In Which Ella Wears a Dress From the Fifties, Hosts a Party, and Watches Fireworks While Sitting in the Middle of the Road

Tonight, with the help of Clara, I hosted my second annual New Years Party. There was a clementine cake made by Tal, pumpkin hummus courtesy of Cecelia, and WAY too much sparkling cider. The basement looks like a bomb filled with cups and plates went off, and I’m quite tired, but I had a wonderful time.

2011 was a good year, filled with writing and reading, good times with friends, and the discovery of the wonderful young adult fiction community.

After many, many years of feeling like my life has gotten worse or at least stayed at the same level of mediocre or suck, I can definitively say that in 2011 things improved. If you go back to January and start reading all of my daily posts through it really becomes obvious. I’m mostly happy and am no longer being given medications that make me sleep all the time or give me strange sensations. I can do what I want to when I want to. I am having success with my writing.

I’d say that I have my fingers crossed for 2012 to be full of just as many improvements, but I don’t believe in luck like that. Good years come from effort, personal growth, and that extra special thing called maturing. I plan to continue living as I am now, so I’ll head off into the New Year doing jazz hands and dancing with my friends in my rockin’ dress from the fifties.

Happy New Years to you and yours! I hope you decide to join me for another crazy year of writing about my life on the Internet. I’ve got some more funny stories to tell.


On the Last Get Together Before College

After spending an evening laughing with friends, eating dinner on a blanket in Sadie’s backyard, and playing games all squashed together on the couch in her sun room, it’s so strange to think that in less than a week these get togethers won’t be happening for months. It’s odd how I’ve taken these happy nights for granted, so for now, in the last hours that we have together, I try to create the best mental movies I can of the people I love.

Cecelia’s Triumph

On Wednesday of last week, Cecelia was accepted into Yale. Naturally, I saved her text, jumped up and down, and practically (okay, literally) leapt on her when she arrived at Foreign Language Night twenty minutes later.

Now, I’ve been told that I am not allowed to make a really huge deal about this, but I really can’t help myself. It’s Yale. It’s one the best universities in the country. My parents went there; her mother went there; most of my parents’ friends went there. (And, well, George Bush went there, but I try to forget about that and how many soldiers lives he ended by sending them into useless combat.) Her grandfather even taught there. In my mind, it’s the university to end all universities and the loveliest academic place in the world.

Every late night that Cecelia spent doing homework, the many weekends that she gave up to do work, all the times she pulled all-nighters, and the immense stress has created something. Something beautiful and tangible. She’s reached the goal that everyone has been working towards since sixth grade. Seven years of hard work has paid off. She did it. Cecelia really, really did it.

Many would argue, and I would agree, that the American educational system has devolved into one that simply focuses on the outcome of tests and getting into the “right” college. Creativity is stunted, and those who don’t fit the norm are left on the wayside. But the problems with education shouldn’t mask the magnitude of Cecelia’s triumph. The failures of our educational system can’t be changed overnight, and there is victory in surviving something that’s broken and reaching its objective.

Maybe I’m foolish for feeling dizzy and joyous–she’s much externally calmer about this than I am–but the prospect is immense. It’s very rare that you accomplish something that you’ve dreamed about for years, and it should be celebrated until the party hats lose their elastic, and the balloons stop floating and become wrinkly. So until I get yelled at to shut up, I will be blowing party horns and playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey. I highly encourage you to join me.

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.

Euphoria on an Island

I thought that instead of writing about medication for the umpteenth time, I’d tell a story.

Instead of going to Junior Prom last year, I went to Audrey’s summer house. That trip was the best two days of 2010.

I begged my parents for weeks to let me go. I had only just gotten back to school, but I was stable and done with my outpatient program. Everyday was sunny, and I loved being surrounded by classmates again. It all seemed too perfect to be real.

After a half day at school (which actually I didn’t attend due to a doctor’s appointment), we were off.  We had to ride on two trains and take a ferry to get there, and the farther I got from home, the more excited and happier I got. The whole way there I imagined exactly what it would be like, adjusting my mental image as we got closer and closer. On the ferry ride, our hair flew all over the place, and I tried to reassure myself that the ferry wouldn’t sink or flip over.

Once were on the island, we walked to Audrey’s house. I could feel little grains of sand under my feet, making scratching noises against the concrete path.  The houses were raised a few feet off the ground and were low structures made out of wood. Finally, we rounded a corner and walked down a small street that ended at the beach.

Audrey’s house was lovely. The kitchen, dining room, and living room all ran into each other and felt both spacious and cozy at the same time. After setting down our bags and changing, we immediately headed down to the beach. I slapped myself in the face when no one was looking to verify that this was all really happening. I felt happy the way that I do when I’m hypomanic, but this time I was entirely in control.

Audrey wore my shorts that say “COCKS” that were purchased at University of South Carolina, home of the Fighting Gamecocks. I find them amusing, especially when I combine them with tee shirts from church. On the beach, I watched Cecelia and Audrey dash in and out of the waves while Alexandra and Grace ran around on shore. I took pictures and laughed.

Sometimes, there would be a huge wave that would wash all the way up and stop a few yards away from my towels. I watched the pieces of foam it left behind. It felt springy underfoot.

Grace and I drew huge patterns in the sand.

We went back to the house once everyone was worn out and hungry, and Cecelia and I cooked dinner. Sitting around a table on her back deck, I thought to myself, all those months out of school and the week in the hospital were worth it if it means that I am going to have more and more days like this.

We walked all the way back to the landing where the ferry had docked and watched the sunset. I held my glass bottle of Ginger Ale and let my feet dangle over the side. We played on a playground, and I thought about how ironic it is that I hate heights, but I love swing sets. I watched Cecelia clown around, and then we headed back. I tried walking toe, heel, toe, heel.

Back at the house, we did the dishes, eight hands scrubbing, rinsing, drying, and putting away. Water spilled down our fronts. In the living room, we curled up on the couch, watched episodes of The Office, and ate ice cream. I didn’t look at the nutrition facts.

And at midnight, I turned 17. Sadie called to wish me a happy birthday, and I unwrapped a beautiful white tank top from Audrey. It was perfect and wonderful and lovely. Later, when I was lying in bed, I couldn’t sleep for about an hour; I was too happy to relax.

The next morning, we packed up, I made lunch for the road, and we took the ferry and two trains home. Cecelia and Audrey went to my house to get ready to leave for my beach house that evening. But that Memorial Day weekend story is something separate and special and a tale for another day.

When things get difficult, I have to remember these moments of euphoria. I need to cling onto them tightly, hold them close, and drape them around me. I must remember how I felt in this picture.

With my dress billowing out behind me, I ran, full of hope, happiness, and optimism. For that day and a half, nothing was wrong with the world.

Oscar Night

Tonight, in an attempt to run away from all that is awful and scary, I will be at Audrey’s house, watching the Oscars. I’m bringing sparkling cider and we’re going eat Chinese food, because we’re pretty classy people. (I am hopeful that the combination won’t be comparable to the time that I mixed falafel mix with pink lemonade.) I’ve got Oscar predictions sheets printed out and ready to go. I’m even wearing a dress (not a fancy one, though) and some silvery blue eyeshadow on to match the navy material to get into the glamour spirit. I can barely contain my excitement!

Happy Birthday, Pippa!

Today is Pippa’s sixteenth birthday, which means that she gets a BONUS POST all about her!

Pippa, you should be very proud of yourself for making it to sixteen. I must admit that I thought my attempts to finish you off when you were a young child would be a success. Kidding! But if you look back at all that I did (slamming your hand in the screen door, breaking your finger with the window seat, cutting your head open when I pushing you into the coffee table, etc), they were largely accidents.

Along with the two CDs I gave you, which I promptly uploaded onto my computer (They’re both quite good, by the way), I have made you a list of some things that you can do at sixteen that you couldn’t do before.

1. Get your permit/license at school (but not at home)

2. Donate blood (because you love needles)

3. Drop out of school

4. Get an adult job and retire your never successful lemonade-selling ventures

5. Say you’re sixteen without lying

One last thing: Remember our dance routine to this song that we used to perform with the gang when I was ten and you were eight? I think it involved wearing bathing suit tops with velour bell-bottoms and jumping up and down on my bed. Anyways, it’s applicable now!

On New Year’s Parties and White Gloves

Yesterday, I was the proud hostess of a New Year’s Eve party. Every year my friends and I have one, and each year a different person hosts it. We’re a well-behaved bunch, and the parties are always dry, so none of our parents particularly mind having 20 teenagers invade their house for the evening. Nothing gets broken, and no one is too loud.

These parties typically get thrown together very quickly. The host provides drinks, and everyone else brings food for a potluck dinner. But could I keep it that simple? Oh, no. I can never do things halfway.

When we had just moved into our house five years ago, the basement flooded. Of course this happened after the basement was finished and after we had set up the whole room. I can remember spending that day carrying pieces of sodden carpet up the basement stairs to the garbage cans. It was heavy, the rain was still coming down, and I scratched myself up with the little pins that they use to tack the carpet down. It was great introduction to a new home. Then, we had to get the basement re-waterproofed, tear out the wet drywall, etc. And we haven’t fully refinished the basement yet. However, it’s completely furnished again, and my dad even set up his music studio down there. But I digress. The point is that the basement is still a tad dirty around the edges.

For some insane reason, I decided that I was going to clean the bathroom down there. It’s a nice bathroom, but half of the shower had to be ripped out, and no one has really used it since the flood. Everything in there was slightly gross. The toilet had hard water sediments that I spent forever trying to scrub out. (And by forever, I do mean forever. Three rounds of bleach and a ridiculous amount of scrubbing. And then both my parents took a whack at it.) I cleaned all of the grout, and scrubbed all the tiles and sink. Clearly, some delusional part of me thought that the success of the party would depend on a clean bathroom in the basement despite the fact that the house has plenty of other bathrooms.

I vacuumed the floors which were covered with cat hair. (One of our cats, Pushkin, essentially lives in the basement and sleeps on a brass, lacy doll bed under the fooseball table. With his black and white coat, he ends up looking very regal when he’s curled up down there.) It wasn’t working because I failed to recognize the difference between the floor cleaner and the carpet cleaner settings, and had settled for just using the super tiny attachment and crawling on my hands and knees. Not a very efficient or intelligent method. It’s decisions like these that explain why I’m in four AP courses. Thankfully, my mom came to the rescue and helped me.

I’m stopping with the cleaning descriptions now, but I’m sure you get the point. It’s like I was trying to prepare myself in case some of my friends decided to bring their white gloves.

I stuck all the drinks on the stairs outdoors so that they would be chilled and carefully arranged napkins, plates, little snack bowls, etc. And then everyone arrived, and I remembered that this truly was a high-school party. No one noticed the way that the napkins were fanned, popcorn ended up on the floor, only few people figured out how to use the cheese knife, and no one wanted to eat dinner at eight on the dot.

It struck me at that moment that I don’t like parties very much. They’re loud, things that were clean become dirty, and people forget to shut doors and put the caps on bottles. It was making me incredibly anxious. But I didn’t want the party to be different–everyone was enjoying themselves immensely–I just wanted to enjoy it. Audrey gave me a huge hug and told me that I was a great host, and Cecelia helped me clean up at every turn. And it ultimately was okay. We danced to Kids by MGMT right before midnight because that was the first song we danced to in 2010, and after we rang in the New Year, we danced to Waka Waka.

But my favorite thing that happened was when we hiked up my street and sat in the middle of the road to watch the fireworks go off in the valley, the fireworks exploding in the City, and the City skyline. I felt tiny, but that good sort of tiny. I was one person out of millions who was outside in the middle of the night, craning their necks up at the sky to watch the explosions of color. I was part of a universal new beginning. 2011 stretches out in front of me the way that it does for every human, and I get to celebrate with every one of them as we start again. And that feeling made up for all of my obsessive cleaning and party anxiety.

P.S. I not only lit a match last night, but I also lit a firework. A real firework. I conquered my massive fear of fire, and I didn’t die! So how’s that for a new begining? I’m already on a roll and feeling pretty darn good about it.