In Which Ella Blabbers On About Model Congress and Model U.N. in a Very Strange Manner

I can feel my palms begin to sweat, my heart rate is elevated, and if I weren’t crossing my legs, I’m sure they would be shaking. But those initial nerves are one of the best parts of Model Congress and Model U.N. I’m alert, on edge, ready to stand up and quote the Bureau of Labor Statistics, point out a glaring loophole in a bill, or appeal to another county to vote for my resolution. When I’m at the podium, I feel entirely alive. I love the attention, the chance to be unabashedly passionate, and to have an, albeit pretend, say in how the world or the U.S. is run. I find myself happily spinning in an academic whirlwind. I have to think quickly and on my feet, often coming up with points as I’m speaking. My voracious reading of The New York Times becomes valuable for something other than a conversation starter. And at the end of the conference, whether or not I win a certificate or a gavel, I find myself already counting down the days until the next one.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which I Go to Philadelphia, Wear Shoes That Really Hurt, and Win a Golden Gavel: Part Two

I went out to lunch, journeying into the cold, grey streets of gritty Philadelphia. We walked all the way across campus in search of the food trucks, where I stood on tip toe to lean up to a truck counter and order a tuna salad sandwich. Then, we turned around again and walked all the way back to the Student Center to eat in a crowded, noisy room and watch a boy get recruited for soccer and a whole lot of people staring at laptops. I focussed on finishing my sandwich, and laughing as much as I could.

It’s those sorts of things that I love about Model Congress: The instants where everybody’s together, talking and having a good time in a way that we wouldn’t if we were anywhere else. At school, we’d sit in separate groups and never spend an hour complaining about immigration and other people’s stupidity. Well, we would, but we wouldn’t do it collectively and with the same sort of zeal. Every moment at Model Congress is crucial. Nothing can be missed. It’s go, go, go, win, win, win, but please have fun while you’re doing it.

I walked back to Huntsman, looking through the basement at oddly and irregularly
numbered and lettered rooms for my committee.  I slid into a grey desk, tugged at my blazer, and braced for impact. This morning went really, really well. It should be smooth sailing from here on out, I told myself. I stood up to present my bill to the committee, feeling on top of the world. I gave my speech, leaving exactly fifteen seconds for points, and then the strangest thing happened: no one raised their hand. I was discussing gay marriage, a topic that really riles people up, and no one had a question. I had statistics, a highlighted copy of the Constitution, graphs about how it would help the economy, case law, and no one cared. My eyes got so wide that they started to sting, and the chair told me to sit down.

Then, when they asked for someone to speak against it, no one raised their hand again. Finally, a guy stood up and said that he opposed the bill because it didn’t “go far enough.” Go far enough?  Are you kidding me? As I gave him the knitted forehead are-you-crazy look, he went on to say that we should be allowed to marry as many people as we want, animals, and inanimate objects. Suddenly, the debate became focussed on that and not gay marriage. I was quite ready to slam my head into the desk. Things were not going as planned.

An amendment got passed, supporting his insane belief, and I got up to give my final authorship speech in a daze. It went something along the lines of: This bill is only about gay marriage. I am upset that it got changed. Business. Economics. Health Insurance. Seeing People in the Hospital. The Constitution. Vote for this. I have no idea what is coming out of my mouth. Sit down.

The bill passed, and it was all over. Hours of preparation for a big battle turned into twenty minutes of confusion. I felt like a week old helium balloon–slowly floating down from the ceiling a wrinkled, sorry mess. But I couldn’t cry yet, there was the “game” to be played. After every bill, the chairs gave the author a topic, such as states in America, and the author had to list as many things within that category as they could in thirty seconds. I got given languages, and let me tell you, it was easy. I swept through Europe east through west, dipped into North Africa, did all of South Africa’s official and tribal languages (thank you ten-page sixth grade report), and headed off into the Middle East. I got twenty-nine. I can’t believe that my bill fell on its face, but I just performed phenomenally well on a categories game, I thought.

Once the shock wore off, I began to cry. I excused myself from the room, and found myself in an odd circular quasi-room with financial newspapers and a screen with important stock market numbers (It’s phrases like stock market numbers that prove that I have a future career as an investment banker.) that changed every second or so. One of the girls from the committee left see if I was okay, which was incredibly kind, and a little while later one of the chairs came out to speak to me. Apparently, my bill had been really good after all, and I was “standing out in debate.” Strange.

Once again, Lady Macbeth offered me her sage advice to be courageous, and I marched back into the room ready to kill Duncan and some poorly written bills. I was feeling fine. Not good. Not bad. Just fine. And somehow it all worked. Debate came naturally.

I went out to dinner with people from my school, magically finding the ability to eat half a Caesar salad in ten minutes. With a spring in my step, I walked into the last committee session of the day. A girl introduced a bill that would give money to a militant “whale-saving” organization that would tries to tip over Japanese whaling ships, and I felt the wonderful aggressive intelligence feeling wash over me again. A long speech about international relations, unprecedented actions, and constitutionality later, I was feeling pretty darn good about myself. But sure enough the tears and the fear of failure came, and I found myself in the hall.

But like every time before, I picked myself back up, dusted off my hands, and headed back into the fray. One of the really great guys in my committee introduced this awesome bill:

I was ready to do battle. I had a printed out sheet of federal prison statsics, more than a working knowledge of psychotropic medication, and very strong feelings in support. Out of all of the speeches I gave in committee, that one by far the best. It felt awesome. Like chocolate Milky Way ice cream on a sunny day awesome.

Committee ended, and I scurried back across campus through the dark. I had packed Taboo and was desperate to get a game going. Besides, my shoes had begun to hurt. Not just the I’ve-been-wearing-heels-all-day hurting, but these-shoes-are-rubbing-the-skin-off-of-my-feet hurting. I would have done anything to walk back barefoot. But city streets have glass and God knows what on them, so it wasn’t exactly an option.

Later that evening, we had a wonderful game of Taboo. There must have been fifteen people in our room, and everyone was rolling around laughing. But as fun as it was, I began to crash. First, my head started to feel a little foggy, and then the ticking time bomb set in. I was actually going to pass out in the middle of the loud game, if I didn’t get moving. It was like I was drugged, which, of course actually was the truth. (Thanks, Geodon. You rock.) I hopped into the shower, willing myself to keep my eyes open, blow dried, my hair, and curled up on a corner of my bed. Thankfully, Ashley or Doc–I can’t remember which–noticed, and everyone left the room. I was asleep within a minute.

In Which I Go to Philadelphia, Wear Shoes That Really Hurt, and Win a Golden Gavel: Part One

Originally, this was going to be one long post, but it quickly became too long to write in one day. I will now force you to read this story in parts.

On the morning of Thursday, March, 31st, I happily and nervously trotted off to school, wheeling my red suitcase and wearing my Dad’s old Jonathan Edwards Residential College tee shirt in celebration of Cecelia being accepted into Yale.

As I yanked my bag up the steps outside of the auditorium and pulled it into the coat check room, I bemoaned how weak my arms are. I mean, you could easily fasten a watch around my upper arm, and they start shivering anytime I try to lift something around thrity pounds above shoulder height. Carrying small children can be a real struggle, which is a major problem if you’re babysitting. But all that aside, I parked my bag and wandered towards the main building through the art gallery filled with pictures that I wish that I could have created.

There were little elves taking up residence in my abdomen, and as I walked and thought about the conference, they started hopping around and doing jumping-jacks. Like most enjoyable things that I do, Model Congress makes me equally anxious, excited, and happy. Even though I was going to be in school until lunch, the whole day felt different, which was probably due the fact that I wasn’t carrying a backpack. Instead, I had my big black bucket tote from Neiman Marcus from Obama’s inauguration. Stacked in between my English binder and a collection of John Donne’s poems, the binder full of research kept singing to me about how someone was going to find a loop-hole in my bill and how if I didn’t know the percentage of jailed drug abusers, I would immediately be sent home in shame. But I walked on, dragging my feet up the stairs to the library.

In English, I desperately tried to stay on task and write about a comparisons of Donne’s Holy Sonnets to his earlier ones, but it really was no use. The anxiety of in-class writing coupled with concerns about Model Congress turned my brain into jammed machinery, and I only succeeded in writing an outline and good introduction.

At lunch, I dragged Clara with me to go buy pizza with my babysitting money. It was drizzling, and the pizza was steaming, and I was struck once again by how much better hot food tastes when it’s chilly out. But the pizza eating didn’t last long, and soon I was dragging my suitcase back down the auditorium steps and up to the back of the bus. As the boys pilled the suitcases into the back seats, I took up residence in a two-seater and quietly prayed that we’d get to Model Congress safely. The memories of the November bus crash still haunt me.

Thankfully, no one died, and only eleven people went to the hospital.

But the bus began moving, and I pulled out my binder to go over my research. As the highway mile-markers slid by, I highlighted statistics and practiced arguments in my head about gun control and immigration. People chatted and Tiny Wings was played. Soon, we were off the highway and driving through Philadelphia, and like every time I go there, I was shocked by the dichotomy between the beautiful downtown, Penn campus, and historic district and everywhere else. It’s depressed, and posters sag on dirty buildings in need of window washing and new paint.

At the hotel, I rode the elevator up to the eighth floor and walked with Tal to the room that we’d be sharing with two other girls. I unpacked, carefully smoothing out my dress clothes. There’s a certain comfort in unpacking. It makes you feel solid and safe. You’ve got a place that’s yours for the time being, and you don’t have to get up and move at a moment’s notice.

Outside again, our whole delegation walked to the sports bar we go to every year to get a very early dinner. I sat in the exact same seat that I had sat in two years before at the end of the table with my chair against the wall and across from Micah and next to John and Tal. I wasn’t the same girl I was back then. I’m maybe an inch taller, I weigh a little less, but I’ve done a heck of a lot more living. I’ve been through things younger me couldn’t even begin to comprehend. But in a way things hadn’t changed at all. Little me planned on going back to Penn Model Congress, sitting in that chair, and feeling nervous about debate.

Just like last time, we played the game where you write a person on a piece of paper, pass it to your neighbor, hold it up to your head, and ask yes or no questions until you figure out who it is. I had Pamela Anderson, who I know next to nothing about. Someone had to finally give me her initials. The whole debacle was just like Model UN this fall, when I had James Joyce stuck to my head, and someone told me that he was a social reformer. But the game was funny and made me laugh while I ate a bowl full of salad and a little Caesar dressing.

Back in the hotel, I picked up binder full of all the Green Senate bills and started going through the ones in my committee. With one hand firmly jammed in my hair, I cross referenced facts from my research, wrote down points, and outlined arguments. I was surprised by how poor a few of the bills were and thanked God that none of them were better than mine. Some of the worry wandered away, and I began to think that maybe I could do this. Soon enough, I was putting on my wrap dress and trying not to fall over while pulling up my stockings. I slid my feet into my pumps, grabbed my bag with both binders, and looked at myself in the mirror. This is what I’m going to look like as an adult, I thought, though hopefully I won’t be this nervous heading to the office.

As we walked across campus to Irving Auditorium, I repeated “I can do this. I am good at this. It will all be okay.” with each click of my heels on the stone path. Opening ceremonies began, and Joe Sestak gave an amazing speech. I nodded along when I discovered that our opinions about education policy are exactly the same. But the best part was when he was talking about the budget and how small programs that directly benefit the states and the people are being cut instead of military and other large program spending because of all a sudden he said: “It’s a pimple on an elephant.”

I laughed, and some of the anxiety washed away. But half an hour later, I was sitting in a classroom with fifteen other Senators feeling like the elves in my abdomen were having a rave and trying to claw their out through my stomach. I stood up to speak about the first bill and as always, thought that I sounded like a complete idiot. I began to cry, and as I tend do in public, let my hair cover my face as I slipped out of the room. This is it, I thought, Ella, you have seriously screwed up. And it really did feel like it was all a disaster, that I would be miserable for the next four days, and that I would go home royally embarrassed.

But Ashley was came out into the hallway and gave me a hug, and five minutes later, during his committee’s recess, Doc spoke to me. So after a few more minutes, I remembered Lady Macbeth, screwed my courage to the sticking point, decided that I would not fail, and marched back into the room. And things improved. They always do, even when it seems impossible. At the recess, I told the chairs about my anxiety disorder like a mature person, and did a tiny bit of socializing. I stood up to talk some more and used my research to make some great points.

Back at the hotel that evening, I relapsed and spent ten minutes sobbing. Pulling my act together, I promised myself that if half of tomorrow was as bad as tonight, I could call home. But the next morning was wonderful. We were in the Wharton School of Business, in a beautiful room, and I was in my element. I love talking to over a hundred people because no one is an individual anymore. It’s just me informing a mass of blurry faces. And I am pretty darn good at talking to blurry faces. I referenced and extolled the virtues of the Constitution, recalled New York Times and The Week articles from months ago, and wedged in a good deal of American history.

Post-Debate Syndrome

Today, like most days following long stressful trips, was a “dark day.” I stayed in bed, feeling depressed, reading Wikipedia, and staring at the walls from seven in the morning until three when I left for therapy. The grey cloud of sadness drifted nearer and began making ominous thundering sounds in the late afternoon while I watched Youtube videos about various charities and quietly cried.

It’s night now, my back is throbbing, and I’m ready to go to sleep. Getting out of bed again, let alone going to school, seems almost impossible, but I’ve got my Penn tee shirt draped over my desk chair, cheering me on, and I will not accept defeat. Besides, if I am capable enough to win a Golden Gavel, I can certainly make it up the front steps of school tomorrow morning.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig

Model Congress was exciting, anxiety-provoking, fun, and fulfilling. Xanax, crying, and deep breathing was involved, but prizes were won.

I am bursting at the seams with stories, but I’m way too worn out to spill them all tonight.

Instead, please amuse yourself with my favorite game: Sheen or Gaddafi. A good score is hard to come by, and good times and laughs will be had by all. Post your score in the comments!

In other news, I pulled a muscle in my back, and it hurts. A lot. A lot a lot. Carrying around a backpack this week should be really fun. Also, my feet are torn up from wearing pumps and walking many miles for four days straight. Tomorrow just might be a flip-flop day. In 50-60-ish degree weather.

Tomorrow, I Go Into Battle

I’ve been preparing for this Model Congress Conference for weeks, and it’s a strange feeling to know that it’s tomorrow. I’m anxious, and jittery, and convinced that I am going to both fail miserably and have great success. But I put myself through this because I love it. I choose this stress. I choose this anxiety. I choose these racing thoughts. They are mine, and I will overcome them.

I cried a lot at a Model UN competition this autumn, but I stuck it out. I would leave the committee room for five minutes and then turn around and march right back in. I stood up and debated even when it felt like the Atlantic Ocean was pushing its way out onto my palms. In the end, my partner and I won second place.

I won’t have the security of being with another person this time. I’ll be alone. But if I squint, it’ll just be like Congress every Wednesday. I stand up there and talk to a hundred people on a regular basis, and I do it well. Of course, I can speak to sixteen.

But now I pack.