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, Tee Shirts, and Holden Caulfield

I am not the sort of person who normally wears boxy tee shirts or shirts with words on them–I don’t even own many shirts with patterns–but I do have an extreme weakness for shirts with literary references or clever jokes. The last time Pippa and I were at The Strand, she physically dragged me away from the shirt selection and this was done after I had already selected a The Great Gatsby sweatshirt to buy for her.

I am currently sleeping in a metal_floss tee shirt that says, “Hyperbole is the Best Thing Ever!”

Then, this afternoon I discovered that DFTBA Records is selling this shirt:

Catcher in the Rye is one of my favorite books by far, to the point where I once told my mom, while heavily doped up on medication, that I was going to name my children Holden and Gatsby, even if they were girls.

Of course, I don’t *need* this shirt, but I certainly predict that one will be in my possession within the next few months.

In Which Eliza And Ella Write Telegrams and Meet Authors

Authors acted STOP Got books STOP Downton STOP Rain STOP Books dry STOP telegrams are awesome STOP

– This evening as recorded in telegram format by Eliza

(It’s after midnight, and we’re a giggly mess in the train home. I’m still riding a high after having gotten to meet Barry Goldblatt (who knew who I was!!), David Levithan (who remembered my school) and Stephanie Perkins (who recognized me!!). It’s been a wonderful day for living, and Eliza and I may look vaguely drunk, despite only having imbibed mango nectar.)

Ella and the Basement

I’ve developed a new habit of locking myself in the basement for hours on end and forcing myself to write, and when the writing doesn’t go well, I read actual books to study successful authors’ technique instead of looking up weird things on the Internet.

And I have to say that it’s been working out very well. I like having a space all to myself that’s secluded and isn’t being used for sleeping or entertaining. There are six large bookcases at my disposal along with two craft closets, my father’s recording studio, piano, and seven guitars, a foosball table, a large table with eight chairs, and a large sofa. There’s also a tv, but I don’t think I’ve watched any actual show while it was airing for about a year at this point. No one else spends much time down there, and I could jump and down and scream without anyone hearing me (This is a theory, as I have yet to have an occasion to try it out.)

It’s much easier to force myself to adhere to the butt in chair rule when I’m not in my own room. My bed isn’t asking me to take a nap, and I don’t feel the need to reorganize everything on my desk. In the basement, I can take out my fancy markers and outline a scene on brown paper if I like and spread out on a table that’s bigger than Pippa’s bed.

Of course, at some point the novelty will wear off, and I’ll switch to writing somewhere else, but for now, I’m enjoying it.

In other news, Max woke me up at four a.m. to announce that it was breakfast time, so I have been a very sleepy Ella today.

In Which Ella Loses the Internet

I haven’t had proper Internet in four days, and it’s freaking me out, in the same stupid way that I get anxious when I don’t have a notebook with me or we’re out of orange juice. Suddenly, all I can think about is desperately needing what I don’t have. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t necessary for survival, I just yearn for them with the same passion I feel for my bed or air.

Yes, it’s selfish and foolish and whole other slew of incredibly negative attributes, but I can’t help myself. My normal habit of looking something up the moment I’m curious has been compromised and not knowing which Civil War battle involved a deadly trench created with explosives makes me incredibly anxious. My solar plexus tightens, I feel as if I’m going to hyperventilate, and I am physically uncomfortable for hours on end. (If anyone has the answer, please post it in the comments. I am waiting on tender hooks.)

And in a way, the denial of the object only increases my gratitude for it when it returns.

“Darling bottle of orange juice,” I’ll say, “You must never leave me alone again. I love you and your perfect sweet and tart taste, and your yellow hue was crafted by God himself. We were made with each other in mind. I miss you with my whole heart and simply can’t get on without you. Let’s hide out in the kitchen and toast the miracle of oranges with big tumblers filled with your beautiful nectar.”

Alright, I won’t really say that. I start laughing the moment anyone so much as says soul or begins a long declaration of love.

(I mean, cut to the chase, will you? I don’t need to hear about your yearning heart or that you think your love is like a haiku. Make it short and to the point, cut the Romantic Era pontifications, the ridiculous sonnets, and read Billy Collins’ “Litany” before I come in contact with you again.)

But I will spend a long time feeling happy and thankful and be very slow and through about enjoying whatever I’ve gotten back.

So Internet, we will spend hours researching the discovery of Kimodo Dragons and looking up articles on Syria when we return and be exceedingly happy about the time we’ll spend together. Get ready.

In the meantime, I’m indulging in something that never requires so much as electricity: reading. I’m going to have to ask you to whisper while I lie in bed with Max and flip through the pages.

The Limits of Ella’s Abilities

Today was another day of nose to the grindstone writing. My eyes are blurry from staring at a computer screen for too long, and I would do anything to escape from the tyranny of Scrivner. And while I am pleased with myself for having met my daily word count, I can’t help but feel frustrated.

I wrote about this last year, but one of the things that frustrates me the most is the limits of my abilities. I can feel like I’m doing everything I possibly can, and yet I’m still not living up to the right level. With upper level math in high school, I could spend hours trying to understand a concept and still have no idea what I was supposed to be doing.

When it comes to writing, I feel like I am forever living on the brink, that I just need one more shove to topple over into quality prose, but I can’t figure out how to make it there on my own. I’m quite literally doing everything I can. I read voraciously; I write upwards of 2,000 words a day; I study the industry; and I absorb all of the advice and instruction I can find. And yet it is never enough. I often worry that despite my constant efforts and my decision to devote this entire year to writing, I will never be able to create anything of value.

But it’s foolish to be consumed with frustration over my limitations. The only way I’ll ever expand them is if I continue ramming into them with as much persistence and force as I do now. Practice is the only way to ever improve. As hard as it is to banish these insecurities, I need to find a way to persevere without allowing them to consume me. I need to remain excited and in love with my work and create without thinking about the possibility of failure.

Let’s do this thing, Ella, and get back to work.

Right now, I’m writing the book I have always wanted to read, and the project is wonderful. I find myself wising that it could be over already so that I could enjoy the story in its entirety rather than only being able to reread what I’ve poorly drafted over the course of the last month.

Yesterday’s post seems to have created a lot of buzz down in the comments section, something that I’ve found very interesting to read. I’ve run out of words for the day, so I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to respond.

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.

In Which Ella Attends SCBWI: Part One

If I were not so exhausted, this post would go one for hundreds more words as I gushed about how amazing the Society of Children’s Books Authors and Illustrators New York Winter Conference has been, how many kind and wonderful people I’ve met, and the awesome speeches and breakout sessions I’ve attended, but I feel like I could fall asleep even if I were curled up on a sharp and ragged boulder, so we’ll save the longer post for Monday, and do the reader-selected post on Tuesday.

But I will share some quick snapshots before I crawl off to my boulder to catch a few hours rest.

I wore my leopard print flats so that nothing would go wrong.

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And then I was surrounded by sparrows who were apparently confused about the weather. For a few minutes, I felt like the bird woman in Mary Poppins. It was lovely.

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In Which Ella Prepares for the NYC Winter SCBWI Conference

Tomorrow, I attend the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Winter Conference in New York City. I’m both excited and tremendously nervous.

I may be eighteen, but even if I’m dressed up, I look younger. A year ago, I got carded for a PG-13 movie, and I really do not want people to write me off because I look too young.

I know that I don’t have the years of experience that most of people attending the conference do, but I am not a clueless idiot. I know a lot about the industry. I read author’s, agent’s, editor’s, and publisher’s blogs daily; I attend many, many author events; I keep a daily blog; and I’m spending an entire gap year writing a novel. I can assure you that this is not some fleeting interest. Being part of the publishing industry, hopefully as an author, is what I want to do with my life, and going to conferences like these and writing seriously is the way to do it.

And then, of course, there is the constant worry of not being good enough. How can I, lowly Eleanor, think that I am a good writer, that I am worthy of being read, let alone publication. The fear of inadequacy is always lingering, even on days when I’m pleased with what I produce. But such is life. Even people working on an assembly line must surely worry about the quality of their work. Anything anyone produces is going to affect someone else, and aren’t we all even marginally scared of being perceived as a fool?

But more than all of those anxieties, I’m excited. I’ll get to spend two days entirely surrounded by other writers and members of the industry. I’ll be completely submerged in literature, just the way I like it. I’ll have the opportunity to learn new things, listen to speakers I admire, and connect with people. I honestly can’t wait. These next two days should be a blast!

In other news, I acted like a real adult today. I sat down at a desk for over twelve hours to do work, rather than curling up in bed with my laptop to write. I even hauled myself all the way to the pharmacy and grocery store even though I didn’t want to and it was raining.

Also in other news, take a look at this fancy new layout! Additionally, you can now contact me by clicking on the “Contact Ella” page underneath the header. I’d love to hear about what you think of the new look and any other comments you have on the blog! I will soon be updating the About page with a more detailed and current bio.

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/. I’d love for you to follow me on my trek into the wilds of tumblr.

Ella Surrounded By Books

I have always lived surrounded by books.

As a child, it was normal to check out at least twenty titles a month from the library and receive copious amounts of literature on holidays and birthdays. I assumed that it was common for people to constantly run out of shelf space and have long discussions about where to put new bookcases. The first thing we thought about while renovating was where we were going to put new shelves. Books have always mattered intensely to my family, and I thought that everyone else felt the same way.

Of course, by the time that I was school-age, it became quite obvious that the rest of the world did not operate as a mirror image to my home life. Some people don’t know what lentils are or prefer to spend large amounts of time watching television. We all make different choices about how to spend our free time that–as long as no one is being hurt–are all equally valid. But I still can’t shake my surprise that other people don’t care for books the way I do.

Last year, I read easily over a hundred books for school and pleasure. It wasn’t hard, and I still feel like I should have read more. I could have spent a lot less time on tumblr and watching The Office. I still feel like I have a huge book debt left over from high school when I was too busy to read over forty books a year.

Besides, I like to use books to sort of spy on people. When I’m at someone’s house, I love reading the titles of books they have lying about. You can learn quite a bit about someone from what they’re reading. (i.e. Audrey’s bookshelf is littered with books about the Middle East, a testament to her passion for social activism and human rights, and works from the Beat Generation, reflecting her interest in counterculture.) It’s a wonderful way to gain insight into their lives. Free time is limited, and people rarely read something they don’t have any form of connection to. The books we read are extensions of ourselves and our interests.

My bookshelves are stuffed, books cram my desk and bedside table and sit on the floor in rather precarious towers. I own fat tomes about American history and silly YA romances. I have Salinger’s complete works inches from my pillow, and I keep a few books in bed with me. (I’ve woken up with weird crease marks on my face too many times to count.) Test prep books and heavily annotated school texts sit in two fat stacks in a corner, banished as far away as the room’s perimeter will allow. If you were to look at the hundreds of titles in my room, you’d have a fair understanding of my personality and interests without ever meeting me.

I simply can’t imagine a life without books.

Day two of being sick draws to close. I think I managed to bruise my nose by hitting my face on a cabinet.

Here’s a third of my books that are currently without a home in a bookshelf. This is the stack of books I’ve purchased or been given in the past six months. I’ve read all of them.

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