Numb Ella

I find myself not caring when a few of the colleges I’ve applied to have said no. Perhaps this is just because I always file away the big things that hurt, jam them into boxes, and shove them into the attic crawl-space, never to be looked at again.

“Don’t think about it, Eleanor. It’s gone,” I tell myself, “Let it go.”

And so I make myself numb and move on. The rejection, the funeral, the sickness, the disaster passes while I look on with steely eyes and my jaw set.

The hospital nurse is surprised that I’m cracking jokes while she hooks me up to a machine for yet another test. It’s been twelve hours in the emergency room, and I’ve been strangely calm the entire time. I read about the North African Front in WWII and another tank blows up while she attaches a cord to a sticker on my ankle.

My mother is shocked that I can get through a magazine spread of children dying from a suicide bomber blowing up a café. I don’t bat an eye and comment on the framing of the shot and look up aid organizations in the region. I send Doctors Without Borders five dollars and continue reading about the attack.

Pippa is disturbed that I don’t do much crying when people die. “What’s wrong with you?” she asks, and I find myself asking the same question. It’s a free pass to be inconsolable, and I never take it. I restock the napkin holder and search for more ice, instead.

The elementary school nurse is surprised that I have been stung several times by a hornet and reacted by walking into her office, holding out my arm, and announcing, “I think it was a hornet this time. Can I have some ice?” without shedding a tear or hissing in pain. I go back outside immediately.

You just disconnect, float above it all, and never, ever think about it again with an ounce of vulnerability. I let myself fly into that second place that isn’t here and lose myself in the quiet.

But I’m not entirely deadened to emotion, that certainly is clear. I save it all for the trivial, selfish stuff. I get depressed about nothing, spend time staring at walls and lying in bed. I have panic attacks and freak out about imagined gas fumes. I cry about writing essays. I am often consumed by shame and self-loathing. Cecelia’s phone can tell you just how often I reach out to her when I’m upset. And I am also one of those saps who bursts into tears during Water.org’s videos about bring wells to impoverished people or during Matthew’s proposal in Downton Abbey.

Sometimes I ask for the balance to be switched. How much more social acceptable, easier, and moral it would be to react so extravagantly to life changing things. Let’s bring it back to zero, re-calibrate, and begin again. Please, God? If not for me, for the people I affect?

But of course that never changes. My brain came wired a certain way. I was a glum child, prone to tears and insecurities, more likely to play by myself in the corner than hang out with other children. There are infinite memories of wandering around classrooms and playgrounds at recess, lost in my own thoughts, creating narratives describing what I saw or creating stories about lives I imagined living. Why chase people across the asphalt when you can sit under the slide and pretend to live on the Prairie in 1870.

There’s my school picture from when I was four: sad faced and looking sightly away from the camera, arms folded on top of a book, the page open to a picture of an owl swooping down on a mouse. The memory of being told to smile, but instead staring past the photographer to the other children running about and playing, wondering what it would be like to join in, but knowing all the same that I wouldn’t. One more day of walking in circles, thinking and waiting for something extraordinary to happen.

I tell Cecelia that I’m feeling sad right now, and I suppose I am on some level—the allure of lying down and enjoying the silence of my bedroom is tantalizing, a sure sign of something being wrong—but I feel just fine. I’ll have heard from all of the schools within a week, and then I’ll begin to plan.

For now, I’ll think of ways to decorate a dorm room and pretend that I’m the main character in the novel I’m writing, a girl who is always like the animated, foot-in-mouth, passionate about everything Ella. I’m so very tired.

Tomorrow, we’ll go on a rollicking adventure where I’ll be the bouncy, extroverted Ella I’m half of the time. We’ll be goofy and happy together. I promise.

On another note, I learned today that lucid dreaming isn’t something that everybody does. I’ve been aware that I am dreaming and capable of waking myself up or changing the dream ever since I can remember. When I talk about waking up screaming and punching, it’s because I’m sort of physically fighting my way awake, not because I’m suddenly in a panic.

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Ella and the Way too Windy Bike Ride

It was scarily windy today, the type of windy that sends trashcans flying across the street and makes large branches fall on top of roofs.

Naturally, I decided that this afternoon was the opportune time for a bike ride.

One of the ways that I motivate myself to exercise is to convince myself that I need to be as physically fit as possible so that I can survive disasters by outrunning tsunamis and bears and live by myself in the woods in case I become a character in a dystopian novel. (This same fixation is what leads me to believe that it is also imperative that I become proficient in hunting with a gun or bow and arrow (An idea that my father laughed at when I mentioned it at the dinner table).)

With this in mind, I set out. For the first three miles, I felt fabulous. Sure, it was chillier than I anticipated and I had to do some creative swerving around debris, but I was just whizzing along. I don’t think I’ve ever done this route this quickly before! I thought and continued pedaling with a very smug smile on my face,  I could keep going forever! I am never going to die from a natural disaster now!

So biked further than I usually do, enjoying the crisp air and planning out an imaginary trip to Europe. Maybe I could convince my grandmother to take me, and we could visit her childhood home in Versailles! Scotland might be nice. What about Berlin? I thought.

And then I realized that I should probably turn around. I still need to bring my weight up by at least ten pounds, so my body continues to be fairly weak. Having to constantly stop for breaks on the way home is not my idea of fun. So I did an about face and began to head back.

This is when things got weird.

Now, I bike the same route around three times a week. I know the topography and my average speeds very well. And something didn’t feel right. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but something was definitely wrong.

(Some background: When I sit at a table, I usually angle myself so that my legs are over the side of the chair rather than under the table. It’s a terrible habit, I know, and one that I try to correct, but I naturally gravitate towards sitting this way. So when I’m cruising on my bike, I end up sort of doing the same thing. I obviously can’t ride a bike side-saddle (though if they make a bike like this, I’d be very interested in giving it a go), but I will push my left leg into the body of the bike and shift my weight so that I’m more diagonal.)

After a few more seconds, it became clear that my problem was that I wasn’t sitting the way I normally do for that section of the bike ride. I was still pedaling on a portion of the road that goes downhill. And this wasn’t I-want-to-see-if-I-can-break-the-sound-barrier-on-my-bike-or-at-least-beat-that-car-to-the-mailbox pedaling, I was pedaling in order to remain upright and moving forward. When the road leveled out, it got worse. I had to change gears several times and was wobbling all over the place. The wind was blowing directly in my face and was much stronger than I had thought. All of that extra speed on my way out must have been from having the wind at my back.

The fifth time I had to put my foot down out of fear of toppling over, I just got off my bike and started that awkward and humiliating trudge back to my house, trying not to bruise my legs against the bike (an unsuccessful endeavor). Cold air was working its way up the sleeves of my jacket, and I considered sitting down on the curb and waiting to see if the wind would die down in the way that a rainstorm would. But I persevered and walked about two shin-bumping miles before finally wobbling my way back home where I discovered lawn and leaf bags sitting in the middle of the street and a very large branch in our flower bed.

Then, I got the mail, learned that I didn’t get into one of the colleges I applied to, and started researching the Silk Road just for the heck of it.

The end.

Ella and College Part a Million

As I was brushing my teeth this evening and trying and failing to keep toothpaste off of my nightgown, I realized that I am going to be hearing back from colleges in around twenty days. And I have to admit that I was rather amused by this. Not the fact that I’ll be faced with some major disappointments and victories and have to make a huge life decision, of course, but I’m shocked that I don’t feel concerned about it anymore.

I spent hours and hours and hours in high school freaked out about where I was going to go to school–my entire life revolved around doing the things I needed to do in order to get into the best possible school. I was that kid in fifth grade who was making lists of things I needed to accomplish and crying over grades. And even by the time that I reached senior year and calmed down, I was still obsessed. Some part of me continued to be convinced that I my entire life’s success depended upon my acceptances.

Those feelings even continued all the way through the application process this fall and winter. I was stressed and nervous all through December as I polished my essays and began doing interviews. It was nerve-wracking to know that my entire worth as a student was going to be judged by a few essays, grades, and recommendations and be done by people who had never met me. If I hadn’t kept myself so busy and scheduled, I am sure that I would have dissolved in tears at one point or another.

And yet when I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror tonight, I realized that I didn’t feel that way anymore. I wouldn’t say that I don’t care anymore–because believe me, I do–I am just not concerned about where I’m going to end up. I like all of the schools I applied to, and I’d be happy attending any of them. It’s going to be okay, no matter what happens. I’ll show up someplace in late August or early September and happily immerse myself in academia again. I’m excited to get back into the groove of school and be surrounded by motivated people my own age. What I do there matters a lot more than the school’s name.

Besides, remember when I wrote about heading down south for a long weekend? Well, I wasn’t just there for a short vacation. I was already accepted by a school in Virginia that has an amazing creative writing program, and they wanted me come down to interview for a merit scholarship. And about a week and a half ago, I got the call that I had won a full-ride! It’ll be hard to turn an offer like that down. Virginia plus saving over two hundred thousand dollars? Sign me up!

So whatever happens come the end of March and the first week of April is going to be okay. I’m even a little excited. Quite frankly, it’s kind of like waiting to open presents on Christmas morning. You don’t know who is going to give you a bright pink fleece bathrobe with hearts all over it that you will somehow not manage to grow out of (I have had this ridiculous and garish item of clothing for over ten years, and it continues to both fit and embarrass me.) and who is going to give you the book you’ve been eyeing at the bookstore for weeks. You just have to rip open the paper and plaster on a smile no matter what it turns out to be.

Ella and the Mail

Perhaps it’s because I’m still mostly a kid, but the thrill of getting anything in the mail, and I’m talking anything–magazines and brochures with my name on them are exciting–still hasn’t worn off in the slightest. If I notice a package or hear the mailbox, I come running, usually exclaiming, “MAIL!”

So pulling into the driveway after ten hours at work to discover that I had three packages and three letters was almost as good as suddenly being able to sleep normal hours (More later about how I’ve only slept for ten hours in the past seventy-two hours). Not only do I have all of the new SCBWI mailings, a package from DFTBA (hurray for new tee shirts and the John Green audio book of The Fault in Our Stars), and unexpected late Christmas gifts, but I also discovered that after someone sends you one envelope filled with confetti, you should open any future mailings from them with great amounts of care. Some colleges take their acceptance letters very seriously and like to add even larger elements of surprise, of which I heartily approve.

So please excuse me while I curl up with a ridiculous amount of chocolate, 30 Rock, sparkling cider, and all of my new, shiny things and doze.

You can also find me collecting lovely images and words on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/.

Ella Applies to College and Talks About That One Time When She Was Nathan Detroit

Oh, excuse me, I couldn’t hear or see you over my excessive giggling and victory dancing, because, tra la la, I’ve completed quite a few college applications today.

I considered telling you what schools I’m applying to and what all of the supplement questions were, but then I’d have to deal with public disappointment and shame if I didn’t get into any of my top picks. It’s better to keep cranking out the essays privately, knowing that with most of the schools I’m applying to, getting in is a complete crap shoot*.

So let’s just roll the dice and see what happens. Mum’s the word until spring rolls around and figure out where I got in.

*Surprisingly, I actually know how to play craps, thanks to being Nathan Detroit in my school’s sixth grade performance of Guys and Dolls. I wore a fedora, a man’s suit with the sleeves and pants rolled up, and my hair very carefully pinned back. I spoke in what I thought was a New York accent (it was not) and fell over at one point by running into someone. The bench I was standing on also toppled over, but that’s a whole other story. Other than those few instances, it was a very good performance for a sixth grade, and I was not as terrible as I just made myself sound. Someday, someone is going to find the DVD of the show and royally embarrass me with it.

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.

In Which Sadie’s Birthday Is Celebrated

Today, I hosted a “surprise party” for Sadie. Now, the only real surprise was that the get-together with all of my friends that I had organized wasn’t just an afternoon lunch, it was also a birthday party for Sadie’s nineteenth. I made an ice cream cake, other people brought snacks and dishes, and we played a long and rollicking game of Loaded Questions.

If you squinted, it was like we were still in high school having fun on another weekend afternoon, half-dreading and half-looking forward to another week of classes and hours spent together in rehearsal, in class, and eating sandwich while perched on stools in the art room. But come tomorrow morning we won’t be grumbling over our math homework and calling each other to double check the assignments for AP English, instead everyone will be traveling back to college, ready to jump back into their new and exciting lives.

Thankfully, this time we won’t have such a huge gap before we get to see each other again.  Winter holidays are rolling around soon, and in the coming weeks Clara and I will be busy planning this year’s New Year’s party.

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

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.

In Which Ella Has a Date With Five A.M., Visits Three Schools, and Tells Funny Spelling Stories

For the past six months or so, my only acquaintance with five a.m. has been when I haven’t yet gone to bed, but today we went on a special date as waking-up pals. It was not very fun.

In typical fashion, I set seven alarms all to go off in two minute increments starting ten minutes before I was planning on getting up. I’ve become so paranoid of sleeping through things, thanks to medication that makes me spectacularly drowsy, that if it were at all possible, I would rig a contraption to create a light show and set off fireworks.

But I did not end up needing anything that would set the room on fire or look like a rave, I just rolled out of bed when the first alarm went off. And then I spent the next fourteen minutes returning to my room to keep turning off the other alarms. We were out of orange juice, but the constant charging up and down the stairs did plenty to jolt me into a state of semi-consciousness. I didn’t even fall asleep in the shower, which is some kind of record for a non-manic sleep-deprived me.

I spent about five minutes yelling at my dad to wake up and then we were out the door and to Starbucks where the barista FORGOT to put the chocolate sauce in my hot chocolate, thus rendering it undrinkable for people like me and who equally abhor and are scared of milk. (And yes, I do realize how irrational that is.) After two plus hours on the road, our day of non-stop college touring began.

I fell in love with one school, very much liked another, and really did not like the third. It was rather strange–the moment I got out of the car on campus and walked into the admissions office, I knew something was off and deeper we got into the tour, the more convinced I became. I thought that I would love it–on paper it looked fabulous–but there is a very significant deviation between college propaganda, guide books, and reality.

And a word to the wise: Even if the timing works out, going to three schools in one day is both overwhelming and exhausting. I feel rather dazed and tired and in great need of chocolate pudding.

In other news, my mom’s second-grade students were writing stories in their journals this week using their vocabulary words, and one of the kids entitled his peice, “My Dirty Shirt,” but he, amusingly, forgot shirt’s r. Sadly, these sorts of funny mistakes always seem to petter out after elementary school.

But just to show you that I’m not being uppity about my spelling capabilities (which leave a great deal to be desired), I thought I share with you these two anecdotes. Last fall, during my first AP English Lit timed essay, I panicked and couldn’t remember how to spell “exactly.” My teacher’s favorite version of mine: “akakly.”

Here’s the second one. When I was thirteen, I wrote this story where I decided to name one of the characters Byron, after Lord Byron. Unfortunately, while I could pronounce the name, I had a lot of trouble spelling it. There were many Bryons, but the piece also featured such creative spellings as “Biro” or one that looks like it may have gotten auto-corrected as “Beerun.” Though judging by the other mistakes, blaming the computer might not be justified.

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here.

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.

In Which Ella Gets Caught in the Rain, Tells Stories from Middle School, and Visits Cecelia at Yale

There is nothing quite like the feeling of being caught in the middle of a torrential downpour without an umbrella.

Add to that carrying a backpack, a purse, a jacket (no hood), and a bag of books, and you’d have me standing outside of a very large train station this evening, trying to figure out the next leg of my trip home.

The books, thank God, were in a plastic bag from the Yale bookstore that completely protected them from the rain, but I had nothing to cover my body or bags. I watched the leather of my purse turn dark, the padded straps and back of my backpack began to retain water, and I could only imagine what was happening to the things inside of my backpack as the wet seeped through. My shirt was sopping and sticking to my skin like an extra layer of white and blue striped epidermis, and the front of my jeans were drenched. I had decided that I wasn’t even going to think about what my hair looked like, which meant, of course, that I was entirely focussed on it.

And then once I was finally indoors again, the really misery set in. I was sopping wet, and where I wasn’t, I was damp. And all I could do was sit still and wait to dry out. Let me tell you, it takes a very, very long time for jeans to dry and even longer for backpack padding. So when I had to pick my bag back up again to walk, my dry shirt was dry no longer.

But despite the fact that traveling home was not the world’s most fun experience, the trip was entirely worth it, and I have had worse experiences in the rain.

Keeping with the tradition of saving the good news for last, I’ll first share with you one of my rain horror stories.

When I was in middle school, I took the school bus to and from school every morning and afternoon. One day, it was raining. I didn’t think much of it when it started coming down at around nine, but by ninth period I began to get a little worried. The rain had not stopped, I was not dressed for the weather (I was wearing brand new suede Puma sneakers and did not have a jacket or umbrella.), and I could see giant pools of water forming wherever there was an indentation in the ground. An uneven sidewalk seam would create a lake. But then dismissal bell rang, and I ran out of the building, racing towards the buses, along with the other seven hundred students.

At that point, my biggest concern was how wet my shoes were going to get while I ran a block and a half home. (At this point of my life, I had decided that the optimal way of traveling to and from the bus stop was to sprint, completely hunched over with a very determined scowl on my face. My backpack was neon green, and I had strapped my lunch box to it at an odd angle, and it would thump loudly as I ran. It also occasionally would smack me on top of my head. In my defense, I was doing all of this when I was twelve, and now at eighteen, I walk upright with very few signs of complete insanity.) But then the bus started driving, and I noticed that we were taking a very different route. I first panicked, thinking that I had gotten on the wrong bus, but I quickly realized that I wasn’t and the route was just wonky because there was flooding.

I live on a hill at the base of a mountain, and there was no way for the bus to get to my or anyone else’s houses. We got let out over a half mile from home and had to wade across the train track through upper-shin-deep water. I took off my shoes, put them in my lunch box, and did it in my socks. For the next ten plus minutes, I walked in the rain through water of varying depths back to my house. Did I mention that it was early March and the temperature had significantly dropped since the morning?

But in the words of my first choir master, we’ve had our onions, and now it’s time for the orchids. (He said this when giving us reviews of our weekly performances in church. When I first heard it at the age of nine, I couldn’t understand what was wrong with onions. They’re in practically everything you cook! How were they somehow evil? And then my mother had me chop one myself, and my view entirely changed.)

But back to the present.

I got to see Cecelia! Albeit, it wasn’t even for twenty-four hours, but I’ll take whatever I can get. We walked all over campus yesterday afternoon as she gave me the grand tour of Yale.

Now, I have been to Yale a lot. It’s my parents’ alma mater, but seeing it from Cecelia’s eyes is entirely different, and to be perfectly frank, quite a bit more fun. We checked out the farm to visit the salad greens she had planted and explored her residential college. I met her incredibly nice and funny roommate. We ate dinner at my mother’s favorite New Haven restaurant and split a piece of carrot cake, only to eat double scoop ice cream cones five minutes later.

Later, we spent well over an hour in the Yale bookstore where I had the most awful time narrowing down my I-CANNOT-LEAVE-HERE-WITHOUT-IT list down to two: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer and A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. And then we watched a movie, which in typical fashion, meant that Cecelia fell asleep about fifteen minutes in.

The next morning, we had breakfast in a bookstore and went to the Yale Art Gallery. I have been having a torrid love affair with their third floor modern art exhibit for many years now, and this Ellsworth Kelly painting and I had a very happy reunion.

(If you ever have the chance, visit the Yale Art Gallery’s modern art collection. It is phenomenal.)

Sadly, after that I had to leave. But the Yale-Harvard game isn’t too far away, so I’ll be back soon.

In other news, I get to see Tal and hopefully Lily tomorrow! There might even be some visiting with Audrey! Long live trains and colleges’ fall weekends!

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 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.