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, July 31, 2014

Landscape as Selfation

An encore of a late July post two years ago.  I have been thinking about ritual and the familiarity of the landscape around home and so I thought this would be a great one to bring on back

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I have been thinking a lot about landscape lately. Go figure. But these particular thoughts have been different. And I have been turning them over and over again like a pile of autumn leaves—gathering my thoughts, then jumping into them to see how they fly, then gathering them once again. This in part because I have been given the opportunity to write an essay about landscape and in part because of my recent conversation with Beth Kephart.

Much of what Beth said resonates for me. But especially this: I would suggest that what happens [when we become familiar with a place] relates to a sense of belonging.  When we belong somewhere, we can slow down, take note of receding details, stand there and watch the shadows without having to snatch up the exotica.  Time within a landscape yields a depth of understanding—of the place and of ourselves. Yes! Yes yes yes! I couldn’t agree more—I couldn’t feel the truth of this in my bones more—and I have been wondering why this is true.  I am especially curious about why, out in a landscape we know and love, we are able to gather that greater depth of understanding of ourselves.

My daughter recently reminded me the air we breathe was once inside the leaf of a tree. We inhale as the trees exhale. Such a simple truth, such a simple exchange, and yet—it means everything. It means we are connected.

I feel this connection when I go into my woods, and trek down to my river. I feel my senses—my ears and eyes and nose and skin—open wider and grow stronger. And in that open state, I am able to take in things like a broken egg in a nest, a pattern dug into the bark of a tree, a rock formation, a bee hovering over a flower—those small, amazing details that live in abundance throughout nature. I once spent a morning deciphering the footprints of a red fox along a trail, following it to the river where another fox joined it for a drink, and then back to the trail. By building a relationship with a place and organically allowing my senses to become wildly alive, I am then able to turn my attentions inward, to begin to recognize my own landscape, to take in one tiny detail that is a part of me. My relationship with landscape has been a pathway to my salvation—or my selfation as my husband recently coined. And this, I believe, is why.

We are able to mimic the way we see the details of landscape as we begin to find and name and celebrate the tiny parts of ourselves that make us who we truly are.

I would love to hear how other people find that depth of understanding of themselves…

With thanks and gratitude to you, Beth, and to you all.


Thursday, July 24, 2014


Since I finished the novel I’d been writing and it’s now out of my hands (hopefully being read out there, somewhere!) I’m doing what I always do while deciding what I want to write next—reading. A lot.

I’m reading for pleasure, for inspiration, for research (both projects I’m considering will take a good deal of research) and, as a book reviewer for BookBrowse, reading for work.

I just finished a book that fulfills all of these categories—Diane Ackerman’s fascinating, exciting and brilliant The Human Age. The book and the review don’t come out until mid-September, so I won’t give it away with spoilers, but let me tell you, I think EVERYONE is going to want to read this. (Hey, it’s all about US—humans—who doesn’t want to read about themselves?)


But, I am going to briefly talk about one of the many, many issues brought up in the book~


Ackerman says, that thanks to our modern technology “…the idea of cartography no longer applies only to landforms. We’ve mapped (everything from) galaxies and genomes…”

And then she goes on to talk about a new field called ‘interpersonal neurobiology.’ Only recently have scientists discovered that our human brains rewire themselves, create a new interior map, EVERYDAY. (Wow! Way to go, brain!) And that all of our experiences, but especially our relationships, effect change in the brain. On a daily basis. Of course, it should be no surprise that the relationships that have the biggest effect on our brains are our closest, most intimate relationships.

Scans show that our brains register traumatic physical pain in the same way and place they do grief, loss of love, rejection, bullying, and emotional abuse. Harsh words literally can create the same physical effect as a violent punch to the gut.

These scans also show that holding hands with a trusted, loving partner or friend significantly reduces the sensation of an administered physical pain, like an electric shock. It can also lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety.

So the question is, once this knowledge filters through the fabric of our social lives, will we behave better? Will we be kinder, more careful with our actions and words, knowing that anger, exclusion and rejection have the same effect as hitting someone in the face? I’m going to hope for a big yes.

Here’s to more handholding~

Take Good Care,


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Anna Staniszewski, her newest novel THE PRANK LIST, and a bakery landscape!

I am thrilled to have Anna Staniszewski with us today!  The Prank List, the second book in her Dirt Diaries series just released on July 1, 2014, and here Anna explores what landscape means in the novel.  I am especially excited about this interview because the landscape in The Prank List is a very non-traditional one – it's a bakery!  I love this though…expanding the definition of landscape to include man-made environments.

Thank you Anna!

Tam:  How did you gather and then articulate the details of the landscape you portray in The Prank List?

Anna: Creating a bakery landscape was both fun and challenging. My main character, Rachel, takes a pastry class in the story, but what she thinks is going to be great experience turns out to be a bit of a disaster. Not only did I have to create an environment that felt like a believable kitchen, but I also had to focus on creating obstacles for Rachel. I combined my personal knowledge of bakeries with some online research, and I asked my foodie friends to help me with the recipes that Rachel makes to ensure that the baking details were realistic.

Tam:  What is your personal relationship to bakeries?

Anna: My bakery experiences have been a bit peripheral. I worked at a bagel shop for a little while, so I drew on those experiences in the book, and I also have taken some cooking classes. To be honest, I enjoy eating baked goods more than I enjoy making them so this was one aspect of the book that I had to spend a lot of time trying to get right.

Tam:  I love baking, and I fear I might have eaten my own weight in cookies and pastries trying to get the recipes just right!

But back to landscape, for me, in my own writing, I approach landscape almost as a character.  What do you think of that idea? And if you have any beliefs or thoughts around it, can you explain that a bit here?  Why is this so?  How do you manifest this belief in your work?

Anna: The landscape is absolutely a character. Not only does it create an atmosphere in the story but—as I mentioned above—it can also create obstacles for the other characters.

Tam: I've never thought about that! Landscape offering obstacles for its characters.  That is so true—

Anna: Seeing the landscape interacting with the characters can add another layer of conflict to a story. I love taking an aspect of a time or place and using it to force the characters to take action.

Tam: What do you think about the idea that landscape holds stories? The way a piece of land is shaped over time (like where I live, for example, from sheep pasture to forest) and what that means for the people (characters) walking and breathing within it. Life happens over and over again on the same piece of land. Do those life stories get told?  Or are they felt?  So in the case of The Prank List, what does it mean to be a baker?  A non-baker?  Does a kitchen, or a bakery, hold stories?!!

Anna: I love this question! The bakery in The Prank List is new in town, so it doesn’t have a lot of stories “stored up” yet. But its newness is something I thought about as I was writing. The bakery owner wants to bring in more business, so he reluctantly starts offering pastry classes and even agrees to take part in a baking competition. In order to help his business thrive, he’s essentially adding new narratives to his landscape.

Tam: I love that! What does landscape mean to Rachel?

Anna: Rachel is not good with change, so she wants her landscape to stay the same. In The Dirt Diary, she spends a lot of time trying to restore her broken family. In The Prank List, the fear of her mom’s business failing (and, by extension, her family losing its house) drives her to do all sorts of questionable things. She’s willing to take huge risks to keep her landscape from changing.

Tam: Interesting. So that idea that landscape changes, organically, over time is something that Rachel fights against?

Anna: I think this is why she loves baking so much, because it gives her a constant wherever she is. This is also why she has such a hard time when she realizes that she might not be as good at baking as she always thought!

Tam: Finally, I am curious about your take on the relationship between landscape and home. Do you think landscape helps create home?  Do you believe our inner landscape and our outer (environmental) one must be in synch?  (What does that even mean??)  Again, this is a little bit of a different question when you look at it through the lens of a profession as opposed to an environmental landscape… 

Anna: I think this goes back to your previous question about what landscape means to Rachel. She’s very focused on the idea of home (which includes her physical house and also her family) because it’s constantly being threatened. Since things in her landscape are so uncertain, it pushes Rachel to take action she wouldn’t normally take. Only when her home feels safe can she feel like herself again.

Tam: Wow. Yes. When home feels safe, she can feel safe. Thank you for that parting thought, and for all of this, Anna!

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, released on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Islands Of Sanity

My mom passed away this last week and I have been up in Seattle/Bellevue helping my sister take care of the necessary tasks while also trying to process the grief that comes with losing our mother. Amidst all of the phone calls and arrangements and sorting and packing, I've also had to seek out quiet space, places of refuge, islands of sanity. If I was home, I'd go walk the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral, or the one at Land's End, but being in another city, I've taken a late night walk around the tree lined streets of Capitol Hill, and a stroll through the Seattle Arboretum. Trees and walking have helped me settle and find a little peace.

The following is a post I wrote in 2011 on islands of sanity~

I haven't always lived in the city. In my early 20s, I lived on an island, Orcas Island, in the San Juans off the northern coast of Washington State. I refer to it as my homesteading period. 

I had gone from a tiny private high school to a huge university and by the middle of my sophomore year, I was feeling overwhelmed. When a missed tuition snafu made me lose my registered classes, I dropped out, rented a lovely hand built cabin on Orcas, went to the pound and chose a canine companion, talked an ex boyfriend into loading up all my stuff into the back of his pick up truck, and moved.

My life on Orcas felt perfect. I made friends with the librarian and planted a garden on half an acre of her five hundred acre plot. I read and wrote and crocheted backpacks (!!!) to sell at the local gift shop where I worked. I cooked a goose in my wood burning stove and made goose grease cookies. I made sour dough bread, filled up dozens of sketch books and fell in love with a boy who was a wood carver and kept us fed on abalone and venison.

I was barely twenty-one when the librarian told me she was ready to retire. She offered me the job (it was a teensy rural library and didn't require a degree) and then she and her husband amazingly, generously offered me a hundred year lease on five acres of their land at a dollar a year, if I wanted to built a house. I could raise goats, something that sounded great to me at the time. But. I hadn't finished school. I hadn't really lived much of my life yet. This generous, tempting offer felt suspiciously like early retirement.

And so, once again, I moved, this time to Bellingham where the college appealed more to my comfort level. After finishing up my degree, I moved again, this time to Portland, a little bigger, but still a city with a human scale. And then I moved to San Francisco, where I eventually met my wonderful husband, raised my girls and learned to be an urban dweller.

I still need my islands, quiet places where the city hum fades away. We're extremely fortunate to live in a place where the wild, windswept Marin Headlands are less than twenty minutes by car, the Mt. Tamalpais watershed just over half an hour drive. 

But I also have a number of 'islands of sanity' that I visit daily, weekly. Every morning, I walk my Sheltie three and a half blocks to Michelangelo Park, a sweet haven of grass and garden tucked into the middle of a quiet block of apartment buildings. Often, we're the only ones there besides a group of chattering wild parrots.

Strawberry Island in the middle of Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park is another of my havens. The city recedes as we climb the dirt path that circles up to the top of the waterfall; the loudest disturbance is my crazy dog, Emma, who is convinced there is a gurgling monster that lives in the bottom of a cistern by the pond.

I make monthly pilgrimages to the labyrinth in Grace Cathedral four blocks from my house. On certain afternoons, the practicing organist is the only other corporal presence, as I slowly wind my way in and out of the meditative path.

And then there is the DeYoung Museum. On the second floor is a sacred space, a room filled with old masks, wooden gods and mysterious, numinal relics from other worlds. There is a particular silence in this dimmed space that calms and nourishes me.

But the island that is my real haven is my work space at home. When I sit down at my desk to write, the busyness outside stills and I am completely immersed and transported to my world of words and story. The traffic noise, the fog horn, the cable car, the voices and barking dogs, all dissolve. In fact, I was so 'lost' in a scene I was working on a few months ago, that I failed to notice the movie shoot outside my window. It wasn't until I got up to make a cup of tea that I glanced out and recognized Jude Law with a plastic helmet on his head! (Sanity or insanity?)

Where are your islands of sanity?


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Remembering Walter Dean Myers

The extraordinary Walter Dean Myers died on July 1, 2014. The children's literature community has lost a great voice, and a great man. The kids who read---devour---Mr. Myers' words have lost a great map-maker (as Myers' son, Christopher Myers, would say and which I believe wholeheartedly) and a great advocate.

I was lucky enough to be able to hear him speak once, at an Alumni Retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts.  He told stories about his life, offered specific writing tools that worked for him, and read from his amazing work. Crystal clear, throughout his presentations, was his deep belief that books explore our common humanity and that they transmit values. He marveled at the way books had been a big part of his salvation and was determined about the need for more and better books that honored a more diverse range of children.

He said:

I am a writer, but I also see myself as something of a landscape artist. I paint pictures of scenes for inner-city youth that are familiar, and I people the scenes with brothers and aunts and friends they all have met. Thousands of young people have come to me saying that they love my books for some reason or the other, but I strongly suspect that what they have found in my pages is...the recognition of themselves in the story, a validation of their existence as human beings, an acknowledgment of their value by someone who understands who they are. It is the shock of recognition at its highest level.

I am sad that we have lost such a powerful person in our field. May we all accept the torch that he has passed along to us---to be landscape artists in our own ways; to paint pictures of the streets, mountainsides, alleyways, farms, and all of the other corners and nooks that need that bright and hopeful light.

Landscape Collage by BeckHanson

With gratitude,