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 17, 2014

The Landscape of Words

This is reposted from Kissing The Earth in 2011~

Every morning, around 10:30, I leave the house and walk, downhill and uphill, reminding myself to pay attention, to try and see the world, to be aware of the signals it’s sending to my senses. As a word person, I will often find myself silently (so as not to alarm strangers or appear insane) naming things as I go along: paperbark tree, mockingbird, curious baby in a blue stroller, roasting coffee, wet grass, dented truck, lavender bush, crushed paper cup, chewing gum, cable car bell, cumulus cloud. This act of naming is a form of selecting and creating a kind of interior landscape of the moment.

Words, whether spoken or written, do create a landscape by evoking images and sensory experiences. My super-smart writer friend, Lynn Hazen, sent out a link last week to an article that had been in the New York Times titled Your Brain On Fiction. The author, Annie Murphy Paul, talks about extensive research showing that words like lavender, cinnamon and soap actually stimulate the olfactory cortex of our brain in the same way that smelling lavender, cinnamon and soap do. Similarly, metaphors that evoke texture stimulate the sensory cortex, and active sentences stimulate the motor cortex.   It seems that words have the same effect on the brain as the actual experience.

This is good news for readers and for writers. For those of us who love nothing more than to curl up with a good book, we can be assured that we’re giving our brains a complete experience. And for those of us who dedicate much of our time to writing, we can set the bar higher and challenge ourselves to create the most sensory, active and empathetic experience we can for our hopeful readers.

Artist Su Blackwell creates another kind of landscape with words. They need no explanation—the images say it all. You can see more on her website:

Take Good Care,


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Remembering Cody

It has been a year since Cody died.  And I thought it appropriate to remember him here, with a rerun of my post about him.  He plays a big part in my middle grade novel, Marble Boys, which, amazingly, I just found out (almost exactly a year since Cody died, mind you) will be published by Schwartz and Wade in August 2015.

*      *      *      *

My running buddy, Cody, is gone. He was Kara's dog and we all ran together, with my dog Winn-Dixie, three times a week. On the river trail. At Mud Pond. In the cornfield at the end of our road. We've done it---consistently, religiously, rhythmically---for the last few years or so.

Kara is always the leader. She sets the pace.
Cody is always second in command. His steady gait focuses me, and on dark, winter mornings the white tip of his tail is like a light.
I take up the rear.
(And Winn-Dixie? He runs here and there, and way over there, and then comes on back and does it all again.)

It is this way.
It was this way.
But Cody died.
And so the landscape of my runs has changed.

Cody was this enormous black and white dog. Part border collie and (if you asked Adam, Kara's husband, he would say:) part holstein cow. Smart and sharp, he would stare into my eyes and I felt like he was telling me things--secret dog things, like how it felt to chase Winn-Dixie at top speed in the field by the river on a windy autumn day (the best feeling in the world!), and I felt like he heard me too. There were plenty of nights I lay on the floor by his side and sought his advice on how to handle life (stay present, love a lot, let the rest go.) He also taught my son to laugh. Luc was not even half a year old when he belly laughed for the first time...that deep in the gut, pure joy kind of laugh...and it was Cody, simply Cody's presence, that caused that reaction. Created that joy. Cody had sleep-overs at our house, and he came to my parents' farm in the summers where he waded in the pond to fish for salamanders. He was kind and tolerant. He was wise and thoughtful. He was full up with love.

My littlest daughter, Tavia, said to me this weekend, "Cody is in the ground but his energy is out in the world."

I said yes.

Then she asked, "Will the energy float down to our house? Onto the field? Into the river? Into a new puppy?"

I said yes again. Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

And I realized that not only had the landscape of my runs changed, but the landscape of my house, the field, the river...the landscape of all of us...had changed.

(And maybe, just maybe, there is a new and tiny black and white puppy out there somewhere too.)

Gratefully yours,

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Haiku And The Art Of Flaneur

I’ve been taking an online class in Flash Fiction and really enjoying it. It’s good to think about writing differently and to try some new approaches to story.
One of the first things we did was write a series of haikus—still observations, descriptions with a sense of presence. In each haiku, we were asked to depict a moment in time when we were suddenly aware of reality though something simple and ordinary but striking.
Recording the art of flaneur.
Here are a few from my daily wanderings~
A man in the park
Sits on a stool and plays the saxophone
Cars honk and dogs bark

Six tai chi dancers

Slowly swing their swords in circles

Overhead a hawk

Dog chases a pigeon

Wet grass shimmers in the sun

My socks are cold and wet

Boots pound down the hill 

Hot sun on the back of my neck

No fog on the bay

A flock of green and red

Squealing like bicycle breaks

Backpack baby cries

Hydrangea stars burst

Wood steps lined in green and white

Bridge lights sweep in waves

After writing the haikus, we used them to build a story—or rather tried to incorporate them into a very short story—a piece of flash fiction. This turned out to be a brilliant tool for bringing specific details, sensual details, into a scene. I’ve started using it in my longer fiction—mentally “walking” through a scene with an eye, an ear, a sniff here and there, and then jotting down a series of quick haiku-like poems that can be folded back into the scene.
It’s also a fun way to make journal entries, to find the extraordinary in the ordinary details of your day. 
I encourage you to try a little haiku in your life—you just might really like it!
Take good care,

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Landscape of Longing

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,