A Sunburn by an Iceberg

I thrive off of desperation and joy, highs and lows, extremes. I feel all of my emotions very, very deeply. Needless to say I am a passionate, dramatic person

Although I am only 17, I’ve been lucky enough to have already experienced many adventures. The culture of my family and the community where I grew up value exploring your curiosity, so there was always that push for me to go out in the world and explore. Even so, these type of external pushes only take someone so far. There needs to be something inside an individual that pushes them to try new things. In my case, people often assume that the reasoning behind my participation in study abroad or backpacking trips is because I am an adventurous person. I’m not. I’m pretty much as wimpy as it gets. I would much rather be at home binge watching The Office for the 5th time than go bungee jumping or rafting. What keeps me doing “adventurous” trips isn’t some desire to take risks, it’s an internal desire to challenge myself and to experience the beauty of really, really low moments and really, really high moments that come from those challenges.

This desire for a challenge is what brought me to take part in a 21 day wilderness trip outside of Anchorage, Alaska this summer with a program similar to outward bound called Moondance Adventures. The group was made up of 14 people (5 boys, 6 girls and 3 counselors) backpacking the Talkeetna mountain range for 9 days, white water rafting out of that range for 2 days, followed by 2 days of ice climbing and finishing with 5 days of sea kayaking in the Prince Williams sound.  Through each activity we learned different wilderness skills such as map reading, proper expedition etiquette and even how to make rocking camp fire mac and cheese.

Alaska by itself, is a place that embodies the word challenge. In a purely physical sense, Alaska is a place of extremes; you could just as easily find yourself applying sunscreen on a snowy mountain peak as you could sweating profusely as you paddle past a million year old glacier. But the experiences that the Alaskan landscape inspires are more profoundly extreme than any obscure scenery you’d see there. I remember feeling so insanely miserable, uncomfortable, cold or score that my thoughts were nothing but complaints, curses and threats. At the same time, I also experienced moments where I was so overwhelmingly happy that I felt like crying. Before my trip, it seemed ingenuine and frankly annoying to me when I heard my outdoorsy relatives talk about overpowering emotional moments like these in nature. I mean how could a tall mountain or bunch of trees make you cry of joy? But there’s something about coming from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs in nature — whether literally like coming from the bottom of a mountain to reaching the peak or figuratively starting your day groggy, cold and uncomfortable and finishing it warm, well fed and cozy — that is truly magical. Sure the low parts can make you feel incredibly discouraged, angry or even sad, and sometimes there isn’t a high that comes directly out of it, but at the end of every lousy moment is an incredible lesson.

I love crappy days. Crappy days on trips and just in daily life are what keep me going. I could go through a mediocre day without even realizing I’m living, and on really good days its easy to take all the happy instances for granted. Its only during truly terrible days that I feel my most alive. The human spirit does what it does best on terrible days…it survives.

It’s easy to love the highs in life but I it’s when you learn to appreciate the lows the way you do the highs, that you begin to experience the most life has to offer.

-Charlotte

Stuck

I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck
My mom’s friend, a writing coach, recently taught me a technique for squashing writers block.

I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck
Basically you just write I’m stuck over and over again until you magically become unstuck.

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I’m pessimistically skeptical about how well it works but it doesn’t take a detective to notice that the last time I posted a blog was a long, long time ago; meaning either I’ve been living a life of simplicity off the grid for the past few months or I have writer’s block. If you took a quick glance at my recent data usage bill, you’d know that the first option is out of the question. So yes, I have writer’s block.

I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck
At first I just dismissed this inability to put pen to paper — or rather fingers to keyboard, as general laziness and prioritizing school over my creative expression. But that’s because I continue to see myself as just a teenager who enjoys writing not a writer who happens to be 17 years old. I’m a writer. I can’t fulfill my inner necessity to express myself through just talking or through other artistic fields like drawing or dancing or music. I need to have my thoughts down on paper to feel at ease. And I haven’t been doing that out of a combination of writers block, confusion and fear — but mostly fear. While I’m not the most confident writer at this point, I am a pretty honest one. Most pieces I write could easily be excerpts from my personal diary. This happens almost unconsciously because I’m generally a very open person who frankly shares (and talks) a lot.

I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck
It is because of this ability to express myself through talking that I was able to recover from one of the most challenging moments of my life this past winter after being diagnosed with an eating disorder in late February. As you can tell from the amount of “I’m stucks” it took to get this into written word, this part of my life — while having been expressed through talking extensively, has also been trapped inside my mind screaming to be written down for way to long.

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My mom always tells me how important it is for you to write your own narrative, so let me explain this situation right off the bat as to clear up any misconceptions already swirling through your brain.

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Now I don’t know how all your minds work, but I’m assuming that after seeing the words eating disorder written by a 17-year-old girl, you’re assembling an image of some insecure, body negative, meek looking girl to help you visualize the scene. Wrong. I am none of those things. I am not insecure, I am not body negative and I am far from being meek. I was never one of those things and while at times during my recovery I struggled with insecurities, body negativities and physical weakness, they were all at the fault of my illness. Yes, illness. Eating disorders are medical illnesses; they are not made up or chosen; they are not used to crave attention and they are not all the same. Not every person with an eating disorder has bad body image, not every person with an eating disorder does it to stay skinny or lose weight and not every person who has an eating disorder is a girl. They are far from black and white; there are millions of colors on the spectrum of eating disorders. Take my case for example: I’ve always been a very confident person — in my social life, my academics and especially in my body. Numbers on a scale might as well be dust in the air to me. So I’m not the typical person you’d see contracting an eating disorder.

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It’s not clear what my disorder stemmed from but we think it was a response to possible bug I got while traveling the summer of 2016 that made me feel sick, full and tired all the time, especially after eating. It didn’t matter if I had a Chipotle burrito or a Granny Smith apple; every moment of my day was filled with an unsettled stomach and loss of appetite to accompany it. I had to remind myself to eat throughout the day, something I wasn’t used to because I had always been the type of person to just eat when I was hungry and as much as I was hungry for.

I’m stuck

I immediately looked to my parents for help and advise because food and cooking are integral parts of my family that we take lots of pleasure in. So we started on what felt like a lifetime search to see what was upsetting my stomach. Doctor after doctor; test after test, and I kept getting no answers. I was on a hamster wheel to nowhere, getting sicker and sicker as the days dragged on. I was given so many different opinions and so many mixed signals; one doctor telling me it could be a parasite, the next saying I might have crohn’s disease and others suggesting I cut out things like dairy and gluten or begin to eat earlier in the day. Food became a phobia in my life, as I had no idea whether the chicken finger in front of my face was the thing making my stomach so upset and my body so fatigued. The set foods and times I knew my body could handle began to rule my life and prohibit me from things like eating out, traveling easily and just feeling at ease in my daily life. It’s not like a phobia of bugs that you forget you have until a spider crawls across your porch — food is something you have to deal with 24/7, 365 days a year. So my life became a swirling ball of stress and anxiety.

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Since weight had never meant anything to me prior it was hard for me, or my family to recognize how thin I was getting and how rapidly it was happening. I wasn’t blind to begin with. I remember telling my mom two weeks into endless doctors appointments with no answers “I’m worried this will turn into an eating disorder.” I was conscious and cautious of this throughout the majority of my struggle, but at some point a switch was pushed and everything began to change.

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By late winter, out of a combination of physical exhaustion from the illness taking over and frustration with the amount of unhelpful doctors, I lost motivation. I stopped looking for answers and accepted these physical and emotional difficulties as new parts of my life. That’s when the eating disorder really swooped in to take control.

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I am not my disorder. But in that moment that’s really all I was. I was too blinded and scared and ignorant to accept that it wasn’t just a little tummy ache anymore it had spiraled into something I couldn’t handle all by myself. When I finally got an answer from a wonderful doctor-a diagnosis of eating disorder not otherwise specified I was terrified, I was furious with myself and with doctors for not catching this earlier and more than anything I was embarrassed. I refused to call it what it was and insisted on seeing myself as “different” from the other kids in the daily weight-regaining program I participated in. In my eyes, they had wished this illness on themselves, since most of them fit the typical eating disorder patient stereotype as they struggled with body image problems and fears of gaining weight, while I found it easy to consume milkshake after milkshake feeling liberated by the fact that no one food had been causing these stomach pains.

I’m stuck I’m stuck

I grappled with this denial for several days and maybe even weeks until a girl in my program shared an experience of crippling indecision while choosing food at a restaurant that felt like it could have come out of my mouth. I realized that not only was I like all of these kids but all the difficulties, fears and anxieties I had been experiencing over the past few months weren’t me, they were my illness. And with that sense of acceptance and realization that “yes I do have an eating disorder but no I am not that eating disorder”, I was able to make a speedy recovery in and out of that program within 3 weeks.

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My recovery didn’t stop there, and frankly 5 month later I still struggle from time to time with things like food decisions and lingering anxieties around situations with food but it’s less scary now because I know that these thoughts and anxieties are temporary and they’re not me. I know how to ask for help and from who, all of which are more powerful than any negativity my illness spews out at me.

I’m stuck I’m stuck I’m stuck
I don’t know if it was fear or procrastination or genuine writers block but something inhibited me from writing this or even thinking of writing something like this for all too long. An overwhelming feeling of being clogged up, clouded and you guessed it, stuck has lingered in my mind the past few months. I worked hard to examine the root of this blockage and found no answer…until now. I am not my eating disorder, it does not define me and it is not the most important part of my life so far. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. I’ve felt uneasy and unsure of how to find the balance between my disorder defining me and having it be just one of the many challenges of life. But as I write this piece I feel those layers of anxiety and uncertainties crumble off my body the way paint crumbles off an old building. I feel at ease.

I’m not stuck.

Excuse Jr.

Well…it’s been a while to say the least. I could try to excuse my absence with a list of the plethora of stresses that embody junior year of high school, but that would be both bad writing and plain boring. So instead, I’m attaching my Junior English final assignment- a letter-like speech about something we find unfair in our lives- where I wrote about the paradoxical liberal culture of the town I live in. It reads better out loud, so if you live alone or aren’t afraid of someone hearing you and thinking you’re talking to yourself, then I would suggest reading it out loud:

The dinner table. Those words alone elicited a chill down my spin. For many the dinner table is a source of stress because what comes with it are college talks, boyfriend talks, job talks…but what really gets me isn’t the mundane small talk that inevitably consumes conversation, it’s the politics. I hate politics; or more specifically I hate debating politics.  Now I know all your brains are cranking out the math and seeing it doesn’t add up: hates debating politics but chooses to spend several hours a day in a program called the civics and government institute*. So in the spirit of math, let me give you a word problem to help you understand it a little better: If Abby spends ten hours a week listening to people “debate” issues they all agree on and dismiss anyone who thinks differently, how long does it take her to become resentful of these people? Pretty quickly, is the answer. I’m not going to pretend this resentment only stems from CGI, there are too many roots in this tree of resentment to count but let me try.

If you break it down into levels, my resentment stems from several aspects of my life: my town, my school and my peers. Montclair is often endearingly referred to as a bubble…a bubble of supposed open minded progressive values where I have spent the past 17 years growing, learning and developing into the person I am today. Now don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly grateful to Montclair for what it has given me: a better understanding and awareness of the diversity that makes America, America. However, while there’s a large diversity of race, religion and economic class, there’s little to no diversity of thought. All it takes is a little stroll through a dinner party to validate this statement; for there, you will find a plethora of small groups of adults chatting away about the latest New York Times Expose on whatever Trump scandal people are buzzing about.If you dissect those conversations, however, you’ll see that there’s no real debates going on. They are all debating like broken record players, spewing out the same general ideological opinions on the matter. It is exhausting to listen to.

This sheep like thought culture is not exclusive to Montclair; most communities are made up of like minded individuals who agree on the same general matters, because it’s natural to group yourself with similar people in the means of avoiding conflict; even within large, diverse cities you see individuals grouping themselves with others who think the way they think, or act the way they act. However, Montclair has a little glitch to it’s separatism: they pretend it’s not there. People in Montclair love to promote themselves as being a part of the “most open-minded community” in the US but the second a Republican comes within view they begin to cringe. They have a filtered approach to open-mindedness, picking and choosing the topics to show tolerance towards. “Come on in, express your sexuality however you please, that’s your right. But have a conservative stance on healthcare, and we’re going to have to ask you to leave.” The hypocrisy is astounding.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a generational issue that cuts itself off with the adults of Montclair, it has seeped its way into the schools and into my peers. This is no surprise to you all, since, you-we-are a part of this issue. Just think back to the last congress session we had; it doesn’t seem all that different from the dinner party scene I illustrated earlier does it? We’re just a little bit shorter and are debating on setting up a composting system at a school instead of Trump hysteria. This stubborn close-mindedness is why there are kids too intimidated to join the CGI community, out of fear that they might disagree with the majority and be criticized because of it.

So Dear fellow CGI classmates and Montclair residents:

How can we say we’re open-minded? How can we as a community promise to be tolerant and unprejudiced if we continue to dismiss our conservative community members? We can’t. It’s that simple. Until we start putting an effort into legitimately listening to the other side-the way we complain about the other side not doing for us-we cannot claim to be true liberals. I’m not suggesting we convert into an alt-right paradise, I’m simply suggesting that we open our ears-the way we claim to open our minds-to the people we may disagree with, because sometimes listening is enough.

*CGI stands for the Civics and Government Institute which is a small learning community in my high school, which means my core classes all revolve around government and politics.

-Charlotte

Sleepy Time Advice

You know the old saying that you have your best ideas in the shower. Well for my Pop Pop, his best ideas come when his eyes are struggling to stay open and he’s just about to pass out in my living room chair. Our latest newspaper chat was after a long weekend spent driving and traveling; so when Sunday night came around he was pretty pooped, but like the good Grandpa he is, he splashed his face with cold water and strapped on his listening pants to indulge his granddaughter by reading the paper. This past Sunday’s paper was surprisingly light for the almost cinematic events that transpired in the last week’s news  regarding Trump’s affiliation with the Russians. You’d expect juicier news than a couple of articles on coral reefs and the IRS when it seems like we’re living in the middle of a Tom Cruise action movie.

Despite the bland undertone of many of the articles covered by my Pop Pop and I, we had some of the most interesting conversations yet. Out of groggy eyes and slightly mumbled speech came a raw and truthful advice.

“Really good writing tells you something not just the person you’re writing to”

He was candid with me in a way he has never been before and began expressing his admiration for me in a way unlike the classic admiration between a grandparent and their grandchild.

“You’re gonna be a better writer only after you become a better reader”

He spoke to me as if this was our first encounter; he gave me compliments and advice derived from my genuine abilities as a person disregarding the fact that I am his flesh and blood and by social contracts he has to love and encourage me no matter what.

“You’ve gotta challenge everything honey. Everything else is old. Everything else is the old way; you’ve got to find the new way and only thinking like that (by challenging things) gets you there.”

These little reassurances and suggestions could have easily gone unnoticed, blurred out by the buzz of the conversation, but they struck a chord within me and I intend to keep them there for whenever I’m in need of a little sleepy advice.

-Charlotte

 

Pocket Sized Stories: Isidore Lefkowitz & Elgort

It was our first small business endeavor as hot-shot advertising agency. We named the company Isidore Lefkowitz & Elgort, after ourselves, blind to the fact that no one would be able to pronounce let alone spell our names right. Still our confidence in ourselves is what got us through the awkward first steps in starting a business. We had no more than a handful of guys working for us and an office that could house a traveling circus so we had to get pretty crafty when bringing in new clients. No one wants to look like a wimpy small business when they’re trying to sell an idea to a client so we devised a system to mask our small beginning with help from my wife Rosemary. We would call up our friends offering them lunch on us, all they had to do was pretend to be a busy working bee while we desperately tried to impress clients. Our office was a Hollywood set and my wife the stage manager. There was an art to it. She would strategically cue a line of people to hustle past our office during meetings, set the constant tapping of typewriters as a background and have Joe at desk 5 call Bill at desk 11 to give the impression that we were flooded with persistent clients. It was ridiculous. It was a dog and pony show. It was our first of many wacky productions on our road to becoming successful.

-Charlotte

Pocket-sized Stories

The presents you get for the holidays always help you understand what others identify you as that year. When I was going through my artsy phase I got every type of paint brush imaginable, when I was into music I got endless CD’s, and when sports was my thing I got a whole shelf worth of stuff from sporting authority. So it’s easy to guess just the type of presents I got this year after finding an interest in writing. If you guessed books you’re right, but more specifically I got every short story book imaginable. With this in mind, I’ve decided to accept the identity my relatives have chosen for me and try my hand at some very short stories.

A lot of times during my conversations with my Pop Pop he tells me quick anecdotes that stick out to me but that I feel no need to further reflect on or write a two page essay analyzing. Like Goldilocks at the end of her book, some of my Pop Pop’s stories are “just right.” So to begin my series of “pocket-sized stories,” I’ll tell you one from last week’s conversation:

It was my first time taking a real college English class. It was an English Composition class and it was as exciting as it was daunting. It was held in one of those huge lecture halls that feel like the Colosseum and the professor looked exactly how you would imagine a college English professor to look like: slim physique, refined facial features and an aura of existentialism that radiated at a constant rate. I spent the first class intently listening to an hour lecture on run-on sentences: their identification, how to correct them and how to avoid them in the first place. At the end, the professor assigned us an assignment to go home and write 500 words on any subject of our choosing. Being the enthusiastic over achiever that I was, I took this task very seriously and began working on it the minute I got into my dorm. The next class I walked up to his desk with pride in my eyes as I handed him my assignment: a story about my initial experiences in college that was one big run on sentence.

-Charlotte

Orange Dots

Let’s face it, we’re all a bunch of narcissists. Most if not all that we do has underlying selfish intentions. I don’t say this in a scorning, wagging of the finger type of way-I’m a teenage girl I know a thing or two about narcissism-I just say this to explain why it is so easy for us to get caught up in our own world.

It seems to me that everyone is just walking around in their own individual world, in their own individual bubble. You’d think that with the mass exposure were capable of having, thanks to social media and the internet, we’d have a better perspective of the world around us. However, like a man alone in the desert, this vast openness brings out our most isolationist, close-minded tendencies. It is for this reason that many Americans feel like the beginning of a Trump presidency is the end of the world.

Now don’t get me wrong, when I google a list of U.S. presidents for a history project and see the name of a misogynist reality tv star listed under a Harvard graduate my heart goes into slight cardiac arrest as well. But let’s take some perspective on the situation with a little help from my friend Nicholas Kristof. The NY Times is the perfect cocoon of anxiety for so many Americans to wrap themselves into, so when my Pop Pop and I flipped to the op-ed page ad saw an article that read Why 2017 May Be the Best Year Ever it was almost instinctive for us to read.

Basically, what the articale says is that the U.S. is not the only country in the world. This may be the pessimist in me, but I interpreted Kristof’s endearingly genuine concern for the world as a statement to the rest of us that it’s time to take a step back from all of our problems and get some perspective. And I’m not suggesting that “there is always someone worse off than you,” because let’s face it when has that phrase ever made us feel better. All that I-and maybe even Kristof-are suggesting is to take a step back from all the chaos of the U.S. and reflect on all the positive things going on in the world as we speak. Poverty is decreasing, more and more people are receiving adequate education and following the other worldly crowd support at the historic Million Women’s rallies, it seems that this is just the beginning of an era of change.

It’s easy to feel discouraged when you watch the news to see all the unjustifiable violence and hatred spread throughout the U.S. and beyond–and it’s even more discouraging to see a man who denies the existence of climate change, supports hateful rhetoric and does little to discourage corruption, be placed in a position of power but let’s all just remember that we’ve had bad presidents during great eras before. As my Pop Pop says “Trump is just a black dot on a blank page…make that an orange dot on a blank page.”

-Charlotte