You Helped Heal My Heart: Thoughts on This Is Sarah

14 Sep

2014 was a truly terrible year.

While I was beginning cancer treatment and my whole universe was tipped on it’s side, there was one small thing to hang on to.

One thing.

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I published a YA novel called This Is Sarah with Bookfish Books, a small press. Sarah was written pretty quickly in a fit of some of the best writing mornings I ever had while I was taking a break from Palimpsest – the science fiction book that tried to kill me.

Sarah was a palate cleanser for a lot of reasons: It was a small universe I understood. It was emotional. It was honest. And I packed a lot of my personal grief into a suitcase and handed it to Colin, my main character. I watched him walk away with it and I felt changed.

The first question people ask me when they read This Is Sarah is if it’s true.

The answer is No. Not really. I don’t know anyone who was kidnapped. I am not Colin or Claire.

But at the same time, I AM Colin and Claire. Because stories are a lie and truth all rolled up into one.

This is Sarah is a mediation on loss and grief. It’s as honest as I have ever been. And for now until the end of the month you can get it for less than a dollar on Amazon.

Here’s the scene where Colin thinks back on the last night he was with Sarah, and the realization she was gone.

The last time I saw her, she stood in her driveway, looking up at me as I leaned out my bedroom window.

“Hey!” I yelled down to her.

“Hey, yourself,” Sarah said with a smile.

“Have fun,” I told her.

“Okay.” She opened her car door. “Get that studying done.”

“It sucks,” I said. “Will you call me later?”

“Of course.” She waved. “Later Gator.”

“Bye.”

Later Gator. She always said stupid, cheesy shit like that. I miss hearing that shit so much.

After that, she got into the car and drove away. I never saw her again. That simple little exchange was the last conversation I would ever have with Sarah Evans.

It’s unbelievable. What a nothing conversation—filled with just the regular sort of stuff  people say to each other all the time, automatic stuff. And it was the last time I saw her smile, the last time I heard her voice.

I didn’t even tell her I loved her. How could I not say I loved her? We said it all the time. We said it in the hall between classes when the bell rang; we said it at the end of every phone call and text. Yet, at that final fucking moment, all I said was bye.

I hate myself for that. My God, if I only knew then…

This is the thing ― her voicemail became a tether, my anchor to this world. The second I heard her voice it felt like time froze for just a moment and then rolled back on itself, like a sunset, and Sarah was just fine. She wanted to hear what I had to say. She waited for me somewhere behind the next door. When I found that door and I opened it, this whole, awful nightmare would end.

But that wasn’t the important part. Colin’s sad little story didn’t matter. What mattered―what mattered to the police―happened next.

“Hi, this is Sarah. You know what to do!”

“Hey, baby, it’s me.” I called her maybe an hour after she left. I got a text about another party, one I actually wanted to go to after the track meet. “Jamie said the party is a definite on Saturday, but if you aren’t going, then screw it. Anyway, call me later.”

I went back to my biology work. As I told the police, no, I never left the house. No, my parents weren’t home that night because it was my uncle and aunt’s wedding anniversary. No, I don’t have anyone else to verify my whereabouts.

That night, my phone rang at nine-thirty. It was Jenna.

“So, I’m totally blaming you, Col,” she said when I picked up.

“Blaming me for what?”

“For screwing up my evening. You know I’m not going to go to this party alone. I’m not that much of a loser. Tell your girlfriend she could have at least let me know she planned on ditching me. And remember, she was my friend before she became your girlfriend. You can’t hog her all time.” Jenna laughed.

“I’m not with Sarah. She left her house at like seven or something.”

There was a beat, and in it, I could hear Jenna’s confusion. Did my heart start ramming in my chest yet? No. Not yet. I was still just curious. Where was Sarah? It was still just a harmless question. Not the scream it would become.

“What are you talking about?” Jenna said.

“Exactly what I said. Did you call her?”

“Yeah, like ten times. No one answered.”

“What do you mean no one answered? Where is Sarah?”

There it was. The fear drying my mouth. Bam. Bam. Bam. My heart hit my ribs so hard I thought it might come right out of me. The panic locked my fingers, and I nearly dropped the phone.

“I called her, Colin. No one answered.”

“Where is Sarah, Jenna?”

Those words. Where was Sarah? That question. God, that night was the first time I started asking that question.

I hung up with Jenna and called Sarah. It just rang. I hung up and dialed again. It rang and rang and rang until I thought I was going to tear every last hair from my head.

I hung up. I called again. As it rang, I looked out the window, down to the Evans’ empty driveway and then up to Sarah’s dark room.

Sarah, pick up your phone. Pick up your phone. Pick up your phone. Why aren’t you picking up your phone?

I hung up. I did that fifteen more times. I never got her voicemail.

99 cents from now until the end of the month.

And if it wasn’t clear, thank you thank you thank you for reading.

You helped heal my heart.

 

Peace, Love and Starbursts,

Ally

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UPDATED: Band of Brothers: The Found Family Trope And Why It Makes Me Cry

23 Aug

EDITED: UPDATE WITH CORRECTIONS

We few…we happy few. We band of brothers. For he that sheds his blood today with mine shall be my brother. – William Shakespeare, Henry V

Let’s talk about storytelling

Many times tropes are pretty bad. By trope I mean a recognizable storytelling concept that readers (or viewers) will connect to. There are tons of them; with characters you can have  the plucky girl, or the badass bookworm or the genius bruiser. With plot/structure you can have the Call to Adventure or the Redemption Quest or a mashup of both where the MarySue goes toe to toe with the Magnificent Bastard.

They even made a periodic table out of them. (If you click that link you might never resurface. That pool is vast and deep and fascinating. Consider yourself warned.) Point is there are certain structures that have become normalized and a given when telling stories.

Some people will tell you tropes are terrible and to avoid them at all costs. But here’s the catch: tropes are popular because they are often true. Stole a boyfriend? Date the boss? Accidentally pregnant so we’re getting married? These things happen.

And on top of that tropes also provide a framework, like an anchor of familiarity for readers. There are definitely tropes you should avoid, ones that vilify marginalized people. And while many characters tropes are dangerous at worst and annoying and eye rolling at best, there are story tropes that are necessary and provide structure – the reveal, the three act, the maguffin, ensembles, etc. And one of the ensembles that I love and have always loved is the Found Family.

Found Family trope (also called the Family of Choice) is by definition a group of unrelated persons who commit to one another as a family.

I put a found family in my book Palimpsest. (oh yeah remember that book Palimpsest that was killing me. Some things happened. Eek!) My main character, stripped of her own family and searching for them, finds herself falling in with a bunch of teenage street chess hustlers who teach her a lot about privilege, love, and showing up. They teach her what it means to be a family. In my current WIP I’m crafting another found family – this one all girls because I also think that the more books we have showing girls as friends not competition, as loyal and kind not catty and bitchy, the better off we’ll all be.

So let’s talk about some of my favorite found families.

These guys were my first:

 

All the other TV shows I watched as a kid focused on the nuclear family until these guys. This was revolutionary for my viewing. I respect that there were shows prior to that had found families but with my age and experience this was the first one.

UPDATED: After discussing this with the hubs last night I realized that Friends wasn’t my first Found Family (and I’m not even sure if I would count them as a Found Family technically but…) THIS was my first found family. Of course, it was Jim.

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Jim Henson’s wonderful Labyrinth was my first encounter with a found family. And it has all the specifics. Hoggle has to be bribed into helping Sarah but then finds that he cares for her. Sarah sees past Ludo’s ferocity and acknowledges that he’s just another creature in need of a friend. Sir Didymus’ classic camaraderie.

Damn, Jim. You did it.

Another popular found family:

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This is a good mash up because you have the typical orphan (Harry) matched up with Ron who does have a very loving family and then Hermonie who is the magical “outcast” in her family. Harry Potter in general is full of found families – The Order of the Phoenix is basically that.

Speaking of books I am in love with Kaz’s Crows in Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo:

Six-of-Crows-cast

In an interview with Leigh she had this to say:

It sounds a little bit like the TV series Firefly where the heroes are smugglers trying to survive in a corrupt world that’s dished them a rotten deal.

I love a rag tag band of misfits story. In a way, if you’ve read The Grisha Trilogy, you know that that story becomes a rag tag band of misfits story. But I love Ocean’s 11 and Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Dirty DozenThe Untouchables is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s definitely a story I like. I like the feeling of found families, people who maybe don’t have much in common, but come together and become stronger together than they are apart.

And speaking of Firefly:

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The crew of Serenity are probably one of the most “typical” family structures in the Found Family. Mal, the captain and Inara function as the “parents” to this rag tag team of misfits as they fly around space giving everyone the warm fuzzies. Another aspect of Firefly which is often the case in Found Families is that they contain actual blood relatives – in this case River and Simon who are the newest additions to this family. What this does is allow for the audience to contrast the harshness of River and Simon’s true family with the camaraderie of their found one.

In one of my favorite episodes, “Safe” Mal and the crew rescue Simon and River and Simon questions Mal about why he saved him and Mal offhandedly replies that he’s a part of the crew. Simon, confused presses on :

Simon: “But you don’t even like me. Why’d you do it?”

Mal (irritated in the way only Mal can get): “You’re on my crew. Why are we even still talking about this??”

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My favorite current found family are these beautiful beauties:

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Sense8 in a lot of ways sort of typifies what I love about Found Families. Their loyalty and love and their empathetic connection means that no matter where they are on the planet they can always be together. The Found Family means that someone is going to, like Mal, always come back for you. It means you’re never alone. You’ve got your crew. But Sense8 ups the ante by psychically connecting 8 strangers from around the globe. And it’s not just that they can see what is happening in each other’s lives, they can literally be there, through their senses. And while this makes amazing action scenes, like when Sun (who is in wrongfully imprisoned) can appear in Kenya to kick some ass on behalf of Capheus, it also allows small moments like when Kala, feeling trapped and alone, finds herself with Sun in her prison, also feeling trapped and alone. Or when Nomi tells her coming out story to Lido who is struggling.

Sense8 is about what it is to be human – in all it’s complex mushy messiness. These characters will fight for each other, yes, but they will also grieve with each other. It’s a show that reminds you that underneath the superficial, we are all we’ve got so we damn better show up for each other. If that’s not the most perfect Found Family, I don’t know what is.

These eight people are strangers and these 8 people are also family just as we are all strangers on this earth and all family.

Sometimes… a trope is a really beautiful thing.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

A Free Lesson on How to Talk about Disease.

24 Jul

Hello.
I have some thoughts.

Recently we learned that Senator John McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a very serious form of brain cancer. This was probably the first time a lot of people in this country heard about the seriousness of glioblastoma.

The first time I heard about it was 2014. I was in radiation for breast cancer and each morning, while waiting for my turn to be zapped, there was a report about a woman named Brittany Maynard who, at 29, wanted to die.

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She was also diagnosed with glioblastoma and after traveling (ice climbing in Ecuador, kayaking in Patagonia and climbing to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro) she relocated to Oregon to take advantage of their Death with Dignity Law and then ended her own life on Nov. 1.

Brittany was the subject of much conversation in the radiation waiting room at Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn. Not only because she was so young and because she worked hard to fight back against this stigma that to die of a disease is to “give up.”

Which brings me back to Senator McCain. When the news broke, lots of people shared their thoughts including President Obama.

“One of the bravest fighters.”

“Give it hell, John.”

I know why President Obama said these things. It’s the same things I would have said prior to my diagnosis. But now I know better.

There were a number of really terrific pieces about the dangers of equating the language of war with the language of disease. It creates a dynamic that implies that were someone to succumb to their disease then they didn’t try hard enough. They didn’t fight hard enough. As if to imply that they just gave up.

There is no giving up with cancer in the same way there is no “trying harder.” Cancer isn’t like that. When people told me that I would be fine because I was a fighter or I was brave I was never sure what to say. I wasn’t brave. I was terrified. I wasn’t a fighter. I was doing the things the doctor told me to do to increase the likelihood of being NED (no evidence of disease) at my next scan. Because there is no cure, doctors do not use that term. You cannot be cured of cancer. You can only have no evidence of disease.

So when the news broke I went to twitter like everyone else and voiced my opinion.

And another user responded:

And I said to myself HEY LOOK A TEACHABLE MOMENT and got to work. I thought I would share my responses here so that other people can have the opportunity to learn how to talk to someone who is ill. And before I get started, I want to stress that I completely understand how hard it is to be faced with the mortality of someone you love, someone you work with or someone you’re friends with. I get it. It’s hard. But telling them they “got this” doesn’t make it easier. Got what? What is there to get? Cancer is me. It’s a bunch of rogue cells causing trouble and my immune system is ignoring it.

So here’s my free advice on what to say and what not to say to someone who is ill

Remember too, that it is okay to be unsure. It is okay to be scared. It is okay to think about it not working out for the best.

It is okay to think about them dying. Because trust me, they are thinking about it.

We are all going to die. Dying is what makes us all so beautiful. Knowing it can’t last is what makes it so special. As my friend Lori once said “We are humble and radiant and temporary.”

Temporary. All of us.

I hope this helps.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.

19 Jun

WARNING: SPOILERS. For real if you haven’t watched the whole series and don’t want things ruined just move along.

As the final episode of Season 1 of the Handmaid’s Tale ended, as the ironic use of Tom Petty’s American Girl, started up my husband turned to me and said, so how do you feel?

How did I feel? I had laughed and sobbed my way through this series. I immediately wanted to start it over again now that it was finished. At the same time I never want to stomach watching what happens to those women again.

In the end I only had one term: Vindicated.

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I felt vindicated. I felt heard. I felt recognized. I felt believed. I know I’m always blathering on about the importance of representation. The importance of words. I felt in a very real way that this story talked a lot about what it is to be a woman. Now. Not in the future. But right now in America.

These women are treated as objects. They are denied agency over their own bodies. There are men in congress RIGHT NOW working directly towards those goals.

One of the things that I loved so much was how much the show was filled with microaggressions – the kind that women face every single day. The way the Handmaids are treated like children or pets, both to be scolded and beaten. The way they lose their names and are instead renamed by the men who systematically rape them as other women look on. The way women betray each other, are pitted against each other in the patriarchy so that we’re constantly fighting for whatever little scrap we can find even at the expense of sisterhood. The tone policing. The gaslighting  In a flashback scene the baristas calls June and Moira sluts and they laugh it off. What woman hasn’t laughed it off. Because to fight against every microaggression is to die by a thousand cuts. You have to keep moving.

What the show and the book does so well is bring these every day microaggressions out into the open, to show them what it would look like if that treatment were not just canonized but made to rule.

Margaret Atwood didn’t imagine these things. She used history. She used what all women know.

“I made a rule for myself: I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time, or for which the technology did not already exist. I did not wish to be accused of dark, twisted inventions, or of misrepresenting the human potential for deplorable behaviour. The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights: all had precedents, and many were to be found not in other cultures and religions, but within western society.”

-Margaret Atwood

The slut shaming. The victim blaming. When one Handmaid is made to recount a gang rape she survived, Aunt Lydia asks whose fault it was. The Handmaids then all start chanting “her fault.”

There are so many instances, Cosby, Brock Turner, all these high profile cases built up on the notion that these women did something to deserve what happened. And we believe this. We claim we don’t but we do. We ask what they were wearing. We ask if they had been drinking. We ask if they were alone. It’s the reason we police our daughters, shame them for what they wear. We do not teach our boys not to rape. We teach our daughters not to get raped. We teach them that boys and men cannot be stopped. That they will take whatever they want, including your body, so you must be vigilant. If you are not, you’re the only one to blame.

A hand comes out and strikes the offending Handmaid. That hand belonged to Margaret Atwood.

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The Salvaging, a scene depicting the Handmaids attacking a convicted rapist, was one of the most powerful moments in the series for me. It was beautifully shot and perfectly executed. I think that no one watching that could possible miss the irony of Aunt Lydia presenting a rapist to the girls a look of indignation on her face. It is not rape that she finds problematic as she is profiting off a system that encourages state-sanctioned rape. The issue is not that he raped a Handmaid.

The issue is that he touched the Commander’s property.

And the Handmaidens attack with a ferocity not seen before. All the rage and fury that they have finally has an outlet. After having to spend so much time accepting abuse they get to inflict it. And in doing so they become tools of the system they are trying to fight. They are like animals. They are not like humans. They lose their humanity.

All of these things – the way women are manipulated, abused, stripped of their humanity, stripped of their bodily rights, constantly on the receiving end of toxic masculinity’s obsession with power – were so perfectly executed in this series, in both large and small ways.

You see the Handmaid’s Tale isn’t a show about what could be.

It isn’t even a show about now.

It’s a show about ALWAYS.

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“They should have never given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.”

 

So how did I feel finishing the Handmaiden’s Tale?

Vindicated.

Horribly, painfully, sadly, vindicated.

 

Chins Up, Claws Out,

Ally

 

Representation Matters for the Diseased, too.

18 May

Image result for Abbie in 20th century women

So something kind of amazing happened the other week. I’ve been rather vocal on the twitters and what not about the portrayal of people with cancer.

Right. See? Cause the things is there are loads of movies I can point at where people with cancer cease to be human and instead are just the embodiment of their disease from which they succumb and everyone else learns to love and appreciate their life.

Sometimes the characters don’t even get their names in the title for pete’s sake.

And don’t forget the books.

Sometimes they get it almost right but only when it’s written by someone on the inside.

And I get that it’s a really easy way to share the human condition and pain and fear and mortality. But as Dr. Roberta A. Clark says in this Huffington Post piece:

“Cancer can involve a lot of messy things — surgeries with colostomies and urinary bags and some kind of nasty things,” Clark said. “That’s not something that filmmakers typically want to portray. It’s probably also a little more emotionally compelling when you have a 30-year-old victim instead of a 75- or 80-year-old victim.”

“If you’re in the film business, part of which is selling sex, it’s hard to walk that line between breasts for titillation and breasts for disease,” Clark said.

So instead they romanticize cancer deaths, framing them as inevitable even as survival rates increase. But what happens when those of us tune in to see our experiences. Because as we all know, representation matters.

“The world looks different after you have spent time pinned to the mat by death. The gaps between reality and representation are no longer theoretical. They are contentious. Beautifully bald actors shorn to portray chemo patients betray reality with their thickly lashed eyes, much to the chagrin of those of us left lashless by the real medicine. Some of the most egregious side effects of treatment cannot be artfully depicted on film ­— mouthsores and constipation, anyone? — while vomiting, which has become more manageable thanks to newer side-effect medicines, continues its prominent role as a cancer-flick leitmotif.” – Ilana Horne

So yeah to say it pisses me off is an understatement. Whenever I watch one of these movies and it ends I rant for a solid 15 minutes straight as my husband prepares dinner about how much bullshit it is that people with disease cease to be people and just become their disease.

And then something cool happened.

I met Abbie from 20th Century Women.

When you watch that clip you learn a lot about Abbie – that she’s a photographer, that she loves punk music and dancing. You learn that she’s smart and funny and has a very good heart.

What you don’t learn is that Abbie is also a cancer survivor who, during the course of the film, has a scare.

But this is only one small part of Abbie. She’s a person first. She just also happened to have gotten cancer. She just had that same terrible luck as the rest of us.

I was left with so many feelings for days after this film I did the only thing I could think of: I said thank you to its creator.

Dear Mr. Mills

I have no idea if you’ll actually get to read this or not. I hope that you do only because something truly amazing happened to me this weekend and it is thanks to you.
I’m sure you have heard from many women about 20th Century Women, about it’s incredible feminism, about it’s strikingly honest portrayal of women, as people, something that is sadly lacking in films. I imagine many of them hinged on Ms. Bening’s fabulous performance and how, according to some interviews you conducted, the relationship that character has to your own mother – the overall autobiographical nature of the narrative.
But I’m writing to talk to you about Abbie.
I’m writing to thank you.
As 20th Century Women came to a close and the characters talked about their lives and futures, I was nervous. When Greta Gerwig’s voice came on, telling me the rest of Abbie’s story, I held my breath. When she concluded and across the screen splashed the image of Abbie holding her two children, I burst into tears.
I’m coming up on the third anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, cancerversary as we in the know, call it. I was 37 when I was diagnosed. As is the case with everyone, my life was turned upside down. I am still actively in treatment, three years out, but my prognosis is a good and I have on the whole managed to stitch the remnants of my old life to this new one and find my “new normal.”
That said I have lost some things. Superficial things like music I can’t bear to hear again. Other more important things like feeling carefree and hopeful. I have also found things. Superficial things like jogging. Other more important things like constructive anger and the strange peace that comes from rubbing right up against your own mortality.
Cancer is a powerful storytelling tool. For those on the outside it gives a peak into a world that we all fear as well as a vehicle to talk about some of the things that make humans truly beautiful creatures. For those of us on the inside, we watch these portrayals seeking representation. Seeking solace.
I have read and seen a lot of characters that have had terminal diseases. In more than half of the cases, they die. So I want to thank you first off, for not killing off Abbie. It meant a lot to me.
But more than the death thing there is something else that these characters all tend to share that I find even more troubling than their mortality (after all we’re all going to die, right?) and that is that their disease IS their life. They cease to be people and become instead patients. I believe it was Larry Kramer who detailed the difference between “AIDS patients” and “People with AIDS.” It seems that Hollywood has not learned this difference. Characters with cancer exist solely to die and teach everyone around them the importance of appreciating life. They are rarely angry about their diagnosis. They have no other interests. They are in fact, barely human. They are mirrors for the other characters to work through their own issues.
And then came Abbie. Punky, artistic, sassy Abbie played beautifully by Greta Gerwig. I have been waiting three years to find a character that had a personality, a life, a love of music, dance and photography, dreams about her future; a character that still goes out, that drinks and laughs and tries to live her life as vividly as possible – who also just so happened to have this rotten disease sink it’s teeth into her.
Abbie wasn’t a cancer patient, in the way that I am not a cancer patient.
She was a young woman who also happened to have once had cancer..and lived.
Just as I will be….one day.
Best,
Ally Malinenko
Peace, love and starbursts,
Ally

From Bowie to Alice to Castles to Cleopatra London/Oxford/Edinburgh

8 May

Heelloooooooooooo!

I haven’t written a blog post in a really long time so get ready for a BIG ONE.

First off, as always, we begin with the thank yous. While I was revising Palimpsest I not only barely sent out any poems but I barely wrote any so it was especially cool to get a few published. So thanks to Anti-Heroin chic for taking these three poems, thanks to Boyslut for Kyle, thanks to In Between Hangovers for Like a Terror and Oh The Things I Would Say (We Were Witches). I also had a few of my How To Be An American poems republished on WineDrunkSideWalk here and here.

Shameless plug: If you like the How to Be An American stuff you can collect the whole set here.

That reminds me, if you are outraged over the Trump election, John Grochalski is accepting submissions to his blog WineDrunkSideWalk. Send poems, stories, paintings, cartoons, whatever you like. Doesn’t have to be about the orange monster – anything about living in these horrific times. Remember Art is resistance so #Submit2Resist at winedrunksidewalk@gmail.com. Also be sure to tune in every Saturday for the weekly roundup of atrocities.

And finally, I am beyond humbled by this incredible review of Better Luck Next Year – the cancer poems.

In some ways, the book functions as a record of trauma, a hopeful prayer that hesitates to be spoken—the prayer that everything could still be fine, despite the odds, and, though hidden, better luck may be around the corner….Malinenko recalls Beat poets like Elise Cowen and Diane di Prima…This book will haunt and arrest the reader that embraces it, and I encourage you to do so, and to be prepared: this is an intimate book, and Malinenko is intimate with her reader.

I think if there is one word to describe Better Luck Next Year, it is Intimate. Thank you, Mike Good for this incredible review.

Now that we got all the business out of the way, let’s talk travel.

LONDON!

I love this city which is why I think I keep coming back to it. This time, we had some incredible highlights, like heading down to Brixton to find this:

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All the notes and love around the mural was just beautiful but this was my favorite:

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Then we headed down to Stansfield Road to see our dear David Jones childhood home:

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After that David we moved on to my other favorite David!

Tennant

I’ve never seen a show on the West End before and to have it be David Tennant in a play as hilarious as Don Juan in Soho was an absolute delight. No joke, I nearly squealed like a little girl when he walked on stage. He’s really tall. Like taller than he seems in the TARDIS.

I loved the play overall but his performance was really what made it. And I’m not the only one who thought so.

We also took a little boat ride down the Thames on the River Bus to Greenwich. I’ve never done that before and you get really love views of London, like this:

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and this:

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and of course my favorite, The Globe
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In Greenwich, which is lovely by the way, you get to stand in two hemispheres at the same time and I am exactly the kind of dork that thinks that is the best thing ever:

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Another really great thing about Greenwich is that it’s right next to Deptford and in Deptford lay the bones of an incredible man.

If you’re new to the site, you might not know that I have a bit of a Shakespeare obsession. Might have even wrote a kid’s book about it once. And in that book, the bad guy is a man who goes by the name of Dmitri Marlowe – the only living descendent of Christopher “Kit” Marlowe. This guy:

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Long story short, Marlowe was an incredible playwright. An in his day was more popular than our boy Will. Unfortunately Kit was killed – stabbed in the eye as the story goes over a bar bill – though more than likely he was killed for being a spy. No joke, he lived a fascinating life. There is also a RIDICULOUS theory that he faked his own death and then recreated himself as Shakespeare but that is utter nonsense and I won’t have any of it.

We found the St. Nicholas churchyard pretty quickly where we were greeted by this:

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It is believed that this is the skull and cross bones that the pirates used to create their infamous flag.

The cemetery is beautiful:

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and after creeping around we finally found it, a plaque affixed to the stone wall:

Marlowe

I’m not gonna lie. After taking a stone from below the plaque (to set on my writing desk next to the one I got from Shakespeare’s graveyard) I might have whispered, “You’re just as good as Will.”

They’re going to revoke my Bardolator’s card for this.

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Then we headed up to OXFORD!

Nicknamed the City of Spires, she is beautiful

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I have been wanting to go to Oxford for some time now mainly for two people.

The first is Mr. Clive Staples Lewis.

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C.S. Lewis taught at Magdalen College in Oxford. On his walk from his home to the college he would walk past a small brown door in which there was carved a lion’s face.

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It is believed that this image of a lion was lodged into his mind, eventually forming into Aslan. Just above the door are two golden fauns looking rather Mr. Tumnus, don’t you think?

And then, just a few steps away is a lampost.

Now of course there are lamposts all over Oxford but there is something about the way this one just stands alone, so close to our lion and our faun that you can’t help but to expect to see Lucy Pevensie waiting for her faun.

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The second Oxfordian is Mr. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. (Fun fact! Charles got his infamous nom de pume by taking this first and last name, converting it to Latin, flipping the order making the last name first and the first name last and then translating it from Latin to English!)

Dodgson taught mathematics here, at Christ’s Church in Oxford

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The school has a very famous dining hall.

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Made even more famous by a trio of kids new to a magical school waiting to be sorted into their houses:

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I sorted myself into Ravenclaw, Jay got Gryffindor

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Another cool thing about the Dining Hall is the fireplace and specifically the hearth ornaments. One cannot help but wonder how often Mr. Dodgson dined here, the image of a stretched neck in his mind.

 

 

Up above the Dining Hall in the stained glass, there is a portrait of Alice Liddel along with her famous namesake character and Mr. Dodgson along with the Dodo. (Fun fact! Mr. Dodgson has a slight stutter so when he introduced himself to people he would say “Do-do-dodgson” hence him being the Dodo in the story)

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In case you didn’t know, Alice Liddel was the daughter of the dean of Christ Church while Dodgson was a teacher. He was working in the library when he spied the girl and her sister playing in the Dean’s garden. He asked if he could photograph them and from there blossomed a friendship. On a boating trip, he started to tell her the story of a little girl named Alice who falls down a deep deep hole and winds up in a fairy land. It was on this river that it all began:

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Alice used to buy her penny sweets from a candy shop next door which is now an Alice themed gift shop
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After the dining hall we were ushered into the Cathedral:

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Which is utterly gorgeous. But the best thing about the Cathedral is that it has it’s own garden that is directly against the Dean’s garden. It was in here that Alice used to play and underneath a chestnut tree, Dodgson would tell her stories. Before we left, I asked one of the nice ladies in the church if Alice’s garden was nearby.

She said, yes….and no and then offered a rather mischievous wink. She lead me to this door located at the side of the cathedral:

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And with my heart in my throat….

She let me into Wonderland:

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This is the Cathedral Garden, on the other side of that small door near the steps is the Dean’s Garden. When Alice peeks through the keyhole and wants to get into the garden in the story, it is THIS garden.

And this is the Chestnut Tree, under which the story unfolded:

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I stood there, breathless, barely believing where I was standing. Oddly enough no one else in the church stuck their heads out to see what I was doing. I was completely alone in Alice’s Garden. In the spot where one of the most important stories of my life was created.

It was incredible.

Afterwards, we headed down to the Eagle and the Child were the Inklings, a group of writers, used to meet and read aloud their work

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It’s a pint-sized perfect pub….

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that serves a delicious cider

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and whose walls were the very first to hear early drafts of not only The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe but also Lord of the Rings

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Because as you can see from that handwritten testimony from the Inklings, members included C. S. Lewis (top left) and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (bottom left)

On of our last days in London, before we headed up to Scotland, was spent doing my absolute favorite thing in the city – attending a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theater

This year was Romeo And Juliet:

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I’ve seen 3 other Globe Theater performances and they were all classic interpretations. Romeo and Juliet, which is not one of my favorites but who cares right, was decidedly NOT a classical interpretation.

We were warned before about strobe lights and gun violence. There were bombs hanging over the stage:

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I wasn’t allowed to take pictures during the performance so these images are from elsewhere but honestly, it was….incredible.

They went with a Day of The Dead Emo Goth Chic thing:

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Mercutio was played by the woman on the left! rj7

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I mean seriously. Have you ever seen anything like this in your life?

Romeo and Juliet - William Shakespeare - Shakespeare’s Globe - 21 April 2017

Director - Daniel Kramer
Designer - Soutra Gilmour
Choreographer - Tim Claydon
Lighting - Charles Balfour

I loved it so much that when I got back from Scotland we rushed down in the freezing rain to see if we could tickets for another performance before we left. Alas it was not to be so. BUT the good news is that it will be on DVD. So i’ll get to see my Emo Romeo (Rom-EMO?) once more!

I liked it so much I bought the shirt

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Then we were off to Scotland!


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/216544414″>Train Ride to Scotland</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user50279965″>ally malinenko</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Edinburgh is beautiful.

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Even better at night:

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It’s got castles

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and palaces

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and amazing volcanic mountains like Arthur’s Seat

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Gorgeous views:

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And these things called “close” which you think is a street but it’s a staircase. I loved these things:

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It is a fairytale kind of city. Which makes sense that a certain someone sat in this cafe and wrote a certain series

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There’s apparently a Tom Riddle gravestone in the nearby cemetery but I couldn’t find it. Oh well.

Harry’s not the city’s only literal character. Arthur Conan Doyle is from Edinburgh, born on Picardy Place. There’s a statue of his famous character there now:

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Conan Doyle attended medical school at the University of Edinburgh were he studied under one Joseph Bell whose keen intellect and powers of deduction informed Sherlock.

“It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes … round the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man” – Letter from Conan Doyle to Mr. Bell

So while we were there, I had a birthday! (I’m old. So very old) I wanted to go to the Surgeon’s Hall, which didn’t allow picture taking but I found this one online:

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See all those little jars on all those shelves. They’re all full of organs and tissue and other gross body bits. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff but man, after 3 floors of this even I got queasy. My poor husband had to wait out in the hall.

I also got to hold a owl on my birthday. Her name is Tee. She was so light.

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We also went to the Scottish Museum that day which had Dolly!

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Yes! THAT Dolly. The cloned sheep. The museum also has some of the Lewis Chessmen

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I’m in love with these guys. They’re carved from walrus and they were found on the Isle of Lewis. I saw the rest at the British Museum

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Okay I have a thing about chess. I wrote a book about that too.

Before heading back to London I had to have at least one good whiskey

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Many thanks to the fine bartender at The Bow Bar for hooking me up with this Ardbeg Whiskey

Our last day in England was spent at the British Museum checking out the Rosetta Stone

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And a fortune telling machine (You’re looking at the side that would face the fortune teller who would set all the knobs and levers to certain levels, ask you questions and tell your future!)

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This is a masquerade dancer

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and Kanga textiles 

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The Sutton Hoo helmut

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The Lindow Man who was found in a bog in North West England. Poor bastard was strangled, hit on the head and had his throat slit before he was tossed in the bog

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The Tring Tiles which tells stories about Jesus. In this one, a poor kid is locked in a tower by his awful parent so Jesus comes along and slips him OUT THE KEYHOLE. Clever, Jesus.

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A big jade tortoise that is apparently detailed enough that they can determine it is female. I didn’t ask how.

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And last but not least, that right there is Cleopatra.

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It was incredible two weeks. I spent the flight home, working on the new book – Gravity Wins – about the time I fell in love, fell off a waterfall, cracking my head…and my heart.

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(In case you’re wondering that’s a lymphedema sleeve. I need to wear it when I fly because I’m at risk for developing lymphedema (swelling of the arm) since I had lymph nodes removed during cancer surgery.  Mine is covered in stars because….why not?)

And that’s about it.

I have another post I want to write about 20th Century Women but I think 2,000+ words is quite enough for today.

Peace Love and Starbursts/ Chins Up Claws Out,

Ally

Hey World. I’d like you to meet Sarah

10 Mar

I clam up when I’m upset. It’s a frustrating problem to have because when you have someone sitting across from you willing to listen and you have so much you need to say and you just…..can’t.

I imagine I look an awful lot like  guppy, my mouth just opening and closing.

What I can do though, is write about it. The vast majority of my poetry is as real as I get with strangers. The last one, Better Luck Next Year, probably the most naked I’ve ever gotten.

But sometimes I can do it with fiction.

In 2014 I wrote a book called This Is Sarah.

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It was a simple story about grief, but I packed all my heartbreak, all my denial, all my sadness into a suitcase and I put in the hands of Colin, my main character, and I watched him walk away with it.

The story centers on two characters, Colin and Clare both of whom are trying to navigate the barren landscape that is life without Sarah – Colin’s girlfriend and Clare’s big sister.

When Colin Leventhal leaned out his bedroom window on the night of May 12th and said goodbye to his girlfriend, he never expected it would be forever. But when Sarah Evans goes missing that night, Colin’s world unravels as he transforms from the boyfriend next door to the main police suspect. Then one year later, at her memorial service, Colin makes a phone call that could change everything. Is it possible that Sarah is still alive? And if so, how far will he go to bring her back?

And as Colin struggles with this possibility, across the street, Sarah’s little sister Claire learns how to navigate the strange new landscape that is life without her sister. Even as her parent’s fall apart, Claire is determined to keep on going. Even if it kills her.

THIS IS SARAH is a meditation on loss, love, and what it means to say goodbye.

Sarah was for many reasons one of the easiest things I have ever written – and by easy I meant, Colin was right there in my head every time I turned toward him. I don’t know if I believe that some books write themselves but….this one wanted out.

This month, my publisher, Bookfish Books, is offering This Is Sarah for 99 cents on Amazon. I can promise you, you’re going to get a heck of a lot of emotion for less than a dollar if you take them up on it.

Here’s some things readers have said:

I haven’t read a book that has kept me up for a long time, but this book made sure i was not sleeping until the final page. Brilliantly written, the reader is listening to their friends talk to them.

and…

Sitting down to write this review, it dawned on me that in some ways Ally’s book reminds me Jodi Picoult’s work. Take that as high praise because she is one of my absolute favorite authors. Both women are capable of bringing incredibly tough and emotional material to life in the pages of their books. I am a complete sucker for a well-written book that tries to tear my heart to pieces.

and…

The prose in this book—it’s beautiful, bordering on poetic. Not a single word is extraneous. As somber as the tone of the book is, it never feels overwrought or cloying. Every line of dialogue sounds like it would be spoken by an actual person.

So if you’re curious what to expect, this is Colin:

I get up early to run, because it’s easier in the morning. There’s no one up yet at five am, and the streets belong to me. I don’t even bring music anymore. I only want to hear the steady thwack of my sneakers on the pavement, the rustle of leaves in the breeze and the huff of air coming out of my lungs. It sets up a rhythm that allows my brain to shut off for a while so my mind stays empty.

Not thinking feels good. It’s one of the few things that still feels good.

I crest the hill at the top of Cedarhurst and pick up speed going down. My lungs feel clean and clear, and I think about sprinting the last five or six blocks back to my driveway. My energy seems a little low, but I figured I can probably push it.

The sound of my feet hitting the pavement intensifies and I pump my arms hard, small tears forming in my eyes from the wind. I clear my mind. I am no longer Colin. I’m just muscle, tissue and bone; a complex and delicate machine pushing its way against gravity and inertia, covering distance on this rock floating in the darkness of an ever-expanding space.

When Claire pulls her bike alongside me I nearly jump out of my skin. Where the hell did she come from? She pedals hard, riding off the seat, her blonde hair whipping back. She passes me and looks back and smiles. As the distance between us grows, I’m overcome with loss, and a sort of panic, like I need to catch up to her. I’m not sure what it is, but I watch her move away from me, her blonde hair streaming, her legs working the pedals and every muscle in my body screams to catch her.

Suddenly Claire is everything in the world, everything beautiful, alive, peaceful, and good, and it’s all getting away from me.

The farther she gets from me, the closer she gets to the monsters and all I want in the world is for Claire to always be safe.

Jesus Christ, I just want to be able to save one of them.

She looks back at me once and smiles before pumping the pedals again. In that moment, that small bright moment, her hair and her smile reflecting the early morning sun, she looks just like Sarah. Just like Claire looked that day in the hallway.

Suddenly I feel so hollow and empty, carved out like the husk of some dead cicada. I watch her get away from me and feel more lost than ever before. She rounds the bend and disappears from my line of sight, something inside of me snaps and I stumble forward. My feet now clumsy, my balance thrown off, until I stop, bent, heaving, coughing, spitting foam, my heart wild inside me. In my head, an image forms of Sarah when I made her laugh so hard she nearly choked on her sandwich at the diner.

That was Sarah.

Sarah and me, in a moment we won’t have again. A moment that was once real but now feels like it belonged to another life. Neither of us foresaw it ending this way.

The year before or the week before or the day before. We never saw it coming.

If I knew when she stood on that driveway, staring up at me, with me hanging out of the window looking down at her, if I knew, I would have told her everything.

And this, is Clare:

They found her red Chuck Taylor sneakers five miles from where her car was, deep in the woods.

One was unlaced, as if she had undone it and slipped her foot out of it right there under that canopy of trees.

The other was still tied.

Snow filled them like little red candies covered in sugar.

In the police station, in that evidence bag, they seemed so small, as the snow slowly melted off them, staining the fabric and dripping into the bottom of the bag. I couldn’t imagine them fitting Sarah’s feet. I couldn’t imagine them fitting my own.

Sarah’s empty shoes.

I thought about how they’d never be worn again. How she would never slide her foot inside, how her fingers would never tug those laces and loop them closed.

Her room back home was filled with things that would go unused. They’d just sit there, waiting for Sarah to come home, collecting dust.

All the things Sarah left behind.

When I saw the shoes, sitting in the police station, a noise escaped me. Not quite a sob, but a cry—a shock of disbelief—and my hope retreated as I realized I was now one of those things. Like her clothes, her jewelry, her records or her shoes.

I was just another thing Sarah left behind.

So there it is.

This is Sarah.

99 cents.

This month.

And if you do get, and read it, I would love to know what you think.

 

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

 

 

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