe in me! Love my work! Let me be the best! I am so much better than everyone else here!” But unfortunately, that’s not the way the world works. I am just a member of the yearning crowd, desperate for success that probably won’t come.

I wish I had some sort of conclusion for this post, some sort of moral or happy note to end on. But that just isn’t going to happen. I have to keep on truckin’, writing as much as I can, because maybe around the three, five millionth word, maybe something will click, and maybe when my fingertips touch the keyboard, something worthwhile will appear on the screen. It feels gloomy and depressing a lot of the time, but I keep at it, sometimes if only because I’m not very good at too much else.

*I don’t know what I was thinking with that one. I have about an hour of video tapped footage of me reading a section of it in which I made up a story about the horrible injustices done to me by my mother and Pippa. I read it in a very dramatic voice, and I know that at some point someone will rediscover it, and I will be horribly embarrassed.

**This particular story has since been destroyed, but involved a lot of treehouses, dramatic ultimatums, and a scene involving Medieval England. Amusingly, there was absolutely no kissing, and I believe the story ended with a triple marriage ceremony.

In other news, every time I hear a plane flying overhead more loudly than usual, I freak out and have to keep checking the news to make sure it hasn’t crashed into any buildings in the city. And then I come up with multiple escape routes from my room in case it misses and hits my house. Currently, climbing out onto the roof, lowering myself from the gutter, and dropping into the middle of a patch of flowers is my preferred alternative route.

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

In Which Ella Cuts Her Ear and Just Might Become Van Gogh

I discover new things everyday.

As it turns out, it is actually possible to cut your left ear when you try to push your hair back while holding a knife. It was either an accident or I have a sudden subconscious desire to become Van Gogh. I’m still waiting for the painting ability to kick in.

On another injury note, it is also possible to get a blister on the sole of your foot. I wish I didn’t have to figure this out the hard way.

In other news, I was up until three last night writing, and today I spent around five hours at the café, three hours before dinner, plus however late I decide to stay up working. I’ve run out of words and bandwidth for a good blog post.

In another related story, I’m feeling much, much better than I have for the past week.

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

P.S. I visit Cecelia at Yale in less than two days!

In Which Ella Talks to Herself

Hey, Ella?

Yeah?

Remember that time you were going to post a very long last post about a book launch party?

Yes.

And then you didn’t?

Yes.

Because you spent all day cleaning the bathrooms and trying to read a dystopian novel for work?

Yes.

And then when you were going to edit it you instead spent the time crying because your parents went to bed early and you were all alone?

This is getting embarrassing.

And then you reread everything you wrote and felt horrible about yourself?

Yes. What’s your point?

You should probably apologize to everyone for drawing out a story they really want to hear.

Yes. I feel really bad about it. I am very sorry. I didn’t do it intentionally.

What about that time you spent looking up youtube videos of cats? Or the time you spent reading poetry? Couldn’t you have been productive then?

Yes.

And now you’re going to go off and feel pathetic and stupid while hiding under the covers possibly–but probably–crying?

Yes.

I should stop asking myself rhetorical questions and go to sleep.

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

In Which Ella Dreams of Moose-Elk and Jack the Ripper

I woke up at five in the morning screaming and convulsing. I haven’t had a nightmare that bad in months. I was able to recognize that I was dreaming, but unlike most nights, I couldn’t wake myself up and relax. I was just stuck in this state of semi-consciousness, aware that I was violently shaking and yelling, but entirely unable to physically control my body and make myself stop. In my thrashing about, I managed to kick all three cats off the bed and badly tangle my feet in the sheets.

Needless to say, I am not very enthusiastic about going to bed tonight. I’m bad enough at keeping my emotions in check while I’m awake, and it just gets worse the moment I drift off. And the biggest problem with that is that there is nothing I can do to reign in the terror. I just have to wait until I wake up, completely spooked, to calm down, and usually by that point, I can’t even fall back asleep again. It’s a very lousy pattern.

But talking about dreams and sleeping is almost always boring for everyone except the person telling the stories. That is, unless the people listening were in it*. And sadly, none of you were. I would have much preferred you all to the murderous creatures that decided to haunt me!

But, as Laini Taylor so kindly and helpfully reminded me on Twitter, dreams can inspire some really excellent stories. And I think that because the dream was so humorous in retrospect, I’ve got some excellent material for writing later on. A murderous moose-elk would get me a laugh, right? Maybe Jack the Ripper could be his trainer, and they’re planning on letting him loose in Alaska to terrorize the citizens of Anchorage. Or I could go the much more conventional and likely route and have a character go through my experience. What do you think? I haven’t written anything delightfully silly in months now, perhaps it is time for some humor.

*Pippa once had a dream where I was pregnant, and she woke me up very, very early in the morning to ask who the father was. After I got over the fact that it wasn’t even seven yet, we had a good laugh.

You can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing. I’m more of the book, quotes from books, architecture/interior design, fashion posting type. There are some television show, movie, and space posts thrown in as well. It’s a happy place full of pretty, pretty things.

In Which Ella Falls in Love with Happiness

I have blisters on my feet, my eyes are seeing double, and I’m so tired I could fall asleep without a pillow on the kitchen’s tiled floor.

But none of that matters.

I had the most terribly perfect, horribly wonderful, and awfully amazing day today. There were books and there were parks and there was shopping and there was walking and there was modern art and there was meeting some of my literary idols. Libba Bray and I had a conversation so awesome that it nearly made me cry later on when I was walking back to the subway. On the train home, I figured out part of my novel that I had been struggling with and was suddenly struck by an idea for another book. And now, I’m in bed with my beloved laptop ready to relish the night and darkness before I go to sleep.

Every year, I have a few days like this, where nothing in the world goes wrong and everything just feels good. It doesn’t last, but, in a way, I don’t want it to. It wouldn’t be as lovely if everyday were perfect. It’d just be a monotony of joy. I want my happiness to be shocking, like ice water on a hot day or an unexpected present. And that’s what today was: a genuine surprise of wonderful.

But I am tired and babbling. My eyes keep drifting shut, and I feel the urge to hum a long, contented “mmhm” until I run out of breath. So I will. I’ll be just like a purring cat or a dog thumping his tail or a rabbit doing whatever weird happy thing rabbits do.

Mmhm. Happy.

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