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, February 24, 2011


I was down at Fort Mason today to sneak a peek at the conference room that my wonderful writer friend and fellow VCFA MFA graduate, Ann Jacobus, and I have rented for the upcoming class we’re team-teaching in April and May. The course, Writing the Children’s Novel, will be offered Monday afternoons from 12:15 to 2:45.  We’re so excited to be doing this at Fort Mason!

Situated on 13 acres of historic buildings and piers right on the Bay, Fort Mason houses over 50 non-profit cultural, educational and environmental organizations including the world famous pioneer of vegetarian cuisine, Green’s restaurant, opened in 1979 by the San Francisco Zen Center. (And for many years, only employed Zen students as part of their Buddhist practice of attentiveness and caretaking.) 

There’s also Readers' Book Store and Café, run by volunteers to benefit the San Francisco Public Library. It’s one of my favorite places in the city to pass time and spend a little cash. 

I have so many strong and positive associations with this amazing facility; watching one of my daughters perform in Pippin at the Young Performer’s Theater years ago and more recently the other daughter dance on stage at the Cowell Theater with her Eurythmy Troop; Susan Fletcher’s fantastic workshop on writing Historical Fiction and Fantasy for children in 2008; the weekend Vermont College of Fine Arts alumni retreat last summer; sitting on a bench watching sail boats in the Bay, eating vegetable curry from Green’s restaurant with writer friend Lynn Hazen after perusing the Renegade Craft Fair and buying a real butterfly wing necklace; discovering Steele Winery’s Writer’s Block Syrah at the California Family Winemaker’s tasting; watching Word-for-Word perform A Child’s Christmas in Wales as a Christmas treat at the Magic Theater.

Fort Mason’s non-profits also include BATS Improv Theater, Blue Bear School of Music, SFMOMA Artists Gallery, (where you can rent beautiful paintings for a reasonable monthly charge), Long Now Museum & Gallery (with the Rosetta Project which is archiving all documented human languages), California Lawyers for the Arts, Environmental Traveling Companions,  and the San Francisco Children’s Art Center.

I'm not sure there's any place in the whole world like Fort Mason; it is truly one of San Francisco’s treasures!


Thursday, February 17, 2011

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

I need to be reminded that things change right about now. As February shivers on, and the temperature hovers around 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ice-crusted snow remains up to the top of my thighs…well, you get the picture. I am oh-so-stiff from the cold, and also from the static landscape that surrounds me.

(And I am only talking about external factors here. I could go on and on about the internal ones too. But I won’t!)

My friend, Lisa, gave me the reminder I needed though. After cross-country skiing around the field at the end of our road, we stood for a moment, the wind whipping across our faces, freezing our foreheads, practically penetrating our brains. We looked back at the field. I complained about the dizzying sameness of it all. But Lisa reminded me that underneath all that snow is a corn field. So in the spring it will be planted. And then the corn will grow. And summer will come. And then the corn will be harvested. And fall will arrive. And then the field will be plowed and tilled in anticipation of the next growing season. And all the while I will ski, then run, then ski again around its vast perimeter.

So the external landscape stays the same, yes. But it also changes. And it does these things in a fluid and organic way. Those two truths provide a sense of safety and a sense of hope. I am reminded of one of my new favorite books Tall Story by Candy Gourlay. A boy travels from the Philippines to England to be with his family. In his case, it is his internal landscape that both changes and stays the same.

How do I achieve the same inside of myself?

Tam Smith

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Defying Gravity

At least once a week, my husband David and I take our Sheltie Emma for a walk along the San Francisco Bay promenade at Crissey Field. We typically start at the Warming Hut—the wonderful bookstore/café run by the National Park Service—and then with the Golden Gate Bridge looming large in the background and hot chocolates in hand, we head East, along the Bay back towards the city until we reach the meadow where Emma likes to chase the soccer ball. (Yet another substitute for her missing flock of sheep)

On a recent visit, we were lucky enough to catch Bill Dan, a well known and beloved local artist doing his ‘thing’; balancing rocks, large stones on top of small stones in a way that seems to magically defy gravity. His work is both public and performance art—he never fails to draw a small crowd of astounded admirers mesmerized by his temporary and ephemeral vertical rock sculptures. He refers to his work as meditative and spiritual, often creating ten or more of these pieces a day. A self-taught artist, Dan holds to the philosophy that his craft is a combination of work and play dependant on concentration and a positive attitude as well as respect and understanding of his materials.

I find this practice an incredibly inspiring metaphor for life and the tasks of balancing what can feel at times the impossible.  Concentration, being positive, respect and understanding of tools and materials, and allowing our work to also be play might just be the key to finding balance and magic in everyday life.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Towing and Skating

We have a local towing company here in our small town. The guy who owns it is a really funny guy. He has a sign by his shop, on the way out of town, the kind that you can change the message on, and he entertains us as we enter and exit Richmond with clever phrases like: Tow Be or not Tow Be, That is the Question and Tic Tac Tow and Blizzard of Oz and the Wicked Winch of the West.

He’s a really nice guy too.

Last winter he took it upon himself to build Richmond an ice skating rink in the middle of our park. He has most of the equipment anyway, flatbed truck, plow, and even a zamboni that he bought used. And he borrowed a water pump from our local hardware store. So he cleared a space, pumped water from the river that runs along the length of the park, and he plows it and zambonis it and—voila!—we have a community skating rink.

Everyone uses it. High school kids practicing ice hockey, kids learning spins and skating backwards, parents teaching their 3 year olds how to skate (that’s me!). And now, in its second winter, we have come to rely on it…it is a place where we can find one another during a season that more often than not demands that we stay in our own houses, doors shut, fires roaring, separate from one another. It is a vital community space.

(A central theme in Cynthia Rylant’s Missing May is very much the same thing—the desperate need for people to come together and connect. Incredible book.)

To Skate or not to Skate, That is no Longer the Question. Skate! Skate! Skate!

Tam Smith