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, January 30, 2014

Landscape and the Mindset of Growth

Erin Murphy posted a link to this blog post yesterday. (Thank you Erin and thank you Brain Pickings.) And it spoke to me.

Boy, it spoke to me.

Our mindsets make a huge difference in the quality of our lives. The moment to moment quality, as well as the long term, visionary quality.  I know this. I have known this. What we thinkof ourselvesis a sort of guiding light in the darkness, right? If we think negatively, that is the path we see before us. If we think positively…well then that is the path we see illuminated.

But Carol Dweck's work is an even more intense examination of how our thoughts can profoundly impact our lives. I won't go into her work here in detail, because you can go to the blog post and read it for yourself (and I urge you to, if you have time) but basically she found, in her research, that one of the most basic beliefs we have about ourselves stems from how we view—and live within—our personalities. And she found two distinct categories here: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. 

A fixed mindset says:

I am who I am, and I need to prove it over and over again. I have to show everyone that I am smart and any indication that I am not smart (making a mistake, for example) will not be tolerated.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, says:

Who I am right now is simply who I am right now. I can learn and grow and improve over time, if I put in the hard work and keep an open mind along the way. I am curious and flexible and have room inside for improvement.

I realized after I read the blog post that I had heard of Carol Dweck before. I read an article in New York Magazine a while ago about children and praise, and her work was in it, front and center: “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” Dweck explained in the article. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

This is powerful, deeply satisfying stuff. 

The Ugly Duckling by Roberta Wilson
It speaks to me as a parent, for sure. I can remember when my son decided to go to an ice hockey camp and when we got there it was clear that he was the only kid who had never played before. He couldn't do it on that first day. Any of it. And every other kid could. He tripped, he fell, he missed the puck, he fell again. I remember feeling so sad for him—you know that feeling in the center of your belly when your kid is suffering in the moment…when success is so not available in that very second—and wanting to scoop him up and take him home.  But I didn't. (Not because I got wise and knew this could be a powerful moment, but because Derek, my husband, was already wise and urged me to wait it out.)  You can guess what happened. We (and the camp counselors, thank goodness) praised my son for his incredible effort, for small improvements, for hard work. He got better at ice hockey each day of that week. Not good, not good by a long shot, but better. And most profoundly for me…he felt so content within himself, both throughout the process and, of course, after it was over.

What better lesson can we hope to teach our kids?  I would venture to say that there isn't a better one. 

(Except to be empathetic and kind to self and others, perhaps. But…and this is oh so cool, in my opinion…I am going to guess that living with a growth mindset nurtures empathy and kindness. If you know how to work hard, and know you can change, then you can imagine that in other people too.)

What better lesson can we hope to learn for ourselves too?

I used to think that desiring something for more than a minute was a sign that I wasn't meant to do the thing, or have the thing…because it meant that I had tried to do it, or have it, and had failed. Failure the first time meant that the desire was off the table. Quite a fixed mindset, eh?

But now…

From The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
My New Year's post, the one about last year being a cocoon year for me, is about exactly this. In all ways, but especially in terms of my writing. I have never worked so hard and so long at anything. I have never made effort and perseverance as much of a ritual as I have with the process of writing. This is key, I believe. The ritual of effort and perseverance. 

And I would add to that, now that I sit for a moment and think about it. The ritual of effort and perseverance and longing.

Work hard, keep at it, and always, always honor the longing.

With gratitude,

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Filling The Page

A blank page. The image conjures up different things for different people. It can suggest a clean slate—a fresh start. Starting over without old baggage. It can hint at new beginnings, starting from scratch, at a world of possibilities—a place where you can do anything you want. Sometimes the excitement, the hope, the untapped potential is absolutely delicious.

But sometimes…it’s terrifying. Especially when you stare at it and your brain remains as blank as the stark white field in front of you. And the more you stare at this blankness, the more terrified you become. And, of course the more terrified you become, the blanker the blankness becomes.

It’s quite unpleasant. But what can you do? It’s like insomnia—the more you fret and freak that you’re not falling asleep, the more you can’t sleep.

These are the times I turn to word games—something that can get the verbal juices flowing again. Many of the word games I play come from my VCFA writing teacher, Tim Wynne-Jones. The list poem is one of my favorites: Passed on from the Toronto poet, Stuart Mills, you write a poem in which every line begins with the same phrase, such as;

I’ll never forget
When you think of me
You shouldn’t have
Every morning she made
She wished

You can also open your favorite novel to any page and look for an evocative short passage and use that.

Another is an exercise called Verbal Remedies. Borrowed from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within: 
Fold a sheet of paper in half and on the left side list the first ten nouns that you think of, then turn the paper over and think of some occupation, like carpenter, doctor, cook, then write down fifteen verbs that apply to that occupation. Open the page and try joining the nouns with any of the verbs to make interesting sentences.
There are many more great word games on Tim’s website:

Nina Katchadourian: A Day At The Beach
I started playing a new game this past week, inspired by artist and photographer Nina Katchadourian’s series titled Sorted Books. (There’s a fabulous show of her work up at the Catharine Clark Gallery right now- If you live in the Bay Area, don’t miss it!) Katchadourian culls through different collections of books, choosing titles that when strung together, make a kind of free-form found-words haiku. For instance, three book titles: Don’t Forget!/Can’t Remember What I Forgot/Who Really Cares? Or the four titles: Between You And I/There’s a Dead Person Following my Sister Around/Oh!/I Thought It was Just Me.
They’re amusing, evocative and make great writing prompts. Check out more on her website:
So I thought, hey, I have a lot of books on my bookshelves. Let’s see what kind of interesting word combinations I can string together…
I got:
Salvage The Bones/Writing Down The Bones/Negotiating With The Dead/Old Friend From Far Away

Rain Light/ The Nature Of Water And Air/Peace Like a River/The River King

If You Find Me/When You Reach Me./Where I Want to Be/Where Things Come Back

The Diviners/The Probable Future/The Devil All The Time

MadApple/The Poison Diaries/Revenge Of The Witch

Housekeeping/Away/The Land Of Women/ How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly/After the Ecstasy The Laundry

Okay, so maybe mine aren’t quite as wry as Nina’s, but they've provided great fodder for short stints of filling the page.
What can you make from the book titles on your book shelves? What word games do you play to get the words flowing?

Take Good Care,


Thursday, January 16, 2014

A repost of Sunrise and Landscape from January 2013

With gratitude for the light coming back and for you all.


Early morning ski

Before the world awakens

When everything is quiet

And everything is new

And all things are possible.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dancing For Joy

With the old year giving way to the new, I have been thinking of what I want to do this year (like I do at the beginning of every year) Be kinder. Be more attentive and present. Have more fun. Take more risks. (Especially when it comes to my writing.) Make more things with my hands. Travel. Travel more. The last one makes the list every year.

Sewn art by Chris Roberts Antieau

Why travel? I believe travel changes you for the better. It expands you. It adds depth and breadth to your life. It costs money but makes you richer. Miriam Beard, writer, American historian, archivist and lifelong advocate of social justice through education and activism in the woman’s rights movement said it perfectly:

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”


I recently spent a week in New Orleans—a trip I took with my wonderful husband David to celebrate our one-day-apart birthdays. It was a fabulous trip with treats for all of the senses. We wandered all over the place, rented bikes and rode all over even more of the place through the tree lined streets, listened to lots and lots of music each day, which is everywhere you go—

On the streets and in the clubs—jazz and funk and rock and Cajun Zydeco and little Indie bands playing on the street corner for spare change. 

We savored new flavors and textures at restaurants and cafes—some new and fresh and innovative, some old and steeped in NOLA tradition. (I ate many bowls of delicious steaming gumbo.) Over the week, I could feel the experiences becoming part of me—part of who I am, part of the way I see the world. I decided I would pick the five things that I think impacted me the most—the things that I think are now permanently embedded in my soul.

     1) The Singing Oak in City Park. This huge one hundred year old oak is strung with wind chimes from small to large. (one is 14 feet long!) It is a musical art installation by Jim Hart, all tuned to the pentatonic scale, so the wind through the chimes creates a beautiful and soulful harmony. Every city should have one of these.  I swear the world would be a more peaceful, happier place if everyone could go sit under such a tree everyday. Here’s a link to a youtube video that will let you listen:

 2) Walking in a second line for Nelson Mandela. For those of you who didn’t watch Treme, a second line is a tradition in brass band parades in New Orleans. The first line is made up of the club musicians who play the instruments and lead the parade and the second line is the people who follow. It is also referred to as a happy jazz funeral without the body.

     3) Chris Roberts Antieau. Wandering through the French Quarter, we noticed a window with a stuffed owl and an ornately decorated deer head set in a snowy forest. We crossed the street and entered the Antieau Gallery and fell under the spell of the whimsical, gorgeous, strange and evocative hand-sewn images created by artist Chris Roberts Antieau. 

Sewn Art by Chris Roberts Antieau

     The website is being redone, but you can see more images at:

     4) Lunch at Dooky Chase’s. Dooky Chase in the Treme was the informal headquarters in the 1960’s for the civil rights movement. (President Obama flew in to eat here after his first inauguration.) Leah Chase’s gumbo is widely considered the best. (It was REALLY good!)

     5) Dancing to Bruce Daigrepont’s Cajun band at Tipitina’s. Okay, so we don’t dance. Usually. But who can resist dancing the two-step when everyone else in the room is dancing and the joyful music makes you have to move? It was such fun! (We’ll be dancing more in the future…) Bruce made red beans and rice for everyone at Tipitina’s that night. (Also, in my next life, I am going to play the accordion.) Here’s a sweet little video about Bruce, Cajun music and post Katrina New Orleans:

"But how could you choose just five?" my husband asks. It’s hard. So here’s five more things that we both loved: Riding bikes through Faubourg Marigny and the Bywater, discovering Washboard Chaz, washboard player extraordinaire, Zydeco night at Rock and Bowl, eating oysters at Casamento’s, and birthday dinner at Bayona.

Oh, and taking the St. Charles streetcar through the Garden District. And sipping a sazerac at The Sazarac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel. And watching the second to the last Treme on a big screen in the backroom of Buffa’s with a roomful of locals. Oh, I could go on and on…

What travel experiences have changed you?

Take Good Care,