On Finishing My Thesis

There is nothing quite like hitting print after spending weeks working on a large project.

Idle Literary Musings

I finished Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse today, and it was excellent, really, really excellent. Woolf, like Joyce or Beckett, is a stream-of-consciousness writer, and she truly understands human thought.  Woolf chooses to tell the story through the viewpoints of a myriad of characters whose thoughts blend seamlessly into one another, creating an intricate – and sometimes confusing – web of narratives. Reading her work is a lot like reading Shakespeare.  You truly have to give yourself over to the prose, but once you’ve settled into her style, it’s lovely and very easy to understand. You’re not so much reading as you are becoming the characters and having their thoughts as they wander through life.

When I finished the book, I lay in bed for about twenty minutes with my knees making a tent out of the sheet as the cats slept next to me. The book moves with such grace and lyricism that when it all comes to a close you’re caught in a trance. I found myself repeating something that Mr. Ramsey thought, “the very stone that one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare,” over and over again and thinking about the way it’s contrasted with Lily Briscoe’s conclusions at the end of the book. While Mr. Ramsey uses that thought to torture himself, Lily accepts that the fleeting nature of her painting and finds joy in having created it.

“There it was—her picture. Yes, with all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across, its attempt at something. It would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that matter? she asked herself, taking up her brush again. She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

God, I love reading.

Toddlers and Poetry

I’ve discovered my new favorite thing: toddlers reciting poetry.

Litany is one of my all-time favorite poems. If Audrey gets Allen Ginsberg, then I get Billy Collins. Below is a video of him reading and explaining Litany. It’ll make you laugh.

On Audrey’s Adoration of Allen Ginsberg

Last night, after reading my post, Audrey asked me if I had read any Ginsberg.

Ginsberg? I thought, Like Ruth Bader Ginsberg? Sure, I’ve read peices of her decisions!

But I was wrong. Audrey was talking about Allen Ginsberg, the poet. He’s a little different from my favorite female Justice. The most pronounced of these differences is that Audrey’s kind of in love with him.

I’ve always really admired Audrey and the way that she allows herself to become infatuated with things. She lives life very passionately, grabbing onto ideas, music, books, periods of history, and people and immersing herself in them as she discovers all of its intricacies. She’s the sort of person to fall so deeply in love with a musical that she’ll go see it over and over and over again, until she knows every actor that has ever played the roles, when mistakes are made on stage, minute changes to the set, why each song was written, and the way that the actors will react when you try to get their autograph at the stage door. Best of all, she’ll bring you along for the ride, offering to go into the city with you at five a.m. to buy rush tickets and back again in the evening to see the show. She’ll stand outside with you, even though its nearly midnight and a school night, so that you can speak to the lead. And it’ll be so much fun that you’ll wish that you could be just like her and develop such beautiful obsessions.

I don’t know how, but Audrey’s suddenly found the Beat Generation and its literature. It’s all kinds of glorious and lovely, and she’s caught in a happy whirlwind of revelation. Last night, when the walls of anxiety were pressing in on me from all sides, she told me to look up A Supermarket in California, and oh my goodness was it beautiful. I mean, there was Walt Whitman, and food, and cataloging, and questions. I read it three times. And then over once more. Then I read King of May four times as well.

Today in second period, she generously handed over Howl. It’s wondrous and lyrical, and it makes me want to do nothing but read poetry all day long. Best of all, it has Whitman’s “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!” right on the title page. I’m entranced.

Once again, I’m being generously pulled along on another adventure with Audrey, and I’m so grateful.

In Which Ella Reads Six Books at Once

I was cleaning my room this morning when I realized that I am in the middle of a lot of books right now. A lot of books.

No matter how much time I spend lint-rolling my bed, I never seem to be able to get rid of all of the fur. There's always at least one cat sleeping on it and shedding up a storm.

It may seem like it would be crazy and confusing to read so much at once, but it really isn’t. It’s fun! Whenever I get bored of one, I just pick up the next. Besides, certain books just suit different feelings.

Spud, a book about a South African guy at boarding school, is great for post-cry readings because it’s hilarious. Laughing while having post-sob shudders is a very funny feeling, and the best way to return from being down and out. (And yes, I do know that this book is not geared towards nearly 18-year-old girls.)

I usually read Lorrie Morre’s Self-Help when I’m supposed to be doing something else. It’s a book of short stories, so it’s perfect for crouching on the floor and feeling guilty about ignoring chores and homework. Procrastination at its finest in twenty-minutes or less.

Dog Stories is my go to book when I can’t sleep. It’s happy, light, and about dogs (Way to state the obvious, Ella.). Nothing goes wrong that can’t be fixed, and each story is less than ten pages. At the rate I’m going at, it’ll take me ages to finish, but I don’t mind. It’s like training wheels–there when I need help from falling over into nighttime paranoia.

I like to read Oil! in the afternoons, but only when it’s sunny and preferably while drinking juice. I’m no socialist, but the Sinclair’s matter-of-fact style is alluring and comfortable. It’s like reading a novel-length newspaper article, and gosh darn it do I love the newspaper.

No Plot? No Problem! is about to become my Bible. I’ve read it through twice, and with Senior Option only three-weeks away, I’m sure to reread again. 50,000 words in 30 days seems doable enough, but I’m still moving forward with trepidation. If it’s anything like Chris Baty says, it’ll probably turn turn out to be one of those things that makes me enormously happy while immensely stressing me out. If I can just learn to put doubt and self-criticism on the back burner for a month, I should be okay. Besides, if I can write here and do three pages of creative writing a week, I can totally do 1,666.67 words a day.

Salt is one of those books that I purchase and say that I’m going to read, but never do. It hangs out on my bedside table, staring at me and saying, You just purchased me to look impressive, didn’t you? I’m way beyond your level of comprehension. You’re not good enough for history books like me! I’m pretty good at laughing back and reminding it of the 1,000 plus page book I read on Kennedy’s assassination and why conspiracy theories are the stupidest thing ever. I swear, one of these days, I’m going to get beyond the first three pages. It’s just not going to be tonight, or tomorrow, and probably not next week, either.

Of course, I’m not counting my forays into poetry. Those extra snippets out of my Victorian Poetry book for class totally don’t count. Neither does reading Emily Dickinson’s poems online. They’re just too impulsive and sneaky to be added to the record.

And while I very much want to crack open Azar Nafisi’s memoir, Things I’ve Been Silent About, I can’t. I really, really, really can’t. Because, you know, seven would just be pushing it.

On Becoming Best Pals with Kate Chopin

I have been focussing on finishing the draft of my thesis and doing some editing. It’s a blast and a half.

I will now tell the story of my afternoon and evening through pictures.

This is what my life looks like.

Plus a billion papers with notes and outlines. Plus a binder full of a carefully underlined scholarly essays. Plus several annotated bibliographies.

My bed and desk are a mess. And by mess I mean, there are neat piles of paper (sorted by type and importance!) covering it. I can’t wait to do spring cleaning over the break.

I’d love to be able to report that writing this is easy and that my only difficulty is navigating around three cats who all want to be next to me or on me all at once.

Wearing huge hand-painted shirts and peace boxer shorts are a major plus of working at home.

In reality, I spend about a quarter of my time working, a quarter of my time spacing out, and half of my time making strangled moaning noises into this pillow.

But despite all of this agony, I am going to finish this paper. It will get done. It has to. I just know it. After all, the cats seem to believe in me.

On Homework, Coffee Shops, and Putting a Girdle Round About the Earth in Forty Minutes

So once again I find myself at Starbucks doing homework. And once again, this method is mostly working.

I was writing my journal entry on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I adore; I’ve got my pencil in my hand, and it’s the nice  mechanical type, with lead so thin it never wares down to a dull, flat edge; I’m writing; and it’s just easy. There’s the pencil, the wide-ruled notebook paper, the neatly organized binder, and me. Of course, Cecelia is on the other side of the table, typing away as she works on her French Lit assignment to design a Facebook profile for one of the characters in a Molière play. But I felt undeniably alone–not lonely, just happily alone–and calm in the crowded, loud, coffee-aroma-filled Starbucks. I had all the answers and they were just flowing down my arm into my hand and marching across the paper as my pencil moved, creating words in my neat handwriting, as the bottoms of the letters slurred together because I couldn’t be bothered to fully pick up the pencil in between letters.

Of course this perfection didn’t last forever, it never does, but I live for moments like those. Because there are only so many of them, and they are rare for me. Suddenly, I had the reigns for once, and the horses were walking at a nice, dignified pace. But the horses soon spooked, and I freaked out. Partially, this was the result at looking at the grades I got on the multiple-choice parts of my midterms and the stress of trying to write an essay with the added nerves of medication changes, vast loads of make-up work, and my post-graduate application sitting in an admissions office.

But I calmed down again after emailing Cecelia (who, yes, was just sitting across from me, but I didn’t want other people to hear us talking about it) and got back down to business. I didn’t feel the same way that I did when I was writing about A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I did getting things done without tears or hyperventilating. So, you know, I think that, all in all, it was a job well done.

(Oh my goodness, commas. When will I figure them out?)

A Midwinter Night’s Nap

Lately, I’ve been having this problem where I fall asleep for an hour in the middle of doing my homework. I did it on Friday when I had an assignment that had to be submitted electronically before midnight; I did it on Sunday when I was trying to read my psych textbook; and I did it today when I was in the middle of Act I of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (which I keep saying and writing like “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” for some insane reason). I think I must have been taking the dreaming part of the title too seriously.

When this happened on Sunday and Friday, I woke up, thought, oh geez, and got back to work. But that didn’t happen this evening. I must have drifted off a little after five forty, and when I woke up at six thirty-two, I thought that it was tomorrow morning and that I was running horribly, horribly late. However, one, it was quite clearly six thirty-two in the evening and two, if it was six thirty-two in the morning, I would only be two minutes behind schedule. I had just loaded up my backpack and was dashing upstairs to shower, when I decided to check my phone to see if it needed to charge a little. It didn’t, but it did tell me that it was six thirty-seven in the EVENING and not the morning. Needless to say, I felt like an idiot.

Clearly, I need to stop studying in bed and learn to actually look–not glance–at a clock before I start to panic about time.

Propriety in Animals

This morning, when the sun was pouring in through the giant double windows in my room, Zelda Fitzgerald (née Sayre), Maxwell Perkins, and Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin were all present and dozing on my bed. (The cats, of course. I don’t sleep with dead literary figures on Tuesdays.) And as they lay there, I kept thinking about how adorable sleeping cats are. I mean, look at this picture:

Mignon, non?

So as I lay there admiring all three of them, guess what that darling cat above starts to do?

If you guessed “lick his butt,” you are the proud winner of a non-existent-but-still-very-awesome prize.

And I averted my eyes and told the two other cats that Maxwell Perkins most certainly was not living up to his namesake, because this Maxwell Perkins . . .

Such a cutie.

. . . would never ever do that in public or even in private.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: Animals can be pretty gross, sometimes.

On Being the Only Girl

Whenever we have to break up into groups at school I usually end up working with the same group of girls. Tal, Lily, Cecelia, and I do make a great team and we have fun, but being in the same group for every project doesn’t really lend itself to creating new experiences. Besides, I spend loads of time with them outside of school.

So today, when my AP Lit teacher told us to break up into groups and construct a timeline of the history of literature based on our memory and whatever other resources we could find in the classroom, I didn’t scurry across the room to my friends. I stayed put. And sure enough, Noah and Micah turned to me and said, “Hey, wanna be in a group with the two of us? I think that Miles and Ethan are going to be joining our group, too.” And I said, “Okay!” Then, I turned to see Don and Milky/Champ pull up desks, too.

And it was great. Miles pulled out his iPhone to look up lists of important texts, a few of us nabbed some tenth-grade textbooks, we stole our teacher’s Abram’s Literary Terms, and I was the scribe, because I said that I had decent handwriting. Of course, the moment that I started trying to write everything that was coming out of people’s mouths, it turned into a disaster. (Well, not really, but it wasn’t especially pretty.) There was loads of laughter, some football talk, a few arguments over whether or not Marx deserved a space on the timeline or if “Greek Dramas” was too vague, and lots of funny stories being passed around. And when we got to the Anglo-Saxons, I proudly told everyone that dear Pippa can recite large sections of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English and was the very best in her class.

When our teacher walked around, she couldn’t help but laugh at our group. It looked like we were adhering to gender stereotypes (though of course no sexism was really at play). I, the only girl out of a group of seven, was sitting in a desk that was both shorter and older and scribbling away as fast I could as the boys shouted out authors, works, dates, and movements. If I knew shorthand, the picture would be complete, and my hand would have been much happier.

And when the bell rang and the screeching of metal desks against the linoleum floor  made me want to cover my ears, I though, I really need to do this more often.

So there you have it. Not only did Ella return to school after not going for over a week, but she also stepped out of her comfort zone and was the only girl in her group in AP Lit.