Archive | May, 2015

Moar Pie for Everyone, or Why Simon Pegg was right

20 May

Hi.

So I made it (barely) through my first week of post-trip hangover. It wasn’t easy. More than one cookie were consumed. I had no choice, I tell you!

But some cool things did come up, like my getting to talk to Vanessa Barger about This Is Sarah and writing and Antarctica. Thanks Vanessa! And speaking of Sarah, Apryl at Apryl Showers was kind enough to share her thoughts on This Is Sarah.

Set in a small town, where no one would believe such horrors would occur, the abduction of Sarah  Evans ricochets through everyone from school friends to neighbours. There is an incredibly realistic feel to the novel. The pace is even, with a slow tempo allowing you to really engage with the emotions of each character. In fact the reader could almost be one of the neighbours or a school pupil – someone who knows of the missing girl but has no real personal connection.

Many thanks to Apryl for her kind words. And in the thanks department, thanks to Mad Swirl for publishing Premonitions of a Sash, and to Cultured Vultures for Radiation Day 22 and to Blue Hour who published Radiation Day 24, Radiation Day 26 and Radiation Day 30.

During treatment I got a lot of mileage about my own fear and experience and out of my husband’s but it wasn’t until I was in radiation every single day, sitting next to the same people that I really started to understand what my friend Don was talking about when he said:

Funny thing, one thing nobody ever said to me – in this time when you will be so inward looking, so concerned with self, make sure you look about you as you go for regular treatments.

The staff, the fellow patients – there is so much there to take in, so much about who we are as humans, how we handle things. How we share, especially casually, in greeting, even silently, in the nod of a head or a smile. 

I didn’t say much during radiation. I came in, changed, kept my headphones in, forced myself to return their smiles, muttered a good morning and hoped my wait wouldn’t be too long. The waiting room was in fact the hardest part of radiation treatment. Just me, at 37, with a bunch of much older people. I tried to block it out. But you can’t block something all the time for 38 days in a row. You just can’t. So little by little, Anna, and Maria, Betty, the guy I called The Angel cause he was dressed in white from head to toe and the Russian guy who didn’t talk to anyone and the old black woman who was getting full brain radiation – all of them just sort of crept into my life. I found out from The Angel that she lost her sense of taste. I remember him sitting there, shaking his head asking, “Can you imagine anything worse? Not being able to taste anything at all?”
It was comments like that which helped shake me out myself. That made me look around the room, and as Don said, really see this moment in my life.
I hope I did all of them a bit of justice on the page. They were good people who like me, were stuck somewhere terrible. They made the best of it. I hope they’re doing okay now.

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In other news, (and getting to the point of this post) I just finished reading On Interpretations and Other Essays, the classic Susan Sontag book. I’ve only read her interviews prior to this so I really enjoyed it, though there were some high and low points as with all books. My favorite essays were On Interpretations with its stellar conversation about form and content, and On Culture and the New Sensibility – which though written in 1965 is very relevant today with the constant high vs low art debates. Because SURPRISE, SURPRISE, the internet is MAD again.

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The new sensibility is definitely pluralistic; it is dedicated both to an excruciating seriousness and to fun and wit and nostalgia. It is also extremely history-conscious; and the voracity of its enthusiasms (and of the supercession of these enthusiasms) is very high-speed and hectic. From the vantage point of this new sensibility, the beauty of a machine or of the solution to a mathematical problem, of a painting by Jasper Johns, of a film by Jean-Luc Goddard, and of the personalities and music of the Beatles is equally accessible.

So this time Simon Pegg is in the hot seat for his comments about comic book movies. He has, as required in this age of super-sensitive interneting, issued an apology. But before we all pat him on the back I think we need to take a look at what he’s ACTUALLY saying:

“Now we’re essentially all-consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously.”

This morning on my way to work I listened to Claude Debussy’s Prelude A l’Apres Midi D’un Faune (Afternoon of the Faun). I don’t listen to Claude much on my walk (or really much classical because of the trucks on 5th avenue). It opens with a harp. Upon the first note, I immediately thought of this:

That’s a scene from one of my favorite episodes of The Monkees where Peter sells his soul to the devil to learn how to play the harp.

Do you see where I’m going here?

Debussy = sounds lovely = Happy Ally

The Monkees =  goofy laughs = Happy Ally.

That’s the point of art. And variety makes for good “art-ing.” I think the #IReadYA thing is great but if you ONLY read YA, well…..you’re missing out. I’m sorry but you just are. It’s just as bad if you only read the New York Times Bestseller List or if you only read “literary” fiction written by white guys in Manhattan. White guys in Manhattan don’t know everything there is about this world. You’re limiting your own experiences if that’s all you’re reading.

If you’re only getting one small slice of the art pie, you’re not getting enough pie. MOAR PIE!

Now what I think Pegg here is talking about is that there are A LOT of comic book movies. Since 2010 there have been about 30 superhero movies made. THIRTY! And the reason there are so many is cause they make money. For me, his criticism is about the fact that we are paying the industry to keep feeding us the SAME THING OVER AND OVER AGAIN.  Honestly when I think about the money spent on these movies, I feel dizzy. But as long as we keep forking over our paychecks the industry will keep churning it out. That’s how business works. What are we getting out of watching the Hulk smash things? Do we really need another Spiderman reboot?

There has always been and will always be good science fiction and fantasy out there. Moon and Europa Report were two really well done movies that I walked away THINKING about. Come on, an alien that helps humans BE more human by trying to understand them? That’s why it’s classic. That has staying power.

Look, I love sci-fi. I love fantasy. I also love Godard. These things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. One of the best comments I ever got in my life was when someone looked at my goodreads list and said “wow….you’re all over the place.”

Yes, I am. Proudly.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that Sontag’s comment, made in 1965 can be the last one necessary to end this whole high vs low art thing. Time to put the tired conversation to rest. Let’s all stop hating on Simon Pegg, now okay?

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Speaking of “the solution to a mathematical problem….” I got back to work on Palimpsest this morning along with the help of some really great beta reader notes (I love you, guys). I also happened across this great video explaining the Fibonacci Sequence, a mathematical premise that is featured in my book.

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The Golden Mean

The sequence, for those of you who don’t know, is the following:

0,1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8,13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144

and on and on and so forth.

It is derived by adding the first number to the next number. So:

0+1 = 1

1+ 1 = 2

1+2 = 3

2+3= 5

3+5= 8

5+8 = 13

8+13 = 21

13+21 = 34

21+ 34 = 55

34 +55 = 89

55 + 89 = 144

and so on and so forth. But the real cool thing is that the Fibonacci sequence is EVERYWHERE. In the spiral of a seashell, in the arms of the galaxy. Even in your own bones!

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Aspects show up in art and architecture and in our DNA.

And this is why math and science are amazing.

Check out the video. It’s not long and it’s got cool music.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, Prague: Refugees Welcome (Part 3)

12 May

When we last checked in with our heroes, they were heading out of Germany, a train strike looming in the future and no known way to return to Berlin in order to catch their (already paid for) flight home….

The train rumbled into Prague and upon disembarking we went straight to the ticket office. My theory being there MUST be a non-German train going from Prague to Berlin. Czech Republic MUST have a train system – they’re a nation for chrissake. Finally getting to the front of the line we discovered that there are in fact trains to Germany (run by the Czechs) but (grrrr) they only go to DRESDEN. I asked about a bus and was directed to the tourist point and from there to Student Academy which ran buses out of Prague and, falling to my knees in thanks, was told there were two seats left on the 11:00 bus on the day we needed.

We snatched them up and we were off to Prague, which is the most beautiful city I have ever been to.

Seriously, look at this:

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We were staying in old town right next to the Charles Bridge which we crossed immediately to go find the John Lennon Wall. This is a graffiti-ed wall that was erected after John Lennon was killed and has over time been updated with new art.

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And what’s even better than the John Lennon wall?

THE JOHN LENNON PUB!

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Yum…..dark beer.

Back in Old Town Square, they have the Astronomical Clock.

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It was installed in 1410 and is the oldest astronomical clock still working. This clock is amazing – there’s the position of the sun and the moon as well as the month day and time. The four figures flanking the clock which MOVE, represent the four biggest fears/faults/sins: Vanity, holding the mirror,  Greed holding a bag of money, Death in the form of a skeleton who rings the bell each hour and finally foreign invasion which is represented by a Turk which is, of course, totally racist. But it was 1410 so you need to sort keep that in context.

On the hour Death rings the bell and the two windows open and a bunch of saints go parading by, then the rooster crows and the show is over.

I’m not gonna lie – I watched this like three times. It’s just so awesome.

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Prague Castle was a nice long walk up a long winding hill that gave you great views like this:

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And the other really cool thing about Prague Castle is that it’s where Milos Forman filed Amadeus (which happens to be one of my all time favorite movies).

This was the building that was Mozart’s house:

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And even cooler (as if that were possible) down the lane from this house is this one:

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This is Tycho Brahe’s house. If you’re not familiar with Tycho Brahe – and you should be if you watched Cosmos – he was an astronomer, astrologist and alchemist back in the 1500’s. He was the last of the “naked eye” astronomers – those working without telescopes. While Brahe was in Prague, attempting to do his nightly observations of the cosmos, he was interrupted by the neighboring church service and, in a rare show of science over faith, managed to get them quit all church activities as soon as the sun went down so that he could work uninterrupted. The power of science!

On top of that he lost part of his nose in a sword duel and allegedly had a pet moose that got drunk and died falling down the stairs. Poor moose. I also think Tycho’s Moose would be a great band name.

We also saw his grave but we weren’t allowed to take pictures so you’ll have to settle for a Wikipedia one:

Tycho_Brahe_Grave_DSCN2900Prague Castle was nice. I wanted to move in.

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Afterwards we hit up the Old Jewish Cemetery:

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And when they say OLD they mean old. It was in use from the early 15th century and the last body was buried here in 1787.

The most famous resident is Rabbi Loeb who created the Golem!

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Rabbi Loeb’s grave

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This guy prayed for a really long time (with candles) so we took his picture.

And while Rabbi Loeb is pretty famous, Prague’s most famous resident is Franz Kafka. We did a whole Kafka walk, which I might highlight in a separate post for anyone itching to see places that Kafka lived.

In the meantime, here’s a plaque where his birth home was:

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and of course, his grave:

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And this is the monument they set up for him, strangely surreal, much like our boy:

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But Kafka wasn’t the only grave we saw:

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And just because it’s cool

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I want a grave like this. Seriously.

Prague is full of all kinds of cool stuff. Like this guy:

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And places Einstein lived:

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And this building called the Fred and Ginger Dancing House:

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And the hall where Mozart conducted Don Giovanni in 1787:

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But it’s definitely most famous for the Karlov Most (Charles Bridge)

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Which looks great in the day but breathtaking at sunset:

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Karlov Most shadows

And then, it was time to leave…..

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We took the five hour bus ride back to Berlin for one last night, during which it was the 70th anniversary of end of World War II. Being in Berlin on the anniversary of the defeat of Nazism, especially when the Russians were waving their flag around the Brandenburg Gate makes for a weird evening.

Then we boarded the plane and took the long flight back to New York.

Home. Home. Home.

I don’t like to compare trips, especially because it’s going to take a lot of time for me to really process everything we saw and experienced but I will say this – while this trip might not go down as the prettiest (except of course Prague) or the most “fun” (train strikes do throw a damper on things. Also, Nazis.) I have a feeling that it will mean the most. Maybe because of everything last year.

Maybe because I needed it more this time.

Maybe because it just will.

Anyway, it’s a big world out there. If you get the chance, try and see some of it.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, Prague: Refugees Welcome (Part 2)

11 May

So where did we leave off?

Oh that’s right, the train ride back to Berlin.

While we were there we went grave hunting cause that’s what we do and came across these two:

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Yes indeed those are the Brothers Grimm, librarian/fairy tale collector extraordinaires.

And because we love all things Bowie, Jay found where he lived:

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And hung out:

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and recorded Low and Heroes and produced The Idiot for Iggy Pop

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We also went to Bableplatz – the site of the infamous Nazi book burning in 1933

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Now, Bableplatz has a makeshift library complete with comfy bean bag reading chairs

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And a memorial to the Empty Library which includes a glass cut square below the platz that depicts empty shelves. The Nazi’s burned around 20,000 books, including books by Heinrich Mann, Karl Marx and Albert Einstein.

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At the Neue Wache up on Museum Island we found this chilling memorial by Käthe Kollwitz  entitled Mother with her Dead Son. The memorial includes the remains of an unknown soldier and a nameless concentration camp victim.

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My birthday, May 1st is also May Day in Europe – a massive spring celebration. In Berlin it’s also a time of protest. We had heard about how great Kreuzberg  was and the day before my birthday headed out there to see the East Side Gallery (a long segment of the graffiti wall) and have the most amazing burger at Kreuzburger (seriously if you’re ever there you have to try this place). So we figured for my birthday we’d head back that way.

This was our first mistake.

Kreuzberg (surprise!) is also home to some of the most famous and violent police and demonstrator clashes on May Day. As the elevated subway pulled into the neighborhood, there were THRONGS of people. And by throngs I mean thousands and thousands of people. We could barely get out of the subway station, which the police were blocking to prevent overcrowding on the platform (I think). The crowds had a penchant for 90’s rap. I’m not kidding. We heard Snoop Doggy Dog.

The feeling was intense, electric. Standing amongst them, aside from feeling incredible old, I couldn’t help but realize that this is what political activism can look like. That after Nazism and Communism Berlin is still making herself over and it’s being done by the young people. It’s vital.

I would love to see how this city is going to transform itself over the next 25 years.

I didn’t shoot this film but it is from May Day, 2015 in Kreuzberg.

From Berlin, we took the train south to Leipzig.

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Bizarre sculpture depicting life under Nazism and then Communism.

Leipzig is Bach-land. Bach lived and worked in Leipzig, raising a considerable family and caring for the choirboys at St. Thomas Church where he was Kappelmeister. He’s buried inside the church.

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But Bach isn’t the only game in town. There is also an extensively done Felix Mendelssohn Museum:

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which included his DEATH MASK!

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After he died, Wagner being a massive anti-Semite started trash talking Felix. The idea that he was a lesser composer took root and by the time the Nazi’s were in power, Felix was all but wiped off the books. The statue that had been erected for him was melted down. It took until 2008 for a replacement to be erected.

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And the morning that we were scheduled to leave Leipzig for Prague (and then from Prague back to Berlin to fly to NYC) the Germans decided to have a major transit strike, thereby shutting down the Deutsche Bahn for 10 days. Which meant if we went to Prague we could feasibly not have a way back to Berlin to fly home.

So naturally we went to Prague.

Part 3 coming up next…..

Peace love and Starbursts,

Ally

Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, Prague: Refugees Welcome (Part 1)

11 May

Brandenburg Gate: Berlin 2015

Berlin is the kind of city that doesn’t give a shit if you like her or not. I suppose that’s what happens when your city is blown to smithereens and then walled up for 30 years. And that’s not to say it isn’t pretty…because it is – some of it at least.

It’s more so that Berlin isn’t there to impress you. It is what it is. And more than anything Berlin is full of history. We were there for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. At one point there were bands of Russians parading around the gate, waving a Russian flag and celebrating. It was strange.

Down the road from the Gate is the Holocaust Memorial (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas) A series of stone slabs arranged in rows, varying in height and covering 4.7 acres. Unlike most memorials, there is no visible list of the dead, no dates to mark the atrocities. (Though that is available in the attached underground section). Instead as, you walk through the memorial, the slabs grow, eventually blocking out the street noise and sights, until you feel like you’ve completely disappeared inside the “tombs.”

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I think the most effective part of the memorial for me is the way it uses abstraction to imply universality.

Throughout Berlin, you can find pieces of Die Mauer, the infamous Berlin Wall, which divided the city into four separate sectors run by the Americans, The French, the British and the Russians. If you paid attention in history class you learned that the Russians, aware of their dwindling population (many East Berliners “voted with their feet” prior to the wall and left their sector for the Western side), built a wall that cut through homes, streets, subway lines, churches, graveyards and families with stunning and fierce finality.

I remember watching the wall come down on television in 1989. Iconic images of teenagers standing on top, sledgehammers swinging. I recognized their youth, their anger, their intention even if I didn’t understand what their experience at the time was like.

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I was 12 years old. Even then I understood revolution. What I didn’t understand was The Wall. To me, it was just a slab of concrete, something that if you could climb, you could escape. It wasn’t until I was standing at Bernauer Strausse that I fully understood that The Wall was two walls, and a death strip.

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136 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall – mostly men, in their twenties during the 60’s. So when you stand at the East Side Gallery admiring the graffiti, and there is much to admire, you’re looking at 1/3 of the barrier that the people who risked their lives trying to cross were faced with.

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In case it wasn’t obvious, The Wall had a very powerful effect on me. Thinking about it in terms of my own life, what would it be like if suddenly I was no longer allowed to leave Brooklyn? If Manhattan was just a distant memory?

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Checkpoint Charlie

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From Berlin, we took a train to Hamburg, Germany, chasing after the Beatles….

The Beatles in Hamburg, Germany 1960 - hundreds more Beatle pictures www.morethings.com

“I was born in Liverpool – but I grew up in Hamburg” – John Lennon

The Beatles (back then as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe) spent from August of 1960 to December of 1962 in Hamburg, Germany where they played a variety of clubs, honed their skills and really became the musicians that would change music.

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The Reeperbahn

They played the Kaiserkeller:

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The Indra:

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(Here’s the contract that they signed with Bruno Koshcmider to perform at the Indra:)

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They also played at the Top Ten (which has sadly been turned into a Pizza Hut) and The Star Club:

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While they were there they met Astrid Kirchner, with whom Stu Sutcliffe fell in love.

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Stu dropped out of the band, applied for art school in Hamburg and had hoped to settle down into a life of painting and photography with Astrid. They lived together at Eimsbuttler Strausse 45A:

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The attic windows were Stu’s studio, and where he collapsed on April 10, 1962. Astrid rode with him to the hospital but he passed away before they got there.

While we were there we had drinks at Gretel and Alfons, a place the Beatles used to drink at, and where they have a note from Paul McCartney when he returned to Hamburg and paid his bill back in 1989.

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Hamburg paid tribute to the Beatles and created BeatlesPlatz, where four steel outlined musicians were erected.

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Off to the right, is this one, representing Stu.

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And we found The Dom, the fete field that Astrid used as a backdrop for the iconic images she took of the Beatles.

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One of the best things about Hamburg is that we could recreate THIS:

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Aside from The Beatles, Hamburg is a pretty little German town with a really big church that has a whole lot of steps (453) that if you are stupid enough to walk to the top of you can get a picture like this:

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Then, we headed back to Berlin….which we’ll pick up in Part II of the longest blog post ever…

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Peace love and starbursts,

Ally

Empathy Cards by Emily McDowell

11 May

Hi.

I’m still really jetlagged and exhausted and processing what the last two weeks away were like – post on that to come – but in the meantime I needed to share this:

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After my diagnosis, as I slowly told the people around me what was happening, I got quite a few comments that I can only describe as ranging from off-putting to down right fucked up. Now, I’m not blaming anyone. I get that people don’t know what to say. It’s hard. Hell, there were times my husband and I didn’t know what to say to EACH OTHER. Searching for something to say, people google things. They offer suggestions to dietary changes or exercise or some random clinical trial that saved their cousin Sal. They tell me that whatever doesn’t kill me would make me stronger. They tell me that now I have to live my life to the fullest, appreciate everything – as if I were taking it all for granted beforehand. I know they’re trying. But often these sorts of suggestions just increased the overwhelming feeling of isolation that I already have. And the feeling of isolation is one of the hardest aspects of having cancer.

Enter Empathy Cards.

Emily McDowell, a cancer survivor, designed these cards to try to fill the huge hole where the sentiment implied by “Get Well Soon” just doesn’t.

“The most difficult thing about my illness was the fact that it was so lonely,” she says. One of the reasons was “friends and family either disappearing because they didn’t know what to say or well-intentioned people saying the wrong thing. So one of the most difficult things about being sick was feeling really alienated from everyone that I knew.”

I think these cards are amazing. More information about her work is here.

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I think they sort of give a voice when there’s so little to say. Also the lemon one, up top, what is that about?? I’ve lost count of the number of people who, upon learning that I had cancer, told me about someone they know who died. What is my response supposed to be to that?

“Um, thanks I guess?”

Anyway, good on Emily for making these.

I’ll probably have another post later today about THE TRIP.

Peace, love and starbursts,

Ally

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