“Being Alone Together” and Eleanor’s Return to Blogging

So I took a break from blogging.

And then I took another one.

And another one.

And now I want to write about that and a whole lot of other things, mainly how blogging everyday impacts my life and how it felt abandoning it for a while.

So here it goes:

I recently read an article in The New York Times called The Flight From Conversation. It was all about how people today, especially young people, have trouble being alone or having face-to-face social interactions. The journalist, Sherry Turkle, characterized it as needing to be “alone together” and wanting to have complete control over where and when we have our social interactions.

And I identified with this up to a point. While I am a huge fan of and am entirely comfortable with having a proper conversation in real life and also spend a lot of time in true solitude without the distraction of mobile devices, I do enjoy being “alone together.” I love it, in fact. And being “alone together” is exactly what blogging has been to me.

Here, I get to choose the time and place of the interaction, say what I want to without being interrupted, and then wait to see if anyone responds. I don’t have to get out of bed  or make myself presentable to do it. I could be typing this in a bathing suit while wearing my National Zoo chimpanzee mask, and you wouldn’t even know. (For the record, I am not, and you’ll see the proof in a little while.)

And you, dear reader, get to do the same. You get to choose if, when, and in what emotional and physical state you read my words. Then, if you do decide to turn it into a conversation by commenting, both of us can refuse or choose to respond further. It’s easy when we can both hide behind so many levels of defenses, and the scared, shy, misunderstood part of me loves that protection.

Of course, the real reason why I blog is because I love the written word. I like the feeling of writing, putting down words on the screen or page that fit the rhythm of my thoughts. It’s incredibly calming, and when I don’t feel like everything I produce is worthy of litter box liner, it makes me happy. Writing is love and safety and something that belongs entirely to me. I adore the feeling of mine.

When I took my blogging vacation, I did it out of sheer exhaustion. I was/am depressed and the energy of keeping up with writing good daily posts was becoming more than I could handle. I was plain-old burned out. The me a few days ago’s mind boggles at the fact that I was blogging daily while going through last year’s endless medication drama. Apparently, I was better at blogging while heavily drugged. Go figure. Those floating sensations and frequent sedation must really get the creative juices flowing.

I have to admit that I was feeling really fed up with my writing in general. Nothing was coming out the way I wanted it to, and I felt like I was pursuing an utterly pointless dream. And in the way that self-destructive thoughts go, all of those negative writing thoughts snowballed to the point where I didn’t even want to think about replying to emails. Instead, I read about ten books in seven days, took way too many naps, and tried to avoid leaving the house.

And here’s what I found while I was on that writing break: I was entirely alone. I had all of these ideas, narratives, opinions, jokes floating around in my head, and they just became entirely ephemeral. Because I wasn’t keeping a record, I forgot them quickly, and without the record keeping of the blog, the days tended to blend together into a never-ending march of dull-grey solitude. No one else knew about the significant things I thought or did because I didn’t share them. Life was silent.

At times, I loved that silence and the solitude. It was numbing, emptying, indulgent. I got to be totally in love with my depression. I suck. I am a failure. I am so utterly, hopelessly misunderstood. I could repeat these thoughts on loop without anyone telling me to snap out of it or noticing how ridiculous it looked when I put down on paper. I got to be worthless, and in a way that was just wonderful. Depression loves permission to control, and I handed over the keys, climbed into the passenger seat, and said, “drive.”

I was guilty for abandoning the blog. So terribly guilty. And the guilt just got worse the longer I refused to write. My imperfections were glaring, and I couldn’t even bring myself to open my account to respond to comments. I spent one day lying in bed with all of the lights off.

But now I’m back.

Hello again.

Let’s get reacquainted.

Did you get a haircut? Is that a new shirt?

Whatever it is, you look especially nice today.

I’m ready to get back into the rhythm of paying close attention to the world and always being mindful that I need to collect something worthy of sharing with the internet every night. I want to resume keeping a public record of my life. And I want to be alone together again.

And remember that time when I said that I would prove to you that I wasn’t typing this  in a bathing suit while wearing my National Zoo chimpanzee mask? Well, here’s a picture of me taken a few minutes ago, though my laptop is out of the shot.

20120425-203040.jpg

And yes, sometimes I hang out in the bathtub while not taking a bath. I just really like the way my bathroom looks and the way it feels to be in a very small room with the door closed.

Also, I do know that I have a lot of different shampoos, etc. for one person. I kind of end up collecting them. There are four sets in there right now.

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On False Starts, Melancholy, the Old Order Amish, and Pippa’s Procedure

Somedays I feel like taking off running into the woods. I’d go barefoot and not even bother to put on a coat. Maybe I’d scream as I went, some sort of crazy reflection of how much I needed to get away. I’m not even sure what I’d do once I got there, but I wouldn’t be here dealing with all of this, and that’s all that really matters. But then I remember that running into the woods would require actually leaving my room and wearing something other than flannel nightgowns marketed to the over fifty crowd, so I just switch to reading about the Old Order Amish or something else that’s entirely mind-numbing and distracting.

You see, when you’re depressed, just emerging from your covers is some sort of feat. And then to make it down the stairs and into the kitchen makes you deserving of some sort of medal. But today I managed not only to get out of bed, but to eat a (albeit entirely liquid) breakfast and to bike five miles to therapy and back because today I was going “get my stinkin’ act together and get things done.”

Then, I nearly got run over by an overly aggressive bus driver, and my two-hour long romance with becoming a productive and mostly happy member of society was over. It was a rather bad dumping, and it took over two hours of reading about Herman Cain and fuming about the GOP to be able to somewhat recover. Then, I ate a Heath Bar and contemplated the healthiness of a non-solid diet. Because just eating things like soup and yogurt would be totally doable in my world.

The rest of the day continued to be a series of false starts. “Okay, three, two, one, GO!” I would say and then not get up and go do the thing I planned. I just couldn’t do it. Everything was leaden and lethargic and I just wanted nothing more than to sleep. I didn’t even have the energy to read anything that wasn’t nonfiction. And that, my fine feathered friends, is saying a lot.

But then the cats needed to be fed and the laundry needed doing. (I’m in the process of perfecting my recipe for making white clothing even whiter.) So I finally, finally, finally left my bed and slunk downstairs with as much enthusiasm as a tired sloth (something that despite the words’ initial appearance, is not redundant).

And now it is much, much later and I’m just as melancholy. No one else is awake so I may start cracking jokes to the cats, namely Maxwell who has made it his life goal to sleep or sit on my feet all day long. If I had enough energy, I’d make some joke about how even though I had cold feet when it came time to do things, they were actually quite toasty thanks to the cat. Only I’d make it funny. Like stand-up comedy funny. And then everyone would laugh and I would be mostly content to happy forever and ever, and everyone would drink orange juice and eat organic no-sugar-added applesauce, mangos, and real (none of that “instant” or Jello junk) chocolate pudding for the rest of their days.

But tomorrow is going to be different. When I yell “GO!” things will actually happen. And if I feel like running off into the woods just to get away, I’m going to do it. Only I’ll probably wear shoes and a coat because it’s getting kind of cold out now.

In other news, dearest, darling, Pippa has an endoscopy tomorrow. She’s going to be under general anesthesia for upwards of six hours while they stick all sorts of things down her throat, and then she’ll stuck in bed for quite a while after that. Hopefully, we’ll finally get to the bottom of what’s happening with her stomach, and they’ll figure out whether they need to put in a pacemaker. I’ve sent her many pictures of our cats, and she’s said that if she dies, I will get all of her clothes. There wasn’t any word about the future of her bedspread, but I fully plan on keeping it in my possession no matter how she comes out of this procedure. Alive, dead, zombie, reincarnated chicken, she’s not getting it back (until she asks for it and I reluctantly return it).

(To be clear: Pippa’s test is a totally routine procedure, and there is an incredibly, incredibly, incredibly microscopic chance that she will die. Somehow, we’ve both found it amusing, calming, and helpful to joke about the seriousness of it. A little levity makes anything in life easier.)

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.

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 Gets New Shoes and Entertains Maxwell Perkins the Cat

Sometimes when I get really depressed, I write a lot. Clearly, this is not one of those times.

To save everyone from a melodramatic life sucks spiel, I offer you two good, happy stories.

One: This evening, I discovered that Maxwell Perkins the Cat L-O-V-E loves watching cat videos on youtube. We watched Surprised Kitty close to ten times and then a plethora of Maru videos. Max kept sniffing the computer and walking around behind it, trying to figure out where the image was coming from.

Two: I got new shoes.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing. It’s a happier place than the blog right now, so it might be good to check it out to cleanse your mind of this suck.

In Which Ella Does a Little Filing

Alright folks, get out your filing cabinets. We’ve got some documents to put away.

To be filed under Not Helping Anorexia:

  • Looking at Fashion Show Photographs
  • Looking at Vogue
  • Skipping Dinner and Lunch and Not Exactly Eating Breakfast

To be filed under Disappointments That Probably Don’t Warrant Crying:

  • Burnt Chocolate Croissants
  • Missing a John Green Live Show
  • The London Calling Record Skipping Three Times
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’s Name Will Not Be Affixed to the Wall

The Senior Awards ceremony is tonight. You know, the one where the winners get their names stuck to the plaques outside the Main Office to forever live in glory (and have their names ridiculed by petty teenagers). Ever since freshman year, I have wanted one of those awards. I got the big academic award in middle school and was voted most scholarly (The picture in the yearbook is hilarious. I’m wearing a green shirt with a clashing green scarf, golden brown wire framed glasses and have the nerdiest expression on my face.), which was a huge deal to me at the time. Being smart was how I defined myself and how other people seemed to defined me. It felt good to be that person.

Tonight when I walk into the Auditorium to sit on the springy green fake-velvet seats and watch the proceedings, it will not be to receive one of those big fancy awards. I’ll get my gold pin for four years of community service, and that’ll be it. My friends and many of my classmates will win awards, and I’ll enthusiastically clap and take their picture, but it won’t be the same as walking up to the stage myself, shaking someone’s hand, and getting whatever they give you to commemorate it. I know that I’m being selfish. I know that all I should feel is happiness for others, but I can’t I really, really can’t. I am far too sad over my insufficiencies and how much my emotional problems have messed up how I wanted and want to live my life.

As It Turns Out, Eighteen Doesn’t Feel Any Different

Today has been one of those perfect beach days. I got up early and took a shower outdoors while the air was still clouded with fog. Stupidly, I left my towel in the back hall, and had to put my pajamas back on while I was still soaking wet. I marched my way back into the house, the grass sticking to my ankles and feet, feeling pretty defeated. Walking around in wet clothing with your hair deshelved is not a very elegant way of inaugerating being eighteen.

But things quickly got better. I dunked oat squares in lemon yogurt and drank a glass of orange juice, trying to see if I could keep the pulp out my mouth by making a sieve with my teeth. Then, I went out to the porch to talk to my grandmother and aunt and stare wistfully at my presents. I was really give maturity a run for its money.

We finally got around to present opening, and there were sun dresses from Free People, pretty cards, more clothes, a beautiful blue wooden box with a scarf inside, checks, books, and iTunes gift certificates. Tied for first place with the dresses was a poem by Mary Oliver that my aunt wrote out and backed on gorgeous blue paper.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I’m going to have to reorganize my bulletin boards at home to fit this in. It’s lovely, and I plan on memorizing it. That way, I’ll have more happy and beautiful things to repeat to myself when I’m bored or sad.

The house still needs cleaning from having been closed up all winter, so all five of us attacked the living room. All the furniture was pulled out from the walls and every picture, bowl, shell, doohickey, etc was dusted by my aunt and me. Then, I rearranged the mantle so that everything was in height order. As much as this makes me feel happy and organized, it kind of looks wonky and needs fixing. Clearly, I do not have a future in candlestick and trinket arranging.

I ate a goat’s cheese and roast beef sandwich for lunch, which is not a combination I would recommend. However, it’s still above eating Provolone cheese (the spawn of the devil), my other option. I did homework, sent in my voter registration forms, and fooled around until dinner. We ate at my favorite restaurant in town, and I ordered poorly. Scallops in cream sauce with bacon over fettucini seemed like a really great idea until it was right before me and screaming, “I AM PROBABLY OVER A THOUSAND CALORIES!” in my face. I just ate my mango salad and dubiously poked at it for the next hour.

And in the way that poor meals typically go, I ended up feeling so depressed that we just went home after eating. I had been planning on having my all-time-favorite-best-ever Milky Way ice cream for dessert to celebrate but even getting up to walk to the car felt like a chore. We drove home and watched the Bruins beat Tampa and the Red Sox beat Detroit as my dad periodically yelled at good plays, and my grandmother laughed.

Later, I pretended to officiate a church service while wearing a UConn snuggie backwards, and my dad and I went for a walk through the fog. Drops of water dripped down from the condensation on the leaves as we meandered down the roads near the beach. Maybe one night it will be so clear we can see the Milky Way. But I like how it is now, the way I feel cosy and enclosed in the safety of the house. Nothing can hurt me here. Going to sleep should be easy.

Today more than ever I felt loved. People kept texting me, and relatives called to sing Happy Birthday. It is so easy to forget experiences like today when I’m overrun with emotions. I am blessed, and I have a good life. Pain is always fleeting.

So here’s to another year of my life. Let’s see how it goes.

On General Unhappiness

Somedays the world around me becomes so overwhelming that I just want to crawl into bed and pretend that all the pressure doesn’t exist. Putting a pillow over your head and wiggling your way down so that the covers go over your neck creates a nice soft noise-dulling barrier for crying, and the cats will always come sit on the end of the bed.

At least I have a system for being miserable.

Small Victories

Whenever I feel like my challenges are innumerable and have no will left in me to fight, I need to remember that this too will pass. Today was pretty rough, but I didn’t have a panic attack on the bathroom floor like I did every night in February, and I didn’t spend all week in bed à la December and January.

On Stage-Managing Sadness

Last night and this afternoon, I ushered for our school’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” And while it was fun to hang out with Sadie and Jacob, I couldn’t help but feel like I was wearing a sign across my front that said failure.

I didn’t stage manage this show or last year’s musical, and I also had to drop out of the drama and Showcase half-way through Junior year. I’ve become some sort of washed up, pathetic former stage-manager, and it sucks.

There is no way that I could have stage-managed a show, kept up with school, and maintained some degree of sanity. No way at all. And I know it. I know it very well. Showcase this fall was disaster on many, many counts some of which were my fault and most of which were not, and going through it again would create bad repercussions.

Stage-managing was supposed to be something that I did with Cecelia. Something that I was good at. Something that was fun. Something that would make me special and define me. And like so many other things in my life, it hasn’t.

I am inadequate.

I cannot keep up with my peers.

I am not the person I want to be or planned to be.

I am a small, despicable person.

But I am still me, and I still have the future. Years and years of potential. As long as I don’t screw up.

So I try to wrap my hope around me and let that failure go. I have Jacob and Sadie to hang out with. I have people to direct to the bathroom. I have concessions to sell. I have people to stop from bringing food into the theatre. And I find that it’s enough. Enough to pull me through.

When I go back for the second weekend of shows on Friday, I refuse to wallow in self-pity. I have job to do, and I will do that job well. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find time to laugh without any sadness left in me.