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135Journals: You Should Go to the International Print Fair. Here’s Why.

5 Nov

IMG_2180.jpg(Note: Linocut above by  the author, who graciously gave herself permission to use it.)

 

If you have the twenty bucks, and you live within a 20, no 50 mile radius of the Big Apple, and you have a few hours free, you would be insane not to gird your loins and race to the The International Art Fair at the New York Armory at 643 Park Avenue at 67th Street either today, November 5, (until 8:00) or tomorrow, November 6, 2016 (until 6:00) .http://www.ifpda.org/content/print-fair

Why, you ask. What is this “Print Fair” (or more properly, “The International Art Fair Presenting Historic Masterworks, 20th Century Icons and Innovative Contemporary Projects” and why should I care?

The Print Fair, friend, is an exhibition of works on paper by some—probably most—of the greatest artists the world has known, curated and displayed for sale by vendors from around the world. It is a chance to get up close to gorgeous artworks that range from hundreds of dollars up to $160,000 or more. Just wandering around, you will pass by historical treasures such as original copies of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, works by Durer and Cranach the Elder and other Old Masters. There are also works by Picasso, Monet, and searingly emotional portraits by Edvard Munch. For those who favor more political and the moving, timeless, political woodcuts of the not-well-enough super-brilliant African-American national treasure Elizabeth Catlett, and the mocking pop art of Andy Warhol. It is hard to express the variety of what you can see here.

Here are a few  highlights from the fair:

Japanese woodcuts by the 19th century master of the Ukiyo-e “pictures of the floating world” School, Utagawa Hirashige. This school of art showed lovely, exotic and haunting scenes of beautiful women, theater, flowers—lovely and ephemeral things that haunt the Japanese esthetic spirit. These prints are amazing for their detail, but also for their incredible use of color and pattern. The subtle shadings of blues are so iridescent that I, a printing novice, cannot even fathom how they are done.

Another surprise for me was the kinetic, expressive artists of the Grosvener school, such as Sybil Andrews and Claude Flight. These artists worked in London in the  1930s, using linocuts brilliantly to express movement and pattern which gave their pieces of everyday scenes (kids running, a motorcar driving, people at a coffee bar)  a fierce futuristic energy reminiscent both of jazz and machines.

Karl Schrag was a painfully beautiful and heartfelt artist whose work depicted the horror of living through World War II in Germany. His work had recently been acquired by the Susan Teller Gallery. http://www.susantellergallery.com.

In fact, noticing what individual collectors chose to collect and talking to gallery owners was one of the great pleasures of being at the fair. After all, these people have dedicated themselves to spending their lives with these artworks. These people are often passionate artists of observation in their own right.  I mention the Susan Teller Gallery because I particularly enjoyed their collection. It  specializes in American works from the 1920s through the 1950s. in addition to Karl Schrag and my much beloved Elizabeth Catlett, many artists whose works just hit me in the gut, among them artists I’d never heard of before, but whose works I really liked, including Betty Waldo Parish, Victor deWilde, and Ansei Yashima.

One Dublin dealer opened up a box containing an extremely expensive and valuable artwork consisting of pages that contained large gold leaf circles to share them with me. I am ashamed to say that I was so stunned by his kindness and the beauty of the work that I forgot both his name and the piece—that I felt as if I were enveloped in magic. He did not have to share this with me, because I obvious did not have 20 billion dollars to buy it, but he could just tell I adored it and he did, too. Afterwards, I told him, “Thank you, I will never forget this experience.” And I will not. It’s stabbing me in the heart that I can’t remember his name. I certainly remember his kind face and his gentle hands, holding the paper so reverently. Sometimes, it feels as if two people just breathe together, seeing something beautiful.  That’s all and that’s everything. Because someone was passionate and made something with care, and other people are alive enough to see it. It’s powerful enough to cut right into your heart. That was one of those moments that make you remember how time tesseracts.

Gettin’ corny now, so I’ll move on. Let’s just say that I would definitely say that I wish I could  give this nice man a  shout out because he could sell anything, and I would buy that damn book if I had 20 billion bucks for sure!

Of course, it would not be an art show without a bit of entertaining bullshit about which to grumble in a misanthropic fashion. There was an artwork that consisted of a high heeled shoe on a stand. Maybe I missed something. And there was a Damien Hirst picture of dots. If Damien Hirst wants to arm wrestle me and tell me why his damned pictures of dots are worth ca$h, I’m game. I like abstract art, and I still say those damned dots are nonsense. This is the reason why your relatives make fun of you when you take them to MOMA. “Right, here’s a corn beef sandwich and you want to call it Icarus Seven.” “No, Mom, it’s actually the guard’s corn beef sandwich.” hahaha.

To return to why you should see the Print Show–now–it is worth going simply because this show brings together works that are rarely seen, because these pieces are for sale, and won’t necessarily end up in museums, but in hands of private collectors. This is your chance to see them. And they are all printworks of one genre, which helps to focus the mind and help you to see a new side of many prominent artists. But even more importantly, there is something profound about experiencing both the individual lines of the artists up close and about being so very close to the paper itself. It feels different and more real to see the actual paper with the actual indentations that was once handled by a real artist.

As a student of printmaking,  I was absolutely astonished by the incredible range of possibilities that different artists brought to paper. Printmaking is difficult, technical, and expensive. There are any number of ways it can go wrong and very few it can go right. Every time a piece of paper is run through a press, the ink can be too thick or too thin, leaving the paper blotchy or empty. It is so hard for it to come out right. So each print is a miracle. Seeing how many of these incredibly delicate miracles still exist today is a breathtaking delight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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135journals: My husband’s first day as a free man

30 Jun
My dear husband will be wearing these glasses every day until forever. Promise!

My dear husband will be wearing these glasses every day until forever. Promise!

Yesterday was the first day of the rest of  Brian’s life. That is to say, it was the first Monday of his life as a member of the retired. What will he do with this endless expanse of possibility? Right now, his intention is to keep it open. He hasn’t spent the last whatever years of his life teaching Asian literature for nothing. The beautiful spareness of Chinese poetry pulls at his heart. So does the Japanese concept of Ma, or negative space. Although, in the Japanese thought Ma has a much more dynamic and interactive meaning than not being. It is part of the fabric of the whole, a part of the dance of possibilities. Oh dear, I am getting very abstract here. What I mean is, my husband is bravely trying to let himself be open and to find out what calls to him. And I am very interested to see what this human being to whom I’ve been married for the past 30 years is going to discover.

His first no-longer-employed Monday was not entirely filled with Ma. I had an appointment with a famousy-famous hip surgeon to see if I needed hip surgery at the famousy-famous Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan. I didn’t think I needed hip surgery, but another one of my doctors thought, well, maybe, I don’t know, just check it out, so grumblingly, I did. I reorganized my gigantic binder of tests and visits and brought it in. And this time, I brought Mr. HH with me. Despite my relative certainty that I wouldn’t need surgery (maybe some kind of injection though because of osteoarthritis?) I did feel afraid. I’ve gone to many scary doctor appointments by myself, and most of the time I’ve managed okay, but sometimes I come out of them with this jumble of notes that don’t make any sense because I’ve felt a rushing of panic clogging my ears when the doctor was giving me information. So the dear husband and I agreed that he would come to scary appointment and be a second set of ears for me. Anyway, I had some X-rays, talked to perfectly nice doctor, don’t need surgery, then husband and I had a pleasant walk around the Upper East Side.

“Look at that building,” Brian said, pointing to an old brick building. “A Czech gymnasium. I see a lot of Czech names around here” (near 70th and York).

“I think  a lot of Czechs and Germans settled this neighborhood,” I said. “Every part of Manhattan is so different.”

“It’s so different when you walk it,” he said.

“I know what we should do!” I said. “We should get a big map of Manhattan and get a yellow marker and color in every street we walk after your retirement. And we should walk every street in Manhattan!”

“Where does anybody even get a map nowadays?” he said. “Everybody has GPS.”

“Huh.” I was stumped, too. Maybe off the internet? Barnes and Noble? I don’t know.

He looks at his phone. “There’s a gourmet shop ten blocks away. We can get cheese.” Cheese is part of his holy trinity of consumables, along with coffee and bread. So we wandered uptown past more stores. We people watched. I saw lots of people walking dogs. I saw a woman carrying a dog. I saw lots of doggy day care businesses. There is no shortage of dogs in New York. And I almost never, ever see dog poop. So, good work, New Yorkers. The Upper East Side is full of uniformed private school kids who burst out into the streets at 3:30 or so, along with moms and dads and nannies with strollers. I see a schlumpy looking guy in a Gilligan hat and pink socks lumping across the street. People wearing neon-bright sneakers–that’s a thing now, I guess. Lots of women with pretty legs and short skirts and little sandals. Workers with hard hats ignoring interested onlookers. Street sellers hawking fruit, scarves, books, watches.

At the gourmet shop we buy two small pieces of ridiculously expensive cheese and linger over other delicious but outlandishly expensive items–gluten free lemon bars, figs, bright red $5.99 a pound tomatoes. As we leave we see the pasta hanging on the line. They had gluten free ravioli for $12.99 a pound. We passed. We’ve made homemade pasta before, but it is a pain. Still, I liked watching it hanging there.

We two flaneurs amble back to our car, driving home through rush hour,  but the traffic still isn’t TOO bad. We listen to a podcast. “The drive was only one This American Life long,” Brian says. He makes chicken and salad and pasta for dinner and I fold clothes. I run off to my book group and when I get home, he is sitting on the back deck in the semi-darkness,  looking at the trees and the sky above.  His hands are folded behind his head. He smiles at me, and in that smile I see a happiness formed of the possibility of a joyful anything to come.

Writing prompt: What possibilities do you see?

What I Learned about the Future of Breast Cancer Detection from Joining a Clinical Trial

16 Jun
Helping other women lets me get in touch with my inner goddess (thank you, Wikimedia Commons and the ancient Minoan culture!)

Helping other women lets me get in touch with my inner goddess (thank you, Wikimedia Commons and the ancient Minoan culture!)

Because I just love living dangerously, I am a card-carrying member of the Sloan-Kettering Special Surveillance Program for women who are at a high risk of breast cancer. That means that every six months, as I did yesterday, I pop in to the famous cancer hospital for a mammo or an MRI and a little hands-on quality time with the wonderful Dr. Mangino who runs the program. I call it my Semi-Annual Sloan-Kettering Day of Beauty.  I’m lucky, because I still don’t actually have cancer. And anyway, today I want to tell a happy story. It’s a story about how I got to see the future of medicine.

One of the benefits of being an “interesting” patient who has the good luck to be treated at a teaching hospital is that I have the opportunity to be asked to participate in clinical trials. Last winter, before I went to my last S-K day of beauty, I was asked if I would, in addition to getting my usual MRI, get a special kind of mammogram for this study:

https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01716247

“Comparison of Contrast Enhanced Mammography to Breast MRI in Screening Patients at Increased Risk for Breast Cancer.”

According to the information provided by Sloan-Kettering via the National Institutes of Health, the purpose of the study is “to determine if Contrast Enhanced Spectral Mammography (CESM) will be able to detect smaller/earlier breast cancers as well as breast MRI can.”

What that meant was that instead of just having a plain mammogram, I had an IV needle placed in my hand filled with a special dye. As it circulated into my breasts, it made the contrast between different types of tissue clearer.

Honestly, except for the slight annoyance of the initial pinprick and the tangle of the IV line, it wasn’t a big deal at all. And after it was over, a young scientist working on the study spent time talking to me and showing me some of the preliminary results of the study. He showed me pictures of regular mammograms and contrast-guided mammograms. The results were remarkably different. It looked as if the different areas of tissue were limned in dark gray in the contrast-guided mammos, whereas the regular ones looked much more pale and indistinct. I felt sorry for radiologists who had the terrifying—but boring-looking—job of trying to find suspicious pieces of matter on such a vague field of off white. It looked very easy to miss a cancerous lump in such cases. After I saw that result last winter, I went home feeling very pleased that I had been part of something bigger, something that might be useful someday.

And yesterday, I was even more pleased, because the lovely Dr. Mangino told me that the next time I came, I would be getting a contrast-dye mammogram for real. “The study results are looking great,” she said. “I wasn’t convinced at first. But I’m impressed.” At the front desk, the young receptionist told me that Sloan-Kettering is still one of the few places—if not the only place—in the nation where contrast-enhanced mammograms are done. Yet. But if they’re as good as they look as if they are, they’ll be coming. And when they do, they’ll save lives. And I’ll know I did at least a tiny little bit to help.

Do you have any interest in joining a clinical trial of any sort? You can find out more at ClinicalTrials.gov.

My Grim Gluten-Free Future

24 Feb Goddess Ceres, wheat, France, gluten
Goddess Ceres, wheat, France, gluten

Back in like Ancient France or whatever they weren’t beeyotching about wheat, oh no, they were like, oh thank you Goddess Ceres, here, we’ll make an awesome picture of you with gold leaf in it just to say how awesome le baguettes and la croissants and je ne sais quais else that’s made out of wheat is. But here in America? Non. (photo courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain).

You know what’s better than a piece of freshly-buttered sourdough toast? A piece of freshly buttered sourdough toast with a Belgian waffle and an everything bagel on it, that’s what. But now two (2) doctors have nagged me sufficiently to throw up my hands and say ALL RIGHT, I will TRY your stupid “GLUTEN FREE” diet even though I had an endoscopy and it did NOT show that I had celiac disease and I don’t even believe in gluten free anything and I hate the idea of being that “special” person who has to have that “special” thing at the restaurant and ask how everything is prepared. I know, I know, that’s just a form of snobbery on my part. Why shouldn’t I care what I eat? Food is life’s fuel. And, honestly, I generally eat pretty well. Much of that is the husband’s doing. He grows a fabulous garden each year and it’s always a race to stuff in as much produce into each meal as possible. He also has made me much more willing to give up on the super-cheap deals on chicken and beef in favor of the painfully expensive organic cuts where each cow has its horns hand-rubbed each evening and each chicken is knitted a pair of leg warmers so it doesn’t get cold as it roams freely over the acres and acres of Happydale Farm. Yeah yeah, I love the planet. But now I’m going to have to hunker down and do the walk of shame in Trader Joe’s and look at that package of oatmeal to see if it’s Gluten Free. Why shouldn’t oatmeal be gluten free? I guess some places, wheat hangs around the oat schoolyard and acts as a bad influence on the virtuous oat students, contaminating their virtue. So you have to make sure that they are kept away from each other. Sigh. There’s so much I have to learn. Another thing I’m confused about is that one of my doctors wants me to give up dairy and the other wants me to give up sugar. I guess it makes sense to give up sugar–even more than wheat, really. But does that mean maple syrup and honey, too? And isn’t something like organic Greek yogurt actually a very healthy food? Does anybody have any advice about how I can survive the next two heinous months?

Writing Prompt: Help a gal figure out how to go gluten free–I beg you.

135Journals Art Corner: Drawing on Receipts

23 Jan
Drawing on receipts. Even if you don't have anything else to draw on, you can use the small space of a receipt or other scrap of paper to draw a pattern that you can later use in a collage or other piece of work. by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

Drawing on receipts. Even if you don’t have anything else to draw on, you can use the small space of a receipt or other scrap of paper to draw a pattern that you can later use in a collage or other piece of work. by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

One day I–I know this is crazy–I didn’t have my journal with me. And I was waiting in a line. And I was bored. Of course, my pocketbook did contain a bunch of old useless receipts and some markers. So, I found myself doodling this little design on top of one of those receipts. The paper is probably as toxic as all get out, but it does have a nice smooth feeling. And having only a small space to fill was oddly satisfying. And, of course, every picture, no matter how seemingly repetitive, that I do means that I am developing a little bit more strength in my hand, more personality in my line, more sense of possibility. So, what can you actually DO with litttle pieces like this? Many artists save small bits and pieces of work for collages. I do not know how to make a collage–yet. But I have a file for pieces of my own work. It might fit in somewhere perfectly. And if not, what have I lost? In a way, I like the fact that I can read through the drawing that I visited Barnes and Noble and had a cup of tea on a certain day. That too is part of my history. Maybe I’ll just glue it onto a page of my journal (as you can see in this picture, the receipt is lying on one page of my scandalous tomes), because it’s part of me. It’s part of a day I drank tea, and part of a day I was bored standing in line. It was a point in time when I was drawing circles. Maybe someday I won’t draw so many circles. Then maybe I’ll draw something else. And THAT will be part of my history, too. It reminds me: There’s really no reason to ever clean out your purse.

Writing Prompt: What do you do with little scraps in your life–of time, of material, of paper?

135journals Art Corner: Using Elmer’s Glue as a Resist

20 Jan
lack Labyrinth. Watercolor and elmer's glue. By Alexandra Hanson-Harding

Black Labyrinth. Watercolor and elmer’s glue. By Alexandra Hanson-Harding

As I slowly acquire my art education via the University of Pinterest, I have become more and more acquainted with the idea of “resists.” Those are different materials or items that stand in the way of paint or dye or whatever being laid down on the surface of the paper. Resists can include wax (including crayons), and in this case, I thought I’d try out Elmer’s glue. I lay down a thick line of glue in a rectangular pattern moving outward. I let it dry for a day. And then I painted over it. It really worked! I like the spooky way the black looks against the thick line. I think I also dabbed some of the paint off the white line of Elmer’s with a cloth (by then it had a nice plasticky consistency) to emphasize the difference–but not off all of it. It was a fun technique and I would definitely try it again. The only trick is waiting long enough to let the glue dry!

Writing Prompt: How can “resisting” help you improve the quality of your life?

135journals Art Corner: Tiny Diamonds

13 Jan
Make yourself a diagonal grid and get yourself some markers, and hours of fun shall ensue. By Alexandra Hanson-Harding.

Make yourself a diagonal grid and get yourself some markers, and hours of fun shall ensue. By Alexandra Hanson-Harding.

In some ways, I am soooooooooo lazy. You just go ahead and ask my husband. But in other ways, I am incredibly diligent. Lookie here at what hard work I put into making this picture of tiny diamonds. I not only had fun coloring in boes with markers, but in devising little patterns to put into some of the boxes. I think they help to give the composition a little variety. I also left some spaces blank. You might have fun doing such a project yourself. I found it meditative, but it also helped me develop more small iconic images that come naturally to hand. I also got to see for myself color combinations that looked better than others. I want to develop my eye for what colors work together. It is interesting how different look next to each other. It was good compulsive fun, and a person could do this over and over (with regular grid paper, too), and still learn something and even make something kind of pleasing.

Writing Prompt: What is something you do compulsively?

135Journals Art Corner: Now what? Starting Art in 2015

2 Jan
Now what? Unfinished Art Journal Pages in orange, green and purple marker. by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

Now what? Unfinished Art Journal Pages in orange, green and purple marker. by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

Welcome to Januararty! When I started writing this blog, it was all about the writing. Increasingly, I’ve felt drawn to art. I hope to continue writing about writing, about books, about everything, but I also want to spend more time writing about art this year. In fact, I have already scheduled a number of posts about different art projects and pieces I’m working on for the month of January. Today, I am showing a piece I’ve started but have put aside for the moment, until I know where I want to go with it. My intention is to share with you one person’s art journey. I want to share the good art and the bad. I want to show new techniques that I’m trying and how they work (if they do!). I may even show you how I repeat doing similar kinds of pieces over and over and over, improving only in small increments each time. You may not be interested in art. You may not be interested in a non-artist’s attempts at art. But it is my hope that if I can share the good and the bad of what I make, and if I improve over time (which I certainly hope to do), that you will feel a little bit of a wind at your back, too. A little bit more freedom to create. I know that whatever I make, I do get pleasure from the process. I feel empowered by each small advance, and comforted by the gaining of facility with my hands and eye. I hope you feel a little of that joy, too, in whatever it is that you do for yourself–and I hope you Do do something for yourself. Happy new year, fellow creators. Let’s journey together to make something–to make many things–in 2015.

Writing Prompt: What would you like to create this year/

How to make awesome Shibori-style cloth Christmas gift bags that will last forever and ever, amen.

27 Dec
Shibori-style ice dyed Christmas bags by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

Shibori-style ice dyed Christmas bags by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

In my last post, I believe I expressed myself fully on the subject of the horrors of giftwrapping. But did you know that you can have really pretty handmade cloth giftbags for not much money that can keep you from hours of pointless agony involving lost scissors, tape that won’t unspool, and pieces of paper that almost but don’t quite cover the whole surface of the Monopoly game box? Here’s how I did it (thanks to an at class I took this fall):

1. Buy some plain white cotton gift bags. You can get them at craft shops such as A.C. Moore or Michaels (for about $3). I got some at a store near us called Amazing Savings (3 for $2.99). I also got some from save-on-crafts.com (they have a number of different kinds of bags, including twelve 10-inch cotton drawstring bags for about $9), and I may have purchased some from Oriental Trading company (http://www.orientaltrading.com (12 DIY large tote bags for $20). The important thing is that they should be made of a natural fabric, probably cotton or linen. Any size will do–in fact, some places sell tiny little bags that turn out to be surprisingly useful for gift purposes.

2. Ideally, you should wash the fabric in a special detergent called synthrapol (available through such suppliers as Dick Blick  (http://www.dickblick.com).  I didn’t do it and it came out fine, but it is preferable. While you’re shopping, you’ll also need soda ash and procion dye. What is procion dye? I don’t know what to tell y’all except that it’s a special kind of powdered dye that I could only find at Dick Blick –A.C. Moore and Michael’s failed me. (This will explain more: http://www.dickblick.com/products/jacquard-procion-mx-fiber-reactive-cold-water-dye/). For this project, I specifically chose Fire Engine Red and Forest Green. But I did not mix those two together in one batch, because those colors could mix and become muddy. If you’re going to mix colors, it’s better to stay w

soaking cloth in soda ash water

This action shot (note blurry artistic quality) shows a bucket of cloth being soaked in soda ash. Note that this process is messy. Also note that there is a container of procion dye sticking out from under the bottom.

ith either yellow-orange-red-brownish hues or blue-green-purple hues, because the different colors will enhance each other. I made two different batches.  By the way, each container of dye costs about $4.50ish.

3. Okay, now, ready for fun? Following directions on the package, I mixed up a batch of soda ash with water and soaked the cloth for about fifteen minutes before tossing the soda-ash water out. (You can soak it longer if you want, too).

4. Then, I tied up each bag into a specific configuration. That’s the Shibori part. Shibori dying is a Japanese style of tie-dying that involves resists. But it’s less chaotic than regular tie-dye, and usually done with indigo. I used several different techniques I found on YouTube videos and in my class–folding the fabric in squares, in triangles, in long back and forth fan folds and so forth. YouTube has approximately seven billion videos on this if you want more ideas. I tied the string very tight. But the dyeing process will still give interesting effects even if you just scrunch up the bags and toss them in the same container where you soaked the bags.

Shibori style cloth tied up

I know this looks like a box of mummified cats, but it’s actually just tightly bundled cloth, tied up shibori style.

5. Now, the really fun part. Completely cover the bags with ice cubes. And then, sprinkle procion dye onto the ice cubes. This picture shows an earlier batch of ice dying, in which I used blues and purples. You can see in the photo that the colors are very dark looking in the beginning as they start to melt into the ice.

Procion dye on ice

Procion dye on the rocks. The dye is just starting to melt into the ice cubes which will allow the dye to melt into the fabric.

6. Next, do nothing. Just stay away from your ice-covered bucket for about 12 hours. Put a cover on it if you have pets just in case, because (don’t read this out loud) pets are d-u-m-b. Oh, and speaking of dumb, I should have told you that back in step 5, you might want to think about wearing gloves or you’ll have hands that look as if you’ve dipped them in blood.

6. Now, take your pieces out of the bucket, and unwrap them while rinsing them under cold water until the water is clear. You will see how the Procion dye has colored your fabric. I really like the way mine turned out. I hope you like yours, too. (see results, at top).

7. You don’t really have to do anything else, but it doesn’t hurt to iron your dyed fabric (with a piece of newsprint over it to keep dye from leaching into the iron), and don’t put it into the washing machine with other stuff until you’re sure it won’t run any more.

tin can tied with dyed string

Don’t get excited yet, Mom, but this dyed-string tin-can pen holder is heading your way!

8. Oh, and tying up the fabric with string or yarn yields a bonus: dyed string that you can use for other projects. I’m making my mommy a pen holder from a tin can and that string (and Mod Podge, of course). Will she love it? She has to. She’s my Mom!

So, 135journalistas, I hope that you won’t have a frustrating December 24, 2015 and that you can easily toss whatever gifts you have into pretty little bags like these. And the good news is, you have 363 days to prepare!

Writing Prompt: What would you like to do differently next holiday season that you didn’t do this season.

Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing, even if it’s for five minutes

17 Dec
Beanitos bus stop ad, photo by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

The writing process needs lots of fiber to keep things moving (from NYC bus kiosk, photographed with loving care and a sophisticated sense of humor by Alexandra H).

Hello friends,

I am writing from Starbucks, where I am taking my last chance to get a fancy drink for free after signing up for one of them there Starbucks cards the kids love so much these days. I don’t know why they want me to have a chai latte for free but it is giving me the opportunity to do what I sometimes do with my friends—write a five minute email. It’s not that I have too little to say, it’s that I have too much. So whatever comes out in that five minute is at least a down payment, if a rambling one, on the friendship. I have incredible friends and I feel the joy of them in my mind.

So what’s this got to do with you, the reader? I have a feeling that one of the things that makes it really hard for most people to develop a writing habit is that they don’t write enough actual words, so the cost of each word is way too high. To me, writing is like plumbing—you have to have a certain amount of flowing clean water wasted and going down the drain to keep the pipes moving and not to get, um, unsightly clogs. Or, maybe it’s like eating. You’ve got to have enough fiber—i.e.; stuff that doesn’t provide nutrition in itself but functions as Nature’s Broom. Just keep it moving. In other words, although of course different people have different writing processes, but for most professional or at least frequent writers I know, their writing flows because they just do a heck of a lot of it, and a lot of it is to crap. Of course, sooner or later, serious writers need to learn to edit. But very often they need a safe place to write. (As I sit here, a young woman is writing long Christmas cards. She shakes her wrist, she’s written so many. I look at her, a pretty 20-something black woman in a green woolen cap, I am filled with admiration. I feel like saying to her, “Your friends are lucky to have you.” Heck, maybe I will say you.
I started a new journal today. Again. I started one last week, and I lost it. The reason I started one last week was because I left the LAST one, almost completed, on the bus. It may be hard to believe, but the proprieter of 135 journals.wordpress.com cannot lay her hands on every journal that she has ever written. I have left a few on the bus or god knows where else. You may wonder, isn’t that horrifying that somebody could know so many personal things about you? Yeah, it’s kind of a bummer, honestly, but I have to slap myself. I wrote to keep a record, but I also wrote to express my feelings, to find relief, to try to add up different parts of my life and make sense of them. I also drew, painted, doodled, thought of ideas that have no doubt been strengthened by the eye-hand connection. Maybe someone will find it and be amused. Maybe they will be disgusted. Maybe they’ll be inspired. Maybe it will be swept up and tossed out—the most likely scenario. It was a very small book only 4” by 6” with a black cover. It probably didn’t look like anything special from the outside. But it was practice for me.

Part of me hates that I have to start again. But I whisper to myself that Time’s Arrow moves only forward. What will happen if I don’t write start writing in a new journal book today because I mourn the loss of the last (2) journals? I’ll lose the good and bad of today. How I went Christmas shopping in the quaint little shops of Montclair. How I went to my memoir writing group and got to hear some of the hilarious family misadventures of my fellow group meetings. Best of all, how my son Jacob stayed up all night so he could cook my husband a chorizo and mozzarella omelet for breakfast and so he could make a test batch of latkes for me before I left for said memoir writing group. Okay, the staying up all night thing may not have been a direct result of wanting to make breakfast latkes. But I love his creative spirit, the hunger in his hands to create exquisite food. Of course, not everything has been perfect. I lost $30 of Christmas presents I just bought. I forgot to bring the present I made for the person who is leaving the group. My dawgs are barking from tromping around town. It’s getting dark and my art room is still in chaos. But I was excited and happy about being able to shop, and about thinking (probably too ambitiously) about all the things I want to make people I love for Christmas. No time like December 17 to get started, right?

Just a few little moments from December 17, 2014, the only December 17, 2014 I will ever have. Complete with doodles of trees, feathers, flowers, stars, leaves, and zigzags. Because writing is a long unfurling over time.

And now, half an hour of writing is passed. Time’s arrow is moving forward. Something is here that wasn’t here half an hour ago. Good? Not good? It doesn’t matter—it is all part of my great river of words that seek to move.

Writing prompt: What has happened to you this one precious day? Can you write something—anything—for five minutes? Or more if the spirit strikes?