Archive for the ‘Writing’ category

Helsinki Moment

July 19, 2018

A few days ago, one of my friends brought me a small gift – a bumper sticker that she thought I would like, knowing my political compass. On a white, frugally used space you can see two rhyming words in dark caps – DUMP TRUMP. No exclamation point, just a straight message. I loved it and immediately thought that it should be distributed around. “Perhaps we should reproduce it in large numbers and pass them out in supermarkets and other public places?”

Later that evening I thought about that sticker again. “OK, it is cute, it is clever, and it feels good to have it, but in the reality of today’s political situation in our country, how could Trump be dumped?!  Impeachment comes to mind, but… it’s a very lengthy, complicated process and with today’s Republicans infected by the Trumpism disease and their self-interest… forget it!

I recall numerous slogans, propaganda statements, and political posters from the time of my growing up in post-war Poland controlled by Soviet style Communist apparatchiks. I developed a strong dislike of propaganda that stayed with me till today. After years of living in this country, I learned to accept the fact that propaganda is alive here as well, but it’s called “political advertising.” However, I like bumper stickers, and when I am touched by one, I put it on my car or on my studio’s wall like this one: DUMP TRUMP.

Like many, I have been very frustrated, stressed, and politically angry from the day Trump got elected and became the 45th President of this country! Trump’s domination by creating chaos and entering our lives every day with his bombastic personality, lies and endless tweets made me sick and evoked a form of political lethargy. This is similar to the response by many of us living in Tucson to its powerful sun generating almost unbearable heat in summer – it evokes physical lethargy with a desire to sleep and wait for cooler days. And they do come – with the monsoon’s rains! The lethargy disappears and new energy emerges! But that is the work of Nature. Political lethargy is much more complicated to deal with because is it caused by man-made politics and, in this particular case, Trump-made confusing politics. The cure has to come from us – society.

Then came the 16th of July 2018 which we Americans and the entire world will remember for a long time – the Helsinki Summit of Trump and Putin.

Helsinki Moment

In truth it was not a Summit, but a two and a half hour private chat of the two most powerful leaders of the world: President Trump and President Putin! Such a private chat should take place in a bar and focus on their wives, lovers, children, pets, or favorite sports, but NOT on matters concerning world politics! Such private chats are fine for us, the ordinary people. However, private chats of Trump and Putin are a totally different matter because they have great consequences.

You can imagine that I watched that Helsinki press conference glued to our TV – making notes, taking photos and recording words of Trump and Putin. Like many I was out-raged.

I will not repeat the epithets or statements the press and some political figures addressed towards Trump at that time. Those opinions are flying like small and large birds on the world’s political sky. However, I will share the one text I immediately sent to a close friend, “Trump’s ‘performance’ was a great embarrassment to this country!”

Let’s face it; Putin definitely won that “match”! With his characteristic calm confidence he presented Trump with a soccer ball from the World Cup, which Trump quickly tossed to Melania as a gift for their son Baron.

Tossing ball

World politics is not like a soccer game, a business deal, or a TV entertainment show – it is more like a very sophisticated chess game! In such a game Putin is a much better player than Trump, who most likely couldn’t beat Putin in a game of checkers!

I have been living here long enough to notice that this society does not like losers – the focus is always on the winner. So why not to DUMP TRUMP?!

Helsinki’s 16th July event will not be forgotten. It was proclaimed by many journalists, diplomats, and politicians as one of the darkest moments in American history.

The Helsinki sky on that memorable night did not get dark. There was a penetrating, gentle light diluting the sky’s darkness. One who does not live there might be surprise by that. But that is Finland – light is always present on summer nights! It might be hard to sleep on such nights, and that specific night was sleepless for many, especially journalists like Anderson Cooper and others.

Helsinki Moment 2

Poetically and politically speaking, I see that gentle light as a symbol of an awakening. Perhaps that Helsinki event will be an awaking moment for our society to see this divisive President in a new light. Perhaps we will unite and decide to DUMP TRUMP.


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Text and photos copyright © 2018 by Alicja Mann,

Havel’s Star

December 22, 2011

Bright stars of the night… a strange idea was planted in my imagination a long time ago (in my childhood, I guess) that when a star is falling across the sky, it is a sign that someone is dying in a faraway place. It was a sad image and after some thought I decided to believe in a contrary concept—that when a person dies, their spirit goes up into the sky and… a star is born. So that’s why there are so many stars in the sky!

With a great sorrow I learned last Sunday that Václav Havel had died. My thoughts traveled immediately to beautiful Prague, to the starry sky above that city he loved. Although he died in his country house away from Prague, it is Prague that contains memories of Havel as a playwright, an intellectual, and as a leading dissident against the Communist system which consequently forced him to five years “residency” in prison.

Years later, after the Berlin wall fell—as the result of a hard won peaceful revolution by Eastern Europeans—Prague gained memories of Havel’s 14 years “residency” in a very different place, a presidential palace. He first became President of Czechoslovakia and later President of the Czech Republic.

Photos of Prague with communist flags and without

Prague wrapped in the red power of Communism & Prague, a durable beauty of yesterday and tomorrow.

I am writing this today because I have been greatly influenced by Václav Havel’s writings — not so much as the playwright, but as the political activist and thinker. Coming from the same corner of the world, dealing with the same political and social issues, I have a special respect and adoration for the political activists and writers like Havel and Adam Michnik (of Poland) — for their vision, their passion and their intellectual leadership.

Three books by Vaclav Havel

The only comfort one might have after Havel’s death is that his spirit is captured in his writings. So I spent an entire night re-reading pages and pages of Havel’s words.

Although I like Letters to Olga very much — it is a collection of Havel’s letters from prison to his first wife Olga Splichalova — I opted for some quotes from The Art of the Impossible, which is my favorite book by Havel. In this collection of speeches from the time of his presidency, Havel shares his views on today’s social and political issues.

Here I have the privilege to quote the words that resonate with me the most.

Vaclav HavelAbout Communism

Communism was not defeated by military force, but by life, by the human spirit….It was defeated by a revolt of color, authenticity, history in all its variety, and human individuality against imprisonment within a uniform ideology.

The totalitarian system of the communist type, as established in the former Soviet Union and subsequently imposed on all countries in the Soviet sphere of influence, not only destroyed political pluralism and the prospects of real political opposition, but annihilated politics itself as a field of practical human activity.

About politics

Despite the political distress I face every day, I am still deeply convinced that politics is not an essentially disreputable business; and to the extent that it is, it is only disreputable people who make it so….But it is simply that a politician must lie or intrigue. That is an utter nonsense, put about by people who—for whatever reasons—want to discourage others from taking an interest in public affairs.

When I look around the world today I feel strongly that contemporary politics needs a new impulse, one that would add a badly needed spiritual dimension. Perhaps this impulse will come from some place other than the postcommunist countries. Yet it seems to me that come it must.

The modern era has reached a point of culmination, and if we are not to perish of our modernness we have to rehabilitate the human dimension of citizenship as well as of politics. This is what I consider to be the principal challenge of our time, a challenge for the third millennium.

About democracy

Democracy is an open system, and thus is capable of improvement. Among other things, freedom provides room for responsibility. If that room is not sufficiently used, the fault does not lie with democracy, but it does present democracy with a challenge. Dictatorship offers no room for responsibility, and thus it can generate no genuine authority.

About power

It is obvious that those who have the greatest power and influence also bear the greatest responsibility. Like it or not, the United States of America now bears the greatest responsibility for the direction our world will take. The United States, therefore, should reflect most deeply on this responsibility.

About death

With a little exaggeration we might say that death, or the awareness of death—this most extraordinary dimension of man’s stay on this earth, inspiring dread, fear, and awe—is at the same time a key to the fulfillment of human life in the best sense of the word….Death gives us a chance to overcome it—not by refusing to recognize its existence, but through our ability to look beyond it, or to defy it by purposeful action.

Knowing that Havel liked jazz, I chose Jan Garbarek’s composition titled We are the Stars to honor him. I am pretty sure that he would like it and I hope you will like it too. Click on the title above to hear the music and here are the words.

For we are the stars. For we sing.
For we sing with our light.
For we are birds made of fire.
For we spread our wings over the sky.
Our light is a voice.
We cut a road for the soul
for its journey through death.

Have a peaceful Holiday — Alicja

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Please don’t forget the special offer at the end of my previous post.

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Text copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.
Photos of the book covers: first- Prague Time Life Books © 1980, second- Prazsky Hrad by Karel Plicka © 1962.

Magic of a Writing Hand – Part Two

June 2, 2011

Hand with pen, copyright 2011 by Alicja Mann

Submerged in the nostalgic thoughts triggered by my previous post of this blog, I found myself on a tiny “island” surrounded by piles of letters, postcards, photographs, tapes, and newspaper clippings. My brave attempt to organize them ended up with reading them! Special attention went to a relatively new pile of letters written by my own hand and which were mailed to Poland years ago. I retrieved them after my mom’s death (my father died several years earlier). I was surprised by the length of the letters I wrote at that time. My parents and I had very few chances to visit each other due to the great distance, cost of travel, and political atmosphere between Poland and the United States. Telephone communication was not available or not reliable. So we wrote letters…. Mine were written mostly at night as I was busy with my professional work in science and raising two small children.

Here are some pages of my letters, some photos, and in the center a letter from my father.

Collage of letters, envelopes and photos

His letter was written on pages pulled out from a notebook. It appears that the pages were torn out impatiently and that the writing was done in a hurry, as indicated by numerous corrections so uncharacteristic of his other writings. The letter was written in 1980 and the poor quality paper has yellowed considerably after 31 years. I read with great curiosity his hurried words of concern and worry about my future. He was upset about my decision to separate from the father of my two very young sons. I was touched by my father’s concerns which I dismissed at that time. Mostly I was touched by the authenticity of these pages demonstrated by their ruggedness and imperfections.

Many memories were awakened and I was falling down into a big dark hole of sadness. I was drowning in the past. An invitation to a friendly, colorful Memorial Day party offered a great escape from it.

After such a welcomed break, handwritten letters from the past were again on my mind. The books of published letters by some well known and not so well known persons suddenly became more visible among the other books in our home, as if asking for special attention.

Four books

Above we have:

Letter to Mother, an anthology of over 100 letters that start with the words “Dear Mother.” They are written by well known politicians, poets and writers, painters, musicians, scientists, and philosophers. Among them are letters of Henry Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Anton Chekhov, Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, Henry Thoreau, Helen Keller, Tom Wolfe, Franklin Roosevelt, and Richard Wagner.

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh — this book is well known and does not need any explanation.

Letters to Olga is a collection of letters written by Vaclav Havel, a playwright and Czechoslovak dissident at that time (1970s). He wrote them from prison to his wife Olga. After the fall of Communism Havel became President of his country.

The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg is a very recent publication by Verso. “Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was a Polish-born Jewish revolutionary and one of the greatest theoretical minds of the European socialist movement,” as the publisher of the book introduces her. It is a huge collection of Luxemburg’s letters to her friends, lovers and colleagues. To describe this book is impossible in this space, but I would like to salute my friend George Shriver for his excellent translation of Luxemburg’s letters.

My very favorite books of published letters are pictured below:

Two books

Mother and Son: A Wartime Correspondence of Isoko and Ichiro Hatano. I simply love the tenderness and kindness of the words exchanged by Isoko Hatano (mother) and Ichiro Hatano (son) in the period 1944-1948.

Letters from Prison and Other Essays by Adam Michnik is one of my favorite books of political writings. Period! And who is Adam Michnik? Another impossibility for this small space. Starting in the late 1960s Michnik played a prominent role in the political opposition in Poland that subsequently gave birth to the Solidarity movement. He was a major intellectual force of that movement. One of the best minds of Eastern Europe, he was often referred to as a tactician of the non-violent struggle against the Soviet totalitarian system.

Regardless which letters one would read — Van Gogh’s, Michnik’s, or one of the Hatanos — there is an aura of the author’s personality and a feeling of the moment in history in such letters. Their authenticity and their permanence are their greatest assets. Those letters survived years in their handwritten form and will survive much longer in printed book form. No special technology is needed to read them now or will be needed to read them in the future.

So I wonder what will happen to our contemporary electronically written words and images stored in the corners of our own computers or on Facebook or some other social networking contraptions. Will we be able to find them and read them twenty, thirty, or fifty years later?

Tucson’s poet Judy Ray ponders a different, yet very relevant, question:

Ink of the ballpoint fades and is gone.
The pen continues across the page
with little pokings up and down,
circles left and right, pressing firm
on paper its invisible message.

I can get up and fetch another pen.
But what if I were in prison
And this my sole, rationed tool?
Like conserving water in the desert,
there would be only sips of words
written small….

Copyright © 2009 by Judy Ray

If we could not write or our writings were to be lost, we would feel that thirst for words. A power of the handwritten word lies in its endurance.

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Fragment of the poem titled Written Small is from the book of poems To Fly Without Wings by Judy Ray, Other text and photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

Magic of a Writing Hand – Part One

May 19, 2011

Hand with pen, copyright 2011 by Alicja Mann

I pulled a creamy envelope from the mailbox with excitement when I saw my name and address written by hand in black ink. A nice feeling of anticipation enveloped me. “Looks like somebody wrote me a letter,” I thought and ripped the envelope impatiently with my index finger. Two printed sheets of white paper fell out of the envelope and landed on the floor. I picked them up and quickly learned it was not a personal letter, but advertising from a local company. I felt disappointed and somewhat cheated. So I tore the envelope into small pieces and threw it into the trash.

“You are so gullible,” I scolded myself, understanding that I had been fooled by clever marketing people who know how attractive it is for anyone to see a hand addressed envelope waiting patiently in the mailbox. That “personal touch” of marketers is pretty well known and used to ensure that the envelope will be opened. “Oh well,” I thought, “not the first time and not the last one!” Still, I was bothered by it and I tried to define why.

It is really pretty simple — postcards or letters written by hand are very special, particularly in today’s rushed world, a world in which we are preoccupied with the Internet, social networking, and mobile phones’ amazing capabilities. We do not have time, or take time, for writing personal letters or colorful post cards while traveling. Why to bother when one can write an e-mail, attach some photos and send them directly and instantaneously? No paper, no ink, no stamp, and not much time consumed. Better yet, one can send the same e-mail to many friends at once. Yes, it is very efficient! Yet, the charm of a note written by hand is indisputable for me. It is slower — much, much slower — but such a card or letter represents a lot more.

Collage of correspondence

For me seeing someone’s familiar handwriting evokes a warm emotion, as if that hand is touching my hand. I imagine that person choosing the card in some local gift shop or pharmacy, later sitting at the table, desk, or nightstand, and writing by hand. Addressing it carefully, so there are no mistakes, is very important. Postcards usually do not have space for a return address. When they are lost, they are lost for good! Placing a stamp and smoothing its surface with the tip of the hand gives the card an extra touch. Finally it is ready to be mailed and to start its travel to the destination point. Sometimes the distance is short, but it’s often long. The recipient can imagine the journey each time a new card arrives.

Being very sentimental, I have been keeping many special letters and cards in a protected place. Today I looked at them as if they were little pieces of art. Actually they are! Many contain memories and touches of people who are no longer among us and those pieces are becoming even more precious.

Collage of correspondence

Each card or letter is unique — the strokes of the pen are fixed on the page at the moment of writing. The grey, transitory e-mailed words shimmering on the computer screen do not hold a candle to the handwritten words arriving in my mailbox. But they arrive very seldom… I also send them very seldom….

Today however, I decided to write a few colorful postcards and send them to some friends in faraway places. Maybe you will too.

P.S. Just in case you would like to send me a postcard, my current mailing address is:

Alicja Mann
P.O. Box 32855
Tucson, AZ 85751

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Text and photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

Celebrate Women, Books, and Flowers!

March 9, 2011

March is painted with flowers and books for me, and I wish this to be the case for you too. That is why this post is about flowers, women, and books.

Spring is definitely in the air in March! Oh, I know, snow is still on the ground in many places (not in sunny Tucson though!), but buying flowers just to enjoy them is irresistible! They can beat the winter’s blues. Some very dear Pisces (beginning of March B-day people) in my life here deserve flowers this month, and my memories of March when I lived in Poland are filled with flowers. Both of my parents had their name days in March, so our home was full of flowers given to them. In Poland men receive flowers just like women do. Flowers are sold on the corners of many streets of Warsaw and other cities. The custom of giving flowers for a variety of occasions is an important part of the culture. I miss that here, and I buy flowers for our dining table quite often. Also, in our yard here in Tucson Mexican Poppies are in full bloom at this time of the year.

Mexican Poppies Flowers in a vase

I could count on getting flowers every year on the 8th of March when living in Poland. Not because it was my birthday, not because it was my name day, but because it was International Women’s Day. And what is International Women’s Day? It is a day celebrated in many countries around the world since 1911, the date having been chosen in recognition of an 1857 demonstration and march by women textile workers in New York City. So when I first came to this country, I was surprised that most American women were not aware of International Women’s Day.

Things are different today. International Women’s Day is slowly becoming a women’s culture month in this country. It brings attention to their achievements in the arts and sciences, as well as other areas of public life. I addressed this in the “Red Carnations“ essay in my book Looking at the World Twice. This brings me to the subject of books and publishing.

It just so happens that the month of March is also celebrated by independent publishers as Small Press Month.

Here is more: this coming weekend, March 12 and 13, Tucson is the place to be to celebrate books, authors, and publishers. For the third year, the Tucson Festival of Books will bring thousands of people to the University of Arizona Mall. There will be plenty of things to do for individuals of any age, as well as for entire families.

Now you can see that being a woman, a writer, plus a small independent publisher, I have some reasons to celebrate this month. So I decided to tell you a bit about a book with a title that fits this month perfectly — She.

Book cover of "She" by Amy Rowling Amy Rowling, author of "She"

She was written and illustrated (with photographs) by Amy Rowling. The subtitle explains the purpose of the book: Creative Journey to Self-discovery for Women of All Ages.

The minute Amy presented her manuscript to me, I knew I wanted to publish it and so my Word Studio did. I love this book and I am proud of it. In 2007 it won the National Indie Excellence Award in the women’s issues category. The book deals with a wide variety of challenges, fears, and concerns faced by many women today.

The writing is a collection of poems with complementing photographs, each addressing a different issue. Near each poem a journal space is provided with questions to encourage reflection, writing and discussion.

She is like a gentle friend — always ready to listen, to talk and guide you to find your own path.

Here are two glimpses into the book:

Two women by Amy Rowling Within One Frame 

She cannot bear
The ordinary
And yet it is what
She craves

Two caught
Within one frame
She longs to go
She longs to stay

These two
Could remain
And share
One body
Without judgment
Without shame

Back up from the Mirror 

Back up
From the mirror
Don’t look so close
You’ll find the flaw
You look for
It is there
And will grow

Acceptance of loss
What was
What might not be
Only the spirit knows

Age and wisdom
Will find each other

Put the mirror down

Two Hands by Amy Rowling

Have a happy March — celebrate it with books and flowers!

SPECIAL INFORMATION: I am exhibiting She and my Looking at the World Twice at the Arizona Book Publishing Association (ABPA) booth # 259. I will have my signing time at that booth on Sunday the 13th of March from 4 – 5 pm. Please stop by and say hello if you are at the Tucson Festival of Books this weekend.

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Poems and black-and-white photographs – copyright © 2006 by Amy Rowling. Text and other photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann

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