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, March 31, 2011

All The World

My dearest friend Katie is visiting me this week, and when Katie visits words fly. Truly. They seem to sprout wings and fly. They fly between us, fast and furious. They fly up into the sky, gaining heft and meaning. Last night we sat in my kitchen and talked about modern middle class living. How—too often—we walk in through our gate, latch the gate behind us, walk in through our front door, lock the door behind us, and try to live our lives separate from one another like that. Try to live our lives as if everything we need is inside the walls of our homes. As if the people inside our homes are all we need.

House after house after house. Gates latched. Doors locked. And no idea of the longing and confusion and unmet needs simmering behind those barriers.

I have tried to live my life in a different way. In a gate-open, door-open kind of way. I live with my husband and three kids, but my best friend from high school lives with us also. (Fake-mom, as the kids call her!) My childcare provider brings a little boy to my house when she comes to watch my youngest daughter. A boy who was, initially, just another child she was taking care of…who is now one of my daughter’s dearest playmates. And I have incredibly close friends in my community. Friends who open my door ten times a day for a teaspoon of vanilla or to invite me for a cross country ski or to drop off homemade jam or to invite my son to bike ride or my other daughter to play capture the flag… friends who open my door because they need a shoulder to cry on or a cup of tea and advice or a belly laugh and a story.

I am exceptionally lucky. My community—made up of the smallest circle of my family in my home to the larger circle of my local community to the even larger circle of my friends like Katie—each person who makes up this community gives me a piece of what I need. Allows me to be just a little bit more of who I am.

Liz Garton Scanlon exemplified this in the most gorgeous, most true, most organic way possible in her picture book All The World. Read the book and watch Liz's words fly.

Yes yes yes. All the world is you and me.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Big Bright Moon in the Midnight Sky

We San Franciscans tend to gloat about our Winter weather—while the rest of the country is buried in ice and snow, we like to mention the recent picnic enjoyed at the beach or a game of Frisbee in the grassy soccer field overlooking the Bay.

But not lately. Spring is here and we’re all complaining. We’ve had so much rain that small ponds have appeared in the middle of park meadows with their own mini-ecosystems. So much rain that trees have slumped to the ground because the soggy earth can’t hold their roots any longer.

And while the rest of the world waited in anticipation for Saturday night’s Super Moon, we in the Bay Area knew we had little hope of catching a glimpse. Serves us right for gloating.

But Friday night, I hadn’t yet heard of the upcoming Super Moon, the March Worm Moon that was predicted to be bigger and brighter than any moon in more than 20 years. So when a break in the weather sent my dog and I out for our midnight walk, I was stunned to look up at  the extreme Maxfield Parrish-style sculpted clouds backlit by a moon too bright to look at directly.

I had a sudden urge to write a poem in praise of the too-bright moon in the unreal sky and tuck it in the folds of the paper bark tree alongside our house, the way Lenny hid her poems in Jandy Nelson’s heartbreakingly beautiful, tender and funny The Sky Is Everywhere.

I am learning to take my blessings as they come.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Snow Rollers

While winter plants its big boots firmly in the ground—the snow-covered ground, of course—fists punching the sky in a gesture of victory, I feel the humbling need to accept March for what it is, to not fight it. The landscape that holds us, and the weather that descends upon us…they are awesome creatures. Often we can’t fight them, as Japan has forced us to remember. And so this week, I am going to find something in the landscape and the weather to be amazed by.

I am not so amazed by the numbing cold anymore. I am not amazed by the number of snowstorms that can fall in a week, or the number of days in a row school can be canceled, or the number of tissues my daughter can use on her runny nose.

Here is what I am amazed by—

Snow Rollers.

Thank you to my friend, Lisa, for pointing them out to me. I have lived in Vermont for a long time and I had never heard of them. Think sleeping bag made out of snow. Or a winter cinnamon roll. Or cold-weather tumbleweeds. Aren’t they cool?

They are created when a group of weather and landscape conditions converge in just the right way. There needs to be an open field, a slight slope, freshly fallen-slightly sticky snow and some wind. If these ingredients are all present, then the wind will grab up a slab of the snow, and then as the slab rolls down the hill it picks up more snow and rolls up on itself, between the wind and the ground.

I haven’t seen one in person, but I imagine it is just the kind of thing that a group of kids would stand in awe of for a minute or two…and then make a mad dash toward to play on for hours and hours. It reminds me of one of my favorite picture books of all time: This Place in the Snow by Rebecca Bond.

As Rebecca says: This place, full of grace, in the snow.

My thoughts and hopes are with Japan.

Tam Smith

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Gratitude and Inspiration on the Monterey Peninsula

I spent the last weekend in February at the SCBWI conference at Asilomar. Not only is this a fantastic conference that draws some of the best writers, editors, agents and educators in the field of children’s publishing, but it is held in one of the most exquisitely beautiful settings in the world—right on California’s Monterey Coast—so inspiration came from all directions; presenters, fellowship and nature.

Although most of us showed up prepared for predicted torrents of rain, the gods gifted us with perfect weather; white-gold sun by day and a sky full of stars at night. Down at the beach, against a sound track of waves crashing on the rocky shore, bundled strands of kelp lay strewn in the sand like a clan of drowned Medusas.

In sublime contrast, drifts of sunlight filtered through the Monterey pines of our lodging’s wooded surroundings. Outside our rustic room, a doe rested in the lush moss and watched over her grazing fawn.

And then there was the conference itself; Friday afternoon and evening, all of Saturday and Sunday morning were filled with thought-provoking, informational and inspiring presentations that covered a range of territory from Alexandria Lafaye’s talk on how to generate sensory details with social and emotional weight, to Cynthia Lord’s discussion of the pros and cons of writing about hard and powerful personal experiences, to Rick Richter presenting possibilities for children’s stories in the brave new world of mobile media.

I came home satiated, exhausted, recharged and full of gratitude for all I’d seen, heard, and experienced over the memorable weekend.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Red Shoe in a White Landscape

I am feeling the need to shake things up today. So I’m going to begin in reverse. I’m going to begin with my book choice and then conclude with a bit of observation about my landscape.

The Red Shoe by Ursula Dubosarsky is a lyrical, haunting story about six-year old Matilda who lives in Sydney, Australia during the Cold War. Mostly told from Matilda’s point of view—with occasional insertions from her two sisters—the story explores the intense feelings that children carry as they try to make their way in the world, especially in a world that is fraught with distrust and threat. It also explores the only-partial meaning that children can make of the world. And it is this combination—the intensity of emotion and partial meaning-making—that resonates so strongly for me. Ursula Dubosarsky creates a stark, realistic portrait of children trying to survive. They are curious, while they are also afraid. They are full of questions, while they are equally full of answers. They are sure of themselves, and at the same time they are very confused. And they nail the truth right on the head, even while they are making up stories to fill in the gaps.

There is no Cold War going on around me, of course, but there sure is Cold. White, Relentless, Monotonous, Cold. And that, coupled with some personal struggles I am facing, has made me feel a Matilda-like intensity of emotion. And, like Matilda, I can only make some sense of it all.

In some ways it is good to be reminded that this is often how a child feels. It is freeing somehow. And it makes me realize that I am in good company as I journey through this time. That my children—all children—can be my guide.

Tam Smith