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.







Friday, January 23, 2015

Repost of The Growth Mindset

Erin Murphy posted a link to this blog post a year ago! (Thank you Erin and thank you Brain Pickings.) It spoke to me then and it speaks to me now.

Boy, it speaks to me.

Our mindsets make a huge difference in the quality of our lives. The moment to moment quality, as well as the long term, visionary quality.  I know this. I have known this. What we thinkof ourselvesis a sort of guiding light in the darkness, right? If we think negatively, that is the path we see before us. If we think positively…well then that is the path we see illuminated.

But Carol Dweck's work is an even more intense examination of how our thoughts can profoundly impact our lives. I won't go into her work here in detail, because you can go to the blog post and read it for yourself (and I urge you to, if you have time) but basically she found, in her research, that one of the most basic beliefs we have about ourselves stems from how we view—and live within—our personalities. And she found two distinct categories here: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. 

A fixed mindset says:

I am who I am, and I need to prove it over and over again. I have to show everyone that I am smart and any indication that I am not smart (making a mistake, for example) will not be tolerated.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, says:

Who I am right now is simply who I am right now. I can learn and grow and improve over time, if I put in the hard work and keep an open mind along the way. I am curious and flexible and have room inside for improvement.

I realized after I read the blog post that I had heard of Carol Dweck before. I read an article in New York Magazine a while ago about children and praise, and her work was in it, front and center: “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” Dweck explained in the article. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

This is powerful, deeply satisfying stuff. 

The Ugly Duckling by Roberta Wilson
It speaks to me as a parent, for sure. I can remember when my son decided to go to an ice hockey camp and when we got there it was clear that he was the only kid who had never played before. He couldn't do it on that first day. Any of it. And every other kid could. He tripped, he fell, he missed the puck, he fell again. I remember feeling so sad for him—you know that feeling in the center of your belly when your kid is suffering in the moment…when success is so not available in that very second—and wanting to scoop him up and take him home.  But I didn't. (Not because I got wise and knew this could be a powerful moment, but because Derek, my husband, was already wise and urged me to wait it out.)  You can guess what happened. We (and the camp counselors, thank goodness) praised my son for his incredible effort, for small improvements, for hard work. He got better at ice hockey each day of that week. Not good, not good by a long shot, but better. And most profoundly for me…he felt so content within himself, both throughout the process and, of course, after it was over.

What better lesson can we hope to teach our kids?  I would venture to say that there isn't a better one. 

(Except to be empathetic and kind to self and others, perhaps. But…and this is oh so cool, in my opinion…I am going to guess that living with a growth mindset nurtures empathy and kindness. If you know how to work hard, and know you can change, then you can imagine that in other people too.)

What better lesson can we hope to learn for ourselves too?

I used to think that desiring something for more than a minute was a sign that I wasn't meant to do the thing, or have the thing…because it meant that I had tried to do it, or have it, and had failed. Failure the first time meant that the desire was off the table. Quite a fixed mindset, eh?

But now…

From The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
My New Year's post, the one about last year being a cocoon year for me, is about exactly this. In all ways, but especially in terms of my writing. I have never worked so hard and so long at anything. I have never made effort and perseverance as much of a ritual as I have with the process of writing. This is key, I believe. The ritual of effort and perseverance. 


And I would add to that, now that I sit for a moment and think about it. The ritual of effort and perseverance and longing.

Work hard, keep at it, and always, always honor the longing.

With gratitude,



Tam

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Craving Alizarin Crimson


The Holidays are over. The decorations have been taken down and stored away until next year. Shopping frenzies are (hopefully) done with. For the most part, New Year’s resolutions have been made and many already broken. (Daily meditation practice? It was a good thought at the time. Same with sticking to one glass of wine with dinner…)

Now it’s just winter and much of the Northern hemisphere is cold—very cold. Freezingly icily cold.

But not here in the Bay Area where we had some rain last month (hooray!) and a coldish spell—a week of lows in the high forties and high’s in the mid-fifties, but then it cleared up and warmed up. It’s been nearly seventy degrees some days. That’s warmer than the average day here in June and July when you often don’t see the sun for weeks!


While robins, finches and nuthatches remain in residence and Angel’s Trumpet, jasmine and bougainvillea continue to bloom, many of us here is the Bay Area still try to perform some kind of ritual that reminds us it’s winter. We like being different, but not left out—who wants to be left out of a whole season? So we build fires (if we’re lucky enough to have a fireplace and it’s not a spare-the-air day.) At my house, we put our flannel sheets on the bed and keep them on until April despite often being too warm in our unheated bedroom. Our dinner menu is made up of soups and stews—hearty winter fare. I would no more think of making a salad nicoise in January than I would think of making Irish stew in July. It just wouldn’t be right.

But still, there is something else that tells us San Franciscans that it’s Winter—the short days (getting longer now) and low angle of the sun (moving slightly higher every day) speak to a natural rhythmic cycle all living things have—it seems to be the same whispering that sends some creatures into hibernation. I feel the nudging to be quieter, more introspective, more interior, don’t you?



The other thing I always feel this time of year is a craving for color—deep, rich, muted color—alizarin crimson, inky Prussian blue, silky golden ochre, dark saturated plum, velvety moss green. Every January I dream about these colors. It’s not as if the world outside my window is drab and barren—aside from a few leafless trees in solidarity with the rest of the frozen country, it’s more of an unseen impression. Maybe it’s a reaction to all the garishly bright reds and greens of Christmas or maybe it’s some kind of archetypal echo from the royal robes of the three kings, but I think it has more to do with the sense that January is a blank page just waiting to be filled in—with words, with images, with color. This blank page of January is an invitation to begin. Something new.



So I’m getting ready to start filling that blank page. Last week I went out and bought some new Prismacolor colored pencils, ordered a rich rainbow of recycled sari silk ribbon and signed up for a poetry class. I’ll be drawing, writing poems and stringing glass beads onto silk ribbon for the next few months.

John Ruskin said, “The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color most.” Do you suppose he included himself in that mindset? I don’t know—it’s a lot to claim and live up to…

It’s easier to lay claim to Paul Klee’s quote, that, “Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet.”

How will you meet the universe? What will you do with your blank page?

Happy New Year!

Take Good Care,


Sharry

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Landscape and Light: A Repost

With gratitude for the light coming back and for you all.

Tam




Early morning ski


Before the world awakens




















When everything is quiet


And everything is new


And all things are possible.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Wish For Amazing Peace

From~Amazing Peace : a Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou;
paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

Whether you are at home or away, with family or quietly on your own, whether you’re enjoying a tree trimmed with lights and ornaments, a menorah, candles for Kwanza or however you’re celebrating and honoring your beliefs and traditions, we wish you all joy and light and want to share with you a message of hope for peace, acceptance and love beautifully expressed in the poem Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem by the late Dr. Maya Angelou and first read in 2005 at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C. In 2008, the poem was published as a stunning picture book illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Facher. (Public Library)

Amazing Peace: a Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou;
paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.


May you all find amazing peace this Holiday season.

Sharry and Tam



From~Amazing Peace : a Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou;
paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem
By Dr. Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.
Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.
We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?
Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.
It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.
Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.
In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.
We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.
We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Peace.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.
It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earths tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.
We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.
Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.

Peace, My Soul.

From~Amazing Peace: a Christmas Poem by Maya Angelou;
paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

Friday, December 19, 2014

Repost: The Darkness is Here

The dark is here. In two days we will celebrate the winter solstice, and then the days will begin, ever so slowly, to get longer. This has been a long, chaotic winter thus far.  Lots of waiting that I had done is over and the things I have waited for are bursting up and out in many colors, like fireworks. It is glorious.  And yet, at the same time, here is the darkness and the cold and even more waiting for new things.

Waiting. 
Hoping.
Wanting. 






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 for silence,
weave it of listening,
Listening,
layer upon layer?


But one must first become small,
Nothing but a presence,
Attentive as a nesting bird,
Proffering no slightest wish,
no tendril of a wish
board 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

May says it best. 
As the days continue to grow shorter, and as the darkness continues to spread its inky self across the hours, it is comforting - perhaps simply imperative - to be small.

To be warm.
To faithfully wait.
To embrace the silence.

For life will burst out
Oh yes.
Oh yes.

Tam

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Geology of an Urban Landscape

I have been thinking about, revisiting a fascinating book I read a few years ago—it’s Alexandra Horowitz's ON LOOKING, ELEVEN WALKS WITH EXPERT EYES—her account of walking through familiar territory with someone who has the studied ability to see what is usually passed by unnoticed.


In one of the first chapters, she takes a walk in her own Manhattan neighborhood with geologist Sidney Horenstein who spent forty years working for the American Museum of Natural History coordinating environmental outings. What she learns on this walk radically changed the way I now look and think about my own urban San Francisco neighborhood. Before this enlightening chapter, I thought of the city with all of its man-made structures and miles of asphalt as, well, not exactly natural. But listen to what Horenstein has to say about that—

"…there are only two things on earth: minerals and biomass [plants and animals]. Everything that we have got here has to be natural to begin with—so asphalt is one of those things."

It’s just rocks, sand, and 'sticky stuff,' essentially pure and even recycled.

All right. That's good to know. In fact, it makes me happy knowing that.

The author goes on to talk about how the geology of a place is not just what is under us, but also what surrounds us: how we are actually "inside the geology of the city." That each stone, cement, composite, or brick building is really a big rocky outcropping, each patch of green a grassy plain with scattered trees. She reminds us that each building began with naturally occurring materials-- either forged of stone or hewed from a once living tree—that has been merely recombined into something for our needs and purposes.

I love that concept.

I love the idea that the city is a natural composite of tree and stone—the buildings take in water, are warmed by the sun, are slowly carved away by the steady force of wind, the slough of water and the passing of time. Nature, it seems, sculpts the city just as it does the side of a mountain. In the city, moss covers stone, ivy breaks away brick, sun and rain and snow transforms the color and texture of wood.

My own neighborhood, Russian Hill, is built on a bed of graywackle (a kind of sandstone) and shale with erupted trappean rocks (basalt, greenstone, amygdaloid and dolomite) and serpentine. My house, built out of redwood, sits on a high outcropping of serpentine, which holds it upright when the San Andreas fault slips and the earth shakes.

I have always loved picking up stones as I wander. I often have a pocket full if them, and when asked what someone can bring me from their travels, I always request a stone. To me, somehow, each holds the essence of place. I have a stone from the Egyptian desert, one from a small village in India, some from Chile, Peru, and Bolivia, from a number of beaches in Mexico and California, from the Raging River in Issaquah, Deer Lake in Eastern Washington, Flathead Lake and Glacier Park in Montana. Just to name a few. My house is full of stones—they sit on shelves, keep doors open and grind herbs.

I was in Portland some years ago visiting colleges with my youngest daughter. I picked up the purse I'd been carrying for a week and complained that it was so heavy, it felt like it was full of rocks. (thinking it was probably just a lot of loose change). When I dug into the bottom to clean out the coins, guess what I found? A half a dozen egg-sized rocks I'd picked up on a walk in Spokane the week before!  I transferred them from my purse to my suitcase and felt much lighter for it. Until I found the perfect stone on the Reed campus...



So what does this have to do with writing? Hmmm…Let’s go back to asphalt—recycled stones, sand and sticky stuff. The essence of place, the passing of time and the sticky stuff of human emotions—that sounds a lot the basics of a novel to me.

Take Good Care,


Sharry