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, September 26, 2013

The Landscape of Air and Steel

One of my best beloved and weekly traversed landscapes--a field of green grass in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area that covers about twenty-six and a half acres along the San Francisco Bay towards Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge, has some very interesting visitors these days.

Recently populated with what looks to be a tribe of enormous, gracefully balanced and gestural aliens from another world, Mark Di Suvero’s installation of evocative steel beam sculptures reimagine and alter the landscape in a way that has made me stretch and take notice, look differently, think about how space is divided and allocated.

Di Suvero, who grew up in San Francisco's Sunset district two doors down from another famous sculptor, Richard Serra, drew lifelong inspiration from his native Golden Gate Bridge. Now appropriately set against a background of the bridge, his installation is a collaboration between the currently closed-for-remodeling SFMOMA, the National Park Service, and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and brings together eight pieces spanning five decades from across the country, including one, Mother Peace, returning to the Bay Area (where it was created) for the first time since 1974.

Each piece suggests a juxtaposition of tension and balance, in fact, part of the tension is created by the fact that balance has been achieved using incredibly heavy, (up to 20 tons each!) bulky I-beams of industrial steel arranged in a such way as to possess an unlikely lithe grace.

What is especially fascinating to me is to consider how these huge pieces make use of negative space. Air. Really, what they do is sculpt the air. Without the negative space, all there would be is a heavy clump of welded beams.

I suspect this has something in common with what Tam has been talking about recently in terms of writing--that leaving space concept. I wonder if we can think of our words as sculpting air? Not in a visual sense, but in the sense that we create stories out of the air, using words to evoke the imagination, and connecting dots to form a story "shape" that is hopefully, ultimately pleasing and satisfying.

And of course, there is always this question of balance in whatever we are attempting to do with any degree of grace. I think we must constantly search for that sweet spot where the unwieldy, heavy elements in our lives, in our work, in our art, balance and sculpt the air into something beautiful.

Take Good Care,


Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Landscape of a Truck Farm

One of my other jobs is as an educational writer for Reading Plus, a silent reading intervention program for Grade 3 kids on up. I write short narratives for the company, about a wide range of topics, mostly non-fiction, always connected to the core curriculum. I could write a whole blog post on how good this job has been for my writing. I have learned how to write within very stringent guidelines: specific word lengths, specific vocabulary, specific sentence lengths. This is probably a useful skill for any writer, but especially for me, queen of verbose. (See earlier blog posts to see how I am trying oh so hard to break my overwriting habit and leave    s     p     a     c     e    in my stories.

But this is not what I want to tell you all about today.

I want to tell you about Truck Farms because I just researched them for a Reading Plus narrative I finished writing today and I was blown away by what I learned.  They are so darn cool.  And smart.  And do-able.

Ian Cheney created the first Truck Farm.  He founded this "mobile garden education project" in Brooklyn, NY, where he moved after making his film King Corn, a film about "growing an acre of America's most subsidized commodity crop." He wanted to create a garden, but, as he said, he couldn't find a community garden to join and he didn't own any land.  What he did have, though, was a 1986 Dodge pick-up truck that his grandfather had given him as a college graduation present. Maybe he could drive somewhere in the truck?  To some place that had land?  Or maybe...he could build a farm ON the truck? Yes, that.

For very little money and a lot of creativity, Ian built a garden in the back of the Dodge.  He used green roof technology to do it, got lots of materials donated, got lots of good advice and help, planted seeds and soon he had vegetables poking their tiny heads out of the soil...small signs of life on a wild ride.  The whole project sounded like so much fun.  He would drive to the sunny side of the street when the plants needed sun and then to the shady side when they needed shade. Once he actually had vegetables ready to eat, he would drive to a CSA member's apartment (people bought small shares in the Truck Farm) and right then and there harvest their crop.  Talk about fresh!  Talk about local!  And best of all, he began going to schools to show kids how easy it is to start a the sky's the limit in terms of where a garden can important it is to know where food comes from, and how even more important it is to eat local, fresh food.

Ian has put out a 25 Truck Farms in 25 American cities challenge.  And they are popping up in lots of places.  I love this for so many reasons.  For one reason, as Ian deeply believes, we need to feed our kids better.  We need them to know what food really is, where it comes from, and how it grows.  For another, the creativity of the Truck Farm is inspiring. The way Ian looked at his truck---this familiar object with a single purpose---and thought sideways and came up with this incredible thing.

And for one more reason too.  To my mind, a Truck Farm is a lot like a story. It is this world, this living breathing changing world, in a tiny space. Each vegetable has an arc, the whole garden has a structure and an aesthetic, and there is a rhythm to its existence.  You have to fill the truck bed as much as you can, it can't hold much after all, but you also have to make sure each plant has enough space. I mean check this out: when you plant carrots you plant a ton of them, then as they begin to grow you have to thin them, pull some out so that the remaining carrots can grow big and fat and full.  If that isn't the process of revision---or my revision anyway (did I mention I am trying to create space in my stories??)---then I don't know what is.

Check out the trailer for Ian's film about his Truck Farm.

Happy writing. Happy planting.  Happy revising.  Happy harvesting.

All images from Ian's website.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Devil In The Brambles

I love autumn. To me, it is the most sensual season of the year. The smell of ripe blackberries, roasting peppers, and the warm baking spices—nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Biting into a crisp, sweet apple—the sound of the crunch. The slant of light that stretches shadows of buildings and tree trunks. The skittering swirl of dry leaves down the sidewalk.

It’s harvest time, which, as a writer, is often when a piece of work that I’ve been growing, nurturing, fully focused on for the past year is finally ready to send out in the world. Which also means its time to start something new. And for me, the best place to start is with the senses. Because the senses, more than anything else, evoke emotion.

Many years ago, a wonderful writing teacher gave me a simple writing exercise that was transformative, opening a portal into deep and emotional memory. Part meditation and part writing, the exercise simply required sitting quietly and going back to some moment in childhood, then connecting to it through the senses. I remember closing my eyes and finding myself standing in a dirt lane in front of a patch of blackberry brambles. The air had a crisp edge but the low sun was warm on the back of my head and the brambly smell of sun on the fruit and leaves and stems and the taste of warm, ripe blackberries was vivid. But it also carried a melancholy note, a feeling of loneliness that the sensual memory brought back from my childhood.

Illustration by Molly Brett
Why blackberry brambles? There seems to be an archetypal element to them—they show up in many fairy tales and fables. Sleeping Beauty’s castle sleeps beneath an overgrowth of brambles, Rapunzel’s prince falls out the tower window, gouging his eyes out in the bramble bushes, Children’s picture books are full of them. Perhaps it’s the prickles, the thorns that one has to endue to get at the sweet fruit. The universal lesson that the pursuit of pleasure comes with some pain along the way. The concept of risk and reward. Of sacrifice for harvest.

Some people say you should not pick wild blackberries after September 29th, Michaelmas, or you’ll risk running into the devil. The story goes that when the archangel Michael kicked Satan out of heaven on that day, the devil landed in a patch of blackberry brambles and so now every year he gets his revenge by spitting (some say peeing) on them, making them inedible. Whether or not you choose to believe the story, it is a good idea to pick your berries by the end of September before they shrivel into dry, brown seedy bumps.

With that in mind, my daughter and I walked through the Presidio yesterday gathering about half a gallon of berries between us. We both got pricked but it was worth it. The afternoon was also a lesson in patience and quiet observation worth noting for other ventures. Like writing.  Over and over I would be certain I’d picked every ripe berry from the patch I was foraging (and why is it that the sweetest, plumpest berries always seem just out of reach?) but then after looking up at the fog pouring in over us, and getting ready to move on, I would see a whole cluster I had missed. They’d been there all along—right in front of my eyes, but somehow I hadn’t seen them. Kind of like a piece of writing that isn’t quite working—you get ready to abandon it but give it one last glance and see the connections that were missing. Right there before your eyes.

This morning, I had a big bowl of berries for breakfast—they tasted like sunshine and the last of summer’s sweetness. And a little bit melancholy. Which I actually like. Autumn is the melancholy season, which is another reason it’s my favorite season.

What do love most about autumn?

Take Good Care,


Thursday, September 5, 2013


So way back in August of 2012 – doesn't that feel like a long time ago? – Luke Reynolds asked me if I was interested in contributing to an anthology of essays by children's writers about breaking rules. Ummm…yeah. Even only knowing that much I was in.

The book was to be a compilation of rules – societal, parental, peer – that are so familiar we forget to question them; rules that require closer examination. Rules like: Never Be Alone. Don't Quit. Don't Tell Lies. Go to College After High School. Don't Let the New World Change You. Luke came to me because he wanted an essay that focused on nature; one that maybe asked teens to contemplate what nature could teach them about themselves. Would I like to contribute an essay about the power of landscape? This time there was no Ummm. Just yeah. Oh yeah!

And now, just over a year later, I am proud to say that the anthology, Break These Rules: 35 YA Writers on Speaking Up, Standing Out, and Being Yourself has been born!

Here's how to publisher describes the book:

If you're a girl, you should strive to look like the model on the cover of a magazine. If you're a boy, you should play sports and be good at them. If you're smart, you should immediately go to college after high school, and get a job that makes you rich. Above all, be normal.


Wrong, say 35 leading middle grade and young adult authors. Growing up is challenging enough; it doesn't have to be complicated by convoluted, outdated, or even cruel rules, both spoken and unspoken. Parents, peers, teachers, the media, and the rest of society sometimes have impossible expectations of teenagers. These restrictions can limit creativity, break spirits, and demand that teens sacrifice personality for popularity.

In these personal, funny, moving, and poignant essays, [these authors] share anecdotes and lessons learned from their own lives in order to show you that some rules just beg to be broken.

There are some amazing writers between the covers of this book. A.S. King, Gary D. Schmidt, Sara Zarr, Kathryn Erskine, Chris Lynch, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovitch, Natalie Dias Lorenzi, Mitali Perkins, Sayantani DasGupta, Mike Jung…the list goes on and on.

I am so ridiculously humbled to be part of such a group.

A candleholder made by Nate, taken from his website.
I write quite a bit in my essay about a friend named Nate. He's an artist now. He carves furniture and cool things (skateboards, iPhone cases, cutting boards) out of gorgeous wood, and he often painstaking inlays carved wooden leaves or (his newest and most amazing idea) recycled coffee grounds, spices, wood shavings, and other bits of things into his work. Nate had an exceptionally painful childhood. And that is putting it mildly. And nature, as he puts it, saved him. His story is so breathtaking to me, both in terms of how devastating it is and how hopeful it is too. And although his childhood fell to one extreme on the continuum, the essential issues he faced – feeling more and more unlike himself the more he complied with "the rules" – are universal. My own experience with those issues circled around peer pressure, being a shy girl within a group of girls, feeling like I had to step outside of myself in order to belong, and obeying "the rules" of the pack. My childhood was perfectly wonderful in many ways – don't get me wrong – but I believe SO strongly that we can do better when it comes to helping our teens be and honor themselves.

And I also believe that nature is a great place to find that help. It is a place full of creativity, intuition, all the wisdom of evolution. A place empty of tomes – or loud, angry monologues – of directions.

I'll leave you with an excerpt from my essay:

We all internalize the directions that are laid out in front of us. The ones our parents give us, the ones our teachers give us, the ones our peers give us. We internalize them, and they become a part of us. We don't even notice them. They are an endless, flat landscape inside our bodies. They just are. This – this incredible process of finding even one of your own loose parts – brings pieces of yourself into relief so that they pop up like little hills. This is the nature – no pun intended – of the truth, especially the truth about you. It sweeps in and stirs up the earth. It brings contrast and clarity. Those are my stepfather's directions. They are more about him than me. I don't believe in them. But I do believe in these leaves and patterns and art. This is what began to happen for Nate. Those girls live by those directions. I don't feel good when I try to live by them too. I do feel good when I follow a trail and imagine the stories that are lingering here and go home and write about them. This is what began to happen for me.

Learning the art of do-not-follow-the-directions was my pathway and Nate's pathway to salvation – or perhaps, more aptly, selfation.

With gratitude,