135JournalsTime Travel: September 14, 1981

15 Sep


I hate wearing nylons on hot days. I feel like I’m trapped in a jungle. I called to the clothes store’s other branch, for a suit I want to buy.

I feel very much in love with Brian lately—with his looks, and that he’s a teacher, and that we’re both grown up and that we share so much. He was very mushy feeling yesterday, too. He said that he can tell that I always try to be nice to him (not strictly true, but most of the time), and he’s seen me grow and struggle. He’s going to be at Eileen’s tonight. I want to do something at J’s.  I was going to be doing something with Dan and shopping for a suit, but that’s out of the question because there just isn’t enough time to get to the train and try the thing on etc.

Hot weather today–beautiful this morning, but now oppressive, with the smell of exhaust spewed into the filthy air—aahh, New York. That’s one thing I notice that’s depressing. Even on sunny, crisp, days the buildings look indistinct and fuzzy so that you don’t see them, but its weird.

Evelyn wore astonishingly beautiful clothes when she was here. She has unusual but gorgeous taste.

This train is going the speed of mud and is so unbearably hot. I’m sorry I wasted my time wearing my new red shirt which I washed by hand. I’m going to get a nice cool something with ice to drink.J and K are anemic and I also am somewhat anemic, too.

E., who lives in the apartment I’m moving into, called up and asked in a bitchy way if I were absolutely sure I would be moving there. I guess it give me reason to be more secure, but she certainly is no angel of tact. Luis seems pretty nice in a vague leftist way; i.e. everything I do is right because I belong to the left; well, I’m being unfair, I’m saying that because of an awkward circumstance, that he had to speak for a long time without any help from me because I couldn’t think of much to say when I got tired.

Spent the evening with Jennifer and Karen, eating English muffins and watching TV. I got a sliver of glass in my foot and I thought, ‘it sure gets complicated when you’re on your own—you feel so much more open to the elements,’ But then Brian walked in and started fussing over me and running to get the peroxide.

Jennifer said she thinks I’m very pretty today. She said it in a way that made me believe her. It gave me a Cinderella feeling. It makes me want to dwell on my charms. But of course the old charms are going to be here tomorrow. If they’re still that good, I’ll write. Karen is taking a course at Hunter.


135JournalsTime Travel: September 13, 1981, Sunday

13 Sep

An excerpt from Volume 51 of the journals of young Alexandra Hanson, 35 years ago today:

The building I work in doesn’t have a 13th floor. Maybe I should try walking up some of the flights for exercise. Hah! I would have to walk up 12 flights of stairs to get up to the second bank of elevators .That’s a little too much exercise for a girl, I’m afraid.

It was a nice day today—going out to the street fair, shopping with Laura and John Flansburgh, and watching him question a woman about why she uses Pampers and not a diaper service.  I got money out of the bank and cleaned up the apt. a little while Brian was out in South Orange, NJ, looking at the place where he’s going to live. He’s very happy about the place; it’s convenient, it’s beautiful, it’s $150 a month, it’s with a woman who’s middle-aged who always has guests over and he likes that kind of thing—guests and friends and visitors . Only, he has some sad thoughts about it, about moving away. He’s glad to get out of this dilapidated apartment building and leave the mice. I saw one today when I opened the cupboard door, leaping over some plates and staying very still in the hole behind the cabinet, only its little tail sticking out. I yelled “BOO” at it and it still wouldn’t move. I wish it would do a better job of hiding if it has to be there. I felt less able to take care of it without Brian hanging around oohing and aahing with admiration at my competence in mouse disposal. Anyway; he not all that happy about moving away from me. He’s very nice. This weekend was happy in a lot of ways. I spend it mostly with Brian and we spent a lot of satisfying time together in a way we haven’t in months. I know he’s finally relaxed about teaching and a place to live. I know he appreciated my weird sense of humor and rambling monologues this weekend.

Before I write anything else I want to say that I hope I write less slavishly in the future. I’m hoping I can break through to deeper, truer writing than I can now. I am afraid of myself. Afraid of writing even the most trivial things.




135JournalsTime Travel: September 12, 1981

13 Sep

Note: This week I will share a few selections from volume 51 of my journals. I wrote this when I was 22 and had moved to Brooklyn after graduating from college. Happy snooping!

Brian and I have had a nice day today. We went to Coney Island today and went swimming. We lazed around on the beach and went and watched the corny, strange things they have there. I ate a piece of corn and had a Pepsi. Brian had a pastellilo, which tasted as bad as it looked, and a chocolate milkshake (mmm).

(Brian writes) “And you forgot some very important bits of nostalgia—our little trip down to the end of the “7” line was also a trip down genetic memory lane. My father ran the roller coaster on Coney Island as a summer job and my parents had their first date there. They went on the roller coaster and my mother almost got sick. “

There’s a happy story from Brian. Grimalkin was darling this morning—more affectionate than she almost ever is.

Brian sees a baby carried in a Snuggli. He says, “That’s nice—that’s the way nature intended for babies to be carried, only upside down.” After wandering around and window shopping—I saw a suit in the window which I loved—I had to go in and try on other suits since they didn’t have that exact particular one, and try on a big comfortable sleeping bag coat. Then off to the Bruno Bakery for Apple crumb cake and iced tea. Felt very mushy.

Talk to S. on the telephone. He says he’s written 12 pages of a story, another autobiographical story. He says he’s been reading a book called Wild Oats, and it’s been helping him.

I found a poster on the subway, a huge one, on a recent movie called Deadly Blessings, featuring a pair of sinister hands coming down the face of a woman who is sleeping, hair spread out in the middle, arms folded under her breasts so they push up, even though they’re supposed to be flat, through a thin through a thin nightgown, and on the top it says something about a deadly secret kept through the generations. I felt like a fool carrying it on the subway, but I remember when I found a huge paper mache rabbit’s head in Greenwich Village and left it in K and J’s apartment and how they screamed with laughter, and I thought this might scare them and make them laugh. I want to spend more time with them. I want to be more respectful of my friends and treat them as the treasures they are.

135JournalsBlog: The Salvation of the Tiny Hello

31 Aug

Lately I’ve been in an anti-social frame of mind. It has been difficult for me to organize my mind around making social plans, even though I long to see people. It’s been difficult for me to find my words. I can’t seem to figure out what I want to do next in some big picture way. When I am like this, I get withdrawn. I haven’t posted on my blog, either, much.

When I haven’t written to people I love for a while, I use a technique to re-engage I call the five-minute or the Tiny Hello. I just decide that my friends are lovely people who would rather hear something well meant and stupid than nothing at all. So I sit myself down and devote the next five minutes to writing ANYTHING I can to them, and I sternly make myself write, “LOVE,” from me, and I send that sucker off. No bullshit.

The thing is, once you write five minutes worth of anything that includes the idea “I’ve been thinking of you,” it’s all good. You can write a letter in 20 parts. The postage is all free. Take your time. You don’t need to overthink it. The words needn’t be so terribly precious.

I will try not to hold back now on my blog, either. I have so many things I think about and want to share. And I wanted to say I was thinking of you. And five minutes are up I’ll write again soon.

Love, me.









A Review of Outlander in Eight Words:

20 Aug

Nothing comes between a man and his kilt.

135Journals: Today, in Art

22 Jun

IMG_4613.jpgLately, I have been lopsidedly pursuing my artistic side. This is no doubt because of some weakness in my character causing me to avoid important tasks I should be doing rather than a true holy artistic passion. But I won’t argue with inspiration, however it arrives. I spent the morning, fooling around with a dollar store  watercolor set (as you can see above) while my darling Mr. B. fed me strawberries and raspberries from his garden and we sat out on the deck listening to a Libravox recording of  Howard’s End on YouTube.  That was pretty perfect.

In the afternoon I took photographs of  of beads for my new Etsy store–a story for another day. Yes, I have an actual, open, Etsy store! Below is an example of just one of the products I have for sale (these are some beads that I am “destashing”) . I learned how to stage photos of products in the class and I think the technique the teacher taught works pretty well. That is, use a piece of white posterboard, and shoot by a window during daylight. I also notice a dramatic angle helps give dimensionality. IMG_4698.jpg

Oh, you want to see MORE beads? Well, if you INSIST.IMG_4680.jpg

Here is a little garden of roses. Or, cabbages if you prefer. IMG_4655.jpgAnd some barrel-shaped beads good enough to eat (but I see the photo is too messy).IMG_4675 (1).jpg

And some blue beauties.

So that is some of the fun I had today. In art.


Happy Ramadan!

6 Jun Version 5

Iznik Tulip, by Alexandra Hanson-Harding, 2016.



The other day I had the good fortune to squeeze in a delightful breakfast and gossip fest with my friend Dahlia before Ramadan–which is not such a good time for ladies who brunch! I admire greatly the spiritual fortitude it takes her not to eat, or even drink water, all day long. It sounds very difficult to me, and yet the people I know, like Dahlia,  who practice Ramadan don’t whine about not eating or drinking all day the way  I imagine I would. In fact, they seem to find something very special about it. It seems to carve out a sense of sacred space and time, a different way of feeling, for them, in a waythat seems meaningful and connecting. I hope for all of my Muslim friends (and hello, Muslims everywhere), to feel that gentle, peaceful, open feeling I’ve observed this Ramadan season.

And in appreciation, I’d like to share something that I really treasure about the the Islamic world (besides saving civilization in Medieval times, algebra, Rumi, the number zero, and the usual list of accomplishments . . .) and that is art.

The Blue Beauty of Iznik Pottery

Take just one example–the elegant curving lines and patterns of Turkey’s Iznik pottery of the 15th to 17th century. To talk about Islamic art is always to talk about the sweep of history, of cultures meeting and melding. Iznik pottery is a perfect example of this quality of Islamic art. These earthenware pieces, distinctive for their lyrical cobalt blue floral patterns, were first made in western Anatolia, and are influenced both by China and the Ottoman Empire.


120px-Iznik_dish_British_Museum_G.37.jpgIznik Pottery Dish with Saz leaves, rosettes, and other flowers. c. 1545-1550. (wikimedia commons)

The first of these pieces were made for the famous Topkapi palace. Later, Iznik pieces would be made in abundance for Suleiman the Magnificent. The styles changed over time, more colors were added, but blue was the fundamental underpinning color.Why? One reason was that blue was beautiful and it was also popular in China, which was at that time creating some of its finest blue and white porcelainware during the Ming dynasty. Chinese porcelain was the most sophisticated form of  pottery in the world at that time. But more importantly, potters of Iznik were also able to  get the cobalt ore  earlier than they were able to get access to other colors–which would include first turquoise, then other hues such as purple, green, black gray, and red.

Iznikware often shows particular flowers, plants, and birds in rich, distinctive, curving patterns. There are peacocks and cypresses, prunus trees, carnations and roses, long, slender leaves of the saz plant, and tulips. In keeping The patterns are often ornate and fanciful. They call to mind a rich, peaceful, almost fairytale world of beautiful natural things in an earthly garden of delight.



Iznik Pottery Dish with a saz leave and flowers,  1575 (Wikimedia commons)


One motif that catches at me is the tulip. Tulips are of course a very popular flower, and have an important role in the history of trade. In 1637,  for example, during the end period of Iznik pottery, the Dutch had not only started mass-importing tulips from Turkey but they had a great economic crisis because people speculated on tulip bulbs, and the whole economy crashed. At any rate,  it is interesting to see how they figure as a symbol of opulence in the Islamic world. (They were first cultivated in Persia, but had been cultivated in Turkey since the 10th Century CE).But Iznik tulips have an entirely different look and feel–more elongated, more lissome, more mobile-feeling, than one’s–my–image, anyway, of a field of Dutch tulips, which seem rather plain and hearty and vertical.

One thing is clear: The human beings who created these pieces lived in a civilized world where there were people like us who could be struck through the heart by  the power of an image.. And they were treasured and cared for generation after generation by people who felt their value. What does it mean, just to be something so inexpressibly beautiful? I don’t have words for it. So I painted my own simple Iznik tulip, just to sing back to those potters half a world and half a millenia away.







Pattern Books

26 Apr Tote bag, sharpies on canvas, Alexandra Hanson-Harding
Tote bag, sharpies on canvas, Alexandra Hanson-Harding

Tote bag, sharpies on canvas, Alexandra Hanson-Harding

Yesterday when I was at my book group, my friend Monica asked me, “Are you still looking at pattern books?”

That’s because I am an eternal drawer and doodler and writer (and she was catching me doodling under the table), and last year, I was doing a lot of my doodling modeled on pictures from pattern books.   I have incredibly restless, fidgety hands, and I have a hard time listening to a conversation if I am not taking notes, doodling, drawing, fiddling with yarn, or twisting something with my fingers. Thus has it always been. As you can see from the name of my blog, 135 journals, I have been keeping journals for some time. I have far more than 135 journals. (And yes, I do look back at them, and I still have all of them, and I am very happy I started the habit when I was 14 and I do write pretty much every day).

A few years ago, I became interested—or rather, re-interested—in art. Visual art has always been an interest of mine. It was my first love, before words came and stole me away. In recent years, especially since I have become sick, art has seemed to open different pathways than words. I feel as if there is a great roaring in my head of things I need to communicate. I have things I need to express, and things I need to be understood. These are two different things. Art has been utterly compelling as a force to help me to both.

On my path to rediscovering my own language in art, I started devouring art books, especially books on different kinds of patterns. There was something about patterns that particularly compelled me.

Studying these art books helped me. Why not be inspired by the gifts and wisdom of others? It gave me an expanded framework for thinking both about patterns and about symbols. This allowed me both to find and to create symbols that meant something to me. It showed me how repeating patterns can give emphasis and importance to certain areas of a piece. That designs aren’t just random. They serve a purpose. There’s a reason why people love patterns and have always found them comforting and important.

More importantly, I know why I love creating patterns. But now, I don’t look at pattern books for inspiration when I draw. I just breathe, put pen to paper, and let go. I don’t know what will come out, or, if it doesn’t, if I can fix it. But that’s okay. there’s a lot of paper in the world. And the patterns will still keep emerging, from the pattern book that is unfurling inside of me.


My Annual Library Call of Shame

16 Mar I find libraries deeply puzzling. On the one hand, they are free. Yet somehow, when you don't return books on time, they actually turn out to be quite expensive. Puzzling. I still love them, though. Photo by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

I force myself to p

I find libraries deeply puzzling. On the one hand, they are free. Yet somehow, when you don't return books on time, they actually turn out to be quite expensive. Puzzling. I still love them, though. Photo by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

I find libraries deeply puzzling. On the one hand, they are free. Yet somehow, when you don’t return books on time, they actually turn out to be quite expensive. Puzzling. I still love them, though. Photo by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

I force myself to punch in the library’s number.

“Hi,” I snuffle into the phone. “May I please talk to Ellen?”

“May I tell her who’s calling?””

“It’s Alexandra.”


“I’m . . . um, somebody who owes the library a lot, I mean a LOT (dramatic sigh) of books.”

“Alexandra who? Can I have your last name?”

“Oh god it’s so EMBARRASSING. Do I HAVE to tell you???”

“Umm, okay, I’ll just see if she knows.”

A minute passes. I hear fumble fumble. Ellen gets on the line. “Oh, Alexandra, what are we going to do with you?”

“I knowwwwwwwwwwwww, it’s my annual Call of Shame. Once again,  I didn’t return like a jillion books. From last summer. And I’ve been doing this nonsense since I was a child. ”

“The problem is that I had to pay some of the other libraries in the system for the books you didn’t return…”

“Don’t worry, it’s not a problem. It’s just a number. Just tell me what I owe you and I’ll write the check. The gimongous yet hunormous check.”

“I just wish I didn’t have to charge you so much…”

“No, no, no, it’s all my fault. I bring this on myself. It will be good for my soul to do penance…It’s just that I get so afraid to call you.”

“I don’t know why you get so afraid.”

“I don’t either. It’s not as if I think you’re going to unhinge your jaws like a snake and eat my head. All you ever do is look at me with your big eyes and feel sorry for me and act really nice. Maybe that’s the hard part.”

She laughs. Nicely. Because she is so, so nice. I wonder if it would be better if she were cruel.

“I know it’s really complicated trying to figure out what I owe because I took books out from so many libraries in the system,” I say, “And now I gave you complicated work because that’s the kind of horrible, horrible book-not-returning person I am. So you don’t have to rush. Just tell me when you figure it out and I’ll get you the check right away.”

“Why don’t you tell me your cell phone number,” she says. “That way the information will be a little more . . . private.”

“You mean, so my husband won’t have to hear it?” I said. “You’re a genius, Ellen.” Of course, he’d see the check. But at least he wouldn’t be hearing whatever the horrible number was spoken OUT LOUD for his amusement. If he dares to be amused. Which might be the shortest and most tragic moment of amusement ever.

   “So—you’re never going to take out books from the library again, right?” the husband asks as I get off the phone.

   “Of course I’m not,” I say. “Don’t you think I ever learn ANYTHING?” Much as I said the same thing last year, right after signing the check of shame and delivering it into Ellen’s gentle hands.

Good-bye and Good Riddance, 2015

2 Jan

Okay, 2015, you had your good points. The garden was great. Broccoli in December? Big plus. Also, my husband retired in June, and he is happy all day long. He does one project or another with such astonishing speed that he is a joy to watch. At Christmas, my older child reminded me that I have won life’s lottery because one of my sons is a chef in training and the other is an Apple Genius, so they could, if need be, take care of all my food and technology needs, and what other needs are there, really? And how about Spotlight, and Game of Thrones, and Twitter, and Art, and my friends, and chocolate, and flowers, and chocolate,  and . . .

But the news. You know. I don’t even need to say anything. It’s like looking into a big pail of throw-up.  Let me count the way.

First, would anyone care to argue that this year was one of ennobling political discourse? It was crude, infantile, hateful, and probably horribly effective. I fear that Trump tapped into something bloodthirsty, stupid and crazy that has been seeking legitimacy in certain parts of the American voterate.America on race: This year I wrote a non-fiction book for young adults about racial profiling. It was a very difficult book to write for three reasons. 1. The story kept changing. 2. I’m white. 3. It broke my heart 20 times. But it was a powerful experience. Even though it was actually the second book I wrote about racial profiling and the first one didn’t crush me nearly the same way. This was the YEAR of racial profiling. And it was the year that all the dots connected, one by one, until it was as if these dots were so many axons firing together that a live bright line of a message was seared across my brain, a live neuronal wire: something terribly wrong is going on in our country, something is unjust, our beautiful children are being killed, and we can’t rest until this is fixed.

I realized that this is a depressing time to be a woman. I mean, compared to 99 percent of human history, it’s a good time. But compared to being a man, it’s not as good. And why should that be? I watched one of the Republican debates and I was viscerally repelled. Holy crap, I thought. Do they think women can’t hear them? I guess I’m not used to being talked about so blatantly as if I couldn’t possibly think for myself.

Okay. I’m going to stop ranting. Personally, this year was just hard. If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that I haven’t been writing much. I’ve only been posting things I’ve drawn. . That’s for a good reason and a bad reason. The good reason is that I’ve created a lot of pictures. The bad reason is that I’ve felt as if I’m in a land beyond words. I’ve written in my own journal, but I haven’t written to friends, haven’t spoken much to people outside of my own immediate family circle for a long time. I have been struggling with an autoimmune disease and all of its fallout. In 2016, I hope to articulate what a strange experience it has been to be among the upside-down world of what Susan Sontag called “the kingdom of the sick.” It is such a constant surprise of otherness that I still can’t believe some of the experiences I have, emotional, physical, and relational (is that a word?) every day. For

For a long time I thought it was so weird that maybe people wouldn’t believe me or think I was insane. But now I think that maybe people are curious about what other people’s lives are like. Maybe people secretly really would like to know what it is like to be inside the lives of another person, if that person can write about it without self-pity. I reread James MacBride’s wonderful memoir The Color of Water this year. It is about what it was like to grow up as one of 12 black kids of a Jewish mother in an extremely poor household in New York City. This family didn’t even have enough to eat–and yet every single kid was fiercely successful. It is an amazing story.

Can I just say what I experience? I don’t know yet. It is a mystery and a wonder. But maybe I’ll try. I’m beginning to suspect that there is something about struggling and suffering and vulnerability and weakness that is not, as I fear in my weakest moments, sad and pathetic, but is actually, the universal human connector. It is what every story about all of us, every story we care about, is actually all about. It’s what any story I’d want to hear about you would be about. It’s not interesting to hear what was easy for you to do. What was hard for you to do, and how did you do that thing? Or, what did you learn from trying? That’s what human beings have to share with each other that’s of value. That, and kindness.