In Which Ella Wins an Award for Packing

As it turns out you can fit a lot into a small Jansport backpack. Mine currently has a laptop, laptop case, change of clothes, toiletries, book, notebook, and a DOWN SLEEPINGBAG in it!

The zippers aren’t even all that strained!

I think I should win some sort of packing award, and since no one has appeared to give it to me, I think I’m just going to drink most of a carton of orange juice and eat chocolate chips in honor of my accomplishment.

To explain: I’m going to visit Cecelia tomorrow, which means many, many hours of trains and super-awesome-fun-times to be had by all. I will also tour Yale to see how I like it and freak about applying to college, though hopefully not at the same time. That would probably freak out the tour guide and not help my chances of being accepted.

In other news, I just painted my nails black for Halloween. You can never begin celebrating a holiday that involves COSTUMES soon enough. (And I also may have spent some time trying to paint my face to look like a leopard.)

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

Books and Math: They’re All Mine

I’ve got books. New ARCs that I’m contractually not allowed to tell anyone about. And I’ve got a crazy smile on my face, the type accompanied by wide eyes and an especially intense gaze. Because oh do I have books. And they’re all mine.

I’ve got improved math scores. Math scores that aren’t exactly fabulous, but certainly are no longer cringe worthy. And I’ve taken loads of practice SATs, more than anyone should ever have to do in one day and the ink stained hands to prove it. Because oh do I have better math scores And they’re all mine.

So I’m off to do a crazy dance, probably accidentally scaring the cats, and finish the laundry. After all, that’s the way all sophisticated people celebrate good things, right? The Jam, frightening animals, and scrubbing grass stains just ooze classy and elegant.

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

I Have Found a New Wonderful Thing to Love

I have found a new wonderful thing to love.

Blue Over Orange (Ellsworth Kelly)

Isn’t it lovely?

I just want to sit down on the floor in front of it and stare and stare and stare until it’s closing time in the museum, and I have to leave. Maybe I’ll stay there, seated Indian-style on the floor and they’ll have to grab me by my arms and drag me across the floor, my clothes and hair becoming a dust mop, as I strain my neck to keep eye contact with the blue and the orange and the white.

But it isn’t in a museum. Someone bought it for nine thousand five hundred dollars in an auction in 2007. Someone else gets to keep this beautiful, wonderful, perfect thing just for themselves. And I can only download the lithograph from Google Images.

I wonder if they love it as much as I do, if they’d let themselves become a dust mop, just so that they could have a few more moments of staring.

Probably not.

They’re most likely modern art collectors, but I don’t even know if it’s because they love it or if they want to impress their friends, relatives, neighbors, business associates at their cocktail party where they position the picture so that everyone will see it and know that they had nine thousand dollars to spend on art, which of course, means that they are quality, important people.

But for now I’ll just continue staring at my computer screen until my eyes become even more uncomfortably bloodshot. If I turn down the brightness, I can have another ten minutes of quiet meditation before it’s time to read poetry and turn in for the night. Maybe tonight when I dream, I’ll have this painting all to myself if only for a little while.

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

I Am In Love With the Impossible Miracle of the Universe

The day that I spent close to eight hours in the airport, I purchased The Year of Living Biblically from the airport bookstore. I’ve been reading it off and on since then, so one day when we were at the beach, I grabbed the book and headed down to the beach to read. My parents had just carried our kayak down, so while they swam the long distance to the buoy and back, I perched on the green hull and read the final fifty pages.

My parents are the two black dots on the left next to the buoy.

And when I finished, I slowly closed the book, dug my feet a little deeper into the sand and stared out across the beach in silence, letting people’s shouting, conversations, and the crashing of the waves becoming a dull buzzing in the background.

I slowed my breathing down and reached out for that periwinkle calm feeling that descends on me whenever I write or pray. I didn’t grab at it with needy fingers the way I am now as I desperately try to write blog posts for the coming days without power or the internet. I merely turned my hands palms up in my lap and waited. And it came with its softness and gentle weight, settling down over my shoulders and in the pit of my stomach.

Pressing my palms and fingers lightly together, I looked straight out over the water, let out a slow breath through my lips, and said, “Hello, God? Are you here, somewhere around me? I want to talk to you.”

I don’t pray very much. It’s more like a three to four times a week kind of thing for me, and it only ever happens when I’m really, really happy, really, really scared, or at church. Normally, I rush it, almost as if He wouldn’t hear it if I took more than a few minutes. But even if I’m trying to jam it all in in the minute of silence during Prayers of the People or in the few minutes following communion, I always ask permission. I know I never need it–God is always there, listening–but if I’m going to do something so terribly important, I want to make sure that we’re both entirely ready.

I waited a moment just feeling the pressure between my two hands and then said, “Hi, God. It’s me, Ella. I know that sounds just like the title of the Judy Blume novel about a girl named Margaret, but it sounds like such a nice opening to begin talking to you.”

And so I prayed, sitting there silently, trying to thank God for all that He has done for me. The clouds drifted slowly across the sky, and I thanked him for my friends, for my family, and I kept going until I was waxing poetic about the grains of sand clinging to my legs.

All of a sudden, the sky seemed to get a little brighter and the sun just a little bit warmer, but it wasn’t in a you-should-put-on-some-more-sunscreen sort of way–it felt like the miracle of the world was embracing me a little more tightly and that God was responding to my thanksgivings.

I don’t know how much I believe in the literal stories of the Bible sometimes, but I do know that some things are sacred, that there is some tremendous force of good and power that has given us the miracle of life, and that we must give thanks.

Out of all the ways that the particles from the Big Bang could have arranged themselves, this is the way they came to be. And from this arrangement, I had been chosen, also by chance, to be born. For a brief moment in time, I will have consciousness and experience this miracle; I will have the opportunity to experience the infinite good of the world. There will be other people from the same origins as me to interact with and there will be other animals with consciousness, and plants, and rocks, and all other sorts of inorganic materials, so much to explore and consider. It doesn’t matter how this was all created–it is a gift, and I will give thanks.

A little while later I stopped my prayers and examined my hands, still lightly held together. I traced the lines of the veins on the back of my hands and noticed for what felt like both the millionth and the first time, how I could watch the thin bones in my hand move as I wiggled my fingers. Beautiful, I thought, What a miracle.

If I were less self-conscious, I would have climbed up on the kayak and yelled, “I am in love with everything, dead and alive and about to be born! I am in love with this impossible miracle! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” But I didn’t, because people would have stared, and I probably would have frightened them. So instead, I did it in my mind. My voice rang out all the way across the ocean, and it was heard by all. And we all gave thanks together, a perfect harmony of thank you in an infinite number of languages to the air around us that would be heard across the universe and into the ears of God, wherever he may be.

Then, I stood up, carrying my book in my right hand and walked across the sand to the landing at the bottom of our street, up the stairs, and past the five houses between us and the sea to the back door, where I carefully brushed the sand off my legs and feet and walked into the house.

Back at the house everyone was moving around with the same speed they were before. Pippa and Jeanne were fixing themselves tall glasses of cold Gatorade, and my mother and my grandmother had started to fix dinner. There was a constant hubbub of noise and everyone seemed to in a hurry. Such a stark difference to what I had just experienced. I stood in the back hall for a moment, embracing my periwinkle feeling of calm before throwing it all off and diving back into reality.

“Did you get the yellow type of Gatorade, Mom?” I asked as I opened the refrigerator door to look for the bottle. “The red one tastes icky.”

Ella’s Fabulous Triumph

Today, I celebrate a great achievement. I went into the city to the art mueseum that had this summer’s most popular fashion exhibit and didn’t even feel the beginnings of a freak out.

We were jammed in the exhibit, shoulder to shoulder, and some morbidly obese man kept ramming his wheelchair into my legs in an attempt to push through the crowd, pushing me into whoever was next to me, and I didn’t even bat an eye. I just shifted my weight so that every time his foot rest hit my boot, I didn’t budge and politely told him that he was hurting me.

I ate an entire lunch without any prompting, and I rode in several glass elevators and walked down a bunch of escalators and stairs. I even didn’t feel a tinge of anxiety when a cab driver tried to pull away from the curb with my younger cousin halfway out of the car and me standing on the sidewalk.

And I also did this all on an hour and a half of sleep.

I’m a bit delirious right now, but I’m proud, really, really proud.

Tunes for a Very Special Road Trip

Greetings Blogizens —

It’s Mr. Ella’s Dad, substitute blogging again. Ella is out spending the night with her friends before tomorrow’s very special day. Since I’m bracing for a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the months ahead, I thought I’d pull together a playlist to ease the journey. Enjoy listening to this rapturous collection; feel free to add your own suggestions.

Blondie – Rapture

Norman Greenbaum – Spirit in the Sky

REM – It’s the End of the World as We Know It

U2 — Until The End Of The World

Guns ‘n’ Roses -Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

The Pixies — Monkey Gone to Heaven

The Cure – (Feels like) Heaven

Cracker – Can I take my Gun to Heaven?

Mazzy Star – Be My Angel

Sly and the Family Stone – I Want to Take You Higher

Jimi Hendrix – Angel

Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven

Two Thoughts for Monday

One:

Tomorrow, I am skipping school and going into the city with the seniors in the Executive and Judicial branch of our government small learning community. I’m giddy with excitement. So giddy that I’ve already picked out an outfit and packed my bag. It’s going to be great. Just great.

To commemorate this excellent happening, I’ve decided to make a Thoughts From Places video. The Vlogbrothers make these sorts of videos whenever they go traveling, and I just love them. They film bits and pieces of what they see and do and tell a beautiful story about it. Here are two of my favorites.

What ensued after this video is an amazing story that I will share with you another day.

The quote, “what if a child’s pool were enough to imprison you?” fascinates me.

The prospect of this project is terribly exciting.

Two:

At around ten-thirty last night, I got a tweet sent to my phone from Audrey that said that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Naturally, I made a mad dash for my parents’ room that involved missing a step on the stairs and making a tremendous bang as my right foot and knee smashed into the treads. Skidding down the hall and through the door, I announced, rather yelled, the news. They looked at me and blinked as I tossed my phone to my dad and ran to grab my laptop. A minute later, my dad and I were standing in front of the TV as the news anchors confirmed it.

I opened up my Twitter feed and just sat there pressing refresh over and over and over again. It felt impossibly shocking. Then, the White House announced that Obama would be giving a speech soon, and I turned on the New York Times’ live feed as my hands shook.

My dad went back upstairs, and I wrote my blog post, half muddled in disbelief. Obama spoke, and my friends and I rejoiced when he said, “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.”

I turned off all the lights, curled up on my bed, went back to reading Twitter. Karen Kavitt, one of my favorite graphic designers, wrote, “It’s amazing how connected you can feel to the human population through Twitter when news breaks, even if you’re sitting alone in your room.” And it really was true. I wasn’t alone.

I wondered how it must have felt to receive similar news in the time before computers. Would I have called all of my friends to see what they thought, or would everyone just wait to talk until the next day and the arrival of the newspapers? My parents have seen both sides of the spectrum, and sometimes, I wish that I had their perspective. The dichotomy must be spectacular.

The Uncultured Project, one of my favorite charities, tweeted that Bin Laden had been killed on Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was sort of fitting. But it did feel rather odd that we were commemorating the deaths of thousands with another death. I really do wish that he could have been captured and made to understand the vast amounts of hurt he created. I desperately want him to feel remorse. I don’t want to fight violence with more violence, but I recognize that this was the way that it had to go. He never would have gone peaceably.

When I checked my phone after school, I saw that John Green had tweeted, “Like many people, I feel like celebrating. Remember this feeling. It is human and can help us understand when others express bloodlust.”

And while I do understand the importance of empathy and can validate others’ joy, I still feel caught. It’s horrible to celebrate a death, no matter how awful the person was. However, Bin Laden’s death also can be viewed as retribution for 9/11 and all the other atrosities committed by al Qaeda.

I don’t think that I’ll ever sort out how I should react to this event. And that’s okay. It really is. It would be worse to spring towards either end of the dialectic without acknowledging the truth of the other. Besides, I’m not alone. I know many prople are in the same tangled mess of emotions as me, and there’s never anything wrong with little confusion.

Though on a very practical note, I do hope that this event can help Obama get reelected. I love him so much.

Cecelia’s Triumph

On Wednesday of last week, Cecelia was accepted into Yale. Naturally, I saved her text, jumped up and down, and practically (okay, literally) leapt on her when she arrived at Foreign Language Night twenty minutes later.

Now, I’ve been told that I am not allowed to make a really huge deal about this, but I really can’t help myself. It’s Yale. It’s one the best universities in the country. My parents went there; her mother went there; most of my parents’ friends went there. (And, well, George Bush went there, but I try to forget about that and how many soldiers lives he ended by sending them into useless combat.) Her grandfather even taught there. In my mind, it’s the university to end all universities and the loveliest academic place in the world.

Every late night that Cecelia spent doing homework, the many weekends that she gave up to do work, all the times she pulled all-nighters, and the immense stress has created something. Something beautiful and tangible. She’s reached the goal that everyone has been working towards since sixth grade. Seven years of hard work has paid off. She did it. Cecelia really, really did it.

Many would argue, and I would agree, that the American educational system has devolved into one that simply focuses on the outcome of tests and getting into the “right” college. Creativity is stunted, and those who don’t fit the norm are left on the wayside. But the problems with education shouldn’t mask the magnitude of Cecelia’s triumph. The failures of our educational system can’t be changed overnight, and there is victory in surviving something that’s broken and reaching its objective.

Maybe I’m foolish for feeling dizzy and joyous–she’s much externally calmer about this than I am–but the prospect is immense. It’s very rare that you accomplish something that you’ve dreamed about for years, and it should be celebrated until the party hats lose their elastic, and the balloons stop floating and become wrinkly. So until I get yelled at to shut up, I will be blowing party horns and playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey. I highly encourage you to join me.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig

Model Congress was exciting, anxiety-provoking, fun, and fulfilling. Xanax, crying, and deep breathing was involved, but prizes were won.

I am bursting at the seams with stories, but I’m way too worn out to spill them all tonight.

Instead, please amuse yourself with my favorite game: Sheen or Gaddafi. A good score is hard to come by, and good times and laughs will be had by all. Post your score in the comments!

In other news, I pulled a muscle in my back, and it hurts. A lot. A lot a lot. Carrying around a backpack this week should be really fun. Also, my feet are torn up from wearing pumps and walking many miles for four days straight. Tomorrow just might be a flip-flop day. In 50-60-ish degree weather.

For April Fools Everywhere

Ella is off doing political battle — well, mock-battle — leaving her dad to write tonight’s post.  And what springs to mind?  Spring.  Today begins the month that T.S. Eliot called the cruelest.  He saw a near-obscenity in April “breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire.”  In the wake of ‘The Great War,’ a profusion of spring flowers probably did seem like nature mocking humanity’s pointless bloodlust.  Scanning today’s news – war, disaster, cruelty, terror, deceit and tyranny – can make one feel that in the return of birdsong nature is mocking us still.  The challenge of climate change, after all, is not that we need to save the planet – it will endure.  It’s that we need to keep from so thoroughly fouling our nest that we can no longer thrive.

But spring comes nonetheless, whether sunny and bright, or as this morning, with snow flurries, drizzle and persistently gray skies.  Earth has swung once more round its orbit to tilt its northern end toward the sun, just as in billions of orbits before, and billions more to come.   Like it or not, we’re in for some beautiful days ahead, at least until the next equinox.

Which leads me to another thing that springs to mind this April first: Rebecca Black. Even amid earthquakes, civil wars, tsunamis, air strikes and nuclear meltdowns, reviewers of her song “Friday” suggest she has raised disaster to new heights.

I have to confess I’m thankful for “Friday” in a way that old Tom Eliot might never understand. Despite a domestic and global political climate that seems like it can hardly get bleaker, one gormless teen can rise up and geek-bop her way into our national consciousness.  The middle east may be teetering on the brink of genocide or civil war, but we have bigger crises here at home.  Today the Arab world must choose, under force of arms, between tyranny and democracy.  Our Ms. Black faces a choice every bit as stark: “kickin’ in the front seat, kickin; in the back seat, gotta make my mind up: which seat can I take?”

As art, “Friday” is undoubtedly an excrescence. But as a cultural lightning rod, it is merely one of Eliot’s lilacs, a vain burst of happiness that mocks us in our mourning for a world gone deeply wrong.  This, after all, is what April fools day is all about.  Spring comes as surely as winter, whether we greet it with a dirge or drecky pop.

Tomorrow I’ll return to worrying about the all-out war on working families currently being waged by Republicans in the House, and in state Houses across the country.  But tonight it’s Friday, and I’m looking forward to the weekend.