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, March 23, 2012

The landscape of Detail

For the past two weeks we have been focusing on standing balance poses in my yoga class. Tree, Half Lotus, Warrior Two and many others; and we have been fluidly moving from one to another to another.  These moving poses require tons of concentration on the one hand, and letting go on the other. They aren’t easy. 

Let’s just say I’ve fallen over many times in the last couple of weeks…

One of the strategies for keeping balance is finding a small point on which to gaze. A knothole in the wood floor, or a nail on the wall, or a tree outside the window. In that amazingly true, but slightly confounding, Buddhist way the more gentle but at-the-same-time more intense you can focus, the easier it is to stay upright.  And when you get that specific mix of both just right, it feels like…well, like both the sky and the earth are supporting you, while at the same time you are an integral part of them. It’s an amazing feeling.

And I had an amazing epiphany while I was feeling that feeling.

There I was, focused on the dark brown knothole on the wood floor three feet in front of me, breathing slowly in and out, my arms outstretched above my head and one leg bent and resting against the other, the sky and the earth holding me—and being me—from all sides, and I realized that I was experiencing the same kind of awareness and groundedness that I have when I am reading a wonderful story and I come to a detail; when the author focuses closely on a specific object or place or emotion; when the detail is described with meticulous attention to sensory and emotional and logistical truths. Those kinds of details keep the reader aware of the unique story that she is reading, while at the same time ground her in the universal story that we are all a part of. In that glorious moment, the story guides the reader and is the reader—all at the same time.

Pretty darn cool, in my opinion.

Emily Danforth does this exceptionally well in her debut novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post which is a brilliant examination of one Midwestern girl’s “coming of GAY-ge” (as Emily puts it.) The story is both heartbreakingly intimate and, well, heartbreakingly universal. 

I think we are moving on to a different focus in yoga, but I am committing to remembering this epiphany—both in my yoga practice and in my writing practice as well.

Namaste everyone.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Walking The Labyrinth

I recently went in search of a labyrinth I had read about, somewhere out at Land’s End. I’d set outlooking for it in the past, down the winding path adjacent to the Palace of The Legion of Honor, through the wind-swept Cypress trees, up and down steps that cut through fragrant groves of eucalyptus, always stunned at the breath-taking views and amazed that this wild-feeling place is part of San Francisco, but never finding the mysterious labyrinth. This time, I asked directions. Turn right at the sign to Mile Rock Beach, but don’t go to the beach; instead veer right at the fork and follow a narrow path down a steep cliff. Sometimes asking directions pays off.

The first glimpse of this piled stone labyrinth—laid out on a disk-shaped ledge sitting over the sea—feels like discovering an ancient ruin, a remnant of some pagan ritual practiced centuries ago. I later learned that this labyrinth was built by Eduardo Aquilera for the Spring Equinox in 2004; it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since.

Whether it be inside Grace Cathedral, outside on the plaza in front of Grace Cathedral, (once, with a convention of clowns!) in a wooded valley in the East Bay, at Chartres in France, or on piece of land jutting out above the ocean like an ancient landing pad, walking the labyrinth, is always a journey into self. For me, at least, I always have the sense that I am somehow tracing a timeless patterned landscape inside my brain, spiraling in and further in until reaching the moment at the center where everything momentarily grows still. It’s a place of total peace. A place to stop and breath and say thank you. While the journey in is often a solemn one, the journey back out back out into the world is joyful with invisible and unspoken treasures tucked inside secret pockets.

I have a small wooden labyrinth that sits on my desk that I trace to calm myself when the writing demons are on my shoulders, shrieking at me, telling me everything I’m doing is wrong. It’s been getting a lot of use lately, and has lead me to at least one revelation of why the particular revision I’ve been working on has been so difficult: I am used to working in a linear way—something happens, which causes a reaction that makes something else happen—it’s like climbing a stone laden path up a mountain. But moving forward on a path that stretches forward just hasn’t been working; I’ve continually found myself circling around and around, trying to figure out the right way to get into this story. I finally realized that the linear method wasn’t the way to proceed with this particular problem because I have a character who doesn’t have the information she needs to move forward, and I can’t just hand it to her. She has to find the clues on her own and actually needs to move in pretty tight circles for a while, into herself and into the heart of the story, before she can start to figure out what to do.

Spring Equinox is in just a few days (!) I think it’s the perfect time for my character and I to walk the labyrinth together for a while.

Take Good Care,

(And this is Emma, who always walks with me)

Thursday, March 8, 2012


This will be a simple post today. A poem of a post. One to remind me--to remind all of us, perhaps--to keep our hearts and eyes and ears open. But not only that, to also walk out the door in that wide, curious state-of-being. To make that a ritual. And in that way, to feel our wings, and our hearts, stretch from one end of the world to the other.

(It is 50+ degrees here in Vermont today!  Happy Spring-y weather to you all!)


Landscape by Mary Oliver

Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn't it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I'm alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky—as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Living House

My house was built in 1916, framed in redwood, set on a foundation of solid rock—all good things in earthquake country. When the San Andreas Fault shifts, our house creaks and groans in complaint at the disturbance, just as any elder would when subjected to an unexpected shaking up.

Right now, the wind outside rattles the windows and insists it way in through the small spaces where the frame doesn’t quite seal, so the outside slips in and the inside slips out. Some people would call it drafty—I like to think of the house as breathing.

San Francisco is full of old houses like mine; the landscape of Victorians, Edwardians and Painted Ladies is what comes to mind for many people when they think of this city. Houses press together in gingerbread rows; there’s little room to build new or to built out, so some have built up, adding roof decks or even glass walled sunrooms as a final story.

I love that houses have stories—there is the story of the house and the people who have lived there, and then there are the stories as in the layers of floors. The way a house is built can even teach us something, I think, about writing a story. It’s a good idea to know who’s going to live there—what these people love, hate, need—before you decide what kind of a house to build, because there are many, many different kinds of houses in the world; wood houses, brick houses, adobe, straw bale, sod, stone, rammed earth and on. When you start building, you should consider a solid foundation, then you frame the walls and do the wiring and plumbing before you start the finishing work. And don’t forget the windows, so the inhabitants can look out at the world. When I start honing and polishing my writing before I have the structure in place, I always, always end up having to tear down walls before I’m done. But then, I live in earthquake country, so I guess I’ve also learned to be flexible. A good quality, I’m told, in both a house and a writer. 

Across the Bay at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, sculptor Patrick Dougherty just recently finished building one of his breathtakingly beautiful structures. Using planted willow saplings that he twists and bends, weaves and shapes, he’s created a living children’s playhouse, so enchanting and whimsical, it evokes the kind of magic that inspires profound imagination. As the saplings take root, the playhouse will continue to grow—the day I visited, the pussy willows had budded and just started to burst into blossom. How I would love to be a bird and build a nest in the walls of this house—just think of all of the stories to be told inside!