I am a writer.

15 Apr

I’m slowly floating down from cloud nine.

Three days since the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference in Minneapolis, and I sit in my local coffee shop distracted by the long thoughts that still linger forefront in my mind, thoughts prompted by the many panels, readings, overheard conversations, and hotel-room discussions I had during the three-day event.

It’s taken some time for me to accept, and then proclaim, this tagline to my name: Ellee, writer. The threat of discovery that I didn’t qualify would somehow be too much to bear, too much to mourn. I’ve carried this word around with me, secretly, since I was a child, thinking about what it means and wanting so badly to find my own place in it. But I never considered what it meant to fit in, to “qualify,” to be allowed membership in a professional group of word artists. For a few years now, I’ve tentatively put on the elevated label — adding it to my resume, my LinkedIn profile — without considering why I’m so scared to claim it.

But, last weekend at AWP, while I nervously zig-zagged through the huge book fair tables with their magazines, paperbacks, journals, bookmarks, magnets, and t-shirts, I had an epiphany: Writers are not special. They don’t occupy some strange intellectual space that requires years of tutelage in their lingo and set of rules. They are simply word lovers, word givers. They connect through the effort they put into finding just the right collection of letters that makes sense of their particular view. It takes hard work, not specialness.

I had to introduce myself to so many strangers, who were gracious and generous with my nerves and my apologetic explanations of what I do. People were interested in what I had to say. They wanted to know more about my ideas. They connected with they way I see the world. And I quickly found myself rooted in this varied community of political views, religious associations, artistic aesthetics, modes of communication, that are all connected through words.

I realized, I am also a word lover, a word giver. I, too, connect through the effort of finding just the right word. I, too, work hard. I, too, am a writer.

Read me.


6 Dec

Words are tricky things, aren’t they? They can be meaningless, flippant, and vapid. They can be life-affirming and challenging. They can be confused, misunderstood. They can be wrong.

I’ve lived with some labels, some wordy explanations about life and who I am, that I’m starting to understand were a little off-mark. How can something like language introduce me to a world filled with color, light, darkness, emotion, and sleep? How can language explain dreams — awake or unawake?

Don’t misunderstand me, I love words, I love language. I’m actually pretty obsessed with it. I mean, I am a writer. But I see its limitations.

I also see the possibilities.

We’ve all tried to describe snow to someone from southern Florida, or the color red to a blind person, or our Gramma’s to-die-for chocolate chip cookies that would stick to our fingers when we’d eat them fresh out of the oven. But it’s not the words we choose that are creating something — it’s the act of choosing them.

We are all sculptors in a way. Words are our mud. Or stone. Somethings are more pliable to describe, while others — other moments, memories, pains — are slowly chiseled through with a sharp mind.

Lately, I’ve been trying to find my words. They’ve wandered a bit. I’ve been trying to “say what I mean” and instead there’s a lot of, “um.” What I want to say is this: Life is hard. Especially when it passes you and you didn’t have enough time to label it correctly, so you try to look back and relabel, reorganize, and even then you feel rushed and your words are not quite right. But the attempt chips away to carve out some kind of meaning from a twisting, breathless memory.

Trauma is the hardest to explain. The words lie flat on the pain — neither a balm nor a way out. You apply them like bandages that don’t help fully heal. You soak up the pooling damage with them, but the words are never enough. Until, maybe someone else tries to heal their own pain with the same words, and in that expression you find hope. Their attempt at meaning holds the same shape as yours, though both may be lacking, and there’s another layer of meaning in the sameness.

Words remind me that I’m not alone. Even when I might talk to myself, the words are not mine. Other broken hearts have sculpted their lives with the same subject-verb disagreements, the same ill-fitting adjectives, the same industry lingo.

Words have helped us discover the details in an abstract world. We lean in and focus more, pointing and saying “this happened.” And then we lean in a little more and say, “it hurt me.” And a little more: “it was wrong.”

And from that leaning in, holding onto language as we peer over the edge of ourselves, we discover more meaning in single words. Love. Pain. Self. Others.


And if we are really paying attention, we discover more than that. We discovered that, just as our pain is often bigger than words, so are we.

Hello, Autumn.

11 Oct

The weather transitioned suddenly, here in Southeast Ohio. A couple of weeks ago, in less than 24 hours, the humid heat hung onto the last few minutes of twilight one evening and the next morning smacked cold and red on my cheek. I don’t mind. I love the fall. And apparently, loving the fall is a “thing.”

Sweater weather. Boots weather. Scarf weather. Pumpkin versions of anything (and everything) edible. Cold hands wrapped around cardboard cups that emanate heat in a six-inch radius. The scarf, piled and wrapped around our faces, hide the four-month long shoulder hunch against the elements.

But, again, I don’t mind.

The cold brings its own comfort. It brings permission to layer up, to be less exposed. Unlike the summer when you remove clothing when it gets too hot (baring your tender skin to the world, or worse, your neighbors), if you are too chilly in the cold months, you add some fabric. You cover. You tuck yourself in the midst of the most comforting items you own. I, personally, love it.

The cold allows you to drift through your day — like the thin, aged leaves floating down from their shivering branches. Sounds are less dulled, more crisp; less heavy, more lean. They float, like you and the leaves, in and out of the landscape on delicate winds.

So, though today is painted in fragile white light from a glittering sun, it’s chilly and beautiful. I am zipped up and layered, wandering through soft surroundings with crunching edges. A cup of hot something warming my hands, while yellow and brown leaves brush against my sweatered shoulders on their way to the ground.

And I don’t mind at all.

Grieving for strangers.

20 Aug

Depression has been the topic of the week. And how can it not be? With the world falling apart around each and every one of us — in Africa, in Missouri, in Hollywood. Yet, it’s not new. Just read Edgar Allan Poe. Or the Psalms by Israel’s Ancient King David. So I won’t pretend to add anything to the centuries-long discussion.

I’ll just say I feel it too — the sadness that laps in on the shore of life, sometimes threatening to wash away my tiny island of self. I think we all feel it to some extent. We all grieve and mourn. We all suffer. We all ache. But some of us find our way through it, while others very literally drown.

I have no wisdom to offer, or even any kind of adequate comfort. But I will say I am sorry to hear the Robin Williams — Mr. Comedy himself — found life unbearable. I am sorry to hear about the chaos and heartbreak of so many in Ferguson; the fear and torment in the Middle East; the loss faced by the family of the murdered journalist who could, if they wanted to, view is his execution.

Depression is not something that is easily understood, even by others who have felt the crush of sadness. But life in all its emotional variety is not easily understood through any lens, even the rose-colored ones. So, maybe we should all just pull a little closer to each other, forgive a little more, judge a little less, and maybe wave to a stranger now and then. Acknowledge each other. Remind each other that we’re really not all alone. I know it’s not any kind of answer, but I think it helps.




Pain management.

10 Aug

I woke up late today. A slow Sunday morning, dawning with hot yellow light through the blinds above me around 10:30 a.m. There wasn’t even a small moment in that transition into wakefulness when I forgot that I was in pain. I fell asleep with it, tossed and turned through it, brought it into my dreams, and awoke with it. But this morning I also woke up with something new: A rheumatoid arthritis nodule. A small one jutting out from one side of my middle knuckle on my right hand. I’ve known that I have RA, but seeing that slight deformity made it more real, more shocking.

Living with pain is difficult in ways that I can’t put into words. It’s a battle you aren’t armed for. It makes you feel weak physically, of course, but also emotionally. I am nervous to face a busy day when I am in the midst of a flare-up. What will people think if I suddenly start limping, or drop something from my weak hands? Will I have to cancel my lunch date, or will my friend understand the grimace I can’t seem to hide?

Pain makes you selfish. It makes you horde your minutes to yourself. It causes an obsession with finding your own balance, which often means inconvenience for others around you.

Pain makes you block out the moments that make life layered and tangible — the mundane occurrences like slicing tomatoes for dinner while you dream about traveling. Instead, you have to focus on the strength in your hands, the position of your body against the counter, how far you have to reach, the heaviness of the knife. In those moments, I don’t hear the sound of the juices released from the plump red tomato skin at the touch of the thin grey blade. I don’t hear the wind traveling from the open window in front of me and out the screen door at my back. I don’t smell the sharp and salty scents of the hot pan sautéing onions at my hip. All I can think is, just get through cooking dinner and you can sit down.

Today I struggle to step away from pain; to avoid its stifling definition of my extraordinary life. I want to find a way to weave it in, to allow it a place, but not give it everything I love. 

This nodule represents something. Medically, it shows progression of a condition that is worsening from the inside out. But, to me, it represents a future without writing. Without lifting children onto my lap or swinging them through the air. A life of holding my Love’s hand without lacing our fingers, or having him open doors, no longer out of his own desire for chivalry, but because I need him to. 

The only way I can think to fight the overwhelming fear and frustration at this future contained in that small nodule protruding from my aching hands, is to write. To write a path through the pain. To write a path through the certainties, finding and exploiting the uncertainties, cherishing the hand that I can hold in spite of pain. To write and make sense of something that confines me like a single, black-barred cell. To write and realize that I am not alone; others feel pain, others deal moment-by-moment with the same invisible illness. Others sit through lunch with a half-hidden grimace.

I write to remember that my life — that living — is not about my hands or how am I going to open jars, or even about waking up in pain. Life is about what you do with the pain.

And since pain is now a part of me, embedded deep in my body, I choose to live with it and get on with life.  


8 Jul

Lately, I’ve been sorting through past traumas like forgotten boxes in the attic — complete with overwhelming reminiscence that can often be followed by sudden weeping, dust from the trauma floating in the darkened air around me. And, like the stirred air, I am unsettled.

Looking at the past me, watching her again face these experiences that she was not ready for, I want to explain things. I want her to know the things she didn’t understand. I want to redefine the very meaning of the words she clung to — phrases she passionately scribbled in journals and scraps of paper stored in an old metal suitcase. In the midst of these recent moments, as I try to help the younger version of myself finally rest into the past where she belongs, I realize I still need to redefine the words I use to shape my life now.







All of this makes me feel detached. Wandering. Searching again for some explanation for the beauty and ugliness around me. And inside of me.

So I sit and try to organize positive and negative space, these symbols that represent the meaning I am trying to simultaneously give and discover. The shape of each letter, the structure of the sentence, the placement of a comma — all of it changes the meaning. Perhaps this tiny curved line, like a dislodged and discarded eyelash that has floated down to the page, will interject just the right pause to accentuate the word before — what is that word trying to say? what is it trying to connect to? how is it representing me? how is it representing anything? — all of these questions have been circling around me every time I try to write.

Yet, though I feel a bit lost in all of this, I do find answers as I go. At least, enough answers to not stop, to keep going, keep writing, keep searching — all in the same motions: My small fingers flitting over the keys, the bottoms of my palms sticky against the smooth surface they rest upon, my eyes gliding back and forth over the clear black words I’ve just written and the unseen outline of the words I have yet to write.

The words are crowded now, but they bump against each other inside of me, sharpening some and — thankfully, for the tired and overwhelmed 17-year-old me — softening others.

Someday I’ll figure out what I’m trying to say.

Covered in black.

28 Jun

A lot of change has come my way the last few months. I lost my job. I received not one, but two medical diagnoses that brought about some major life alterations. And I earned my bachelor’s degree after 17 years of (mostly) steady plodding through undergraduate classes. 

Believe it or not, all of this was good change. It just took some adjustment, but all this newness has allowed me to reassess priorities, daily schedules, summer plans, and most importantly, my connection to people.

Extrovert or introvert, change unfolds the same for both. But as an extrovert, I soak up energy from pulling people close as change looms over me like a wave cresting a terrifying foamy white. And because of these amazing people, I was able to stay on the shore and greet the new ocean of opportunity. Simply because they believed I could.

The highlight amidst all this, of course, is being able to say — with shoulders back and a wide, silly grin — that, “I am a college graduate. I graduated. I finished school. I DID IT.” Yes, I was 10 years older than pretty much every other person at commencement. Yes, I just happened to have been somewhat suddenly unemployed while wearing my cap and gown. Yes, I had no clear thoughts on how I might begin my new career as I walked toward the stage to shake hands, pose for pictures, and hug everyone in the hallway. But I was filled with confidence nonetheless. Mostly because I graduated. I did something that I thought I couldn’t do: I kept going through illness, calamity, and sudden moves across state lines. But I did it. And something solidified in me during the few hours of graduation and celebration. 

As I sat almost dead center in the commencement auditorium, listening (or not listening) to one voice after another through the main speakers, whispering with a classmate sitting next to me, and waiting for my college to be called, I thought it was ironic that I was covered head-to-toe in black — something that symbolized an end of things, with mourning and loss. I flipped through the multi-page program, reading the lists of names and accomplishments until I found my own. And next to the text, “Elizabeth Mary Prince,” I saw a funny symbol that only a few other names shared. I consulted my friend, who figured out it had to do with the silver cords we both wore around our neck. “Do you know what these cords mean?” I whispered. She shook her head, shrugging while she continued to thumb through her program. And then she nudged me, smiling. Her finger rested on the bottom inch of one white page, pointing to a symbols key that read, “Silver cords: Magna cum laude.”

We erupted in giggles, leaning forward and covering our mouths. I calmed myself, reset my flimsy black cap and wrapped my hands around the smooth silver cords, squeezing the tassels in my palms.

I am a college graduate.


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