One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.







Thursday, April 16, 2015

Nizhoni Shima’—“My mother, it is beautiful!” (Revisited)


I'm off to Santa Fe again, so thought I'd repost this from a visit four years ago, along with the amazing ten minute video of Navajo weaver Clara Sherman carding and spinning wool for a rug she's going to make.

April 7, 2011

I just returned from a week in Santa Fe with my husband—our fifth visit to this place so radically different from where we live that we find ourselves drawn there time and time again.

The differences are obvious; the high (more than a mile high!) desert is a stark contrast to our watery, sea-level surroundings. Where the predominant colors in the Bay Area are shades of blue-grey (as in water, fog, air and cement) and green (as in trees), Santa Fe’s palette is made up of earth tones: browns and tans, terra cotta, adobe, pale sage and a lavender taupe that is the shadow of hills. Red and turquoise are decorative accents added to homes and personal accessories the way chilies are added to spice up the hearty fare.

Over the years of visiting we have gained special appreciation for the native handcrafts, especially the beautiful woven rugs and tapestries that the Navajo women have been creating since the beginning of the 20th century. On our recent visit, we were very fortunate to catch the end of a display at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian; Master Weavers from the Toadlena/Two Grey Hills region. To even try to describe the exquisite intricately subtle artistry of the work shown could not do it justice. The show title best describes it; Nizhoni Shima’—“My mother, it is beautiful!”


If the video doesn't show up on your device, go to https://youtu.be/D_p7OIghMVw

Even more humbling is the understanding of the time dedicated to each piece; the shearing, cleaning, carding and spinning and washing alone can  take up to six months and then the weaving another 6 months to a year. For a better sense of the patience, dedication and attitude around the process, watch this wonderful 10 minute video of Master Weaver Clara Sherman. 

Many of the pieces have a thin line woven into the upper left hand corner that goes from the outer border to the interior of the weaving. We were told that it the spirit line—the path where Spider Woman enters the weaver and guides her through the process. A reminder for us all to leave space, leave a path that the universal creative spirit can enter to guide us in our work, whether it be weaving wool into stunning rugs or words into stories.


Take Good Care,

Sharry

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Repost: Landscape

This will be a simple post today. A poem of a post. One to remind me--to remind all of us, perhaps--to keep our hearts and eyes and ears open. But not only that, to also walk out the door in that wide, curious state-of-being. To make that a ritual. And in that way, to feel our wings, and our hearts, stretch from one end of the world to the other.

Hoping for Spring here in Vermont…ANY DAY NOW?!!!

Tam

Landscape by Mary Oliver

Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn't it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I'm alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky—as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Landscape of Welcome

I was out in the wilds of west Marin last week—we packed ourselves and our Sheltie Emma into the (new!) Mini and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge heading north to Inverness and Point Reyes. Yippee!

We forgot about traffic…ugh. There was a lot. I found myself wondering if we shouldn’t have just stayed home. I hate sitting in traffic—it’s boring and claustrophobic and bad for your mental and physical health. I entertained fantasies of abandoning our new car and walking home.


But we finally made it to our turnoff and were soon on a quiet country road with rolling hills of bright green on either side. We headed up the mountain, passing through dense and fragrant groves of redwood trees with a not-as-full-as-it-should-be river faintly chortling through the gully below and then back out to rolling hills with cows and wild turkeys and gnarly live oaks stretching their arms wide open as if to say ‘welcome to the country!’ We drove until we reached a fork in the road and pulled into a parking lot for a small county park with a trail that wandered next to a quite-full river that flowed out into Tomales Bay. 


As we followed Emma’s exuberant swish of a tail down the path, with the low afternoon sun stretching out the shadows of the newly budding branches of aspens and alders and river willows, a cool breeze off the river shushed through the leaves and tall grass. All around us choruses of robins and larks and finches filled in the high notes as they searched for their evening meal of gnats. I took a deep breath—the air smelled of damp earth and green bark and new buds and things that live in and around a river. Ahhhh—I felt the tensions of the city (and the traffic) fall away. Standing still, listening, feeling the wind and the sun and the soft earth beneath my feet, I had the profound and greatly relieved sense of belonging in the world.



Sometimes, you just got to get out of town.

The night before, I had gone with my dear friend Ann to hear Anne Lamott—charming, hilarious and wise as ever—speak about grace and read from her newest book, another little gem of life lessons called Small Victories, Spotting Improbable Moments Of Grace. The first chapter, titled The Book Of Welcome, talks about the need for all of us to find a place where we feel welcome in the world and how community does that for you. She says that in her thirties…she got sober, because she’d gone crazy. Then:

A few women in the community reached out to me. They recognized me as a frightened lush. I told them about my most vile behavior and they said, “Me too!” I told them about my crimes against the innocent, especially me. They said, “Ditto. Yah. Welcome.” I couldn’t seem to get them to reject me. It was a nightmare, and then my salvation.

“It turns out that welcome is solidarity. We’re glad you’re here, and we’re with you. This whole project called you being alive, you finding joy? Well, we’re in on that.

I couldn’t agree more…

But I’ve personally also found that some of the places I feel most welcome on earth are in nature, especially those places where the elements of earth, water, fire and air are all boldly present. Standing at the edge of a lake as the sun sinks below the far hills; walking barefoot at the edge of the ocean at low tide as the water rushes in and out, shocking my feet awake; sitting in a meadow of wild grass and mountain iris watching a stream wind its way over stones. Perhaps these moments of grace touch me deeply with a sense of being one with the world because they are undemanding and non-judgmental and all that’s required of the moment is to be present.


And yet, as we drove back into San Francisco in the early evening and the lights were just starting to go on in our jewel box of a city, I also had a joyful feeling of gratitude and homecoming. I do love where I live and feel so lucky to be able to get in the car and drive for twenty minutes and be surrounded by nature. Even if you do have to put up with a little traffic now and then.

Where do you feel welcome in the world?

Take care,


Sharry



Friday, March 27, 2015

Reprise: The Landscape In Between

I kinda feel this way again, everyone.  Is it the time of year?  Maybe…


*     *     *     *     

I am in that straddling place.

That place that is one part rocky and one part sand. One part windy and one part heat. The place that is the water between two islands, that long stretch when you can't see land but you know it is behind you and you know it is in front of you and so you contemplate your options, tread water or swim, baby, swim...

I choose to swim, but I am tired. Man, am I tired.

It's an age old place, and an age old murmur in the brain. I know that the straddling place should have its own name. It shouldn't be nameless, those that are nameless don't turn their heads to familiar voices because no one calls to them, no one can call to them. And so they grow more and more aloof, and protective. They grow vines with thorns.

I also know that, truly, the straddling place does have many names. My friend, Kara, who teaches yoga calls it being in the moment. And my son, Luc, who is a cross country runner, calls it the zone.  There are other names too: the process, patience and faith.  Even I have given it names before. My favorite is it is what it is. Kind of catchy, right? Chameleon-like. When I call it that I feel bold and brave. I feel like an explorer who is in it simply for the rocks and the sand and the wind and the sun.

But that name escapes my brain now, and I can't find my compass or my map, and I forgot to bring enough water and nuts. I'm tired. I'm hungry. And I feel like I'm on uneven ground.

Oh my gosh. Pathetic.  I don't mean to be pathetic. I mean to be honest and I mean to put these three questions out to you all:

What do you call this place? What is its landscape?  And how do you find a sense of home here?


*    *    *    *    *    *

Last night I sat on the couch and finished a book. A great book.  One that inspired me as a person and as a writer. The pellet stove was chugging. The room was warm. I had a glass of seltzer on the window sill behind me with just the right amount of fizz because yesterday was pay-day and I went to the store to finally buy a new CO2 canister. The chickens were tucked into their coop, but my middle daughter, Zory, tread down the stairs, too late for her to be awake.

You should be in bed I said.

I can't sleep she said.  She looked at the book face down on my lap.  What book is that?

A really good one I said. Actually I read it to see if you might like it. And I think you will.

She stretched out her hand. I put the book carefully in it. She read a page. She looked at the cover. Is this Maureen or Debbie?* she asked, pointing to the girl riding over a bridge on her bike.

Debbie I said. You need to go to bed. You have school tomorrow. 

But I can't sleep. Don't you ever feel that way?

For some reason the question brought tears to my eyes. I nodded my head in agreement.

So can I read a little more? she asked. Just until the end of the chapter. Please?  I like the book so far.

I nodded again.

Zory leaned back on the other side of the couch. Her knees were bent and the book rested on her thighs. I looked out the window. It was black outside. I felt the glass on the window. And cold. It was cold out there too. The last remnants of winter skulking around in the night. I looked back at Zory. Her brow was furrowed. Her mouth was slightly open. She was unaware of me in that ten-year-old way that she usually was. When had it happened? When had she become the kind of reader that walked inside a book and sat down with girls like Maureen and Debbie and didn't walk out until she was done?  When had she become the kind of reader that I had dreamed I would give birth to, who would sit on the couch with me, warmed by the stove and warmed by the words?

Twice in one night Zory brought tears to my eyes.

I thought about the Zory of before, I thought about where she was going.  And, last night, I felt like I could sit on that couch forever in that place in between, in that straddling place. In that place I call home.

*    *    *    *    *    *

It is what it is.  The zone.  Being in the moment.  The process, patience and faith.

What do you call this place? What is its landscape?  And how do you find a sense of home here?

Gratefully yours,

Tam




*Can you guess what book Zory was reading??

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Rich Landscape Of Travel


I was recently in Mexico—Mexico City, San Miguel De Allende and a day in Guanajuato. The time spent there was sensual, mind-expanding and so rich in images and experience.

Travel has always been important in our family, a priority that trumps most all other discretionary spending and hits the top of the list when we’re budgeting time and resources.

People often ask me, but what do you do when you travel?






Well, we do what we most like to do when we’re home, but more of it. We wander, we consider the landscape, we look at architecture, visit galleries and art museums, listen to music, hang out at side-walk cafés, talk to the dogs, eat locally and drink the local wine. And we always stop in a pharmacy and buy a tube of toothpaste.

I keep a journal. This past trip, I kept two. One to share and one just for me where I jotted down images and experiences and notes for a poem or short story, plus 4 rough-hewn sketches that helped me “see” more detail in an image I’d noted. (A practice I’ve now incorporated into my everyday journaling. Thank you, Lynda Barry!)


I thought I’d share one day from our trip (from the to-share journal):


Wednesday February 25, San Miguel de Allende
 
Breakfast in the lovely courtyard of our hotel.

Then we took a taxi from San Miguel to Guanajuato in a car with no seat belts. Our drivers name was Juan Jose—he spoke no English and had a silver cross on a string of green rosary beads dangling from the rear view mirror. He picked up a friend and then took us to see the mummy museum displaying the people who have been dug up from the cemetery to make room for more people, explaining in Spanish that only the very wealthy stay buried.


Then they took us to a church on top of a mine and showed us the gloppy gilded altars and sent us with a guide, deep, deep, down many flights of steep slippery stairs into the mineshaft. The guide insisted we keep taking pictures of each other posed as miners. Then we drove through the tunnels left over from the old mines into the center of town where we had a nice outdoor lunch on the square; shrimp tacos on a big spinach leaf and a paper thin slice of jicama and then soup. We walked around town holding hands and soaking up the spectrum of heat-soaked colors, then drove back to San Miguel and looked at the cactus and yellow flowers of Saint Mary and the dry hills of the Sierras de Guanajuato. Back in San Miguel, we chilled a little then went back out to see a few more galleries on Bob's recommended list, had some ice cream at Santa Clara creamery, a drink on the roof of Mama Mia.





On our way to find the restaurant where we wanted to eat, we saw a parade come up a quiet dimly-lit narrow street with a motorcycle policeman escort; a decorated donkey, two huge puppets—a lady and a Mexican wrestler with a horn band—maybe for lent? Also a group of tourists riding horses. We had a lovely light dinner at a new modern restaurant, Cumpanio, that had a repeating video of silhouetted white dog images playing on a wall in the bar.

I'd love to hear where you've been and what you've seen...

Take Good Care,

Sharry

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Landscape of Longing Repost

There is a space between man's imagination and man's attainment that may only be traversed by his longing.
                       
                                                                                               ― Kahlil Gibran from Sand and Foam 



I am thinking about longing this week.  I think about it often, and I know I have written about it here before.  It's a complicated thing, longing.  It's a good thing, a great thing, a salvation. To long for something is an affirmation of your very self; a vibrant reminder that you care and you feel and you have a bonfire burning inside. But it is also an ache, isn't it?  A pull outside of yourself – for what you desire is not with you, not yet.  It is your head against the cold of the windowpane, searching, searching through the glass for that thing, that (as of yet) unattainable thing.

I tend to rest, ultimately, not on the dark side of longing, but on the light side.



God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me.
Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
                                                                        — Rainer Maria Rilke, Go to the Limits of Your Longing


I had an epiphany this week though.  Perhaps you all already know this, but for me it was an eye opener.  I realized that, historically, when I feel a longing, I immediately and unconsciously attach it to many, many thoughts or memories or fantasies. Let me explain: I long for something. Nanoseconds later I either have a fantasy about that longing – What would it be like to have this? I can see myself having it, feeling so happy, sitting in my living room basking in its glow… or I have a memory about it – I remember when I wanted this before. I almost had it, and then, in the last moment, it fell through my fingers. It felt awful, I felt like a failure…

See?  In the former, my longing is hitched to a fantasy train, wildly careening down the tracks, and in the latter, it is strapped to a memory bomb, whistling and hurtling at terrifying speeds to the earth.  Both are a ride. Neither will get me anywhere useful.

So my epiphany was this idea that longing is best treated with a buffer of space and reverence. It needs to breathe.  It needs to be – not lonely, perhaps – but solitary.  It deserves to be respected in that way.  We who feel longing deserve to be respected in that way.

I know I have posted this poem before, but May Sarton says it in the very best way:




The phoebe sits on her nest

Hour after hour,

Day after day,

Waiting for life to burst out

From under her warmth.


Can I weave a nest of silence,

Weave it of listening, listening, listening,

Layer upon layer?

But one must first become small,

Nothing but a presence,

Attentive as a nesting bird,

Proffering no slightest wish

Toward anything
that might happen or be given,

Only the warm, faithful waiting,
contained in one’s smallness.


Beyond the question, 
the silence.

Before the answer, 
the silence.


— May Sarton, Can I Weave a Nest of Silence

With gratitude,
Tam

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Landscape of Sarah Tomp's My Best Everything




We’re so thrilled to have our VCFA classmate and dear friend Sarah Tomp with us today to talk about her just released (March 3rd!) debut YA novel, My Best Everything!  We love this book—it’s a beautifully written love letter brimming with electric passion and the longing of characters who take great risks to get what they think they want. (I read it in two long breathless gulps, staying up half the night to find out what happens!)




Sharry: Welcome Sarah! I found the landscape in MY BEST EVERYTHING to be so richly provocative and specific to the story—could you describe it for our readers?


Sarah: MY BEST EVERYTHING takes place in the fictional town of Dale, located in the New River Valley, within Appalachia Virginia. It’s a small impoverished town tucked between two mountains with a river running through its center. There are wild and overgrown woods surrounding the area. And in those woods, not too far from a rushing stream, is the spot where my main character, Lulu Mendez, convinces her friends Roni and Bucky to set up a copper still “borrowed” from the junkyard where she and Roni work. That’s how they start making and selling moonshine.



Sharry: You seem to know the landscape intimately well—you must have spent a good amount of time there, gathering the details that bring it vividly to life?

Sarah: Although Dale is not a real place, it’s based on several of the towns surrounding Blacksburg, Virginia, where I lived as a teen. It’s the kind of place that feels both wild and safe. It’s where I learned to drive—and I spent a ridiculous amount of time driving and/or riding around on little back roads exploring the area. The river was a favorite place to end up. I loved riding inner tubes down The New River as soon as the days turned warm.

Sharry: Wild and safe—I love that! And such evocative memories of your own teenage years. Can you talk a little about how the landscape of and around Dale plays a part in your story? 

Sarah: The setting—the landscape—is integral to the story in just about every way. My main character, Lulu is desperate to leave town. She is eager to head off to college life in sunny California. Although there are things she grudgingly likes about her town, she has never felt like she fits in there. She sees it as a slow and sleepy place, covered with shadows and grit. It’s beautiful, but it’s a rough place too.

This is the way she describes Dale, and the junkyard where she works:
“…that spot coming out of the last long curve, where the silvery beech trees grow all lithe and graceful with the somber, steady hills behind them. That’s a view that feels like hope and goodness, as if the whole world is right and strong. But then, all of a sudden, there it is: Sal’s Salvage. Heaps of rusty cars. Noisy machinery. All of it ugly and old and worn out, and all wrapped up with harsh chain-link fences and barbed wire.”

Over the course of the story, Lulu gets to know her community better. Mason teaches her to drive and they spend hours exploring all the many back roads. She starts to find beauty in unexpected places, and to truly appreciate what it means to be a “Dale girl.”

And then there’s the moonshine. Moonshine is a cultural tradition for this part of the world. It’s something that has always flourished when times get tough. People work hard and do whatever it takes to feed their families. The thick woods and running water make it easier to hide a working still. 

I just don’t think this story couldn’t have taken place anywhere else.

Sharry: I couldn’t agree more—the story and place are so interwoven. And it feels like you have both affection and such a deeply personal connection to this landscape—would you say that’s true?
 
Sarah: I loved living in that part of the country! It was an amazing place to spend my teen years. We hiked in the woods, went camping out under the stars, and swam in the lakes and rivers, and the amazing Cascade waterfalls.

So many of my own firsts happened in that place. Memories are tucked into that landscape. There’s a spot on the highway a little north of here (San Diego) that when I’m driving past, it always looks like the hills of Virginia to me. Paired with the colloquial exit named Gopher Canyon, it always makes me feel a little homesick and wistful. But happy, too.

And yet, I never really thought I’d stay there. A lot of my high school friends had lived there all their lives. I was very aware of being an outsider when we moved the summer I turned twelve. So, even though I loved parts of it, maybe that’s why I knew I wouldn’t be staying there forever. I wasn’t as ambitious or determined as Lulu—I never would have had the tenacity to follow through on creating and sustaining a successful moonshine business—but I always assumed I’d end up somewhere else. Just like Lulu.

Sharry: Exactly! Just like Lulu. Thank you so much Sarah for sharing these insights with us today!


Sarah Tomp's Bio

Sarah is the author of My Best Everything, a novel for young adults and a picture book, Red, White and Blue Good-bye. She earned a MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches creative writing for UCSD Extension and lives in San Diego with her family. Visit her at her website: www.sarahtomp.com


You can order My Best Everything through Little Brown Teen or Barnes and Noble or from your favorite independent bookseller!