(I swear I wrote this yesterday.)

Can I cop out today and say Toronto? Because I’ve never been to Toronto but am very seriously considering moving there this fall for graduate school.

That’s surely not in-line with the spirit of this challenge, though.

I think I would live in Finland. It might be hard to secure a teaching job, as teaching is one of the most revered occupations, and their teachers are so well educated, but maybe I could find some position in a Finnish school. I would love to witness their superb education system. Plus, they have low poverty and prioritize social justice. I think I’d fit in just fine. (Of course, I’d have to learn Finnish . . .)

 

  1. I once dyed my hair pink, in celebration of having raised $20,ooo for Invisible Children. I did it (raised the money and died my hair) on a livestream, with people all over the world watching. The pink didn’t last long (I opted not to bleach first), but hey—for a few days, I had a head of magenta hair.
  2. “Ellen” is a family name. My great-grandmother was Ellen, and my grandmother is Patricia Ellen. My mom totally should be an Ellen but, alas, is not. I think it’s rockin’ that my great-grandmother named her daughter after herself, and I plan on passing the name down to my daughter as well.
  3. I was an English major in college. This surprises people who don’t know me but do know my job title (computer science teacher). In actuality, my English degree equipped me with many of the skills I need (presentation, effective rhetoric, reasoning, analysis) and an ability to acquire any skills lacking (during my interview, my now-boss asked, “Do you know much about computer science?” I replied, “No ma’am, but I can learn.” English majors can learn anything.).
  4. I was a student at the school where I now teachTo my knowledge, I’m the only St. James alum who has returned to be a faculty member. Today, I’m preparing for the sixth-grade graduation, working on slideshows and awards. One decade ago today, I was myself a sixth-grade student, preparing to graduate and move out of The Bubble.
  5. I have two tattoos—a white one on my wrist that I want to fade away (or else to cover it with something new) and a brown one on my ankle that I love more and more every day. I regret neither of them; giving myself freedom to make and not regret mistakes has been a necessary and liberating part of my journey.
  6. I played soccer for nine years. I started in the fourth grade and kept going through my first year of college, only to quit because I felt the team to be oppressive, disrespectful, and lacking sportsmanship (mean girls are mean, you know?). I so wish that that had not been the case; what I wouldn’t give to have spent four years playing college ball. Now, if I play, it’s on the school’s field with a group of ten-year-olds (still very fun—and wow, they’re fast) (also, they think I’m super cool because I have an ounce or two of skill).
  7. I have Bipolar II Disorder, or something like that. It’s more annoying than anything;  I never know what kind of day I’ll have or how long an episode will last. I manage, though, and use my situation to my benefit: I wholeheartedly believe my disorder is an advantage because, while it makes day-to-day functioning way tougher, it also grants me a greater capacity for empathy and understanding. I am a better person, teacher, and friend because of my experiences with mental illness.
  8. I’ve been to 15 countries on 4 continents: USA, Mexico, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, England, France, Germany, Italy, Kenya, Tanzania, Greece, Israel, Uganda, Honduras, and Belize. I am so grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had to travel, and for the passion for travel that my mom instilled in me. This summer, I’ll add Canada and Turkey to the list, about which I am more than excited.
  9. Meanwhile, I’ve only (“only”) been to 19 different states (and some of those barely count—just ate a meal there, etc). I have a lot of backyard-exploring left to do.
  10. I’m currently looking to pursue a MEd in Developmental Psychology and Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (at the University of Toronto). We’ll see if that happens; it’s obviously quite far away from home, and taking such a step would be huge, but for now, I am enjoying the dream.

I was 15 and had been dating a boy, John, for a bit, probably a couple of months. I had trouble with physical contact then, as I do now; even things like holding hands made (make . . .) me nervous, so we most definitely had not kissed.

John’s best friend was dating my best friend Shea, so we had a “double date” at her house one evening. After watching a movie (“Marley and Me”), we sent the boys home; they, 16, had ridden together. Shea and I saw them off, and we hadn’t even made it inside when the truck circled back into the driveway, and her boyfriend, in a thick southern accent, hollered out the window, “I hear someone didn’t get a kiss tonight!” Lovely. So I walked up to the truck, and Shea and her boy made their way behind the truck, out of sight, to do their own kissing.

John and I somehow managed to kiss once; “That was awkward,” I said immediately. So we tried again. “Nope, still awkward.” So we tried once more, and, finally, it was enjoyable, PTL.

I loved John through all of our high school years, the way kids love. He was good to me and to my family. He was comfortable to me, physically and emotionally. He allowed me a glimpse into what vulnerability minus anxiety feels like.

I think that, one day, I will experience the grown-up version of love.

Of course this is a guess—how can anyone truly know what their earliest memory is? Or maybe it’s not so much a guess as it is a choice: I am choosing this memory to stand in for my earliest. It may or may not be a lie.

It takes place at the house of my great-grandmother, my namesake: Ellen Lavendahl Hart, Grandma. The living room had true-green carpet. Her rocking chair and rocking foot rest were mustard yellow, the fabric worn a bit rough. Directly in front of that foot rest sat the television. I remember sitting in front of that foot rest, the world and room dark, watching “The Lawrence Welk Show” and eating homemade (or supposed homemade) banana pudding, rocking along with the music and my grandmother, as if we and the chair and the foot rest were one.

 

Five problems with social media:

  1. It’s distracting. It is hard to be productive when you spend your time tweeting. Before social media, people were so much more productive; before the 21st century, before all of these technological distractions, the world advanced at a much more rapid pace . . . right?
  2. It enables people to post whatever. they. want. Personally, I like my people like I like my coffee: quiet and un-empowered. Social media really pushes the boundaries of “freedom of speech.” It’s one thing to guarantee the right to it under the law; it’s another thing for it to be legit accessible to people of all races, genders, socioeconomic statuses, national origins, and ages.
  3. It’s so political these days. Political information should come from one place and one place only: The Capital-M Media. If I want political updates or analysis, I’ll turn on CNN or Fox (or, god, maybe I’ll pick up a newspaper . . . nah). Diverse perspectives are overrated.
  4. It keeps people glued to their screens. I see it every day: people on the bus, in a line, at the grocery store, eyes fixated on their iPhones. It’s just too much. I fall prey to this myself; the other day, for example, I found myself on Facebook during the movie preview previews (the weird commercials that come on before the actual previews). So ridiculous. All I was doing was catching up with friends who live on other continents, reading articles about Rosa Parks, and doing a little guerrilla marketing. I should have been watching the local retirement home ads that were running. Ugh.
  5. One word: #HASHTAGS. So apparently hashtags are meant to organize information—which, okay, #icangetdownwiththat. But the super-long, non-organizational hashtags? Nonsense. Is nothing in this world purely #utilitarian anymore? The English language has no room to accommodate more rhetorical innovation. Leave well enough alone; beauty comes from the status quo. Also, “hashtag”? Really? #poundsignforever

 

This is the document I wish I’d had when I started my life at Centenary College of Louisiana in the SBC. This list won’t include the givens: everyone knows (or quickly learns) that Strawn’s has the best pie, Rhino Coffee is the best off-campus study spot, and students get in free at the Robinson Film Center. This guide, then, covers the things I learned to appreciate too late in my college career/stay in Shreveport. Trust it; hang it on your dorm room fridge; don’t do Life at Centenary without these gems:
CULTURE
R. W. Norton Art Gallery (+ gardens)
4747 Creswell Ave

Features:
a remarkable, super-diverse art gallery
beautiful gardens, great for picnicking, studying, walking/running
the huge (and I mean huge) wind-chimes in the gardens; just too cool

Pro Tips:
Go during Azalea Week, the approximate week in the spring when the azaleas are in bloom. Imagine pink and white blooms as far as the eye can see.
Know that the Folks Who Be recently banned photography and pets; I still Instagram it every time my dog, River, and I hang out there.
Texas Avenue Makers’ Fair
Corner of Texas Ave and Elvis Presley Blvd

Features:
locally- produced products: visual art, food, apparel, housewares, etc

Pro Tips:
Be sure to carry with you money and a big shopping bag. Seriously.
Meadows Museum of Art
on campus (you’d think this convenience would mean students would take full advantage of this lovely part of the world . . . but no)

Features:
Jean Despujols permanent collection
outrageously cool, never-boring visiting exhibits

Pro Tips:
Attend show openings; (delicious) free food and drink aside, they’re just a lot of fun—cool people, great art, stimulating dialogue.
Follow the Friends of the Meadows on Facebook; you don’t want to miss any of their events.
Greenwood Cemetery
On Stoner Ave, where Centenary Blvd becomes Market St

Features:
graves (duh) of tons of people really important to Shreveport’s history, including four mayors and the namesakes of various landmarks around town
grand memorials
an informational area, complete with a map and description of the area
a surprisingly lovely pond and fountain

Pro Tips:
Lace up your sneakers, take your camera, and set aside a couple of hours (or at least one hour; I could spend three or four there, but I do recognize that I’m perhaps strange in this regard).
FOOD
Bistro Byronz
6104 Line Ave

Features:
dining environment that lends itself to college-kid casual (yoga pants) and fancy shmancy
delicious food (duh)
a great little porch that’s perfect for sunny days

Pro Tips:
Order the Bleu Cheese Chips (or the non-bleu ones, if you’re lame). Your life will never be the same. During particularly rough schoolwork weeks, my roommate and I have been known to call-in cheese chips and eat them at home.
Superior Grill
6123 Line Ave

Features:
as you surely know, they’ve got great Mexican food

Pro Tips:
What you probably don’t know is that they have the best dessert ever: The Holy Grail. I think it’s listed on the menu as ice cream pie, but it’s totally known as The Holy Grail, for reasons that will be made clear to you the moment the spoon enters your mouth.
Jabez & Jabes
4460 Youree Dr

Features:
calm atmosphere
delicious and affordable food; best sushi in town

Pro Tips:
Order the Fuji Mountain. Proceed to revel in your elevated coolness.
Maxwell’s Market
4861 Line Ave

Features:
typical market fares—meat, produce, packaged food, libations
not-as-typical fares—phenomenal dips, marinades, breads
prepared food section
made-to-order sandwiches and burgers

Pro Tips:
Call ahead to order any hot sandwiches.
Don’t skip the fountain drink; their ice machine has good ice (like Sonic ice).
Their rosemary bread is to die for.
SHOPPING
King Hardware
4834 Line Ave (not on Kings Hwy . . . )

Features:
hardware
some women’s apparel
jewelry
great gifts

Pro Tips:
Stock up on the Caldera linen spray. Your dorm-mates will love you for using it, and you’ll be even more excited to get into bed every night (slash every time you take a nap). It is a product of the gods.
And now, A Few Pieces of General Advice:

Learn how to get around via bicycle (also, own a bicycle). Our neck of the woods is pretty bike-able; you can easily get from campus to Rhino, the Norton, Brookshires (both the Kings Highway one and the fancy Line Ave one), even the health food store on Youree. Not only will this knowledge allow you to travel sans-automobile, it will also help you learn the fastest routes via car. The easiest way to start figuring out the lay of the land: ask someone (probably a professor or staff member) (or me) to draw you a basic map of the Highlands. Then start pedaling; you’ll figure things out pretty quickly.

Work hard not to forget how beautiful campus is. Crumley Gardens? Outrageously pretty. The Hardin porch swing? The perfect spot to read, write, have philosophical conversations. Even interiors, like the English Department Lounge, are lovely. Enjoy every second you get to spend here.

Decide what you love, and then do that—and leave everything else alone. Don’t join an organization because you like the idea of being in that organization; join only if you will love more than the idea of it. Be selective and then generous with your most precious resource, your time. College passes in four (or three, or five, or however many) years’ time whether you’re spread too thin or luxuriously free. I’ve been both spread too thin and miserably bored with too much time on my hands; neither situation is good.

DISCLAIMER: This is for my sake alone; it’s something like 2,000 words (yeah) and probably boring. If you’re, say, procrastinating or experiencing severe insomnia or would just happen to enjoy a relatively long account of my college years, read on.

Freshman year:
Moved into the dorms weeks before classes started for soccer preseason. Got to know my roommate—a totally-tolerate Mormon (whew) named Faith Clingen (now Pena). About died during two-a-days. Started classes; fell in love with college and with my college. Joined the existing Invisible Children club and helped host a screening. Got roped into Rush Week; surprised myself and everyone else by pledging a sorority. For a few weeks, had too much good, clean fun with my new “sisters”—then dropped (so not my scene). Made friends with Hinton Foster, the most spontaneous and energetic friend I’ve ever had (laughed and adventured with him until he transferred schools). Suffered through soccer season on the bench, constantly down on myself for letting a miserable team culture affect my game, my spirit; quit the team the day after our last game and replaced it with a volunteer coaching gig.

Started babysitting again. Took my favorite class ever, “Advanced Grammar, Rhetoric, and Composition,” with four ideal classmates and a professor who’d come to be a mentor and one of my closest friends. Let obsession creep back into my life—ran many miles every day (glorious), ate nothing but organic cereal and dry salad (not glorious); this diet resulted in severe stomach pain (my “mystery illness”) that wasn’t diagnosed until after many examinations, an MRI, and an endoscopy (the cure: fewer raw vegetables, more fat—go figure). Experienced my first Corrington Award week; delighted when Joy Williams invited our class to a bar (we declined) and then showed up to her reading smelling of booze, her eyes masked by sunglasses she’d not remove. Went to Key West with Faith for Spring Break; we came back to campus bronze. Turned 18; went skydiving (naturally). Also got tatted—Hinton took me (of course) across the street to SkinWorks, and I got white ink needled into my wrist, two words commemorating a professor’s brilliant speech at that year’s President’s Convocation. Worked with the admissions office to make a hilarious promotional video for the school—“Ellen’s Favorite Things”; was hired as a Student Ambassador, to begin work the next year. Discovered the Norton gardens during Azalea Week (the few fleeting days when the entire property is covered in pink and white blooms). Went to the World Peace Summit in Chicago (during Prep Week—#priorities) with four other students; met Nobel winners, including Jody Williams and Chaeli Mycroft (and her cool mom). Received an invitation to the Honors Convocation but had no idea what award I was to receive; as I sat in the pews, I scoffed at/tweeted about the absurdity of the leadership award designated for females only—“how sexist”—and then, humbled, received said award (truly an honor).

Was rescued by a beautiful chocolate lab-pit mix, whom I named River; fell in love with her. Adventured in NYC with my best friend Shea and then flew to Berlin to take a month-long German-language course. Met my German nephew, Leopold; fell in love with him. Fell in love with Berlin (my city). Learned some German, learned some things about myself.

Selfie with my darling dog, River

Sophomore year:
Moved into a house off-campus. Found a love for cooking, for feeding folks. Started anti-protesting (sharing pro-choice messages and refreshments) outside the Hope Clinic. Became the Arts & Entertainment editor for the school paper, The Conglomerate. Strived every day to be the Best Student Ambassador Ever, enthused about giving campus tours, going above-and-beyond to recruit students, even making and studying Centenary-history/-facts flashcards (I know). Volunteer tutored a first-grader. Babysat some more. Convinced friends to attend an Invisible Children event (global summit + march + party) in Washington DC; nine of us in a van drove twenty hours there and back within the course of one weekend (the best weekend of my life).

Spent the first week of the year (and the first week of the semester) in Kenya and Tanzania on photo safari with my dad. Returned to campus for wonderful classes, including “Creative Writing: The Craft of Poetry” with Dr. Havird, one of the best people I’ve ever known; wrote an ekphrasis that the Louisiana Poet Laureate deemed worthy of an honorable mention; realized that I’m actually not half-bad at this whole “poetry” thing. Spent a long weekend in Chicago with Shea; cried the whole way home because I missed her already and was just so lonely at school. Learned that chaplain Betsy Eaves, a personal hero of mine, was being forced to leave Centenary; cried and yelled and then spent an entire day (skipped class; my professors understood) crafting an op-ed that created beautiful uproar and provoked an upper-level administrator to write me a very unprofessional email (my faculty proceeded to shame him for said email, and the administrator later half-heartedly apologized). Raised hell on campus by helping to orchestrate an anti-administration, pro-faculty/-staff/-students demonstration (all day, in the cold wind and rain).

Took intensive beginner French during the Maymester. Got a call one night, alerting me that my family had been in a car crash and my twelve-year-old brother was severely injured and had to be airlifted to a nearby children’s hospital; held his hand while he suffered through excruciating pain (first physical; then emotional, when he realized he’d be in a full back-brace for three months). Met Mick Fleetwood at a Fleetwood Mac Concert. Met Susan Orlean at the Mayborn Writers’ Conference. Went paragliding. Went to the 2013 Fourth Estate Summit in Los Angeles; while there, I got tattooed again, pledged to raise $5,000, witnessed amazing speeches (including Samantha Power’s first speech as ambassador), and made lifelong friends. Spent the week after the conference exploring San Francisco with brand-new friend Stephanie Vern.

Giggling before the demonstration and the rain

Junior year:
Returned to school as the editor-in-chief of the paper; produced a beautiful and controversial paper thanks to a young and dedicated staff. Decided to fundraise for IC through hard work—through on-campus jobs, off-campus jobs, babysitting; my days were long. Lost my friend Maggie to a car accident; was heartbroken, devastated, and determined to honor her with my life. Grieved while I worked; somehow managed to raise (thanks mostly to an incredibly supportive community) over $20,000; dyed my hair pink in exchange for the donation that pushed my total over $20k. Invisible Children gifted me a trip to Uganda, to take place the following summer, so that I could see the programs I’d worked to fund.

Became a substitute teacher; went to class Monday through Thursday and subbed on Fridays. Badly sprained my ankle; was on crutches for weeks. Had a beautiful t-shirt made to honor Maggie; sold them and raised over $4,000 for a scholarship fund in her name. Received some really bad news that threw me (and my mental health) for a serious loop; grasped for stability, peace. Finished out my term as editor-in-chief. Quit all of my jobs. Babysat and coached soccer every chance I got; time with kids supplied my oxygen. For the first time ever, just tried to pass my classes (no energy for perfectionism). Lobbied my representatives on behalf of Invisible Children. Helped host a “Last Lectures” series for the many faculty members who were leaving Centenary due to the growing corruption of the administration; it was one of the most beautiful events I’ve ever attended, let alone organized.

Went on May Module to Greece with Dr. Havird; roomed with two of the coolest women I’ve ever met and wished the entire trip that I’d met them years earlier. After two weeks, flew from Athens to Tel Aviv, where I met my grandfather; traveled all over Israel and after ten days left my heart in the Dead Sea. Spent a few days at home and then met new friend Emily Ip in San Diego, where we explored, ate ice cream, and hung out with friends Meg Fagundes, Jake Harris, and Katie Waters. Flew from SD to Uganda with fifteen incredible women, ages 17 to 40+. Lauren Manning, IC’s ex-pat stationed in Gulu, traveled with us all over the country, acting as an incredible host/guide and becoming one with the group (I miss all sixteen of them). Rafted and bungee jumped over the Nile (the latter thanks to Jaclyn Licht, who volunteered to jump with me after I had a full-fledged, horribly humbling meltdown). Flew home, took a mind-numbing summer class in Texarkana, and then headed back to La Jolla, where I attended the Fourth Estate Retreat, an intimate gathering of activists; we swam in the ocean fully-clothed, met with some of our heroes (looking at you, Shannon Sedgwick Davis and Bob Goff), laughed, cried, brainstormed, and made more lifelong friends (at an IC event? Imagine that). Went home, slept a little, and then went on a cruise with the family: enjoyed the beauty of Honduras, swam with sharks and rays in Belize, and danced in the streets in Cozumel.

At IC's Gulu office with a group of awe-inspiring women

Senior semester:
Started my final semester—classes, babysitting, applying to graduate schools for elementary education. Commissioned another beautiful t-shirt to fundraise for the Maggie Minter Scholarship Fund and organized an event to commemorate the first full year without her; raised a couple thousand dollars. Learned the very next day that a young Fourth Estate friend, Annika, had died by way of suicide; mourned, sent her family a letter, held virtual hands with our mutual friends who are scattered all over the world. Checked out for Fall Break a day early, flying to visit Shea, who is studying this semester in London; bad weather and incompetent employees almost made me miss my flight (I boohoo-cried in Shreveport Regional), but thanks to my brilliant mom and the alignment of the stars, I made it to London on-time. Spent two days there and then flew to Berlin, where I was reunited with my exchange sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and new niece. My five-day European excursion was everything I needed. Flew home and was back on the grind, trying desperately just to finish school. Found out that a long-term substitute position would be opening up at St. James Day School, my “alma mater” of a primary school; the headmistress couldn’t offer me the job, she said, but had “something else in mind”—that vague email arrived on a Monday. The following Friday, I was offered my dream job—a full-time position as the school-wide computer technology teacher. Quit applying to graduate programs; began preparing for my first day of work on January 5th. Tried to stay focused on school until the final day. Was writing a paper in the library when, right outside the window, an armed mentally ill man was shot and killed by DPS; I watched them try and fail to resuscitate.

At the Festival of Lights with sister Julia, niece Elly, and best friend Shea

Tomorrow is the first day of my final Prep Week. In twelve days, I’ll no longer be a college student. Then I’ll have sixteen days to move home, rest, and prepare before I start my first Real Grownup Job. I’m a little in denial and a lot excited. I can and can’t believe that in twelve days, this act will conclude. These three-and-a-half years have been incredible (so much travel, activism, wise mentors, friends all over the world) and really, really, really hard (death, trauma, loneliness). It’s not like I made a ton of friends here in Shreveport or at Centenary, but I will miss with my whole heart the few friends I did make, my professors, and the kids I babysit—and I’ll miss Shreveport itself. It’s only an hour away (thank you, newly-completed I-49), and I know I’ll be back to visit, yada yada—but still. It’s weird. There’s so much I want to leave—and there is so much awaiting me in Texarkana—but the few things/people I love in Shreveport, I really love.

I don’t have any profound conclusive words (which is fine, because nobody is going to actually read all 2,000ish words of this bad boy blog post), but I will be in the next few days writing a post about my favorite things about Shreveport/Centenary—a sort of guide for freshman, etc. It will be way shorter and more relevant to, like, people other than myself.

P.S. Excuse any errors/bad writing/whatever. I am not about to edit this honking thing; I have schoolwork to do.
P.P.S. I totally missed some stuff; forgive me.