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, December 27, 2012

The Landscape of The New Year


The week between Christmas and New Years is that liminal time—time between the past and the future. Yes, I know that every moment of our life sits in that space; it’s called the present, but somehow, this week more than any other time of the year feels to me like the rest stop between links of a journey, the biggest present of the year. It’s the time to look back over the landscape of the last year and forward to the terrain of the new.

And it’s the time to make New Year’s resolutions.

Last year during this week, I made three resolutions. (Because more than three just gets lost and forgotten by the end of January)

The first was to try to get my wild and crazy dog, Emma, to NOT go ballistic—barking and spinning and barking and spinning and spinning and spinning whenever a cable car goes by. (We live one block from the cable car line on one side and three blocks on the other, so it’s really hard to take a good walk without crossing one of them) I’m proud to say that with the help of about thirty pounds of string cheese, we’ve been close to 72% successful.

The second resolution was to find a new literary agent—now this is the kind of resolution that I know is not a good kind to make because it depends on so many factors outside of a person’s control, BUT I am absolutely thrilled to have signed with the wonderful Erszi Deak of Hen and Ink last September!

The third resolution was more general. (Also not the best kind of resolution because it’s too easy to fudge.) It was to get back to my ‘crafty’ roots and start making things with my hands again. I started out buying enough wool to needle felt a hat. (What was I thinking? I don’t wear hats and don’t have any close friends or family who wear hats…) The skeins are still sitting on the top shelf of an armoire waiting for their new form. Maybe this year I’ll make a shoulder bag instead. Or not. I did, however make seven crepe-paper tangerine surprise balls last week to hand out at Christmas dinner, so won’t beat myself up too much.

This year, I am going to keep my resolutions very simple. 

1) I will start each morning reminding myself to do my best by quietly reciting the last stanza of William Stafford’s poem, THE DREAM OF NOW:

Your life you live by the light you find
and follow it on as well as you can,
carrying through darkness wherever you go
your one little fire that will start again.

2) I will try and write a few brief sentences every day in my day planner, noting what happened each day, (so I won’t forget) something that gave me joy, and something I am grateful for. Here’s one for today (it’s old but always make me smile, plus I think we need more free hugs)



3) I will once again try to work more with my hands, because it’s good for my soul and my brain. I have a box of colored crepe paper on top of that same armoire and will see what else comes of it. I’m thinking owl.

So, tell me, what are your New Year's resolutions?

Take Good Care,

Sharry

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Finding Light on the Second Shortest Day of the Year

Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year. Here in Vermont, the sun will rise at 7:23AM and set at 4:14PM. The light of the day will last for 8 hours and 51 minutes. I had planned on writing about the sunrise today. About watching the sun peek over the tree line that spans the sky east of the river trail, about how running on the trail at that time of day makes me feel a little powerful, like I am part of the process of tugging the sun up out of night and into day.

Last Friday surpassed the winter solstice, though. It fell dark even before noon. And I don't feel all that powerful anymore. In fact I feel somewhat helpless, and a lot vulnerable. Many of us do. So I am going to lift an idea from my friend, Jeannie Mobley, who writes at Emu's Debuts. Monday was her turn to post over there, and she focused on the people---the flames of light---in her community who have overcome the darkness. Small speck of light by small speck of light, they add up to a whole lot, she says. Perhaps everything. I agree with Jeannie.

Sunrise in the woods
So I want to share images of sunrises in many different landscapes and stories about the people who, this year alone, tugged on up a light for me just as powerful as the sun. And I would love to hear from you all about the people in your life who are the same kind of mighty powerful.

This is only a handful of images and, more importantly, only a handful of people. There are so so many.

Beth Kephart, who lit a path of connection with her lyrical novel, Small Damages. Her love of landscape, as well as her advice and support, have meant so much to me.
Sunrise over the river

My Running with Foxes/Running with Atalanta crew---Kara, Alice, Hannah and Stefani (and Winn-Dixie, Cody, Willow, Henry and Lucas)---who light the way along the trail every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. The rhythm of my life would not be the same without you.

Sunrise over the desert
Jeanne, Portia, Marie, Rebecca and Dan, who light my little trio's educational and emotional pathways, each a little different (more treacherous here, more smooth there) from the other.

Sharry (oh luminous blog-mate), Sarah and Cindy, who light the way to my stories when, like a car in the fog, I can't even see a few feet in front of me.

Sunrise over the fields
Luke Reynolds, Soul-Wait-Mate of mine, who lit a path to breaking the rules.

Lisa, who lights a path between my house and hers, a path lined with just the exact right ingredient---for a bread or a cake, for a celebration or a heartache.

Sunrise over the ocean




Davina Morgan-Witts, who lit a path for me of work that I love. Which is an understatement. And Poornima Apte, who walks with me there. Whom I love. Which is also an understatement.




Diane, who lights a path between heart and head and body.

And of course, Jeannie Mobley herself, who lit a path for me today with regards to this post, and who is my light of inspiration on my path to publication.

Who lights up your life?

Let us all shine on. Despite the dark, or maybe because of it.

With gratitude,

Tam

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Landscape of Lovely, Dark and Deep

This week has been noticeably darker than last. Perception is funny that way. Change gradually happens over time, but noticing it takes one studied moment. All of a sudden--but not so all of a sudden--the sky is so much darker in the morning. I look out the window as I get dressed and it feels as though I have made a mistake, as though it is the middle of the night. My running buddies and I begin our run in the dim, grey-black light of dawn now; that strange, sort of other-worldy time when eyesight is a secondary, sort of backseat sense, when my feet have more memory than my mind.

Its been a dark, otherworldly kind of week in other ways too. Lovely, Dark, and Deep, in fact.

I finished this haunting, lyrical story by Amy McNamara a while ago, but it has been bobbing in my subconsciousness this week as I get ready to write a review of it for BookBrowse. In it, Wren, the main character,  is struggling with the deepest, darkest kind of grief. She was in the car that killed her boyfriend. She has survivor's guilt, the horror of complicated circumstances, and a sadness that is so deep it renders her, for a time, literally speechless. She is also unable to motivate herself to do anything--except that she runs. She takes long runs through the Maine woods. Through the dark and cold.

Wren runs. She very specifically runs through the woods at the edge of the ocean. And I have been wondering about that. What allows her to run...when she simply can not function in any other way?  What is it about being in the woods and by the water that is tolerable, or familiar, or perhaps even comforting? What is it about the dark and the cold that has, at times, a startling warming and illuminating effect?

Wren says early on:

I came here because it’s pine-dark and the ocean is wild. The kind of quiet-noise you need when there’s too much going on in your head. Like the water and the woods are doing all the feeling, and I can hang out, quiet as a headstone, in a between place. A blank I can bear.

Oh wow, right?

The intersection of the woods and water with the cold and dark is that otherworldly place. It is a place void of the objects that are imprinted with your routine and your history, it is a place where your spider-brain can take a rest from sending out invisible threads of connection. You simply are in this place. Feet pounding, breath puffing, heart pumping.

All of this reminds me of my curiosity about this whole perception-is-funny and change-seems-to-come-out-of-nowhere thing from my first paragraph up there, and as I have been thinking about that, and about writing my review of Lovely, Dark and Deep, and also about a real person in my own life who has been struggling with grief and pain for a long time and who is only now, maybe, naming it and facing it, I have come to the (tentative, first-draft) conclusion that finding a ritual out in a natural landscape (running for me, running for Wren, walking for this real person in my own life) offers this very unique experience of connecting to a rhythm (of seasons, of sunrise to sunset, of waves and wind) that is at once a part of you and unattached. Of course the landscape holds its own deep histories and stories, and they matter to all of us (and we would be wise to listen up) but maybe what I mean to say is that those stories and those rhythms are not attached to our spider-minds as much as they are attached to our bodies and because of that we are forced to use those bodies--legs, lungs, hearts--to ponder our problems.

Oh boy. I don't know. Like I said, very tentative and first draft. But definitely swirling around inside me like mad.  I'd love to hear what you make of it all.

Tam

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Celebrating our Blog-O-Versary!


In celebration of our two-year blog-o-versary, Tam and I wish to express our deep gratitude for the many gifts that blogging together at Kissing The Earth has given us. We’ve been looking back over the past two years and wanted to recount some aspects of our landscapes that we are especially grateful for. We’ve agreed to limit it to seven each (hard to do!) for the days of the week, for the seven liberal arts, for the seven wonders of the world and one more reason that will be made clear at the end!

Here are seven things in my urban San Francisco landscape that I am grateful for:

Crissy Field with its dramatic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Bill Dan’s on-going creation of gravity defying temporal rock sculptures, the wide grassy space to kick the soccer ball for my Sheltie, Emma while sipping a hot chocolate from the Warming Hut (because even in the summer, especially in the summer, it’s cold down there!)


The Filbert Steps, home of the famous wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, leading down, down, down through the lovely Grace Marchant gardens, to Levi Plaza with its wonderfully wet granite walk-through fountain. Or up, up, up to Coit Tower with it’s brightly painted WPA murals and 360-degree views.

City Lights Bookstore, home of the Beats, half a block from The Language Of Birds light installation of flying books and the three story mural featuring Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Herb Caen and Emperor Norton, in the midst of North Beach’s vital cafĂ© society where modern day Beats still gather to read from Howl on Sunday afternoons.

Fort Mason with its Readers Bookstore, Italian Museum, world famous Greens Restaurant, Cowell Theater, Blue Bear School of Music, SFMOMA Artists Gallery, (where you can rent beautiful paintings for a reasonable monthly charge), Long Now Museum (with the Rosetta Project which is archiving all documented human languages), and San Francisco Children’s Art Center.

Grace Cathedral’s labyrinths—walking the inside labyrinth when the organist is rehearsing and the sun is low on the horizon, so it casts dancing lights through the stained glass windows, or outside after dark with the trees in Huntington Park cheery with Christmas lights.

Golden Gate Park with The DeYoung Museum, Academy of Science, Japanese Tea Gardens covered in pink cherry blossoms in March, Opera in The Park, The Shakespeare Gardens, (and the soft serve ice cream truck with flavors like Saffron, Meyer Lemon/Thyme and Blood Orange—yum!) Stow Lake and the Great Blue Herons who return every Spring to nest in the Pines.

My lovely and amazing blog partner Tam, friend of my heart and soul. And our incredible writing community that stretches across the country and across the blog-o-sphere and with special thanks to our dear friend Sarah Wones Tomp who blogs with Suzanne Santillan at Writing On The Sidewalk for nominating us for the One Lovely Blog Award!

And from Tam: My list of seven things I am grateful for:

Watching the world turn from pitch black to orangey-blue as I run on the river trail at sunrise

Digging and planting and watering with my kids and—lo and behold—eating our very own cucumbers and tomatoes for the first time ever

 Fresh fox tracks in the snow

The scent and shade and soft of the pine
needles on the stonewall section of the Mud Pond trail

The spicy sweet smell of the essential oil my yoga teacher, Diane, puts in my palms, as we do shavasana at the end of class in her beautiful upstairs studio full of windows and plants and light

All five of us (my family) reading books or writing papers or relaxing in the living room with the chug chug chug sound of the pellet stove and the beat beat beat sound of our hearts


And I am grateful for Sharry, my blog mate, writing mate, soul mate, dear friend; and for the rest of my writing friends—you all make this wild wonderful process worth it; for all of you new blog friends who have chosen to share this part of the process with us, and to Writing on the Sidewalk for nominating Kissing the Earth for the One Lovely Blog Award.  Sharry and I are grateful, yes, and honored to be nominated.  Thank you Sarah and Suzanne!



We're delighted to pass on the One Lovely Blog Award by nominating a few of the blogs we love. (Again, it’s so hard to choose!) Here are three of our favorites:





The Rules of Accepting the One Lovely Blog Award
1. Link back to the person who nominated you.
2. Post the award photo in your post.
3. Share 7 facts about yourself.
4. Nominate a few other bloggers.

Take Good Care,
Sharry and Tam

Friday, November 23, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

On behalf of both Sharry and myself, 
I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving or simply a Happy November 22nd. 
(A day late. Yes.  But not any less heartfelt. Oh no.) 

We are grateful to you 
on this day (and on all days) 
for reading our blog, 
for offering your words of support and curiosity, 
and for being with us on this journey of walking wide-eyed on the earth.  

Sharry and me

More soon.  

Gratefully yours, 
Tam


Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Landscape of Revision


A few weeks ago, after finishing another draft of my work in progress, I found myself once more at the edge of the forest, resisting the next leg of a seemingly unending journey, unsure of what kinds of confidence-gobbling monsters were waiting for me. Sometimes the landscape of revision smells too strongly of fear.

 But after spending last weekend with six like-minded Bay Area writers at a novel revision retreat workshop led by Darcy Pattison, I am now looking forward to the terrain.

I have to admit that I went into the workshop with my doubts—would I really hear anything new? I was ready to clench my jaw and roll my eyes when asked for the twelve-hundredth time; what does your character want? What stands in her way? What does she try and fail and try and fail and try and fail to do to get what she wants? (Isn’t it obvious? She wants…you know, love, happiness, the same thing we all want. Life gets in the way. Right?)

But Darcy didn’t ask these questions. Instead, she led us through a systematic and uncompromising process—a series of steps I’d never taken. An unexpected revision landscape, new and different from any I had walked before.


She wisely started out telling us what to expect in the learning curve department, describing the stages of learning as: unconscious incompetence (you don’t know and you don't know you don’t know) conscious incompetence (you know you don’t know) conscious competence (you know and you know you know) and then the ultimate goal which is unconscious competence (you know but you don’t know that you know because the skills and knowledge are automatic and at work in your subconscious.)

Well. That’s different. And hearing it, we all knew it was true.

The next eye-opening step was to analyze our shrunken manuscripts—we had all followed directions and arrived with our 250+ page novels shrunken down to 30 pages through reducing the type face and in some cases, dividing it into two columns per page. From there we went to work with brightly colored markers tracking narrative arc, macro and micro plotting, emotional arc over the entire story and by scene, and dialogue.  Standing back and taking in this map of our stories revealed some surprising unconscious incompetence—in other words, the places that needed work. Now we knew what we didn’t know. But never fear; Darcy reminded us that the first step to fixing something is figuring out what needed fixing.

Besides strategies for strengthening plot and developing scenes, her method offers many new and powerful tools for deepening and texturing. One tool involves using word connotations to add depth. Word connotations help you make word choices that reinforce the story and deepen meaning.  Darcy suggests having word banks and regularly depositing words that fit your story. They will be invaluable when you start considering narrative patterning and progressions.


Wait, what? I cannot explain here what it took us the whole weekend to understand but for any writer looking for a fresh and useful way to revise, I highly recommend going to Darcy’s wonderful website http://www.darcypattison.com to see what she has to say about these tools and more. Then buy her workbook and use it. Or better yet, gather a group of like-minded writers and have Darcy come for a weekend writer’s retreat.

The landscape of revision is a rocky one. But with a goodie bag, a compass and a readable map, the crossing doesn’t look so bad.



Take Good Care,

Sharry

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ask The Passengers and Ask The Landscape

I just finished reading Ask The Passengers by A. S. King. (Yeah, her name spells asking. I love that.) In it, Astrid explores questions about herself, her friends, her family, her life, and her blossoming sexuality. She also has love. Lots of it. And because she can't seem to find a pathway from herself to the people on the ground around her--those aforementioned friends and family--she sends her abundance of love up to the passengers in the planes she sees in the sky. She lies on the picnic table outside of her house, gazes up into the wide sky, seeks and finds those planes and, in its purest and most free form, she gives her love to the people inside them. Strangers. Strangers just happening to pass by at those particular moments. Strangers with their own lives, their own families and friends...with their own complicated, deep, frightening, and liberating love.

It will be no surprise to learn that I am madly in love with this gesture. With this idea. With this structure that A. S. King has chosen. (For she gives those love-given passengers one-time monologues within the novel. We get to see snapshots of these strangers, who are then not strangers. We get to witness the connections that they make with Astrid, even though they don't know it.  We get to see how her love just might make a difference in their lives, in their loves, in those moments when the thread between the giver and the receiver is in contact with both. Kind of stunning.)

We all struggle with feelings we can't decipher. We all struggle to find ways to express the feelings we do manage to identify. I also think we tend to spend time looking inward and very close to home as we sift and problem solve and make decisions about those feelings. Or I know I do anyway. And sometimes that is a good process.  A very good one.  But sometimes it falls short. And here is what Ask The Passengers made me think: In those falling-short moments, what if we engaged in a process like Astrid's? What if we sifted and problem solved and made those decisions in the context of the wide sky? The open field? The dense, chattering forest? The vast ocean? What if we asked the landscape to help us find and express our feelings? And what I mean by this is what if we recognized that the world is full of people, creatures, plants, and life that is both so similar to and so different from us, all at the same time. If we seek answers out in the world we just might find strangers, in whatever form, who can help us. And in our simply seeking, in that humble process, we will most definitely begin to help ourselves... and we just might help those strangers--who are then not strangers--too.