In Which Ella Returns

There are some points in life when you give up on something you usually love. Sometimes that point is the summer before your freshman year of college, sometimes that thing is writing, and sometimes the person doing all of that is me.

I had reached this point where I felt like I had things to say, but the words I had weren’t good enough to say them.

And that’s okay.

I won’t always be able to say everything I want and sometimes I won’t even feel willing.

But that was this summer and this is this fall, and things change. I’m ready to write again.

This won’t be the Eleanor Called Ella of 2011 or early 2012. I will only be posting when I want to and not out of a need for a heavily regulated schedule.

I did a lot of growing up in the last six months, and the person I am now doesn’t need or want a daily blogging schedule. I don’t want to write sub par posts just to fulfill a quota. Writing will be posted here when I feel it is ready to be shared.

But the important thing is that I feel ready to share again, share words about my life with internet people I don’t know.

So here’s to a new beginning.

(Sorry the only thing I’ve got to toast with is a crumbled saltine and a nearly empty waterbottle.)

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Ella and the Silly/Serious Dialectic

There are times when I feel very much like eighteen, and then there are times where I feel as young as ever. Take this evening for example.

During dinner we chat about the presidential election, children’s book authors, my lunch with Sadie, and British peerage, and my father remarks that he’s very impressed by how much I’ve matured in the past three years. I thank him and feel slightly smug.

However, five minutes later I’m lying on the floor, teasing the cat with a feather, and trying to imitate how a sick dog would whine. Then, the phone rings, and I take off running to answer it, hunched over, making zooming noises, with my arms out like Superman. I almost immediately trip over the edge of the carpet and smack my chin against a chair. It’s Pippa, and I inform her in an overly giddy voice that I have just sent her seven or so links to Downton Abbey stills, along with a link to several interviews with the cast.

Phone call complete, I go back to discussing regional accents and British architecture with my parents until eleven when I decide to go finish reading The New York Times Sunday Magazine and prepare for bed.

It all feels so seamless, like it’s only natural to go from imitating dogs and dangerously running around like Superman to talking about serious topics, when it reality there’s an incredibly sharp deviation in the level of maturity involved. I like the freedom to be goofy and silly without judgement, but I bet that there will come a day where I don’t feel the impulse to do these sorts antics. When that will come I don’t know, but until then I will probably still be making up songs about the things I have to do and pretending to be on a cooking show when I make my lunch.

Ella and Leigh Grow Up

I went to Leigh’s this afternoon to hang out before she jetted off across the country to college. She’s lived far away for over a year and a half now, and I have to admit that it feels weird when we spend time together while we’re home. Not a bad weird, mind you, there’s just a stark difference in the people we were before she left and the people we are now.

Today, Leigh and I talked about Kony 2012, the World Bank, and diversity in STEM at her university. I don’t think that any of these subjects would have come up previously, even when we were finishing up high school. Then, conversation would be about the people we knew, performing arts, or school. And earlier while we were in middle school, we would have been running about with dolls or planning our “Knight School” (Perhaps I’ll write about Knight School in a coming post, as the whole idea and its execution was, in retrospect, equally hilarious and ridiculous.). We were so innocent and juvenile in middle school, fiercely holding on to childhood when everyone else was beginning to think about boys, clothes, and makeup. We vowed to wear black on our thirteenth birthdays to protest becoming a teenager and would loudly object if anyone used a swear word or was remotely crass within our earshot.

But over time and especially in the last two years, we’ve grown up. Our voices still sound the same, Leigh’s bedroom still has the same Gone with the Wind poster near the mirror, I still don’t swear, but we’ve lost the childish impulse to yell “llama” or blather on and on about American Girl (Leigh performed regularly in their musicals for close to three years, and I got to use her discount when purchasing stuff for my dolls—a friendship perk which I embraced wholeheartedly.). We’re calmer now, more mature, able to talk about meaningful things, and that makes me happy.

There was always that part of me that worried that as I grew up, I turn into someone younger me would have hated. Maybe I would be too rebellious (though to twelve-year-old me that meant swearing, staying up past midnight, and wearing too much black—and I’ve indulged in the second almost every night for years now) or too serious. Even worse, I might lose interest in all of the things I formerly loved. But none of that happened.

Younger me would admire older Ella and Leigh. They talk just like adults and really understand the implications of current events, but still burst out laughing if they catch each other’s eye when someone has unknowingly referenced some old inside joke or humors memory. We may no longer play with dolls, but we look back on those days fondly, and I don’t think a day will come when we won’t get over excited or obsessive about books. I really look forward to the coming years, as we continue to become real adults, with the security of knowing that the things that matter will never change.

Ella and Holden Caulfield

I am currently in a writing and talking time-out because I just finished reading The Catcher in the Rye (for the millionth time) and can’t stop talking and writing like Holden Caulfield. Also, the book makes me cry a lot. Because there is nothing more upsetting than sitting on the edge of that cliff between childhood and adulthood. And sometimes, I want to be with Holden, running interference in that field of rye, stopping the children from falling over the edge. Grabbing their little bodies in bear hugs, trying to let them remain blissfully ignorant of all the hurt and badness in the world for just a little bit longer. But that would never work. We’re all supposed to fall over that edge at some point and tumble down the rocky cliff.

I think that the act of falling is both the scariest and the most important part of your life, that time when you know that you’re not a kid anymore, but you haven’t hit the ground and become an adult yet. You can see the ground rushing up underneath you, and your body is painfully tensing for impact because the closer you get, the more your blithe assumptions are shattered. It becomes suddenly apparent that adults aren’t these foreign, super-hero or villain characters. They’re just as human and fallible as everyone else. It’s like falling in love with a celebrity or someone else you hardly know and then discovering what they’re really like. And it’s such a crushing diappointment.

When I was a kid, I had two theories about the world, and I don’t know which was more insane. I thought that some people were born adults, that was the way they always were, and when they talked of their childhood, it was all a lie and they were just preprogrammed to say it. And if that wasn’t it, I was convinced that I was the only real being in the world and everyone else was made up. Now, I know that the first one can’t possibly be true because as of now I’m pretty much what I had formerly deemed a preprogrammed adult, and I sure as heck wasn’t born yesterday. It took me eighteen years and close to five months to get to this point. All of those things in my childhood when I was running through the rye really did happen. But I’m still not sure about the second. It’s downright selfish and I don’t think about it a lot, but if it is true, then this is one heck of an interesting dream or experiment.

What really gets me about the book, though, is just how much Holden is hurting because he knows he’s falling, and he’s petrified. That scene where Phoebe asks him what he really likes and all he can truthfully say is her and Allie kills me. It just kills me. But it’s a book, and I can’t run screaming through the streets of New York City looking for Holden so that I can tell him that it’s alright and that I understand. But even if I could do that, I don’t think he’d accept my help–he just doesn’t seem like the type. But I want to. I want to so much that it makes me crazy.

I get hung up on that scene where he’s playing checkers with Jane and she starts crying, so he goes over and sits next to her on the glider and starts kissing her anywhere on her face but her mouth. And I think that that’s one of the best parts of the novel because it’s so impossibly kind and good. Holden’s just comforting her the best way he knows how, but he never ends up getting that from anybody in return. I find myself rereading it over and over and crying. And the hand-holding with Jane–that gets me too. But everything in that book makes me cry: from the descriptions of the Museum of Natural History to his memories of James Castle and the turtleneck sweater.

I can’t even put into words how much this book affects me and how much I care for Holden. It just makes me all achy in my solar plexus*. But what I really mean to say is that I love Holden, and I want to comfort him so badly, and I can’t, and that hurts.

I don’t really know how all of this reads or if it actually makes sense. I just know that I’m also falling and as much as I’m scared, I’m fascinated with the whole process. I could spend my whole life thinking about that fall, and in many ways, I want to. I’m trying desperately to write a novel about it, and I want to keep writing story after story of people falling. A million bildungsromans.

And I don’t ever want to forget about this falling, the way that it seems most people do or deny how difficult it is. Because right now, that seems like the biggest problem with adults. They get too focussed on their patterns of living, of going to work, fixing dinners, raising children, to really think–and I mean think–about growing older. Not in the way that their hair is turning grey and their eyesight is degrading, but what’s going on inside their heads and what happened and changed in there when they were younger.

* And I know that solar plexus sounds all weird and scientific, but I can never make myself say gut or stomach because those both aren’t even remotely true. And I hate it when people say stomach when they’re referring to their abdomen. If they’re going to be inaccurate, they should at least say small intestine, because that thing takes up an awful lot of space.

In other news, there is someone in a SUV in front of my neighbors’ house, waiting for their daughter to run outside and honking, never mind the fact that it’s one a.m. Apparently, the people in the car have forgotten the concept of ringing a doorbell or using their cellphone to alert them that they have arrived. There are so many families with young children on this block that really do not need to be woken up. And whoever is driving that car has obviously never before tried to put a crying two-year-old back to bed.

You can also find me lurking about on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/.

Ella and the Goodbyes

Today, the last of my friends left for college.* It’s got me thinking about goodbyes and the last time I said goodbye to an era of my life.

When I moved from D.C. to where I live now, I was twelve, and I knew from the moment I carefully unpacked my entire china fairy collection** from the boxes in my room all by myself and cleaned up without anyone telling me to afterwards that things weren’t going to be the same anymore—I was no longer a child. I was suddenly part of that awkward in between stage where you aren’t quite a teenager, but you’re certainly too old to be a kid. And it felt like eating one of those sour candies I used to buy from the ice cream truck–the type that I once made Pippa eat so much of that her tongue got so red, swollen, and bumpy that my mom nearly called the doctor.***

At first, it was so sour that your eyes teared up and your tongue felt like screaming in shock and pain. Then, just like on a long run, you become impervious to it–it still hurts, but you can work through it in a dull, rhythmic manner. It’s as if the pain will never leave, but you can just keep feircely struggling through it with eyes narrowed and forced, even breathing. Finally, it tastes sweet, like a proper lemon drop or a strawberry sucking candy. But there are always those sour pockets still stuck in the sweet part that make you cry all over again, and it hurts as shockingly and sharply as it did in the beginning.

I liked the responsibility of this new in between age. I loved being known as “the smart, mature one,” but I missed building fairy houses every fall until my arms were caked with mud, and the flowers in the front yard were rather unevenly pruned of their blossoms.

This is an impressively poor angle of the houses, but you get the general idea.

I missed playing in our backyard, in the kids’ space under the addition, where we had the secret and illegal “flat feet club,” named not for the height of our arches, but for the ability to plant your entire foot, covered in wet mud, on the whitewashed ceiling while swinging at scarily high angles on the swings. It made terrific bangs if you were inside of the house listening and the footprints were very difficult to wash off with the jet of the hose alone.

I missed playing “Laura Ingalls Wilder” for hours on end in brightly printed calico dresses as we watered the “fields”–my mother’s herb and vegetable garden–or made corn cakes on the stove, dribbling batter all over the floor to Louie the Dog’s delight. I was Ma, the ringleader and boss of the game, Pippa was Mary, Joseph was Frederick, Laura’s brother who died, Lee was Laura, Beth was Carrie, and Beth’s and Lee’s two-year-old younger sisters both played Grace.

I missed playing baseball in the front yard for hours. Like most of our sports games, we didn’t play with regular rules. The bases were all about six feet apart and the pitcher, which was me about ninety percent of the time, played all the positions except catcher. All the other kids would line up behind home plate and choose between the thin yellow wiffle bat, the big, flat-sided plastic bat, or a kid’s metal bat that made a satisfying ping when it connected with the ball. It was impossible to strike out, and instead of umps, we duked it out by seeing who yell the loudest and most intimidatingly. There were no teams, and we’d go for hours.

It was almost as fun as the World Cup soccer games we’d play across the street under the oldest oak tree in D.C. When we weren’t arguing over who got to be Djibouti, Ghana, or France, we were all charging around the ball, elbows wildly swinging, trying to get a goal. Tripping was common, and we’d frequently end particularly vigorous games sporting purple bruises all over our shins. But the bruises were battle wounds, and we wore them proudly, pointing at them and explaining in excessive detail exactly how that one was gotten when we had made a particularly impressive play.

But here in this new place, I didn’t have any of those endless hours of outdoor playtime. People in this town mostly stay inside and go to scheduled activities, and so I did too. I learned that you could use the internet for more than just buying American Girl Doll clothes and checking your email. I switched from play dates to “hanging out” and “going over” to other people’s houses. I cried a lot, and it sucked. But I adjusted. I began to really like it. This new era became me and who I am, and not some uncomfortable place where I didn’t want to be. Sure, I miss being a kid a lot. I feel a weight and a slight tingling in my solar plexus every time I think of how much I miss it. Sometimes, I tear up. But being here became good and sweet just like the center of that candy.

I’m still solidly in the super sour candy phase right now. I cried this afternoon. And unlike when I was ten, I can’t force Pippa to deal with it for me. But if I did it once before with some amount of grace, I know I can do it again. There are exciting, new, and shiny things ahead, I just need to keep eating the candy long enough to get to the sugary part.

*Well, George is still here, but she’s leaving for Durham in the U.K. in a few weeks, and she’s busy working a lot of the time.

**Which, along with most of trinkets I was fond of during my childhood, now sits, carefully wrapped in tissue paper and placed in shoe boxes, underneath my bed.

***This incident along with the time I gave her chemical burns from spraying air freshener (I thought it was hairspray. I was five.) directly onto her scalp gets brought up anytime Pippa needs proof that I am a “mean person.” I never meant to cause her harm, I just didn’t have any idea what the consequences would be.

“Nothing Gold Will Stay”

I have never been a big fan of growing up. I was so distraught on my fifth birthday that I spent around twenty minutes standing at the top of the basement stairs with my face pressed into the corner as I sobbed. Unfortunately, I seem unable to rid myself of this habit, and the panic of maturation strikes me around once a month.

While I do enjoy looking at how my analytical skills have improved and how much more knowledge I now possess, I cannot get over my peers’ and my progressive loss of innocence.

I was in the shower a few days ago, thinking about books, and I suddenly remembered reading The Outsiders in seventh grade. I wasn’t a huge fan of it–the gangs and disobedience held no appeal and upset me quite a bit–but it does one redeeming quality. At some point, Johnny is talking to Ponyboy and he recites the Robert Frost poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay as “an analogy for the fleeting innocence of youth”. Now, I like modern poetry quite a bit, and I really like Frost, so I memorized the end of it and repeat it to myself from time to time whenever I think about growing up.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

I try to preserve that gold for as long as I can. It’s a foolish effort and almost always brings me a lot of grief. I get so wrapped up in the securities of my past that I almost never accept change with grace. When the boys started cursing on the playground in sixth grade, I cried. It was clear that childhood was coming to a close, and adolescence would be soon begin. Later, at thirteen, I remember picking up one of my dolls and feeling like I didn’t know what to do with them anymore. I was entirely at a loss and went off to read the New York Times. I still keep three of my dolls in my room, weirdly hopeful that maybe it was all a fluke and that I’ll suddenly be able to play with them again.

I’ve dragged my feet through every milestone event (with the exception of getting my ears pierced when I was ten), and the fact that I’ll be a legal adult in less than three weeks is terrifying. I mean voting is nice and all, but I’d still like to think that stupid is a dirty, dirty word and that using “bathroom talk” will get you a time-out.

Though, truth be told, I am excited to become an adult and have capital R Responsibilities. I just want to think about it as a event that’s going to happen far, far in the future. Something that I can imagine and speculate about and not something to begin planning for. And while I do want to leave behind the emotional pain of my childhood and adolescence, I just want it to happen now with out any significant maturation.

But the thoughts that I’ve written here aren’t constant. Somedays, I’m desperate to grow up and love how mature I’ve become. People my age are so much more interesting than before, and they’re only going to continue to get that way. Besides, I would never want to be seventeen forever.