The New Song That’s Sweeping the Nation

This evening, I walked into the kitchen to see my father holding one of the cats and singing, “Roll your kitty like a hot dog on the rollers at the Wawa.”

I don’t know what we’re going to do with that ridiculous man.

A Scintillating Story in Which Ella Nearly Loses a Boot, Takes a Train, and Eats Lunch

They say that the best way to begin an adventure is not to run down the street with one cowboy boot falling off in a desperate attempt to make the train, but on Wednesday morning, I did exactly that.

I raced onto the platform just as the doors had opened and bounded onto the train, slipping down into the first seat I could find, my heart playing a tattoo in my chest. But then the train was moving again, and I could finally properly shove my already aching foot into my boot.

I know that cowboy boots, especially ones that aren’t entirely broken in, aren’t the best thing to wear when you’re going to be walking all day, but the way I see it, I’m only going to have feet that I can abuse in the name of fashion with little to no consequences for a very short period of my life, so I really ought to take advantage of it while it lasts.

I had a thirty minute layover, and Pippa called me just as I stepped into the station to figure out my connection. As it turns out, she had just gotten into Pottermore and was just bursting with news! I listened to some very long-winded descriptions of the wand selecting quiz and the sorting process, including being read most of the wand woods and flexibilities article. And we didn’t even snap at each other. I’m telling you Harry Potter is magic!*

I hung up just as my connecting train pulled into the station and settled back down into a seat. For this part of the train ride, I never like to read because there’s this river that the train passes over, and the water fascinates me. For some mind-boggling reason, there are these strange holes in the surfaces where the water is swirling as if it is going down a drain, you know, exactly like that tornado/hurricane shaped thing you see when you pull the plug in the bathtub. It’s not like this is happening in just one place either. There are loads of them, spaced every few yards or so. Unless the river is secretly a giant bathtub with multiple drains, I don’t know what’s going on.

Soon enough, we had pulled into the station in the city (let’s call it Swaziland) where my dad works, right across the river from the City. I walked through the station feeling important like all of the businessmen and women bustling around in suits. Then, as I walked along the pier, admiring the city’s skyline, I called my dad to meet him for lunch.

As we sat, eating Thai food, I tried to figure out how to avoid eating the egg they put in my noodles**, and we talked about books, writing, and publishing, which is one of my favorite topics of conversation and my dad’s career. And suddenly, it occurred to me that I was doing a very adult thing, meeting my dad for lunch and discussing real-life work, and it wasn’t like he was trying to explain to me what he does when he goes into his office***. We were actually talking about specific projects we’re working on. It seemed impossibly strange that this would be how more of our interactions would be go in the future.

This isn’t to say that I plan on restricting everything I discuss with my dad to work, but as I age, I’m going to spend increasingly smaller amounts of time asking him for things, arguing about food, and yammering on about topics that no one but a sympathetic parent would care about**** and much more time talking about things that truly matter. It’s been progressing in that direction for quite some time now, but it feels like it’s suddenly picked up so much speed, I’m going to go hurdling over the handlebars and break something.

After lunch, I got back on the train and finally arrived in the city.

Due to large amounts of chores and work, part II with all of the actually exciting bits will find its way onto the blog tomorrow.

*I am a laugh riot tonight.

**I haven’t eaten eggs in so long that when I took a bite of it, I couldn’t identify the taste or texture. All I knew was that it was gross, and it needed to get out of my mouth right now.

***It always disappointed me when I was little that he wasn’t physically making the books. In my six-year-old mind, working a book-printing factory was miles more impressive than being an editor.

****Long winded rants about the ink in tattoos not being regulated by the FDA and overly detailed analyzes of cat videos on youtube, I’m looking at you.

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

Another One From the Old Man

Ella is off on an adventure with her friends, so here’s another substitute post from mister Ella’s father. And speaking of adventure, picture this great moment in parenting. 3:30 am. Phone rings. I’m already half awake because Ella and 3 friends are in the middle of a long, late-night car trip to the beach. As a dad, I’ve been proud but also worried to let these four eighteen year-olds take off on their own. I’m glad they can be so independent, but at the same time, I’ve got to admit to trepidation about all the trouble that can befall young women who don’t have a lot of life experience.

So when the phone rings at 3:30, you’re hoping to hear, “we’ve made it to the house” not “there’s something seriously wrong with the car.” Which is what I did hear.
“We’re somewhere in Rhode Island and the exhaust pipe is dragging on the pavement. The guy in the gas station says it’s serious. What do we do?”

After some more discussion about where they are, how much more mileage they have to cover, and how disabled the car really seems to be, I advise them to get a hotel room and sort out the car in the AM. Which they proceed to do. And they stay calm throughout the whole episode. They find a holiday inn to sleep through what’s left of the night. In the morning they find a service station to replace the worn out brackets on the exhaust, and they continue on their way.That afternoon, they reach the beach house, worn out, but also happy and safe.

As a parent, this is what you hope for. I don’t mean that I wish hardship on Ella, obviously, but I know that hardships will come nonetheless. The important thing is that she is prepared to tackle tough situations and sort them out on their own. That’s why I OKed this trip in the first place. It’s time for Ella to step out on her own and weather the challenges that come her way.

She’s got this success under her belt. It should make the next ones that much easier.

In Which Ella Consumes Red Meat, Hangs Out with Cecelia, and Watches Comedy

Today has been one of those dreary tired days. I woke up at half past noon and felt ready to take a nap some ten minutes later. While the humidity and drizzle is godsend for everyone suffering from allergies, I can’t help my complaining. It’s spring, and it should be gorgeous out.

After I shuffled my way downstairs, I made bacon and stayed in my pajamas until three. However, once my mom discovered that I hadn’t eaten lunch, I went to go get dressed so my dad and I could go get burgers. Somehow showing up at a restaurant in a pink bathrobe with hearts on it that I only properly fit when I was nine did not seem like a good idea. As we drove through town, I remarked on the newly painted lane dividers and strained my eyes to see the city, but all there was was a mass of mist, almost like the city and valley were shrouded with a cloud.

Sitting in a corner of the restaurant, I ate a thick chocolate milkshake with a spoon and listened to my dad talk about success in the modern world. He’s always right about (nearly) everything, and I find a great deal of comfort in knowing that following a conventional path is not a necessity anymore, because goodness knows I’m rarely conventional. Then, we went back home and framed pictures that had been taken of me all the way back in September. My legs look very big, and my sweater makes it seem as though there is fat above the waist of my jeans. But other than that, I like the pictures.

At around five, my dad drove me to Cecelia’s. Now, one of the best things about hanging out with a close friend is that you don’t have to do anything. You can just lounge about and talk for hours not worrying about boring the other person to death. I told her how I had lost nine pounds, and we planned for our trip to the beach. Biking is in and cooking anything with meat is out. It was all too short: she had to go babysit, and I had dinner to eat.

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of trouble gagging while eating. I’m a champion gagger already, having once thrown up on a chair in the doctor’s office after a strep test. I’ll spoon food into my mouth, start to chew, and then fight the urge to throw up. It’s monstrously unpleasant and not helping the gaining weight cause. In fact, eating normally is going so poorly that I’m seriously considering creating a soda and cookies diet where I drink one can of soda and eat two cookies everyday. It seems doable and could be effective.

I finished off my day by watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail with my father. Ever since I’ve seen Spamalot, I can’t stop mentally inserting the musical’s songs into the movie. It’s a major distraction. But the movie is still hilarious, and I will never fall out of love with the French knights.

So there you have it: my day.

My Father is Actually Ten

Today, while riding in the car to the Swiss Pork Store, we passed a restaurant called “Tasty Crêpes.” My father turned to me and says, “Tasty creeps? Now there’s a store I’d want to avoid!”

In a annoyed voice, Pippa protested, “Dad! It’s crêpes, not creeps!”

And so began a banter of “Creeps!” “No, crêpes!”

Then, just like a ten-year-old boy, my father gleefully said, “Infinite creeps. I win!”

I just rolled my eyes and said, “Turn left on River.”

But on days like today when I feel so sad my stomach hurts, these little moments are just what I need for a pick-me-up.

One More from the Old Man

Ella’s still off at model congress so here’s another post from Mr. Ella’s father.  This’ll be short, as I’m leaving tomorrow morning for 10 days in California.  As always, I’ll depart with mixed emotions.  I genuinely enjoy many aspects of business travel — seeing new places, meeting new people.  My work requires me to spend a lot of time talking to college professors about teaching and learning. It beats flipping burgers.  American higher education is in rough shape, but it’s still something that’s done better here than most anywhere else in the world.  You can’t say that about too many fields.  And there’s always a certain positive energy on college campuses — thousands of people working toward a better future for themselves and others.  Sure, there are the slackers, the greek brats, the spoiled kids.  But despite all of that, the dominant mojo on your average campus comes from people working on getting better at something, and helping others improve.  How many other environments feel like that?

So why the mixed feelings?  I’m leaving my family behind.   Regular readers of this blog know that Ella needs a lot of support.  That’s harder to give from 3000 miles away. When Ms. Ella’s mom is parenting solo, she gets worn down, and everyone has a rougher time of it.  I hate being the cause of more hardship and friction, even when I have to be off doing what I do.  Ella will be coming home tomorrow from a major expedition and I won’t be here to hear about it.  And I’ll be even farther out of touch with Pippa than I am already.

So I think I’ll take my cue from our cats, who have commandeered Ella’s bed during her absence.  I can relax and take this in stride, trusting I can handle whatever tomorrow brings.  Or I can peer nervously forward, dreading whatever may be headed my way. I’m thinking Max and Zelda have the right idea.

one bed; three cats

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.

Greetings from Mr. Ella’s Father

Ella has invited me to confront the tyranny of the blank screen and blinking cursor while she attacks her latest English assignment, writing a sonnet. I remember a few writing assignments from my own senior year of high school. Once, after a series of assigned poems by Donne and Shakespeare, I tried my hand at the fourteen-lined beast. I recall an attempt to satirize the motives of 16th century scribbling swains, ending with a line something like : ‘or better try immortalizing girls.’ At least I could handle iambic pentameter. And wouldn’t “The Scribblin’ Swains” make a great nickname for an elite northeastern liberal arts college? But I digress.

Poetry can be troublesome stuff. I recall writing another sonnet in high school, an ’80s update of ‘come live with me and be my love…” The notion that “we could all the pleasures prove” (I’m paraphrasing from memory) was a pretty enticing image for a prep school boy, and I gave it a mod twist, part Mick Jagger, part Elvis Costello. My teacher found it clever – especially given that it was done for fun, not as an assignment. I tucked it away until Freshman year of college, when once again sonnets were on the menu. I was so proud of my sonneteering that I slipped a handwritten copy of that HS come-hither ode into one of the last essays I submitted to my first semester instructor. And thought nothing further of it.

Until.

Just a week or so into the next semester I received a surprising handwritten invitation to tea — from my first semester English instructor. Did I mention she was young? And, as luck would have it, female? I responded to the invitation and arrived at her campus apartment at the appointed hour. We sat down and chatted. I opted for the Early Grey, no sugar. We chatted a bit more. Then she pulled out the sonnet. I recall she seemed to suddenly adopt a coquettish demeanor, quite unlike her classroom presence. “You know,” she began, “this is quite lovely, but I suppose you realize I’m married.”

“Yes, of course,” I replied, still too slow to grasp the situation. “That was just something I wrote in high school. It has a second part I didn’t show you, after she turns him down and he’s all like ‘the hell with you, I never liked you anyway.'” She looked a bit crestfallen. Slowly the light dawns. “Oh, but you thought….”

“Lets just enjoy our tea, shall we?”

Sure thing, Ms. Professor, let’s do just that.

Ok, so that’s the substitute blog post from Dad. Sonnets are fun, but they can get you into trouble. So wear protective headgear.

When Nutella French Toast Goes on a Soviet Trip Into Space

Today, I went out to brunch with my family. We piled in the car and drove to the restaurant. After discovering that we had to wait for thirty minutes, wandering into an Italian deli, and explaining to my mother how earthquake magnitudes are measured, we were seated. I love the smell of pancakes and bacon and all of the happy morning chatter. I had an apple soda in a mason jar, which reminded me of being ten and having picnics in my neighbor’s tree house. If there were pieces of turkey a in cigar box, brought into the tree house by way of a pulley, the memory would be complete.

I sat in the booth, one arm hugging myself and my other hand tracing the groves of the jar like it was Braille, and tried to decide on something. It’s okay. You can eat anything. It’ll all be fine, I kept repeating to myself. A private little mantra. Just do what you practice in therapy, and it’ll all be okay. After trying to estimate the number of calories in several things, shivering at the idea of eggs (I haven’t had an omelet since I was eight, and I certainly don’t plan on starting now.), and contemplating putting my head down on the table and refusing to speak to anyone until I calmed down, I chose something. Nutella stuffed French toast with strawberries. It was something that I knew I would enjoy even though I can rattle off the nutrition facts off the top of my head. (200 calories for two tablespoons of Nutella, and half of it is from fat.)

Then, it came. And when it was right in front of me, looking me in the eye, I thought, Man, this looks really, really good, and not, How many calories does challah have? Because if there are at least three tablespoons of Nutella, and the chalah is about 200 a slice, then… I picked up my fork and knife and dug in. Actually dug in. Like I’m going to eat all of this and complain if someone takes it away from me before I’m done, digging in.

And it was great. The Nutella reminded me of France and how I once ate a heaping spoonful of it while reading all of Life of Pi in one afternoon. The stawberries reminded me of summer and the time I ate an entire carton all by myself underneath the deck when I was nine. (Pippa, if you’re reading this, sorry for blaming you when Mom asked where they all went.) And the challah reminded me of the bakery we used to go to when I was little and lived in Washington.

Pippa talked about how she was going to dye her hair and accidentally said, “Hair is just dead brain cells.” Then, she smacked me when I laughed. I deserved it, but it did hurt. Halfway through the meal, my  dad made everyone tell a joke. When Pippa said, “knock, knock,” I responded, “come in!” After that, I told the joke that had been making my dad laugh all week,”What’s the difference between beer nuts and deer nuts? Beer nuts are about a dollar fifty and deer nuts are under a buck.” Sadly, until a few days ago I thought that the joke was about how deer droppings looked like nuts.

For some reason, after telling a lame joke off a Dixie cup from her childhood, my mom decided to talk about Vladimir Komarov, the first Soviet to travel into space more than once and the first human to die during a space mission (when the Soyuz module crashed after re-entry on April 24 1967). Obviously, this freaked the beegeebus out of me. I do not like heights, and I do not like airplanes. The last time I flew in an airplane I had to be heavily medicated, and I still panicked and ended up accidentally slapping my father. Thus, I do not like thinking too much about space travel. So for the next hour and a half, my food triumph was ignored, and all I could think about was dying in airplane crash. Thanks, Mom.

Happily, I’ve mostly gotten that whole incident out of my head and am now celebrating my food triumph. Because that’s the right thing to do. I’m not planning on becoming an astronaut, so I don’t have to worry about that, right? Yeah, Nutella stuffed French toast with strawberries is so much more important.

On Breathing Too Quickly, Crying, and Freaking-Out

I’ve been having a lot of trouble with sleeping lately. Ever since Miles died in his sleep, I’m scared that the same will happen to me. I made the doctor who is monitoring my anorexia spend extra time checking my heart a few weeks ago, but the knowledge that my heart is perfectly healthy hasn’t helped the anxiety.

For the past week and a half I have had a panic attack every night. Sometimes, like last weekend, it has lead to extreme detachment. Other times, it leads to me being convinced that I have died. But mostly, I’m sure that if I go to sleep and therefore loose consciencousness, I’ll die.

Logical? No.

Easy for people around me to deal with? No.

Enjoyable? You’re funny.

Remember this post, The Medication Adventures Continue? Well, my mother discovered that if I take the medication at eight, I am knocked out by ten. While this has helped me get more sleep, it hasn’t stopped the anxiety, as proven by yesterday’s attack when I attempted to walk out of the house while crying, making weird noises, flailing my hands, and marching. (I know that this makes me sound deranged. I swear that I am not. I’m quite normal most of the time.)

Here’s to hoping that tonight is better. I mean, it has to improve at some point, right?