Tag Archives: Writing Prompt

135Journals Crafts of the Day, June 30, 2015

1 Jul
Some stuff I made today., June 30, 2015. By Alexandra Hanson-Harding

Some stuff I made today., June 30, 2015. By Alexandra Hanson-Harding .

A random selection of some of the craft items I made today, if they actually deserve the label of craft items. No explanation will be offered about their purpose.

Writing Prompt: Did you make any stuff today?

Caturday, January 17, 2015. In? or out?

17 Jan Smokey the cat wants to go out
Smokey the cat wants to go out

Smokey wants to go out

Love you guys. Thanks for getting out of your comfy bed and hobbling over to open the door to let me in. It’s been a great five minutes. I jumped on your bed and allowed you to enjoy my elegance and rub my belly. I viciously attacked and conquered a plastic bag in the loudest, most crinkling manner possible. I managed to get a toy mouse wedged somewhere under the bed. But I’ve got some plans. That nap on the laundry pile in the basement isn’t going to take itself. So could you please open the door? I’m not going to whine or anything, but I’ll just stand here flicking my tail, right next to the door, giving you that half-sweet, half-desperate look that says, “Litter box.” You know I can hypnotize you if you look into my eyes, right? Get up. Get up. Put that stupid book down. Don’t get comfortable. Get up. Let me out. I’ve got to get out. Now. Now. Now. Okay, you’re sitting up. Keep it moving, keep it moving. Ahhhhhh. I’m in the hall at last. But–what–you closed the door? You don’t WANT me on your soft, comfy bed? You don’t want me to have my lost mouse? You don’t love me anymore? Are you REJECTING me? I can’t take rejection. Let me in. Let me in. I’m not saying you HAVE to, but I’ll just stand here scratching the door until you come get me. Please????

Writing Prompt: Did you ever change your mind after you got what you want?

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?

Insanely Insane Photo Essay, Part 2. New York at Dusk

30 Oct

And now, may I present more photographs of the city that never sleeps, especially not at 5:00 pm.


Spools of thread in a dry cleaner's shop on Third Avenue.

Spools of thread in a dry cleaner’s shop on Third Avenue., NYC.


Friendly New York pizza man tosses me a wave as he prepares to toss a pizza.

Friendly New York pizza man tosses me a wave as he prepares to toss a pizza.


Iconic yellow NY taxicab

Iconic yellow NY taxicab


I, however, am too cheap to take a taxi at rush hour. And since it's raining, I'm too lazy to walk all the way to Eighth Avenue. So hello, Subway.

I, however, am too cheap to take a taxi at rush hour. And since it’s raining, I’m too lazy to walk all the way to Eighth Avenue. So hello, Subway.


I know I made the right choice, because I got to see the magical man of gold.

I know I made the right choice, because I got to see the magical man of gold.

More to come! In the meantime. .  .

Writing Prompt: What’s the most magical thing you saw today?

Ten Sizzling Facts YOU need to know from February’s Glamour Mag.

29 May


 As Glamour Magazine informs us, a little of this goes a long way. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thank god for doctors’ waiting rooms. They are still the true believers, the ones who think that people read magazines. And trust me, darling, we DO. Oh, we do. How else would we know how to order our silly little lives if not for doctor visits and the vital reading material they provide. Here are ten tips I learned yesterday, just from ONE of these fine purveyors of all that is useful in this world.


  1. If you want to get promoted, do not and I mean DO NOT, twirl your hair. And don’t be biting those nails, either.
  2. The possibilities of plaid are endless, according to a 26-year-old waitress. [And a few million crazed Scots]
  3. Bethenny Frankel says you need a personal mitten statement. Wait, that can’t be right. I must have the worst handwriting in the world. She says you need a personal MISSION statement. Here’s hers, just so you don’t steal it: “You are destined for something special. But no one can do it for you and no one can save you. You have to do it yourself.”
  4. One way you know a dude is going to be a dud in the sack is, and I quote, “Too. Much. Tongue.”
  5. The secret to Emma Watson’s plump and dewy skin and slightly crazed energy level: coconut water.
  6. One article says that the power red lip is back. Another article says guys hate red lipstick because it gets on their teeth.
  7. 31 percent of men do that thing Onan did in the Bible in the office. Another 24 percent do that thing in the car. Sigh, whatever happened to driving and texting being the most dangerous thing, like, ever?
  8. You know when you go out with a guy and you’re dressed up with oversized bows, a side pony, your favorite fanny pack, bright blue eyeshadow, and your new fake boobs? Guys don’t like that.
  9. You know what guys think when you’re talking about clothes and hair? Getting back to their cars and offices and dreaming about . . . anything else but clothes or hair.
  10. 74 percent of men would rather be bald than have Donald Trump’s hair.


Writing Prompt: What ten tips would you like to share?

135 Journals Book Club: Still Life With Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen

21 May


I guess George Flegel was also teed off that he was left with all the dishes in his 1635 “Still Life with Stag Beetle” (courtesy Wikimedia Commons, public domain).

Still Life with Breadcrumbs is a novel that is written with such tightness, and works so well that at the end of it, I had to open it up and start over to see if it was as good as I thought it was. And it was. I don’t necessarily think it is a classic that will live forever—but I do think it is a novel that asked questions and answered them, that created appealing characters whose rightness or wrongness for each other was instantly clear, and that it created a world that made sense and which left the reader completely satisfied. It also contained a lot of unpretentiously stated wisdom that was resonant with the characters and the lessons they had learned through their lives. At the heart of this book is an inevitable-but-how? romance between Rebecca Winters, a 60-year-old divorced photographer from NYC who had fallen on hard times and moved to a dumpy cabin in upstate New York in order to be able to rent out her own lovely New York apartment so she could save money to pay for her mother’s nursing home bills and various other expenses, and Jim Bates, a 44-year-old roofer who is so much more than a roofer. Rebecca and Jim meet at the beginning of this book, when she is confronted with one of those problems you don’t find on the Upper West Side—raccoons in the attic. Jim Bates, who is known for his ability to find things. He is pleasant and interesting in a low-key manner. Oh yeah, ladies. We know this guy. He fixes everything, he’s caring, he notices how good you look in your sloppiest clothes, but none of your annoying habits ( “Oh, I see you like putting PEANUT BUTTER in the REFRIGERATOR,” for instance), and who is handy with a snowplow just when you were getting cabin fever. Anyway, Jim eventually he offers her a part-time gig sitting with him in trees while he identifies particular tagged animals and she takes pictures of them. They get to know each other through thermoses of of sweet coffee (brought by him, of course) and long hours of chitchat—though they actually reveal little about the secret family responsibilities and worries that wear them down.

Meanwhile, she, who fits the classic novelistic trope of “Woman comes to town” starts exploring her new world. She takes hikes and finds strange little crosses, some decorated with trophies of photographs, and takes pictures of them. She gets to know the garrulous but loyal Sarah, owner of a local shop called “Tea for Two” that serves English food such as mouthwatering scones and Toad in a Hole, and soon, Rebecca is a regular, through Sarah’s no-good husband Kevin is a bit off-putting.

In addition to sitting in trees, reading the Classics and taking pictures, she reflects back on her own life,, about her former marriage to a selfish but glamorous English, Peter Symington. It was after a dinner party where he rudely went to bed without helping, AS USUAL, that she snapped a photo she called “Still Life with Breadcrumbs” of the mess. It was the first photo that made her famous but it would not be the last. She became wealthy and famous from her photos, (which would thoroughly irritate Peter, Despite living with the evil Brit (I’ve seen movies—aren’t they all?). But now, the cash flow is a cash drip and New York is no fun. So now she was trying to make do and sacrifice. It is always interesting to hear how people struggle with money, and it is also interesting to see how they cope with a new environment. And, it is intriguing to read about any artist’s “process.” For someone like Rebecca, al lot of her art comes from looking and looking until she captures the right moment. What that moment means remains mysterious—she is not a woman for putting things into words. She just has a feeling. And that is much like Jim. At a meeting of a fancy Women’s League where she is invited to speak, she is asked. “Could you tell us the secret to your success?”

“The secret is that there is no secret,” she replied. “That’s true of almost everything, in my opinion. Everything is accidental.”

When I read those lines, I almost laughed. For a character like Rebecca, whose calling is to look, that is true. But for the novelist who creates her world, NOTHING is accidental. There is a saying about playwriting that if there is a gun in the first scene, then the gun needs to go off by the end of the play. The very first SENTENCE of Still Life with Breadcrumbs, is “A few minutes after two in the morning, Rebecca Winter woke to the sound of a gunshot.”

In fact, one of the most interesting features of this book is just how different objects, thematic ideas, etc., come together by the end of the book. Just for the fun of it, I will share a few themes to look for: crosses, ladders, white flag, dog, houses, England, guns, money, ways of seeing, Mary Cassatt, thingsthat happen by accident.

There are many other appealing features of the book. Minor characters are drawn with efficiency, charm, and consistency. Rebecca’s evil ex-husband who taught about the erotic world of the medieval era is known as “Professor Porn.” Rebecca’s parents always had a fear of space heaters (emphasizing their urban side). Rebecca’s appealing son Ben is characterized by his dialog—“Don’t go all Lady Chatterly on me, Mom,” he says after learning of Jim. The chapter headings are succinct, colloquial, and delightful. For example: “How she Wound Up There—the Inspirational Version.” “Get a Job” “This is How These Things Happen—Part 1” (and 2).

I have always loved Anna Quindlen’s writing, ever since she wrote essays about life and parenthood for the New York Times. Back then, I lived in Hoboken, NJ, and so did she. I always dreamed I would run into her but never did. I wanted to thank her for her writing, if we had somehow met at Lisa’s Deli or Fiori’s Mozzarella shop where a wooden sign read, “The Taste of a Good Mozzarella is Remembered Long after The Price is Forgotten” (so true). But I can thank her now, for a thoroughly enjoyable book that was a treat from start to finish.

Many of the chapter headings in Still Life with Breadcrumbs could be used as writing prompts. Try using one of the three above–“How she Wound Up There—the Inspirational Version.” “Get a Job” “This is How These Things Happen—Part 1” (and 2) and write your own story.


135Journals Art Corner: Doodlings of a Madwoman

12 May

135Journals Art Corner: Doodlings of a Madwoman

I will leave the observer to decipher the meaning of this piece, created by the artiste with the bucket of 109 markers her children got about 10 years ago. Is it about the eggs? The squiggles? The dots? The exact location of Waldo? Who is to say?

Writing Prompt: Let this piece or another inspire you to write any crazy thing you want.

135Journals Book Club: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

11 May






Fukushima accidents overview map. (thank you, WIimedia Commons). Was Nao there?



Could Ruth Ozeki’s compelling A Tale for the Time Being be called a portmanteau book—i.e.; one into which many different things are thrown, as if into an old trunk? It could be, I suppose. It touches on many things—Proust, Japan (both modern Japan and historical Japan), teenage girls, bullying, the Pacific Northwest, the patterns of movement across oceans, including gyres and vortexes, and , Zen Buddhism, Martin Heidegger’s ideas about  Dasein, quantum physics (including Schrodinger’s cat), and more–the Japanese earthquake/tsunami of 2011, global warming, and even a touch of mysticism. But it is saved from being just a book about a lot of different stuff by having a compelling plot and two engaging narrators. One is Ruth, a writer who lives on one of the Canadian islands off the coast of Vancouver island, if I am getting my geography right, with her intellectual and charming husband Oliver. (Note that Ruth Ozeki lives on one of those islands with her charming husband Oliver).


One day, she finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the beach. It contains several fascinating objects, including a plastic-wrapped book on the beach. It has a cover of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Times, but inside, the book has been “hacked” with blank pages—which are filled with Japanese writing. Ruth, Japanese herself, can read it, but she does so slowly. As she does, she gets to know Nao, the 16-year-old narrator. We first encounter Nao writing in a sleazy French maid café where waitresses feed food directly to the male clientele. She is angry and rebellious, as she has a right to be. She had grown up partly in Sunnyvale, California, where her father worked for a computer company. He’d lost his job and was now unemployed, making attempts at committing suicide. Her mother was trying to calm herself by watching a tank full of jellyfish in an aquarium all day. She herself was caught between worlds—in Japan, students who had lived in America were considered impure and stupid—and so she was treated to a brutal, particularly Japanese form, of bullying called Ijime. The saving grace for her was her 104 year old Buddhist nun grandmother, Jiko, whose Zen Buddhist ideas inspired and interested her.


Meanwhile, Ruth is doing various kinds of detective work to find out what has happened to Nao. She takes some writings in French also found in the lunchbox and finds a burly French-Canadian to translate them. Her husband describes how the book may have reached Canada’s shores from Japan because of certain types of gyres in the ocean current. Strange things are happening on the small island—a special kind of Japanese crow also appears suddenly one day. We learn that Ruth is from New York, but met her husband at a conference in Canada, and that he could not tolerate being confined in the urban atmosphere of New York. It becomes more and more urgent for her to find out where Nao has gone. And particularly, to find out if Nao survived the earthquake and the tens of thousands of deaths it caused. Their cat, Schrödinger,, disappears—this is a kind of in-joke for those interested in quantum physics, because in Erwin Schrödinger’s cat experiment, (or theoretical experiment, thank goodness, although let’s just say in retrospect Germans and poison gas just don’t seem like a tasteful combination) a cat is put in a box with poison gas, and, the cat both lives and doesn’t live, until the moment it is observed. This refers to the smallest particles and the universe, which Werner Heisenberg (I believe) made his famous “Uncertainty Principle” –the inference that we can’t know both the momentum and the position of the tiniest units of the universe at the same time. In fact, the more you know about one, the less you know about the other. In fact, here’s a joke to illustrate the point:

Heisenberg and Schrödinger get pulled over for speeding.

The cop asks Heisenberg “Do you know how fast you were going?”

Heisenberg replies, “No, but we know exactly where we are!”

The officer looks at him confused and says “you were going 108 miles per hour!”

Heisenberg throws his arms up and cries, “Great! Now we’re lost!”

The officer looks over the car and asks Schrödinger if the two men have anything in the trunk.

“A cat,” Schrödinger replies.

The cop opens the trunk and yells “Hey! This cat is dead.”

Schrödinger angrily replies, “Well he is now.”

ANYWAY, we learn more about Nao’s family tree, how her great-uncle was a suicide bomber for Japan during World War II—how he was forced to train for this mission, and what pain it caused for the grandmother. How Jiko teaches her the power of meditation as a “superpower” and it ends up helping her ground herself after a slide into seediness. How she and her father both hit bottom and struggle upwards. The translation of the material reveals the suicide bomber’s final thoughts.


We also learn about how similar Zen ideas about being and not being are to quantum physics. And also, how they have similiarities to German philosopher (and unfortunately, big NAZI) Martin Heidegger’s idea of their being such a thing as a “Dasein” (there-being—i.e; a being who is aware of being a being and who is therefore aware of his or her life taking place in a specific space and time, with complements of objects and other humans that have separate histories of existing and not existing at the same moment the Dasein (say you, as an aware human being) do.


And, we learn about a whole bunch of other things, in a gyre that seems to spin faster and faster, just as the gyre around the Pacific turns with an unusual quickness. Are too many ideas introduced too closely to the end? I think so. But at the same time, the solidity of the characters she has created, especially the character of the scrappy, thoughtful Nao, are strong enough to keep us holding on to the very end. I would highly recommend this highly readable yet quirky book. It is personal and stimulating and gives a fascinating glimpse into Japan’s future while at the same time finding fascinating connections between world events, science, religion, and more.


Writing Prompt: What is a book you’ve read recently that contains a richness of knowledge?

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

8 May



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.

What were They Thinking? The Worst of Craigslist Photos Part 3

26 Apr

What were They Thinking? The Worst of Craigslist Photos Part 3

Back by popular demand, photos that filled me with wonder from Craigslist . . .


1. I’m not just a rusty garbage can. I am an antique. Yes, I have rust spots. That just proves that I’ve got style and pizazz. That’s why my owner thinks I’m worth $50. Is that so much to ask? It IS? Well then you can take your garbage elsewhere.




2. Nothing says “This is a very elegant and serious wooden desk and bookcase set” like having a bunch of papers, post it notes, and mysterious metal items strewn messily across it. But at least it does have a nice nautical theme—the (why?) ship plate on the bookcase/cupboard and best of all, the messily handlettered reminder to “Stay Strong” with an anchor. What IS that? A secret message for the buyers? Such as “Stay strong because this furniture sure isn’t going to hold up much longer?” In any case, I certainly hope it is included in the sale of the set because it is priceless.


3. A moment. Frozen in time. The last days of the cassette tape. This is the exact collection of music a person would probably have on cassette tape. Just looking at all those names—The Cars. Billy Joel. Fleetwood Mac. SPRINGSTEEN! The Cars. Joan Jett. The Carpenters. It’s not as if it’s easy to find anything to actually PLAY these suckers on, but it brings a little tear to the eye to see them all together like that for the last time.


4. This lovely painting of an angel apparently picking a zit on his celestial arm, sitting in some strange alcove that has before it some odd giant candlelike stone thing on the left and the world’s shortest column on the right, is enhanced by the presence of God’s blinding light. Or, maybe it’s just a photographer who was a little too fond of using the flash.


It looks as if the cow, the bunny and the pig are going to be just fine when they are hun up on the wall. But those Teddy bears look as if they’re going to be in for a very unhappy surprise.


Writing Prompt: What objects do you own that DON’T represent who you are?