Tag Archives: Americanah

135Journals Blog Health Corner: What It Feels Like When You Feel Like Crap

11 Jun
Welcome to my Microbiome (altered art journal pages by Alexandra Hanson-Harding )

Welcome to my Microbiome (altered art journal pages by Alexandra Hanson-Harding )

Did you ever wonder what it was like to feel like crap? Probably not. If you’re like most people, i.e., everyone, you’ve probably felt like crap. And if you aren’t feeling like crap, you probably don’t want to remember it. But have I not seen eight million motivational infographics on the importance of living in the moment? Well, friends, if one if going to live in the moment, one is not always going to be doing meditation by the ocean and feeling full of vibrant life energy. Sometimes the moment is being in a sucky meeting where some halfwit is publicly berating you for a typo on a meaningless report. Sometimes the moment is yes, that is YOUR screaming brat on the overstuffed airplane. Sometimes the moment is when you’re desperately searching around on the laptop for an amusing viral video to watch with one hand while you’re holding your syringe filled with methotrexate in the other, getting the nerve up to jam it into your leg. Sometimes the moment is that moment when you actually do jam it into your leg and it actually hurts and you say “OW!” and think DAMN it, and feel mad at yourself because why are you being such a goddamned wimp. It shouldn’t hurt that much. It only hurts that much if I hurt in too many other ways. Right now, some of the vertebrae in my neck are sore and swollen, and my feet hurt, and my tongue is sore, strangely enough, and I’m very tired, and when that many things confuse my senses, I have less resilience against small irritations like a tiny needle.

Today I am feeling like crap because I had two main things I wanted to do: go to a new acupuncturist and go to visit a friend who is very charming and smart and who has terminal cancer. That, and of course, having an inflammatory autoimmune disease. But I digress. This morning I woke up at 4:00 a.m. feeling very sick to my stomach. After 8:30, I fell asleep for an hour in my kitchen reading nook, but had were strange, disturbed dreams. I also had a sore throat and shivers, as I often do these days. And I was still sick to my stomach. I have been lying in my nook looking at the windows that I have decorated with hundreds of strands of woven yarn (compulsive art project), looking at the green trees beyond, and up at the hemlock tree that I can see through the skylight. I see a brass bell I bought at a castle in Germany. I see a vase full of small glass beads that I want to string, and a glass of water that looks too tiring to drink. I see the phone. I want to call my friend but it  feels too tiring to talk to anyone. I would only whine anyway. It took me hours to tell the acupuncturist I couldn’t come. He was nice. He said, “Try drinking coke. If you still feel sick later, you could try chewing Juicy Fruit gum and swallowing it. It’s very binding.” I laughed. “That’s the best Alternative Medical advice I ever heard,” I said. “I’m definitely trying that.” Said it sounded better than a kale smoothie. “You DEFINITELY do not need a kale smoothie right now.”

I feel guilty for not seeing the acupuncturist and my friend. But I don’t want to spread my germs. And I can’t imagine summoning the energy to get into a car and driving it. I’m sweating and shivering. My stomach is a knot of pain. My eyes are half-closed and gravity feels as if it’s crushing me onto the cushion. My neck is throbbing. All around me, grown-ups are doing useful things. I’m just living in the moment. The crappy, but real, moment.

Writing Prompt: Do you ever have times when you feel like crap? Go ahead. WHINE.

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?

January 2014 Statistics

27 Feb


What you must abandon before you enter the magic world that is the Daily Show.


Okay, a little on the late side . . . but . . .

Biopsies: 1

MRIs: 1

Blogposts written: 14

Times I was late: all

Deaths: Molly, beloved dog of my sister. This golden retriever is one of the biggest heart melter you could ever imagine. She

Kindle Paperwhites broken because you shouldn’t read the Three Musketeer while walking down steps or you’ll splat: 1

Best Accomplishment: making my sister Mrs. Elizabeth Pederson’s Dundee buns and mailing them to her right away so they got there when they were fresh, because they make her happy.

Second Best Accomplishment: Passed 5,000 viewers or readers or whatever they call them on this blog.

Interesting new experience: Taking my first MOOC. (How to Write for the Web).

Also interesting: Seeing Jon Stewart Live. Sigh.

Movies Seen: Inside Llewen Davis, Nebraska, Philomena, American Hustle,

Book Group selection: Americanah by Chiminandah Ngozie Adizie.

Third Best Accomplishment: Spelling Chiminandah Ngozie Adizie.

Fourth Best Accomplishment: Writing 14 blog posts. 

Some things  I cooked: Giambatta (Italian vegetable stew). Seared tuna. Frittata. Popovers. spaghetti sauce. Thai style cauliflower soup with coconut milk. Pumpkin soup with onions, apple and sage. Mrs. Elizabeth Pederson’s Dundee Buns. Granddaddy Frank Eggs. Oatmeal. Vegetarian chili. Rice.

–Most disliked white substance: Snow.  

Writing Prompt: Now that you’ve had a month, what sticks out to you about your January 2014?

Beautiful Black Women–in Pictures

22 Jan


My brilliant writing group friend, Ms. S., an unwitting victim of my pen.

After reading the book Americanah by Chiminanda Ngozie Adizie, I was reintroduced to some of the ideas that have been floating around in my head. One of them came from poking around on Reddit. I forget the exact section /race? /African American? Those of you who like to poke through Reddit know how rich but infuriating that website can be. There was a question by a black woman who had noted that she had read a study about how in dating, white men preferred white, Hispanic and Asian women; black men preferred white, Hispanic and Asian women, and basically the big losers were Asian men and black women. She asked a question of incredible poignancy: Is it really true that nobody sees black women as attractive? This question made me want to cry. I think of the incredible individuality of the African-American women I know, their strength, their character, their humor, and their beauty. (Of course some people are jerks in any group, but since I don’t hang out with jerks, I don’t care.) It seems unbelievable to me that anyone should have to ask that ugly, ugly question, to have those self-doubts.

About a year ago, I made a vow to draw at least one picture a day. I usually draw them in my journal, but sometimes in art books, notebooks, whatever. I took photos of a bunch of the pictures and I thought I had more drawings that showed black women, but this is all I have for now. I draw people’s faces as often as I can. I am far from a professional artist, drawing is just a hobby, but one of the things I’ve noticed is that people’s faces are actually very, very similar. A big fat white man and a skinny black women both have eyes, noses, teeth, hair, etc. It is in small details that the differences come out. I love the individuality of the faces I see on the subway, when I get together with people I care about. I draw all kinds of people, but I wanted to share four illustrations of black women whose faces I loved drawing and observing. May they find love. May they be seen for the beauty that is their birthright as human beings.


This beautiful professor gave a lecture at the Jung Society.


Um, sorry, crappy photo of a beautiful human. Image

Woman on subway. I loved her braids.


Proper lady with great hat on a cold day. And bonus: Two beautiful black men.


Americanah by Chimimanda Ngozie Adichie: A Book Review

20 Jan




Ifemelu and Obinze are lovers. They are two young Nigerians who are like two puzzle pieces, made to be together. But when life separates them, sending Efimelu to the U.S. and Obinze on a more complicated journey to England and back to Nigeria, they lose track of each other. Obinze’s, and especially Efimelu’s, journeys, their adjustments to their situations, their struggles against racism, poverty, cultural differences, loneliness, and finding their authentic selves and destinies is the subject of Americanah, Chimimanda Ngozie Adizie’s long, rich, complex, and delicious book Americanah.  


Adizie has a sharp eye, a wicked tongue (or pen) and a magical way of putting the truth of the strengths and weaknesses of three countries on the table without being mortally offensive or off-putting to any of them—while at the same time making clear that she means what she says.She skewers certain kind of people (including, ahem, people like me, a well-meaning white American liberal) without making you want to throw the book across the room and sulk.


I hate the word immersive. Why is everybody using this word all of a sudden? But Americanah is a deeply immersive book. When I finished it, I got a big headache. I wasn’t in Efimelu’s world anymore. I wasn’t going to see anything out of her eyes. I felt disoriented. When I feel like that, I know I’ve read a good book.


One of the things I admire about this book is how it doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence by over-explaining. The author will write sentences in (Igbo?) or in some mix of Efi’s native tongue and English and expect the reader to get the meaning from context. She will have Efi meet some well-meaning white lady who will overexplains how she gives money to a charity in Africa and the incredible awkwardness of the Efi is put in (is she supposed to say thank you for helping my continent?) becomes clear. This, to me, is very lifelike. Most people who live in a multicultural environment, as, say, I am as a resident of the greater New York area, are constantly subjected—or gifted—I should say,  


Much of the book takes place as Efimelu is getting her hair braided in a salon for black women’s hair in a bad neighborhood in Trenton, New Jersey. Although she has a prestigious position as a Princeton Fellow, beaten-down Trenton is the closest place she can go for the proper care of her hair. Much attention is given to the subject of black women’s hair in this book—about what long, painstaking efforts black women have to make to have hair that seems acceptable and normal in the U.S., and whether or not she wants to compromise herself for that standard. Meanwhile, she notes the irony of how in Nigerian women also torture their hair with ironing and other treatments to make it look “good.” In the beauty shop she meets a variety of characters, African, African-American, and white, throughout the long day, listens to their chatter, and reflects on her life. Because even though she has reached a pinnacle of success in America—becoming relatively famous for her blog (Okay, this part—getting successful from a blog is like a beautiful fantasy to me, unlike the rest of the book). By the way, her blog is called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black” and it includes some of Efi’s excellent blogposts.) She is constantly looking at the world around her with a critical but curious eye. One dreadlocked white man whom she suspected would be a good guest blogger tells her, “Race is totally overhyped these days, black people need to get over themselves.. . “ and she writes a post called, “Not All Dreadlocked White American Guys Are Down.” And then, she meets a middle manager from Ohio in a boxy suit and expected him to be racist—and HE turns out to have adopted a dark-skinned black baby and talks to her about how this experience has taught him  “even black families” don’t want to adopt a dark-skinned child. She writes a post about HIM called, “Badly-Dressed White Middle Managers from Ohio Are Not Always What You Think.”


Ifemelu’s life in America is complicated. At first she is poor, desperate for work, until she gradually becomes acclimated to America’s ways, becomes a highly educated and confident woman, and claims her place as who she is. One of her ways of becoming authentic, for example, is not taking on an American accent. She refuses to be anything else but what she is. Meanwhile, she has relationships with an Anglo-American and later an African-American man that teach her many things about America. She finds Americans who are good and Americans who are bad. One thing that she does find is that race is a very powerful subject.


Let me repeat that. Race is a very powerful subject in the United States. In fact, I have recently been doing a lot of reading about race in the United States. One of the observations I have made from my reading is that many white people feel that racism is a thing of the past (“We have a black president”), but for black people, race is very much present and real. And that when people say they are “colorblind,” it can seem very insulting, despite the speaker’s good intentions. When they say racism was in the past, white Americans often mean that they themselves are not racist and would not do anything racist. But African Americans can feel that this is a denial of history and present day reality. The author puts this much better than I can.


This is so much more to say about Americanah and the author’s observations. (By the way, an Americanah is defined more-or-less as someone who went to America and became all American and now thinks she’s a big shot back in Nigeria). But this book would not be worth reading if the author did not hook you in with appealing characters and action that keeps the plot moving in a lively, satisfying way. This is not a treatise—it is a novel. And one I highly recommend.


Writing Prompt: What observations can you make about race in America (or your country)?