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Three Different Years, Same Date: Entries From My 135 Journals

16 Mar
Mrs. 135 Journals with her demon spawn Jacob circa 2011. Photo by demon spawn's paternal unit, Mr. Hanson-Harding.

Mrs. 135 Journals with her demon spawn and cabbage skeptic Jacob circa 2011. Photo by demon spawn’s paternal unit, Mr. Hanson-Harding.

One of the benefits of keeping a journal since forever is seeing how life changes and how it stays the same. Here are entries from three different March 16ths, chosen completely at random. One thing that has remained the same—boys, both brothers and sons (and friends and boyfriends and husbands, or, shall we just say, husband!)—have been a constant source of amusement in my life. And I’m glad it doesn’t smell like a dead mouse under my bed anymore!

Sunday, March 16, 1975 I don’t get along with anyone except the parents and Craig and the Dog. Which is a majority, but just barely. I do get along with the other three sometimes. But not often.

Guess what? I get to BABYSIT. I have to cook: Ugh. Robbie shrieked to Mom and Dad, “Don’t go. DOOOOOOOOOONNN’T GO!” But they went.

March 16 1994, Wednesday

Now I’m on my way back home after visiting the baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Dr. Mark Ehrlich the plastic surgeon. I got a shot of cortisone in the scar I got under my nose from falling on that ice patch. It really hurt.

“That looks as if it hurt more than I thought it would,” Dr. Erlich said sympathetically. I like him. After I saw Jakie and went to the doctor, I went shopping. I actually did a lot of walking today, too. I walked from Port Authority up to the hospital (59th and 9th) to the doctor’s office 61st and fifth, then wandered up to 68th and back to Port Authority. It still smells like a dead mouse under my bed.

March 16, 2011 The other day Jake said, Why do I have to study? Why can’t I just do the studying montage?”

Also, last night he said, disgustedly, “What is it with you two and cabbage? It’s the food of PEASANTS”

He was shocked for a moment to learn that once upon a time, so was lobster, but then he said, “Well, that makes sense. It’s just a CRUSTACEAN.”

Writing Prompt: Can you remember what you were doing and whom you were with on any past March 16?

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Caturday, January 3, 2015

3 Jan
Smokey, Smokey, for Caturday, January 6, 2015

Smokey was found as a sad little kitten by my son Jacob near some railroad tracks. Now, he radiates contentment. Smokey, for Caturday, January 6, 2015

Writing Prompt: What makes you content?

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?

Art Journaling: She Presides Over Death

9 Sep
Art Journal  selection: She Presides Over Death.

This page is from one of my six or seven (or eight, can’t remember) art journals, from a free book I got called Packing Regulations by Stanley Sacharow in 1978.

As I have become more interested in the world of art journaling, I have started more journals. After all, once you get the paint out, you can only do one page at a time, then you have to wait until it dries and you’re just sittin’ there–it’s like watching one of those hideous T-ball games that seemed to go on forever when my children were young. So why not use the paint on six or seven journals while you’re already making a mess?

My problem is that I get really interested in the subject of the books I’m using. So one of the books I found for journaling was a nice hardcover called Packing Regulations. Laugh at me if you will, but Mr. Sacharow took his job seriously and he wrote about the world of packing regulations with care. If you really think about it, how food and other items are packaged is really quite an important subject. It’s a sort of unseen until it calls itself out to you, something hidden in plain sight. It’s easy to understand on an esthetic level. Don’t those little orange-shaped Orangina bottles make the drink taste even better? But it’s also important for reasons of safety (it’s not desirable to have harmful chemicals leaching into your food), and even just for mailing things in a way that is economical yet will minimize the chance of squishing your precious Oreos or bottles of wine. It’s also important that food items conform to certain standards.

Still, it was kind of sad to see this young lady working with rows of dead chickens on a line. Yes, please someone, inspect my meat. But for a moment, I look at those corpses and they look like babies to me, plump-tummied, headless babies. So the subject of the book inspired me to make me use the picture. Which is kind of ironic, because that means I used the contents of a book about packaging to discuss contents of a package which is in the book, which means . . .well, you get the idea, it’s a bit like the Land O’ Lake Butter girl, going off into infinity.

Writing Prompt: What is one kind of packaging of a product that you admire?

Art Journaling: Quilt Patterns

28 Aug
Quilt patterns drawn by Alexandra Hanson-Harding

quilt patterns drawn by me on a Maine Windjammer.

 

 

When I was on vacation–partly on a Maine schooner, lucky me!–I got to meet a number of very interesting and artistic people. One of them was an avid quilter. This woman was one of those dynamos, those balaboostas, those indefatigable souls who not only ran marathons and raised two kids who served in Afghanistan, but she also quilted. I had brought a book about quilting on my trip because I have been fascinated by patterns, and she told me how systematically each square is assembled. Anyway, I drew on the book and her words for these pictures that are in my regular journal, the one where I always complain that my mother was mean to me and therefore the fact that I lose things constantly is in no way my fault. That’s fair, right? Also, I stay up too late. Mom, don’t you think it’s time to step up to the plate and take responsibility for ALL of my flaws?

Anyway, I like to draw something in my journal every day–a person I saw, a pattern, an artful border. So this is one contribution from a wet, rainy, but still fun trip sailing around Penobscot Bay with artists who taught me how they do their craft. Oh, and the chances that I would have anything to do with REAL quiltmaking is about, um, zero. So my hats are off to the hardcore crafters who make their quilts by actually sewing them themselves.

 

Writing Prompt: What patterns do you see around you as you go through your day?

135 Journals Art Corner: My First MultiMedia Art Journal. Part 1

19 Aug

IMG_7871

Caption: Random page from Alexandra’s Art Journal, using collage, paint, yarn, glitter, and way too much Mod Podge. There is actually a picture of a girl with a caption that says, “It Stays With You,” and I hoped it would get across the idea of wonder. But it actually got across the idea of Shiny.

“Will your hands EVER be a normal color again?” Mr. Me asks as I use my fingers smush watercolor paint around the borders of a great classic formerly known as College Physics, circa 1957, that I found in a free book pile at a church in Montclair, NJ. (Now it is known as College Physics As Improved By Being Alexandra’s First Art Journal). No, I am not going to tell you EXACTLY what church because first, I forget its name, and second, I don’t want anyone else getting any big ideas in case another classic of this sort gets tossed out again. This book is amazing because it is written so beautifully and in such a measured way. As it so happens, I am very interested in physics. Not in the math equations—oh snore—but the big ideas. This book was published in 1957, the same year I was gestating in my mother’s womb. It was an amazing moment in science. On October 4 of that year, I, or rather, my mother’s Baby Bump, got a new nickname. That nickname was Sputnik. The small metal globe with its spikey antennae, a device that actually orbited the earth, sending signals back. What would that mean? It meant many things over the years, but the first thing it meant was that the Soviet Union had a message for the United States: Wake. Up. Something new was about to happen. And there I was, floating in utero just as Sputnik was floating in space. So I feel a deep kinship with Sputnik and all the scientific wonders that have flowered from that moment.

 

Now, you may wonder, why are YOU so interested in physics, Miss Alexandra? I do believe that you got a “Mercy D” in physics, and that you were taking physics at that snotty age when you thought you were above it all, and that science and math were like, all meaningless and shallow and dorky, while you were all art and poetry and bohemian magic (and scraping through high school with more than one Mercy D and Well Deserved F to show for it—I DID perk up in college, but that’s another story). Well, as I may or may not have mentioned, I have spent most of my long career writing for children. Some people think that is an easy job—just as somehow they think preschool teachers are actually preschoolers, and that they are more concerned with naps and playing at the sand table than in the development of young children and their awareness. Well, let people think what they want. I am in no position to judge. But I have and always have had a profound respect for those who write for children and teens. Because books for kids change their lives. I promise I will write more on that subject. But I want to thank the writers of fiction and nonfiction who gave my hungry, sad young mind the good food it needed to grow, and I am trying to return the favor as an adult.

 

ANYWAY, as I said, I have worked in publishing for about 175 years, most of them in publishing for young people. The last full-time regular job I had was one that definitely fed my hungry adult mind—working as an editor putting together books using material from a famous encyclopaedia. It was a great job because I literally got a “encyclopaedic” knowledge of many different subjects that would not be natural for me to read. And one of them was physics.

 

Okay, I can see that this post is getting to be like a town with many interesting streets down which one could wander. Let me just take one path for now. Suffice it to say, I am in awe of this book and yet I am trying to treat it as roughly and experimentally as I can. I am ripping out random pages, gluing others together, making collages that may or may not come together and have meaning. I’m writing with markers, drawing with tempera, acrylic, watercolor, I’m gessoing pages white, I’m using homemade stamps, and I’m looking forward to seeing what becomes of this collaboration between the authors, Robert T. Beyer and A. O. Williams, Jr., both of Brown University, and my still airy bohemian but humbled, science-loving self.

 

Writing Prompt: Is there some subject you have respect for that you despised as a child or teen?

25 Things for Which I’m Grateful Today, May 8, 2014

8 May

 

Image

Cobalt Blue! Gold! Beautiful! Dome of the Chain in front of the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. (in public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Some experts say that gratitude keeps you healthy/successful/happy/wise/and even non-genocidal. We all know that, right? Oh, okay, I’ll use some quotations, in lieu of proving point properly:

“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say thank you?” –William Arthur Ward.

“The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.” ―Henry Ward Beecher

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

There. Satisfied? So, I’m going to give gratitude a spin today. I’m going to try to feel the small and large pleasantness of my individual life, lived in the very place and moment where I am. If you have a few minutes, or a piece of paper and a pen to start a list that you can return to, maybe you can make a list of a few things you feel grateful for today, too. After all, it’s the only May 8, 2014, we will ever have, right?

Today I am grateful for:

  1. The sound of birds outside my window.
  2. The soft freshness of the air.
  3. How my husband, Brian, put my new Triple A card in my wallet for me.
  4. How much my son Moses made me laugh at dinner last night.
  5. How hard my son Jacob is working up in Maine, and how bravely he is learning to take care of myself.
  6. How we will get to take a vacation in Maine this summer.
  7. How I will get to start filling out paperwork so that we can renovate our kitchen.
  8. That I have my own room, now that Jacob is in Maine, for dreaming, making art, and writing in.
  9. That I am reading four books at the same time and they’re all good.
  10. That I don’t have any lost library books at the moment.
  11. I finished my daily quota of writing for my novel (600 words).
  12. I have almost finished my quota of walking for the week, so anything extra will be bonus.
  13. I talked to my sister yesterday and she was funny.
  14. I met a woman who was the former librarian for the National Enquirer the other day, and when I asked her what it was like, she said, “It was like working in a Victorian whorehouse,” which made me laugh. And then when I told my husband, he said, “What’s a Victorian whorehouse like?” and I laughed more. Plus, I was glad he didn’t know what a Victorian whorehouse is like.
  15. Oatmeal with hot milk, banana, and sugar.
  16. Chai tea with milk and sugar.
  17. Walking with my friend Heba and learning that there is a word in Arabic that sounds exactly like the Hebrew word Tzedakah (charity) and means something very similar.
  18. Feeling sad for my friend Kathy Wilmore, whose mother died, but also glad, because Kathy was such a good daughter to her and so unselfish and honorable. I feel proud of having Kathy for a friend.
  19. The weekly summit at the Chit Chat diner with Julie.
  20. The feeling that it is important to feel peaceful and that, as my mother says, “You don’t have to prove anything.”
  21. The new things I am learning about the brain from the MOOC I am taking on Coursera. Such as how some neurons pass through the meninges from the Central Nervous System to the Peripheral Nervous System.
  22. Cobalt blue. Such an amazing color.
  23. Fantasizing about ways I want to decorate my Room of My Own.
  24. The fact that I actually got up the nerve to go to a Meetup from Meetup.org on making Art Cards and had two hours of fun creating with a group of other women this week.
  25. That I went to an essay writing group my friend Toby recommended and I had the nerve to read an essay I had just written, and got some good suggestions.

Writing Prompt: I dare you to squeeze out 25 things you’re grateful for today.

How To Be A Slug

22 Aug

IMG_8938As you may not be able to read, these drawings are of my cat Monk being a slug. It is very important for cats to be slugs and sometimes it is important for humans to be sluggish, too. It is 3:00 o’clock and I am in my magical pyjamas writing in a very slow and stupid way about the history of oil in Texas. My mind goes in every direction. Toenails: too long. Can I sneak in another game of Mahjong Dimensions, a game at which I magically never improve? Should I read MORE productivity hacks that I’m not going to implement from Lifehacker? Heart fills with love for friends I haven’t written emails to for a long time. Write emails to Joyce, Maggie, Danny, etc.? Slowly drinking cup of tea. Looking out at the prayer flags and flowers and green trees in the dripping backyard. Must call sister and mother. Is fracking good or bad? Must write post about this. Two posts! “Eat your eggs,” says husband sternly. I take a bite. Rainwater drips, drips, drips off the porch umbrella. Make unpleasant but necessary phone calls? Oh god no. My magical pyjamas keep me from wanting to move anywhere. And indeed, I should not be going anywhere. I should be writing about oil. Dum de dum. I wonder what thoughts the cat is thinking? 1. Lie on pile of laundry. 2. Lie on top of leather couch and reward it with some nice scratches. 3. Continue to ponder why humans didn’t allow me in house with mouse in my mouth. 4. When are they going to get rid of that kitten? I learned my lesson,  I appreciate it, now can they take that annoyance away? 5. How else can I bend the humans to my mighty will?

How to Journal prompt: Do you ever feel sluggish? Ever want to avoid work? What kinds of thoughts run through your mind? Make a list.

How to Journal #21: What’s Your Cup of Tea?

8 Aug
journal picture: tea cup

From an old journal of mine: Some prefer a proper cup and saucer.

I remember one day when I was making a cup of tea for my friend Karen and she said, “Oh no I can’t drink out of that cup. I never drink out of cups with logos.” I laughed. I found it quite enchanting that although she is one of the calmest, accepting, and patient people I know, the idea of a cup with a logo on it just bugged her. But then again, I noticed that different people like drinking their morning coffee or tea out of all kinds of different containers–some like chunky mugs, some like tiny ones, others are Venti all the way, paper, styrofoam . . . and that’s just cups. I like large, smooth cups with white insides (so I can see the color of my tea). And then I (sometimes–guilty truth)  fool around on line reading random articles about weird science facts, medicine, news, and of course, wardrobe malfunctions. Then I open my journal and begin to write.

Writing prompts section: #21:  if you’re like most people, there is something unique about what kind of tea or coffee cup you prefer. What is your favorite kind of cup and why? Why not draw a picture or take a picture to add to your journal?