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, June 19, 2014

Repost: Landscape, Architecture and Literature


I am off on a camping trip and then an adventure in Honduras so I have decided to repost this, about landscape, architecture and literature.  Matteo Pericoli still AMAZES me, and I still think about the shape of my stories because of him.  His ideas are well worth contemplating…

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

Hello everyone!  Summer is well under way, isn't it? We had crazy torrential rain for the first 4 weeks or so, followed by extraordinary heat, and then...this...lovely sunny, warm, breezy days. One floating into the other.  I love summer for its lack of schedule and plentiful light.  I only wish I could work a little less, and enjoy some spontaneous time with my kids more...but its a tiny wish, really.  One that I am content to have take a back seat for now.

So without any further ado...

The Nose by N. Gogol
I just read a very cool article in the New York Times titled Writers As Architects, written by Matteo Pericoli*. Matteo teaches a course called "Laboratory of Literary Architecture", at Scuola Holdin, a creative writing school in Turin, Italy, and most recently in the MFA program at Columbia University School of the Arts, in New York City.  In the course, students find---or as Matteo says, extract---the literary architecture of a text and then physically build it. Physically build it! He describes the way writers and architects have similar intentions:

Great architects build structures that can make us feel enclosed, liberated or suspended. They lead us through space, make us slow down, speed up, or stop to contemplate. Great writers, in devising their literary structures, do exactly the same.
 Matteo asks his students to bring a text to class and then analyze it; break it down to its most basic elements and then explore how those elements are in relationship with one another and with the overall structure. He explains the process as one of reduction. In architecture, he says, once you strip a structure of walls and ceilings and floors, you are left with space. The same is true of literature. When you take away language (literature's walls), what are you left with?  Yes! Space!  How do we use space in literature? How do we incorporate it, in a conscious way, into our work? How do we build, not on top of it, but around its very specific, very unique shape?

The Distance of the Moon by I. Calvino
The students then team up with architecture students and, in pairs, they design a physical representation of the essence of the text. (I imagine it like a picture book writer getting to work with an illustrator!  Such luck!  Such fun! Such magic!)  Matteo lists the kinds of issues the teams discuss: tension, repetition, pacing, sequence, and of course spatial relationship, among others.  Familiar issues to us writers, eh?  Architectural issues are addressed through the literature and literary issues are tackled physically.  

How cool is that? And more than the coolness factor---which is high---how much could you learn about the foundational, essential elements of your story if you had to build a physical manifestation of it?  I am just enamored with the idea.

I have been pondering and exploring space in my own work all summer, as I revised a middle grade novel that has been through a few revision processes already. I focused intensely on where to leave space; where to extract words and remove answers...and also what shapes the space would take, what shapes the novel was intuitively asking the space to take. I forget to leave room for the reader, I forget to offer... nothing... to offer inviting, specific, well-thought spaces for the reader to enter and muck around and leave prints within.

The Corrections by J. Franzen

Now I want to team up with an architect!

Anyway, I'd love to hear what you all think of  S     P     A     C     E     ...

Gratefully yours,

* Matteo Pericoli is AWESOME by the way.  Check out some of the books he has written and drawn, such as World Unfurled, which is a book version of the 397 foot mural he created for the American Airlines Terminal at accordion-style fold-out of a 70-city journey around the world, with an essay by Colum McCann, and published by Chronicle Books.  He has also written and illustrated a few picture books, like Tommaso and the Missing Line, about a boy in search of a line that has disappeared from one of his own drawings!  [All architecture images can be found here.]

Gratefully yours,

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Esplanade Community Garden

We have a community garden on our block!

My dear friend and neighbor, Stef, inspired it. Both of us—many of us on our block—garden. Stef lives on the park side of our street, and her garden sits in the back of her house, facing the park and the river. The river, right? The one that has overflowed a number of times recently and flooded the park and our block. Stef's house and land have been hit especially hard by the floods and she has virtually lost her garden. It has basically washed away.  Not good. Not good at all.


At the other end of our block, just past my house, there is a big open field. A local guy owns it. Way back when it was used as a cow pasture.  And then, I believe, it was hayed. Now, it basically sits un-used—sometimes kids play ball there, we all use it as a shortcut to get to the block behind ours, but mostly it has been a place where some people just let their dogs poop. So Stef approached him about us using it for a community garden. He was thrilled with the idea! We asked our neighbors if they wanted to join in, two were interested, and now our four households are partners in the—

Esplanade Garden!

Stef's son and my daughter planting peas!

Over the last six weeks or so we have planned the layout of the garden, measured it, dug up sod, built a bean teepee, painted signs, shopped, planted seeds and starts, and watered the garden. The vegetables are already looking vibrant and strong. And we all—well, I think we all feel more vibrant and strong too.  It's fun to work collaboratively on such a dynamic project. It feels good to be in the dirt side by side. Each of us has a little expertise in one piece of the process (some—e'hem, like me—have less expertise than others!) and so we are learning a lot too!

Our pole bean teepee
And look!  Bean plants are beginning to grow!
Here is the other amazing (yet not so surprising) thing: we have already had a number of spontaneous and warm moments with other neighbors as a result of the garden. For example: when we were digging up the sod and had no real idea what we were doing, the neighbor across the street came over with her sod buster, a sharpener and her Master Gardener skills and she showed us how to dig up sod the right way!  She ended up staying to help, brought her dad and brother to help too, and it turned out that she and her family needed the sod to replace grass that had been destroyed in the flood. We dug it up, transported it to her house and they replanted it.  I had NEVER spent time with her before. Ever.  It was awesome. And, I don't know, it felt kind of critical too.

Community gardens are a great thing for all the reasons we already know.  They promote healthy eating and healthy relationships. They save money and save land.  And they connect us—to ourselves, to each other and to the landscape that is our home.

Our community garden made me want to understand their history. And so here is a brief overview, with some illustrations from a few of my favorite gardening picture books:

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
1.  During the 1893 depression, Detroit's mayor, Hazen Pingree, proposed a plan. He suggested using donated vacant land for gardens, which would provide temporary work for unemployed folks. Known as Pingree Potato Patches, the program offered ¼ to ½ acre sites, and also provided seeds and instructions in 3 languages. The food raised was available for sale. Based on PPP's success, similar programs were started in in New York, Chicago, Boston, and other cities.

2.  In 1891, the first school garden opened at the Putnam School in Boston. Other school gardens followed. They were most often run by teachers and supported by local organizations—women’s clubs, gardening clubs, civic clubs, etc—who provided volunteers, land, and funding. In 1914, the U.S. Bureau of Education created the Division of Home and School Gardening in an effort to promote gardens nationally.

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart
3.  The war garden campaign began when the U.S. joined World War I. American volunteers banded together to raise food for their households so that farm-raised food could be exported to Europe, where there was a severe food crisis. Huge numbers of people participated in this effort, and gardens were started in backyards, vacant lots, parks, company grounds—on any available land. In 1918, the Bureau of Education restructured the Division of Home and School Gardening into the U.S. School Garden Army. Some reports state that 5.29 million gardeners grew $525 million worth of food in 1918 alone.

4.  People turned to gardening again during the 1930s depression. Two types of gardens existed at this time: subsistence gardens, which were found at people's homes and on community property; and work-relief gardens, where folks were paid to grow food that was used in hospitals and by charities.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
5.  World War II brought federally guided Victory Gardens. They were part of the larger Food Fights for Freedom campaign that included rationing, recycling, canning, handicrafts, and volunteer farm work. The Victory Garden program promoted gardening for household food consumption and, in 1944, 42% of the nation's vegetables came from them.  42%!!  This was a practical movement, yes, but it was also a philosophical and emotional one. Participating in Victory Gardens was a way to express patriotism, build morale and collaborate in a fun, relaxing way.

6.  In the 1970s, interest in community gardening was rekindled. It became an expression of urban activism and a new environmental ethic. In 1976, the USDA sponsored the Urban Gardening Program, which created urban offices in 16 (and then 23) cities to promote vegetable gardening and community garden. In 1978, the American Community Gardening Association  was created as a non-profit membership organization.

The Good Garden by Katie Smith Milway
7.  Truck farms. Remember the post I did on Ian Cheney and his amazing project?  I just LOVE that truck…

Do you have any community garden stories to share?  Or books about community gardens?

Gratefully yours,