Thursday, September 22, 2011

Capturing Memories

Have you ever wondered why some calendars start with September of the present year, and then flow gently in the New Year? Have you ever wonder why so many of us subconsciously enter the holiday season right after fall starts, when days get shorter and colder and the memories of our summer are still fresh?

Maybe colder weather has that effect on us. It jolts our subconscious and memories--brings out the melancholic selves and our longing for sizzling summer nights, endless sun, worry-free beach days, adventurous trips or good reads. Maybe cold weather is a catalyst that helps us sort through these memories and keep them forever in various forms--as scrapbooks, calendars, photo-books and much more.

To capture some of my summer memories I've recently started to use My Memories, a digital scrapbooking software that allows me to not only create scrapbooks (I'm actually new at scrapbooking) but also photography books and calendars. Check it out and use Memory Code STMMMS84883 for a discount.

Why use My Memories? Well, because you can record your memories (summer and any other kind) and save them forever, in the art form of your choice, and then share and enjoy reliving them with your families and friends.  

Choices are endless. Themes include pets, weddings, travel and many others. Templates are available, as are scrapbooking kits--free and at a very low price. Don't forget to use Memory Code STMMMS84883  for a discount.

For those who, like myself, are more into photo books and calendars, My Memories offers something too--while calendars come in a smaller size (regular paper size, but two kinds of paper), photo books come in a variety of square sizes, from 6 by 6 inches to 12 by 12 inches, including lay-flat books.

Sometimes memories remind us of happy times, but not always. Some personal memories make the news and become national and international--the 9/11/2001 events, for example or, most recently, the execution of Troy Davis only a few hours ago.

Like summer memories that can keep us warm and our hope alive through the bitter, months-long winter, memories, in general, can keep hope alive and see us through the bitter tough times... So, give it a try, check out the My Memories website and, if your decide to take the next step, use the Memory Code mentioned above! After all, what do you have to lose but your memories...

As always, thanks for visiting. Keep the memories alive.

Alina Oswald
Author of Infinite Lights: A Collection of 9/11-Related Photography

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Summer's Gone, Fall's Here. It's "Bad News" - Remember ANGELS IN AMERICA?

Summer is gone. Fall is a day away. While "summer euphoria" may still linger in the air, most of us can feel the reality of fall creeping in our bodies and souls, only to prepare us for the long winter months to follow shortly.

Many people love fall. Personally, I'm not too excited about the season. It has always reminded me of a time when I had to go back to school, of early, cold and dark mornings when I had to be up and running and out the door, just to face the reality of school, not the studies, but the individuals surrounding the idea of school.

Fall is also a season of... death (for lack of a better word). It's the time of year when things just... die, but not before showing themselves in the best light (or color) possible. Just think of all those turning leaves...

Fall is a sign for tough times (and temps) to come. Tough times--the idea of "Bad News" comes to mind ("Bad News" is the name of one of the six-parts of one of my favorite movies, Angels in America.

It's always "bad news" when you are given a death sentence, for example, in shape of a terminal illness. Angels in America characters receive the AIDS "bad news" not once, but twice. The interesting thing is that the particular scenes parallel similar real-life scenes. I've heard this "bad news" myself, when interviewing long-term AIDS survivors--best selling author Joel Rothschild, award-winning photographer Kurt Weston and many others.

I'd like to share with you the "bad news" as told to me by long-term AIDS survivor, AIDS activist and award-winning legally blind photographer Kurt Weston when I interviewed him for the JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS, a biography I wrote on his life and art. Hope you enjoy the read.  

As always, thanks for stopping by! Hope you enjoy the read.
Alina Oswald
Writer/Photographer
Author of JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS
 www.alina-arts.com

Excerpt from "Chapter One: The Runway" of JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS

By 1991 the number of AIDS-related deaths skyrocketed. Many of Kurt’s friends and people he knew in his community became infected with HIV. But Kurt didn’t really worry. He had been feeling fine and hadn’t been sick at all, so there hadn’t been any reason for him to go to the doctor for his annual physical.  As a matter of fact, Kurt hadn’t been to a doctor in over a decade. He’d been healthy… at least up until the end of October 1991, when he started coughing. It was a persistent cough, exhausting, draining him of energy.
    Not knowing what to make of it, Kurt tried to self-diagnose, thinking he had an allergy. So, he decided to put to good use the health insurance he had through his work and flipped through the provider books with their endless lists of physicians, searching for an allergist. He found one and called his office to make an appointment. A few days later the doctor gave Kurt several shots of different allergens under his skin to determine just what he was allergic to, and then sent him home, advising him to return in a few days.
    Once at home, Kurt started feeling much worse. He went to bed only to wake up in the middle of the night soaked in his own sweat. That’s when he realized that something was seriously wrong with him and it wasn’t allergies. He started to think that whatever was wrong had something to do with HIV.  
    Only a week earlier Kurt had taken his date to a gay bar, where he first noticed an AIDS magazine. He picked it up and flipped through its pages and he came upon a list of various opportunistic infections associated with AIDS. One of them was Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, or PCP, otherwise known as “the AIDS pneumonia.” Kurt mentioned his suspicion regarding his HIV status, but the other guy brushed him away, saying that Kurt was probably overreacting.
    But after waking up several nights covered in sweat and feeling sicker and weaker by the minute, Kurt decided to call a doctor—a general practitioner this time—and make an appointment. He got in a few days later and by then he was coughing constantly and had mild fever.
    The doctor x-rayed Kurt’s lungs and drew blood to send out for fast testing. It turned out that the photographer had pneumonia, but the doctor needed more time to determine what kind of pneumonia it was.
    Kurt’s blood test results were back in no time. The physician studied them and noticed that his patient’s white cell count was way out of the normal range. That was reason enough to ask permission to perform an HIV test. Permission granted, the doctor drew more blood from Kurt’s arm and sent it out for more testing, and then he sent his patient home with a prescription for antibiotics to treat his pneumonia. Kurt was to return in a week for a follow-up visit.
    During the following days, despite the doctor’s treatment, he started feeling even worse and by the end of the week Kurt became certain of his HIV status. When it was time for him to return to the doctor’s office, his sister insisted on going with him. “You can’t go in there without some emotional support,” she said and drove him and stood by his side as he received the news.
    According to the new blood test results, Kurt not only had HIV. He had AIDS. He was also experiencing his first bout of PCP—two more were to follow in less than a year. His T cell count was fifteen. [In comparison, the T cell count for a healthy person is approximately one thousand or more, measured per unit of blood.]
    Being a general practitioner, the physician thought it was time to turn his patient to an HIV specialist, and so he sent Kurt immediately to the hospital. There, although doctors didn’t tell Kurt much else at the time, they told the photographer’s mother that her son might not make it through the night.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dark Hour Friend: An Essay I Rediscovered after Watching Anderson Show (Guest Gloria Vanderbilt)


I've just watched Anderson daytime show today, Monday, September 19th. His special guest was his mother, the fantastic Gloria Vanderbilt. I found the show inspiring, enlightening and, in a way, a lifesaver. It made me grab Anderson Cooper's book Dispatches from the Edge and reread it, and also check out Ms. Vanderbilt's books. I'd love to read them.


I read the story in Dispatches, and I applaud mother and son for having the strength to talk publicly about their lives. I applaud them because I know it's not easy to talk about loss, because no matter how good a healer time may be, it is still painful. What doesn't kill you may make you stronger but, as it seems to be in this case, it also makes you a better person all-around--more understanding of the inner universe, and also of the world around you.


The show also brought to mind the first essay I ever wrote and was published. I called it "Dark Hour Friend" and wrote it under pen name because I was too ashamed to use my real name. Because I was writing about depression/suicide from a suicidal (or deeply depressed) person's perspective.


As much as we're trying to talk about this topic today, suicide still remains a taboo, a sin that cannot be forgiven... Having been there (not anymore, for a very long time, writing and photography have literally saved my life), on that brink of life where seemingly the only escape is through death, I don't think that suicidal/depressed individuals want to be suicidal. In other words, they don't "sin" on purpose and, therefore, their souls don't deserve the eternity of burning hell.

The truth is that depression is draining, exhausting, taking a big toll (sometimes an ultimate one) on the body and the soul. People suffering from depression, suicidal people, need to know that there is support, help; that there are people there to listen to them without judging, people who really hear them and try to understand.


I can only praise people like Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, to have the courage to talk about suicide and, in the process, save lives and help people walk from the darkness of depression back into the light of hope.

Thank you!

Below is the essay I wrote many, many years ago, as Alex Shapiro. Thanks again Patricia Spork for having the courage to publish it, oh, about a decade ago or so.

As always, thanks for visiting!
Alina Oswald
Author of Infinite Lights




Dark Hour Friend



Life is a miracle, a blessing! This may be true but not for everybody. For some of us life is a prison in which we are forced to spend our days for our loved ones' sakes. I wonder sometimes if anyone bothers to understand "us," the suicidal ones, or try to comprehend our suicidal thinking. Suicide is still perceived as a taboo, as something shameful, wrong, the ultimate crime that would forever damn the soul and send it directly to hell…  or is it?

I'll try, here, to unlock a door and let a sliver of light into a suicidal person's life—mine—or better said, what used to be my life because suicide, like depression, doesn't happen overnight. It usually takes its sweet time.

The sadness comes and goes. Sometimes sadness thorns itself so deep inside my soul, I feel the need to escape, and the only way out that I can see is through death. When the pain takes over my present existence, here, in this physical life, I worry less about what will happen to my soul in the next life, after my ghost crosses the hollow dark waters of the Styx.

This was (still is at times) a feeling I learned to hide deep inside, like a dark, yet escape secret. I feared that by opening my heart and thoughts to the wrong person I might hurt myself to the point of no return, where I'd have more pain that I could carry.

Suicide doesn't just happen. It is not something that I decide I desire when I face a new day... or night. I did not wake up one gorgeous morning and made up my mind that "that" particular day I'd be suicidal. It just doesn't work that way.

Then, how does it happen?

For me it started with depression, with "not-good-enough" kind of feelings I got from pretty much everybody around me. Over time, my life experiences proved what other "well-intended" people had told me many years ago and made me feel that I had to strive for perfection, otherwise, I was not good enough.

And I tried, but could never become perfect. Over time, I discovered that even perfection could be relative, depending on the person defining it.

A lifetime of failures and rejections drove me to suicide. I remember holding a kitchen knife, my unsteady hand pressing it along the blue veins, hard enough to leave a pale trace on my skin.

Suicidal thoughts put me in a trance during which I planned and watched my own departure from this world over and over again. The self-destructive thoughts left me weak and shaky, terrified of everything around me.

I was lucky to have somebody who really understood me during these dark moments, someone who allowed me to talk about my feelings without fear of being judged in return. My friend knew when to give me a hug and when to leave me alone. And when words were too much. My friend was always there for me, before and after my dark hour.

I remember the night death showed up at my window... I knew the plan by heart. All I had to do was go for it... and so I did. Without any prescription medicines I could use at the time, I hopped in the car and drove to K-Mart. The cashier advised me about the strength of one of the several boxes of sleeping pills piled up in front of me. I looked at her blindly and filled the plastic bag with razor blades and pills. I wanted... well, there was not enough time for creativity, so, I decided to use what some refer to as the basic plan, especially for women.

But before I could do anything, I had to stop by my neighbor’s house and say goodbye. After all, he'd helped me out when I recently moved in the apartment just because he "happened" to be around and available that day.

I had the feeling that night that he already knew my plan the moment I stepped inside his kitchen. He asked me if I was all right and I did not answer. We just talked about nothing in particular and watched TV. When I decided to go, I pressed his body closed to mine. I needed a last, warm, human embrace. His heartbeat sent small waves of hope through my shirt. He hugged me back as I began to cry. There were tears of sorrow and pain... and love. I was to leave his sweet embrace for my dark and lonely apartment, a hot bath and death, still certain that there was no other way out.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

The way he asked, the sound of his voice where different, all of a sudden. Somehow I knew he could read my mind. Right there and then I realized he was my only salvation and my reason to struggle through life, one moment at a time.

"Thank you. I have to go now..." I mumbled, unable to say more.

"What're you gonna do once you get home?" he asked again, his eyes refusing to let my gaze slip away.

That's when I lost it and he didn't mind. He let me dampen his shirt with my tears and held my body until the last sob shuddered through it.

"You are not going anywhere! You sleep here, on the couch, and I'll watch you." His voice was firm but so comforting. He refused to let me die that night, and imprinted his life's content into my soul.

He brought me from darkness and back into the light, and I survived through him and because of him.
Can't help but think about the future. What if darkness takes over my mind and soul again? What will happen when I won't have my friend close by to really listen and understand my sorrow?

I can't predict the future. Nobody can. Life is like a swing, a flutter through the suffocating air of a southern summer day. Keeping a grip on the swing's rough metal chains aches my fingers. It hurts, but I hold on for the sake of my family and my loved ones, and I keep swinging. All I have to do is let go to free my hands... and my soul.

There are no guarantees. There are dark hour friends, always there to listen and comfort.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughts on the Day After 9/11/11 and Morning Ceremonies on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11/2001

 Remembering 9/11: Morning Ceremonies on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11/2001

The strange thing about 9/12 these days is that most of us go back to their lives. Some of us, though, those who've lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, can't really, entirely, 100 percent do that. They don't have that luxury, no matter how good a healer time is...

The day after 9/12 we still live the reminiscence of the day just past. Most of the time, it's not easy.
 I spent this year's September 11th taking pictures of the morning ceremonies and at night, of the Tribute Lights.

During the morning I discovered a massive ship docked on the Hudson, right at Ground Zero level. A very nice gentleman who took the time to check out the photos posted on Flickr reminded me that the massive ship is the USS New York (been here before, photographed it before) and the bright red fire boat is a retired FDNY boat, John J. Harvey. Thanks again for that!

I noticed that the USS New York was held in place by several tugboats. After a while, it started being pushed upstream, so very gently though, on the Hudson. (I could only tell that it was moving when zooming in on it, from afar there was no indication of movement, though)

The day was grey, like the ship and, mostly, like our even greyer souls. I had the chance to talk to and photograph a few firefighters and first responders on Jersey City waterfront. Photos will follow soon, as will more photos from my yesterday's photographic endeavor.

As always, thanks for reading! Will be back with more images soon.

Alina Oswald 
Author of INFINITE LIGHTS
a photographic collection documenting the 9/11 Tribute in Light over the years


PS: A very special thank you note to CNN! I believe CNN did a fantastic job especially last week, covering the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Also, as a reminder, Anderson Cooper's new show, Anderson, premiers today, 9/12, at 4 PM. I'll be watching it on PIX11 (local channel). And, of course, I always watch AC360 at 8 pm or 10pm, depending when on time and others.
Thanks again!
Alina

Thursday, September 8, 2011

9/11 (not in lights) Memorial on Jersey City Waterfront

 A few more days until yet another September 11. This time remembering a whole decade of 9/11s... This week the inevitability of the day has been drilled into our souls by media, by our own memories. Yet, that events of that clear Tuesday morning have forever been imprinted in our lives. Like a scar that has caused much pain, a scar that has faded in time, yet will never completely disappear.

I, for one, believe that we should remember 9/11 not only on September 11th of each year, but throughout the year. That's why I try to cover 9/11-related photography year-round. One example is the Jersey City waterfront so-called 9/11 memorial (two twisted beams from the Twin Towers themselves, placed to resemble the letter "A"). Although a new memorial (two endless walls with enough room for almost 3,000 names on them) is being built just across the Morris Canal, on Liberty State Park, so far 9/11 morning ceremonies take place on the JC waterfront, by the A-shaped memorial. People leave mementos--pins, flags, flowers, beads, photographs, candles. 

Right behind the A-shaped structure stands a large gray marble plaque holding the names of Jersey residents who lost their lives in the attacks. During the 9/11 ceremonies, I often notice people going to the plaque and touching names... and can't help but wonder if the name they so gingerly touch (as if not to disturb) is the name of a loved one, friend, or co-worker.

By standing close enough to the plaque (where flowers are placed year-round) one can make up the "Empty Skies" Lower Manhattan reflection. To take the picture below, I ducked low, below the footprint of the plaque, so that my own reflection would not be seen, and I snapped the picture. It must have been 2006, maybe on my way home from a day of shooting in Liberty State Park...

For more 9/11 images, check out my new 9/11 photography collection, INFINITE LIGHTS or, for Jersey girls and boys, come see me this Saturday, September 10th, at the fourth Jersey City book fair, A Tale of Our City, Van Vorst Park.

As always, thanks for visiting!
Alina Oswald
                                                      www.alina-arts.com

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Souleiado a.k.a. Time Traveling: A Way to Shelter Ourselves from Current Overall Situation... and Do Some Good

Good Morning from a very gray, rainy and cloudy New York City!

Hope you all had a fantastic Labor Day Weekend (not that I had a break, I ended up working, but that's nothing new).

Thinking of the upcoming job-related speeches, some of us can't help but wonder if this so-called plans are gonna be, yet again, "promises-promises" or the Congress will actually allow Obama to do something about it (or President Obama will finally do that "something" and create the jobs he keeps promising, regardless of what the House likes or doesn't like) [sigh]. Either way, the overall economical situation has enveloped too many of us in its gray clouds, just like the day outside. The heaviness of its thick fabric threatens to suffocate us. Too many of us work way too hard, while making very little money (I'm not a stranger to that). Sometimes, some of us, myself included, retreat into making art or with a good book that hopefully offers an escape and maybe a possibility.

I usually read work-related book, but lately I've resumed to read other books (to feed the soul, too). As it always happens, some reads grab my attention, others not quite. (you know how it is when you're dying to find a good read, something that grabs you from the start and makes you miss its characters and eager for more when it ends...)

I ended up rereading Souleiado, by T.J. Banks. I read and reviewed the book quite a few years ago, when I was still writing under pen name (Alex Shapiro). Over time, I got to know the author and became a fan. As now I know more about the backstory of Souleiado, I connect even more with its characters.

Have to confess: I'm not a sci-fi fan or a time-travel fan for that matter. I mean, the idea of time traveling fascinates me, but I'm not that much into it (unless it has something to do with Einstein's Theory of Relativity). I found myself, again, opening Souleiado and starting reading--paying much care and attention to each word. It was as if I'd opened a small treasure box, one containing soulful treasures. I instantly got reminded why I became a fan of T.J. Banks in the first place. The author's soft words have that magical "once upon a time..." effect. You start reading and you never want to let go.

While rereading Souleiado, I have this fantastic opportunity to reconnect with Banks' earlier work and to unwrap its treasure--its mystique--wrapped in the author's power of storytelling. Beside the fact that Souleiado is a time traveling novel, the story itself transports the reader to a time and place "far-far away" (in time and... place) and shows you an opportunity of becoming better individuals  offering help for the better good, even while faced with your worst fears.

Isn't this exactly what we should do when faced with the reality of our worst fears nowadays--fears of a double-dip depression, extended job loss and the grayness of Mother Nature that extends well beyond the grayness of today? Isn't this what we may learn from stories like Souleiado? How to become "more good" (to paraphrase a character from Angels in America, one of my favorite movies) while facing our worst fears come true?

I'd like to share with you the Souleiado review I wrote oh so many years ago, under the pen name Alex Shapiro. Hope you enjoy reading the review, and also the book.

To find out more about the fantastic author, check out T.J. Banks' blog, Sketch People, soon to be a book itself.

Thanks for stopping by,
Alina Oswald
Author of Infinite Lights, a 9/11-related photography collection
www.alina-arts.com




Souleiado

By T.J. Banks

Five Star
January 2002
268 pages
Hardcover
0786237031

Reviewed and highly recommended by Alex Shapiro

Miriam Souleiado and Dorothy Elderkin are two women who live more then a hundred years apart, though they need each other's help to heal their grieving souls and learn to love again. T.J. Banks tells their incredible stories in the time-traveling novel, Souleiado, proving that love and the truth have no time boundaries.

Artist Miriam Souleiado enjoys life with her little daughter, Dena, and her loving husband, Jared.  When she loses her husband in a car accident, her life changes forever. Jared is gone, but his ghost is still around, watching over his family. Miriam learns that she has to heal another woman's grief first, before she can say goodbye forever to her lost husband and live life without him. To get over her own grief and learn to live and love again, Miriam has to travel in time and bring peace to Dorothy Elderkin, a woman with a similar story and who may be Miriam's past-life self. Through several inexplicable experiences and ghostly appearances of her dead husband and of people from Dorothy's time, Miriam finds herself in the nineteenth's century, living Dorothy's life. 

Past and present come to life through the two young women, their daughters, lovers and husbands, friends and enemies. The transitions between past and present are smooth, yet, the reader can tell the real Miriam from the one in Dorothy's body. The tone is soft. The two stories are similar, but not parallel. They are connected not only through the two heroines and their plots, but also, through the feelings and emotions they express.   

Both heroines have young daughters and playful cats. Both, Dorothy and Miriam, have a second chance to rediscover the power and beauty of love. All they have to do is recognize their new soul mates and accept what they have to offer, but first, both, Dorothy and Miriam have to help each other survive their loses and learn to live their new lives, changed, in each case, by an unfortunate twist of faith. 

The story is realistic. The plots--past and present alike--describe life's timeless defeats and triumphs.  No matter the century, single mothers like Dorothy and Miriam have friends and enemies. Some people understand their struggles and offer comfort. Some remain indifferent, while others try to hide the truth ... only they cannot keep it hidden forever.  In the end, the truth is set free, through love and strong beliefs, reincarnation and even through something as unbelievable as time-traveling.

Souleiado is not only a time-traveling story, but also one about timeless, universal elements such as truth, love, and life. Definitely a must-read, especially for fantasy and time-traveling fans.




   

Sunday, September 4, 2011

INFINITE LIGHTS on the front page of the RIVER VIEW OBSERVER

Hello everybody and a very happy Labor Day weekend to all of you! Thanks for stopping by.

I wasn't planning on blogging today, but, surprise surprise... and what a surprise I got when I went downstairs to get the mail and noticed a picture of my book cover on the front page of the Observer! The photo accompanied a front-page article on the upcoming Jersey City book fair (event scheduled for Saturday, September 10th). The article "Tales of Our City" grabs you inside the Tale it's telling from the very first line. Thanks so much Sally Deering for contacting me and for the great write/read. Also, I have to thank my buddy Paul, a Jersey City poet himself, for pushing me (for years, I should say, LOL!) to participate in this book fair.

Check more about the fourth annual Jersey City book fair in Hudson Reporter and read Jersey City Briefs

I look forward to this coming Saturday, rain or shine (but hope for shine).

Hope you enjoy your long weekend and the read.

As always, thanks for visiting,
Alina Oswald
Author of INFINITE LIGHTS
A Collection of 9/11-Related Photography