Old Things and Other Lifetimes

Perhaps it’s just the mindset in the aftermath of death, but I’ve been sifting through documents and photographs in the wake of my father’s passing and it suddenly seems to me as though someone else, someone different from me entirely, has lived those long vanished years now recorded only in obscure words or fading pictures.

It doesn’t really help matters that my life has spanned a particularly rapid evolution of technology.

My baby pictures are tiny squares of stiff photographic paper, black and white images with white frames around the picture and often artistically scalloped edging. In them, my twenty-years-gone grandmother is a young laughing woman who was younger than I am now. My parents are young and vibrant and gleamingly happy new parents. And I… I was surely never that chubby cherub with fat little feet clad in dainty baby shoes dangling out of a baby stroller or stuck straight out in front of me as I was posed on a park bench whose seat was as wide as my baby legs were long.

I was still black and white when I was seven or eight or nine, a grave-eyed child standing before a black-and-white Santa Claus somewhere.

And then the color started creeping in, and here are the reminders of the rich mahogany chestnut of my twelve-year-old hair, the spindly long legs of my early adolescence emerging from denim shorts, the technicolor hues of the Africa where I spent my childhood – the bright blossoms on exotic trees, the vivid sunsets in wide African skies, the sometimes eye-watering color combinations as worn by random people in the street who are no more than background to a picture of me standing in front of something deemed interesting.

Then come the later pictures, the ones where my hair is graying and my parents’ hair is already white – and the pictures of lost pets, long gone, long mourned, now buried and left behind in the garden of some house we lived in and loved and then left or with their ashes now living, carefully stacked one on another in their little wooden urns, in a bedside cabinet.

Then there are no more pictures at all because they’re all digital now, and on my computer hard drive – and it is suddenly scary to me that I might lose an entire era of my life by one single simple computer crash.

I keep finding little snippets of paper – things my father kept, things I had written when I was seven or twelve or fifteen, poems I barely remember writing. And poems in manila envelopes and ratty folders that were written TO me by my grandfather. Finding them is suddenly like hearing my grandfather’s voice speak from across the chasm of the years that he has been gone.

I was a baby once, cuddled and cossetted and carried hither and yon in various people’s arms; I was a toddler with fat little legs and quite round like a little snowball in my white winter coat and all the layers that went underneath it; I was a schoolgirl with long hair worn in two thick braids and several times decorated with actual bows at the ends of them; I was a leggy young woman posing in a blue bikini and movie-star dark glasses on a long lost beach somewhere.

I was all of these strangers, and all of them are supposedly me… but right now it seems to me that those memories are as about as two dimensional as the photos which represent them. They may as well have been implanted, and I myself am not a real human being at all. I am an android, a replicant, and none of these things actually HAPPENED to me the way I seem to recall them. I was just told about it all by someone or had it downloaded into my brain while I was in standby mode for memory upload and I woke up with all of these things in my head but they’re all just these still photographs, no movement, no sound, no scent, no texture.

Maybe I’m still working through loss. Maybe it will come back again, someday. Or maybe this is how you start to lose yourself, by losing the people and the things and the memories that you love, and they all take little bits along with them when they go, and in the end you are nothing more than those fading photographs and the words that once haunted your mind hard enough to bring forth a poem.

Maybe I’m still asleep and dreaming all of this, Maybe I”ll wake up one day soon and be alive again like I… like I… I was going to say, remember being once upon a time – but is that memory to be trusted either?

Was I  just always like this, two-dimensional and fading? Or is it still just the grief that’s veiling it all and making it seem lost and unreal and never-had?

(This first appeared at Storytellers Unplugged here)

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A review

Lois Tilton reviews Journal of Unlikely Architecture, in which my story ‘Go Through‘ appears. She’s known to be hard to please, so I’m quite happy that she has slapped a “recommended” on this one.

Here’s what she has to say in her intro, and about my story in particular:

“The Journal of Unlikely Entomology has mutated into a more general form encompassing different subjects: this one is titled The Journal of Unlikely Architecture. I have to applaud the decision…this new incarnation is fresh and crisp, surreal and weird, highly unlikely indeed.

Go Through by Alma Alexander

A metaphor come to life: doors. This fiction is a vision, surreal and symbolic.

Doors that never allow me to pass them by, once I’ve seen them. Once seen, never unseen. Always there. A door ignored will return — again and again and again — until I reach for that key, for that handle, and crack it open. A door that should never have been in my path; a door without which my path would not exist.

There are alternating sections, first-person and third, but the difference is inconsequential since we don’t really know who “I” is, or whether it’s the same “I” every time, or whether “she” is the same as “I” or someone else, but in effect they all are “you” or everyone who might read this, as the message is universal: this is life.

Lois Tilton reviews at Locus Online

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Alma Alexander

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Who Really Said That?

In The Chronicle Review, Corey Robin wrote:

Any idiot can survive a crisis,’ my wife said, ‘it’s the day-to-day living that wears you out.’  I looked at her, puzzled. ‘Chekhov,’ she said. Puzzled gave way to impressed. Impressed gave way to skeptical.

We Googled it. And sure enough, there it was: lots and lots of hits, many of them attributing this bit of wisdom to Chekhov. But where had he said it? Not a single hit identified a play, short story, letter, diary entry, note, or testimonial in which Chekhov or any of his characters says this.

I was in the realm of the WAS, the Wrongly Attributed Statement.

In the land of WAS

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Quote of the day

It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” — Dave Barry

That’s not a WAS. He really said it; you can look it up.

And he’s right, of course.

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Great American Cities for Writers…

… that Aren’t New York

Flavorwire has compiled a list of 20 cities that — while not home to many big publishing houses or national media outlets — might be a better fit for some writers than New York.

“Each features more than one of the factors that help kick-start a writer’s creative process: other writers; inspiring scenery; quiet places to work; good bookstores; local universities and libraries; and, of course, places to drink.”

Cities for writers

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33 of the most deliberately terrible first sentences in literary history

Every year, the announcement of Bulwer-Lytton Prize is a gift from bad writing heaven. Here are some of the best entries from the past decade of the contest, each of them just as wonderfully atrocious as the next. For example:

Corinne considered the colors (palest green, gray and lavender) and texture (downy as the finest velvet) and wondered, ‘How long have these cold cuts been in my refrigerator?‘ — Linda Boatright

Worst first sentences

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The ‘pathetic’ American media

My husband, an ex newsman, often rants about the dismal state of what he calls ‘the corporate media.’

He’s not alone. The Pulitzer Prize winning newsman Seymour Hersh says in an article in The Guardian that to fix journalism, the press should fire 90% of editors.

Hersh is angry about the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth.

Don’t even get him started on the death of Osama bin Laden. “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,” he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.

Seymour Hersh on journalism

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Alma Alexander

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Famous Men Reading Famous Poetry

Including, be still my heart. Alan Rickman reciting Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130. I could listen to this man read a phone directory or a laundry list to me for an hour, and STILL swoon – admittedly the addition of Shakespeare into the mix helps.

Grab a cup of tea and and listen to some fantastically talented men reciting a bit of your favorite poetry. From Benedict Cumberbatch to Tom Waits, enjoy the words of Keats, Bukowski, Pinter, and many more.

Poetry videos

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Absurd reasons for banning a book

The director of the Detroit Public Library once banned The Wizard of Oz for having ‘no value for children of today,’ for supporting ‘negativism’, and for ‘bringing children’s minds to a cowardly level.’

Ministers and educators challenged it for its ‘ungodly’ influence and for depicting women in strong leadership roles. They opposed not only children reading it, but adults as well, “lest it undermine longstanding gender roles.”

Alice in Wonderland

The ‘reasons’ for banning

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Banned books – the quiz

This week the Guardian is celebrating the freedom to read with the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week. But have you been toeing the censor’s line? Find out with the paper’s quiz on the books that have raised a storm, from Moby-Dick to Fifty Shades of Grey.

The quiz

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Overheard at a grocery store:

A man was waiting in line behind a woman speaking in another language into her cell phone. When the woman hung up, he said to her:

“I didn’t want to say anything while you were on the phone, but you’re in America now. You need to speak English.”

“Excuse me?”

The man spoke very slowly: “If you want to speak Mexican, go back to Mexico. In America, we speak English.”

“Sir,” she said calmly, “I was speaking Navajo. If you want to speak English, go back to England.”

***

I don’t know whether this is a true anecdote, or a joke. But if it was real, I’d have applauded and given the woman a high five.

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Fifty Shades of Grey in white and red.

If another Fifty Shades of Grey product will drive you to drink, Carolyn Kellogg says, you’re in luck. Because author E.L. James is launching “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the wine.

James worked with California vintners to create two blended wines meant to evoke the bedroom-y nature of her books: Red Satin and White Silk.  

The new Fifty Shades of Grey wine

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There’s Poop on the Moon

Twelve astronauts have been on the surface of the Moon. On it, they’ve left behind some American flags, some equipment, golf balls, a small statuette to commemorate fallen astronauts, and some other, er, artifacts.

Among the things the astronauts left to lighten the load for the return trips were their “defecation collection devices.”

With commercial space flights on the horizon, NASA has set some buffer guidelines to keep any future space tourists from messing with their …er… stuff. . Stepping in poop, after all, is a sure way to ruin your space vacation.

Be careful where you step

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Alma Alexander

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Is Tolstoy really 11.6% better than Shakespeare?

In an article at Brain Pickings, Maria Popova explains how 125 of modernity’s greatest British and American writers were asked to list ‘The Greatest Books of All Time.’

Well, actually, they were asked to provide a list, ranked in order, of what they consider the ten greatest works of fiction of all time -– novels, story collections, plays, or poems.

Scoring was done by a system best left to those who aren’t as math challenged as I am. But go take a look at the rather fascinating results.

The Greatest Fiction

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Where’s Alma?

Or, an author by any other name…

If you go to my old website (HERE) and scroll down to my book covers of the various editions of “The Secrets of Jin-shei,” you’ll find an interesting aberration. Which of my books was written by Alma Hromic? And just who is she?

As you guessed, Alma Alexander is a pen name, one that my publisher, HarperCollins at the time, insisted on because they thought my birth name was just too hard to pronounce.

That’s not a problem for every author it seems, Just how do you pronounce Thomas Pynchon, anyhow — PIN-chawn, PIN-shin, PIN-chin? Whatever.

Anyway, the Dutch publisher who used my real name, the one I was born with, is also the only one who used my original title for Jin-shei. Just that, no ‘The Secrets of…’

By the time the sequel, Embers of Heaven, came along, they joined the herd and published it under Alma Alexander.

Alma Alexander Hromic Deckert

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America’s Best Small Towns

Which one would you choose?

Best towns

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The new literary chic

People are wearing their books for that quasi-intellectual look, Wathira Ngangawrites in the Daily News, and clothing companies have been rolling out new literary-inspired products for the well-read masses.

Wear you booksThis stylish pair of tights is available from Zohara, an Israeli company

Wearing your books

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Definition of a writer:

writ·er  (noun): A person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

A person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc.writing. A person who writes or is able to write. Shiftess, a dreamer, a liar on paper.

Financially challenged. See degenerate.

— Author unknown

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Alma Alexander

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Why do I blog?

31-Day Blog Challenge — THE END

People take to blogging for different reasons at different times in their cyberlives.

Sometimes the blog evolves with the person; sometimes the blog stops serving whatever original purpose it may have had and withers on the vine.

I signed up fo my first “Real blog” on Live Journal, on May 10 in 2005. This was the entry:

“Looks like I’ve joined the blogger age. There will be more here in days to come, but I just wanted to star things off and dip a toe in the LiveJournal waters, as it were. For those who stumble upon this place, more about me at www.AlmaAlexander.com (sorry, I’ll have to figure out how to do links). Biggest news – I’ve two books out RIGHT NOW (the paperback of “The Secrets of Jin Shei” and the first part of my fantasy duology, “Hidden Queen”) and the second book in the duology, “Changer of Days”, is due out in a couple of weeks. Three books in less than a month, effectively. That is not bad going at all. More later -“

Well, the website is now at www.AlmaAlexander.org and I know how to link. It’s different books – but I’m still here, and still blogging.

I’ve blogged about current issues of politics and culture, I’ve blogged about all possible aspects of writing as art and craft, I’ve offered up personal essays on my travels, my family, my memories, my ideas, my background and my worldview, I’ve blogged reviews, I’ve also blogged silly stuff like links to Simon’s Cat videos or Internet memes or quizzes that tell me what Tarot card I am.

I blog because it’s a way of talking to the world, and letting the world get to know me.
And if along the way I mention a book or a story, it is a way of letting readers into the worlds of my imagination.

There are weighty blogs out there which are known for their opinions and have a great deal of cred in whatever area they are blogging in. There are blogs with thousands of daily followers, blogs which get 500 comments on every post even if the blogger posts nothing more than that day’s  shopping list – there are blogs that are beloved, and blogs that are trendy, and blogs that are known for being funny, or amusingly vicious, or informative, or educational…

My blog doesn’t aspire to be influential. It is my virtual living room, and I am always happy when people drop in for coffee and a chat (or, in the virtual parlance of this world, join the conversation by commenting on a post). it’s almost impossible to predict which posts will get the most replies – sometimes a carefully thought out essay gets practically none and some silly meme gets a hundred within 24 hours and there’s no rhyme or reason to it – but I’m here, silly or serious, in awe or in righteous fury at the world that surrounds us, sharing my thoughts, my ideas, my aspirations, my stories.

If you’re reading this… come on in, introduce yourself, say hello. It’s always nice, when one is talking, to know that someone out there is listening…

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Bizarre Habits of Famous Authors

Not all wordsmiths are peculiar — but some of us…

— Victor Hugo wrote both Les Misèrables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in the nude so he wouldn’t be tempted to leave his house. He even had his valet hide his clothes.

— Demosthenes shaved half his head so that he would be too embarrassed to leave home until his writing was finished.

Weird habits of wordsmiths

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Teaching your children to read

An absolutely delightful blog post by Kelly Barnhill on kids and books.

I can’t tell if my son is transfixed by grownuppy books because he wants to be like his parents, or if he is actually up to something…I must now plan for a book-free household. It is clearly my only option.

If I have more children, I am for sure not teaching them to read. And that’s final.

Reading kids

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Quote of the day

Why I Read

I read because one life isn’t enough, and in the page of a book I can be anybody;
I read because the words that build the story become mine, to build my life;
I read not for happy endings but for new beginnings; I’m just beginning myself, and I wouldn’t mind a map;
I read because I have friends who don’t, and young though they are, they’re beginning to run out of material;
I read because every journey begins at the library, and it’s time for me to start packing;
I read because one of these days I’m going to get out of this town, and I’m going to go everywhere and meet everybody, and I want to be ready.

Richard Peck, Anonymously Yours

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Alma Alexander

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Of what use is a library?

Libraries are seen as fortresses protecting us from ignorance. In Doctor Who there ia a planet-sized library, a whole world devoted to the storage of ideas and history, which seems only right.

The common cultural notion of librarians as obsessive and almost devout about books leads naturally to connections between religion and libraries. In literature, Bob Mondello writes for NPR, that’s reflected, for example, in A Canticle for Leibowitz, where illiterate monks archive what’s left of civilization after an atomic war.
 
‘When you’re growing up’, a wise man once said, ‘there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you,’  Mondello says.

That wise man was Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, who ran up thousands of dollars in overdue-book fees.

Don’t believe me? I know where you could look it up.

The library

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poster

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Banned Books Month  

“Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.” –Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis

Gay penguins, a superhero clad in briefs, vampires and witches, bondage—next week is all about banned books here at PEN”,  Antonio Aiello writes, “as we join librarians, booksellers, publishers, and writers to celebrate the freedom to read.”

Started in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in book challenges and bannings in public schools and libraries, Banned Books Week supports free and open access to information and ideas, even those considered unpopular or unorthodox by some.

Banned books

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31-Day Blog Challenge, #31

WHAT’S IN YOUR MAKE UP BAG?

What’s a make up bag?!

I have a small sac in my handbag which contains a couple of ancient lipsticks which I don’t remember the last time I actually used, and a Kohl pencil, and maybe some lip gloss. You mean that?

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The indie bookstore resurgence

Amazon may have the bargains, but independent booksellers are trading in the importance of real-life community — and are seeing an uptick in business.

Indie bookstores

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— Alma Alexander

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My Roy Batty moment

31-Day Blog Challenge, #30

WHERE HAVE YOU TRAVELED

Oh, it’s almost a Roy Batty moment, this. “I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… All those… moments… will be lost in time, like tears… in… rain.

I have seen the savannahs of Africa and grave slow elephants melting into the shadows of an African sunset.

I’ve swum amongst the coral towers and played with dolphins in the islands of the South Pacific.

I’ve ridden an airboat in the Everglades, gazed on the Grand Canyon, and walked the streets of New York City;

I’ve flown a small plane over the fjords of New Zealand’s South Island; I’ve seen both Niagara and Victoria Falls; I walked by the Seine and climbed the Eiffel Tower; and I’ve been to both Land’s End and John o’Groats, the ragged edges of the British Isles.

I’ve been to Dublin, and seen the Book of Kells. I’ve watched albatross hatchlings shiver in their nests in an Antipodean hatching ground. I’ve seen two oceans meet at the Cape of Good Hope, and stood on top of Cape Town’s Table Mountain looking for Halley’s Comet.

I’ve been to the Vienna woods, the Acropolis, the Colliseum, and the canals of Amsterdam. I drank young wine at Grinzig, and skated on a magical pond in the middle of the woods in Banff on a dark winter evening.

So many stories. So many stories to tell.

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America’s most surprising banned books

From Invisible Man to Little Red Riding Hood, these books have all fallen afoul of censors

waldo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where’s Waldo? rose to popularity in the mid-1990s, challenging young readers to find the lanky, bespectacled Waldo in various crowded scenes. The problem wasn’t the perpetually lost protagonist; it was a sunbathing woman suffering a wardrobe malfunction the size of a pinhead in a corner of one of Martin Hanford’s drawings. The exposed breast got the book banned in Michigan and New York.

Banned books

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Quote of the day

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.  Anaïs Nin

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Fairy tales are the soul of the world…
    
I can get behind that. Or at least behind ‘Little Mermaid’ as told by Hans Christian Andersen,

There’s a lot of fun in singing lobsters, but I”m not sure how much soul. Disney versions of beloved fairytales are those stories seen in a mirror, one that takes deep and fundamental truths and sorrows and reflects them back as entertainment.

And I say this as one who grew up with the Disney versions of Snow White and Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and loved them with a fierce love when I was young.

Introduction to Fairy Tales, video

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Alma Alexander

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