If You Are Going to Go Hiking in a Rainforest…

I would not recommend this outfit, particularly if it is summer there.

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Two Thoughts for a Sunday

One:

I will be incredibly sad if there ever comes a day where I do not get excited that we have chocolate pudding and mango juice in the house. And by excited I mean crazy-dancing-in-the-kitchen-with-the-cats-when-no-is-looking excited.

Two:

I also miss the beach. It’s getting too chilly for weekend getaways, and I can no longer sit on top of our kayak and read for hours on end. It’s carefully covered in the basement now and I’m many miles away, spending close to eight hours a day in cafés, writing. But even though I’m feeling nostalgic and wistful, part of me doesn’t want to be there. If life consisted solely of summer at the beach, it wouldn’t be special anymore. I wouldn’t get excited stomachaches the night before we left or enjoying walking into town for milky way ice cream every evening. I wouldn’t like having to constantly change clothes to deal with the temperature changes or having to put up with how the humidity makes my normally very straight hair bushy. It’ll be seven months until I return, so for now I’ll look at pictures and sigh.

You can also find me hanging out on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/.

Me? I Like Walking In Silence, Spinning Stories In My Head, and Trying to Notice Every Detail

Today seems like a good day to tell you some stories about the beach.

Every time we go to our beach house, we try to drive up to a town* about forty minutes away and spend the day there.

My mother likes the stores and galleries. The stationary store there sells the incredibly fancy wrapping paper she adores. The type that comes in huge sheets about the size of poster board and is often so soft that it feels like cotton or a well-worn dollar bill. Sometimes, they’re thin and almost like lace made out of paper, so delicate that you’re scared to touch it, lest you rip it. But mostly, the paper is thick and soft and heavy with excellent “texture and patterns” and “deeply saturated colors.”

She’ll spend hours in there, picking out the best sheets, because Christmas is coming soon, and heaven help us if every present isn’t beautifully wrapped. I’ve been taught never to rip the paper, you have to carefully slide your finger under the tape so it won’t tear, because you can use the paper again, you know. Family and friends say that they always feel bad when Christmas comes, and you finally have to rip it all away. So we go to the stationary store for her and for us because hey, we all rather fond of leather bound notebooks, fancy pens, and stationary, too.

Pippa loves the ice cream. The store there, she says, is the best. I don’t agree, but it’s the rare day that I’ll say no to a cone of Junior Mint–mint ice cream so authentic it’s white with chocolate chips and real Junior Mint candies. In the same store as the ice cream, there’s a fudge and candy shop. The type of candy that gets called penny candy, even though the cheapest thing there–tootsie rolls–cost a nickel a piece. When Pippa and I were younger, we’d load little clear plastic bags full of sucking candies and peppermint sticks and huge chocolate bars and dozens and dozens of gummy bears and worms. “Only two pieces a day,” my mother would say, “And only one if you’re having one of the big pieces.”

When Pippa was five months and my mother was holding her while eating a cone of coffee ice cream, Pippa suddenly leaned over and took a huge, few tooth bite of it. It wound up all over her face, and as my mother stood there in shock and amusement, Pippa looked around with a huge grin and tried to go in for another bite. It’s safe to say that Pippa’s love of sweets has never been a secret. So every time we visit, we walk up to the window to place our orders, and then sit down in the green plastic chairs, warmed by sun, to eat our dripping cones.

My dad goes mostly for the history and adventures. The whole drive up, he points out the historic landmarks, even though we seen them all many, many times before, and tells us their significance. He’s usually read a new book about the subject, and suddenly we’re caught in a deluge of information about the area’s original inhabitants and the first settlers. I find it interesting, I love to know places’ stories, but Pippa always groans and sloaches more deeply into her seat and tries to see if she can stick her bare feet into the pocket on the back of the driver’s seat without getting in trouble.

Frequently, he’ll veer away from the normal route, and we’ll suddenly find ourselves at what looks to be the top of a hiking trail or a beach or a bay or a marsh. We’ll all pile out of the car and follow him as he leads us down some path until we end up some place magnificent. It’s never ever any good to ask him any questions, you just follow him and trust that he knows what he’s doing. Sometimes, after you’ve walked an impossibly long distance, he’ll take a sudden, seemingly strange, turn into the trees, and then we’ll all discover that it was actually a shortcut back to the car, which he somehow discovered even though it was his first time there.

But me? I like walking in silence, spinning stories in my in my head, and trying to notice every detail. Usually, I’ll have the camera with me, and so I’m at least twenty feet behind everyone else, stuck trying to aim a shot just right so that I can remember that scene forever.

Last year when we went to Puerto Rico, I spent the whole time taking pictures of the brightly colored buildings with their huge, heavy dark wooden doors and their European balconies and people.

As I walk, I plan out blog posts, scenes for the novel I’m writing, other pieces of fiction, and just narrate it all. And the words come like the air I’m slowly breathing, smooth and unhurried and easy. I just feel them. And I keep taking pictures and being silent because suddenly being trapped inside of my head is the most wonderful prison in the world.

Later, when I plug the camera into the computer and upload the pictures, it all comes rushing back. It’s like the images have taken bits of that running stream of consciousness and pinned them down with thin, silver sewing pins. I find myself picking back up right where I left off and having new words to weave together with the old ones, creating some sort of braid that strings all of the images together. And it’s wonderful.

 

*It’s the town that Lily lives in every summer!

Sitting In Cars Makes Me Inexplicably Tired

I continue to be monstrously surprised by just how tired eight hours in the car will make me. I did nothing but sit all day, and I’ve been ready to go to bed since I arrived home a little after six.

Stupid hurricane ruining vacation.

In other news, I just discovered this picture of me at the beach with Pippa and a cousin. Pippa’s the cutie in the middle, and I’m the rugrat on the right with the demented look on her face. It’s surprising how much and how little both us and the house have changed since I was four.

“Hurricane, Hurricane, Hurricane!” She Says While Dancing Madly Around the House

I suppose that by the time one reaches eighteen their reaction to news of imminent catastrophic weather impacting their area should not be one of somewhat giddy anticipation. But I can’t help myself. Something terribly exciting is about to happen and I’m pretty much guaranteed to be in the middle of it.

I’ve lived through category three hurricanes before. I know how it goes. Trees fall down and hit things, often knocking down wires; the electricity goes out; sticks are littered everywhere; the grocery store is a mad house; no one has batteries in stock; you nearly light your hair on fire with some candles; and you have to eat all of the perishables in the refrigerator and freezer before they go bad. I’m particularly fond of the eating all the ice cream part.

Unfortunately, this hurricane means we have to cut our beach time short. After we make sure everything here is secure, we’re headed home tomorrow morning to batten down the hatches in our non-vacation-fun-times-abound house. Plus, the cats shouldn’t be left alone in the storm.

I leave you with one funny story from the time Hurricane Isabel hit Washington, D.C. when I was ten.

At the time, I was, to put it lightly, obsessed with the Sheryl Crow song, Soak Up the Sun. I had a dance I did to it while lip syncing, and everyday after I finished my homework, I would play the song over and over and over again. It got to the point where my dad had to physically pry the CD from my hands and confiscate it so that no one would commit suicide or go bonkers from being forced to listen to it too much. So just as the sky was turning a sickly shade of gray-green and the wind was picking up, I popped the CD into the stereo and hit play.

As soon as my index finger hit the button, I heard a wooshing noise, the lights went out, and the house became oddly silent. That’s odd, I thought, A fuse must have just flipped. But then I looked out the window and noticed that the power was out in the house behind us and in both of our next door neighbors’ houses, too. I panicked. I just cut out the electricity for the whole neighborhood, maybe even the whole city! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! What did I do? Oh, gosh! Dad is right! This song really does wreak havoc!

Then, my father came into the room and informed me that even though the world would be a much happier place if we didn’t have to listen to Soak Up the Sun ten times a day, I was not responsible for the power outage. It was just lucky timing. “Oh,” I said as I felt my muscles relax and the lines on my forehead fade, “Good. I didn’t want everyone mad at me.” And the storm raged on with me not the cause of darkened houses, missed TV shows, and slowly warming refrigerators.

Bright Skies and Salt-Scented Air

Let’s hope this gets my mind off of all of these sorrowful goodbyes, If being at the beach doesn’t work, I can always lock myself in my room and watch Frost/Nixon and Miracle over and over and over again.

Ella’s Fabulous Triumph

Today, I celebrate a great achievement. I went into the city to the art mueseum that had this summer’s most popular fashion exhibit and didn’t even feel the beginnings of a freak out.

We were jammed in the exhibit, shoulder to shoulder, and some morbidly obese man kept ramming his wheelchair into my legs in an attempt to push through the crowd, pushing me into whoever was next to me, and I didn’t even bat an eye. I just shifted my weight so that every time his foot rest hit my boot, I didn’t budge and politely told him that he was hurting me.

I ate an entire lunch without any prompting, and I rode in several glass elevators and walked down a bunch of escalators and stairs. I even didn’t feel a tinge of anxiety when a cab driver tried to pull away from the curb with my younger cousin halfway out of the car and me standing on the sidewalk.

And I also did this all on an hour and a half of sleep.

I’m a bit delirious right now, but I’m proud, really, really proud.

In Which Ella Tells Embarrassing Stories About Herself

I thought that I’d share an embarrassing stories today.

One:

Now, as you all know, I am incredibly fond of Harry Potter, and I have been for quite some time. I was fourteen and at summer camp when the seventh book came out, and I was in full on obsession mode. I wore my Hogwarts robe the day of the release and spent nearly all my free time reading and rereading the book.

A few days later, we were having a get-together with our brother cabin from the boys camp when I noticed that one of the boys was wear a shirt that said “I’m a keeper.”

“No way!” I thought, “That’s got to do with the Quidditch position. I should go ask about it!”

So I did, and he laughed at me, because apparently that phrase has nothing to with Harry Potter, and everything to do with being an attractive romantic partner.

And like any mature thirteen-year-old, I stomped off to sit on the back steps of the cabin to read my book and refused to come out and socialize for the rest of the night.

Two:

I once proudly wore this outfit to school:

An Imaginary Bike Ride

I’ve always wanted to ride my bike through the golf course near my beach house. The paths are so flat and smoothly paved, and they invite me with their jet black expanse. From the road you can watch them wind around the fairway, up to the green, and then into the not-quite-a-woods-but-too-full-of-trees-to-be-a-screen-of-foliage. I’d ride with my helmet clasped securely under my chin, clasped a little too tightly, so it won’t fall off if I crash.

Because I might crash, even if I haven’t ridden into anything since last summer when I tried biking home from the supermarket with four two-liter bottles of seltzer dangling in plastic bags from the handlebars and I couldn’t turn the corner because it was too heavy to steer and I hit the street sign in front of all those people waiting for the bus and I felt like an idiot and had to walk the home, wheeling the bike next to me. Or maybe the brakes won’t work and I’ll fly over the handlebars like that time I was eight and smashed my front wheel against the U.S. mailbox on the corner right by the park.

I’d rather not hurt my head. Being unconscious would be like dying a mini death, and as much as I sometimes like the idea of not being alive anymore and hearing all of the things people would say about me once I was gone (because I’m selfish and want them to like me), dying would make me miss out of writing and listening and observing and it would make people like Cecelia and Audrey and Tal and Sadie and Clara and Lily and George and all the other people I think might possibly care about me upset, and I hate upsetting them, though I really do seem to screw up and upset them all the time. I hate myself for that.

Back to the biking on the path. I’d go past the trees and the next few holes and come out on the other side onto the road. I’d bike along the side, breathing in, holding it, and exhaling all to the count of three because biking in the street scares me.

I’d head south and onto the busy road. I’d go past all of those houses and boutiques that sell a million little fancy things that I never want to buy now that I’m older and don’t collect figurines to put on my dresser. I’d go past the place where you can buy swimming pools and sheds. I’d go past the bumper boats and remember the times I steered one of those little boats around the pool and kept pressing the spray button so that the water would spit out at my father and hit him in between the eyes. I’d gloat again at how I managed to slunk down in my seat enough so that the stream of water would go sailing over my head and get someone else wet. I’d go past the go-carts that smell like gasoline and reckless driving and think about that time when some idiot father let his son lean over from the passenger seat and steer the cart while he pressed the accelerator
to the floor and they smashed into me really hard and my cart slammed into the safety rail and the seatbelt hurt my neck.

And I’d head all the way to the grocery store parking lot before turning around and heading home. I’d head south again towards the water and home so that I could say hi to the harbor with its many boats and bushes that look like honeysuckle but taste like arugula when you try to eat them for the nectar. I’d make up some story in my head about what I was seeing that was full of run-on sentences and odd and incorrect grammar because it sounds best that way to me. But I’d never write it down. Those stories are strictly ephemeral and used only to interpret the world around me.

I’d ride down my street past those old ladies that walk down to the landing everyday even though one of them is over a hundred and the other one is 98. I’d think about how much I value lucidity and how scared I am of losing it. I love wrinkles and grey hair, but I never want to lose my thoughts and my mental speed. Whenever I’ve been given medication that does that to me, I worry that I’ll never be smart again. But it comes back after a week or so of not taking it.

I’d hop off of my bike onto our front lawn and start wheeling it down the driveway and complain about how close it is to our house that I can hardly fit next to my bike. I’d take the bike down the steep wooden steps into the basement, but I’d keep my helmet on. I know that one day I’ll fall and hit my head descending those stairs, and if it’s going to happen, I’d rather do it with a protected head. And once it’s propped up on its kickstand, I’d unclasp the helmet, rub the sore spot under my chin, and walk back up the stairs holding tightly onto the bannister. Back out on the grass, I’d turn around and lower each black metal basement door one at a time. And after the final metal bang, I’d turn around and walk into the house, my adventure complete.

Fling Open the Windows

Many years ago, when I was just a baby, this is what the view from our beach house looked like:

The porch has changed a lot since then. The old chairs and sofa got replaced with newer, fancy ones, white carpet was put down, all of the beach chairs and toys went into the basement, and the whole porch was insulated and re-paneled with beautiful maple. And while those changes are all very nice, I don’t totally love the Porch 2.0. You see, we had to install new windows with the double panes to keep the outside air out and the inside air in. But these windows just slide back and forth. They can’t be thrown open with gusto, and they don’t make you feel like you could fly out of the window, all the way down to the sea, and truly become part of the salty air and feather-light sand.

My favorite Psalm is Psalm 139. It reads,

“If I take the wings of the morning/and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,/Even there your hand will lead me/and your right hand hold me fast.”

So when I am at the beach, I want to become that part of the Psalm. And mostly, I do. I feel it when I stand at the top of the landing at seven o’clock in the morning after returning from a run or walk and the fog is just begining to rise. I feel it when I’ve finally worked up the courage to dive into the gentle surf. I even feel it when I’m in the kitchen, sitting on the floor with my back up against the refrigerator, drinking juice and letting the condensation from the freezer drip down onto my hair. But looking out of the porch window isn’t what it could be. You aren’t thrust into the joy and that Psalm. You’re just you on a porch, admiring a pretty picture.

It’s rather silly, feeling this way. I’m nostalgic from something that changed when I was eleven. But windows are important. They let you see what you are so nearly a part of, beckoning with promises of joy, if you would only stray a little farther, out the door and into the world.

I like windows that cry out, as Whitman does when he write this in Song of Myself:

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

But the new windows don’t have that passion. They slide with duty and purpose, never with jubilation. Opening them requires forethought, not reckless abandon. They don’t scream euphoria, and they never will.

I want the old windows back.