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 27, 2015

Reprise: The Landscape In Between

I kinda feel this way again, everyone.  Is it the time of year?  Maybe…

*     *     *     *     

I am in that straddling place.

That place that is one part rocky and one part sand. One part windy and one part heat. The place that is the water between two islands, that long stretch when you can't see land but you know it is behind you and you know it is in front of you and so you contemplate your options, tread water or swim, baby, swim...

I choose to swim, but I am tired. Man, am I tired.

It's an age old place, and an age old murmur in the brain. I know that the straddling place should have its own name. It shouldn't be nameless, those that are nameless don't turn their heads to familiar voices because no one calls to them, no one can call to them. And so they grow more and more aloof, and protective. They grow vines with thorns.

I also know that, truly, the straddling place does have many names. My friend, Kara, who teaches yoga calls it being in the moment. And my son, Luc, who is a cross country runner, calls it the zone.  There are other names too: the process, patience and faith.  Even I have given it names before. My favorite is it is what it is. Kind of catchy, right? Chameleon-like. When I call it that I feel bold and brave. I feel like an explorer who is in it simply for the rocks and the sand and the wind and the sun.

But that name escapes my brain now, and I can't find my compass or my map, and I forgot to bring enough water and nuts. I'm tired. I'm hungry. And I feel like I'm on uneven ground.

Oh my gosh. Pathetic.  I don't mean to be pathetic. I mean to be honest and I mean to put these three questions out to you all:

What do you call this place? What is its landscape?  And how do you find a sense of home here?

*    *    *    *    *    *

Last night I sat on the couch and finished a book. A great book.  One that inspired me as a person and as a writer. The pellet stove was chugging. The room was warm. I had a glass of seltzer on the window sill behind me with just the right amount of fizz because yesterday was pay-day and I went to the store to finally buy a new CO2 canister. The chickens were tucked into their coop, but my middle daughter, Zory, tread down the stairs, too late for her to be awake.

You should be in bed I said.

I can't sleep she said.  She looked at the book face down on my lap.  What book is that?

A really good one I said. Actually I read it to see if you might like it. And I think you will.

She stretched out her hand. I put the book carefully in it. She read a page. She looked at the cover. Is this Maureen or Debbie?* she asked, pointing to the girl riding over a bridge on her bike.

Debbie I said. You need to go to bed. You have school tomorrow. 

But I can't sleep. Don't you ever feel that way?

For some reason the question brought tears to my eyes. I nodded my head in agreement.

So can I read a little more? she asked. Just until the end of the chapter. Please?  I like the book so far.

I nodded again.

Zory leaned back on the other side of the couch. Her knees were bent and the book rested on her thighs. I looked out the window. It was black outside. I felt the glass on the window. And cold. It was cold out there too. The last remnants of winter skulking around in the night. I looked back at Zory. Her brow was furrowed. Her mouth was slightly open. She was unaware of me in that ten-year-old way that she usually was. When had it happened? When had she become the kind of reader that walked inside a book and sat down with girls like Maureen and Debbie and didn't walk out until she was done?  When had she become the kind of reader that I had dreamed I would give birth to, who would sit on the couch with me, warmed by the stove and warmed by the words?

Twice in one night Zory brought tears to my eyes.

I thought about the Zory of before, I thought about where she was going.  And, last night, I felt like I could sit on that couch forever in that place in between, in that straddling place. In that place I call home.

*    *    *    *    *    *

It is what it is.  The zone.  Being in the moment.  The process, patience and faith.

What do you call this place? What is its landscape?  And how do you find a sense of home here?

Gratefully yours,


*Can you guess what book Zory was reading??

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Rich Landscape Of Travel

I was recently in Mexico—Mexico City, San Miguel De Allende and a day in Guanajuato. The time spent there was sensual, mind-expanding and so rich in images and experience.

Travel has always been important in our family, a priority that trumps most all other discretionary spending and hits the top of the list when we’re budgeting time and resources.

People often ask me, but what do you do when you travel?

Well, we do what we most like to do when we’re home, but more of it. We wander, we consider the landscape, we look at architecture, visit galleries and art museums, listen to music, hang out at side-walk cafés, talk to the dogs, eat locally and drink the local wine. And we always stop in a pharmacy and buy a tube of toothpaste.

I keep a journal. This past trip, I kept two. One to share and one just for me where I jotted down images and experiences and notes for a poem or short story, plus 4 rough-hewn sketches that helped me “see” more detail in an image I’d noted. (A practice I’ve now incorporated into my everyday journaling. Thank you, Lynda Barry!)

I thought I’d share one day from our trip (from the to-share journal):

Wednesday February 25, San Miguel de Allende
Breakfast in the lovely courtyard of our hotel.

Then we took a taxi from San Miguel to Guanajuato in a car with no seat belts. Our drivers name was Juan Jose—he spoke no English and had a silver cross on a string of green rosary beads dangling from the rear view mirror. He picked up a friend and then took us to see the mummy museum displaying the people who have been dug up from the cemetery to make room for more people, explaining in Spanish that only the very wealthy stay buried.

Then they took us to a church on top of a mine and showed us the gloppy gilded altars and sent us with a guide, deep, deep, down many flights of steep slippery stairs into the mineshaft. The guide insisted we keep taking pictures of each other posed as miners. Then we drove through the tunnels left over from the old mines into the center of town where we had a nice outdoor lunch on the square; shrimp tacos on a big spinach leaf and a paper thin slice of jicama and then soup. We walked around town holding hands and soaking up the spectrum of heat-soaked colors, then drove back to San Miguel and looked at the cactus and yellow flowers of Saint Mary and the dry hills of the Sierras de Guanajuato. Back in San Miguel, we chilled a little then went back out to see a few more galleries on Bob's recommended list, had some ice cream at Santa Clara creamery, a drink on the roof of Mama Mia.

On our way to find the restaurant where we wanted to eat, we saw a parade come up a quiet dimly-lit narrow street with a motorcycle policeman escort; a decorated donkey, two huge puppets—a lady and a Mexican wrestler with a horn band—maybe for lent? Also a group of tourists riding horses. We had a lovely light dinner at a new modern restaurant, Cumpanio, that had a repeating video of silhouetted white dog images playing on a wall in the bar.

I'd love to hear where you've been and what you've seen...

Take Good Care,


Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Landscape of Longing Repost

There is a space between man's imagination and man's attainment that may only be traversed by his longing.
                                                                                               ― Kahlil Gibran from Sand and Foam 

I am thinking about longing this week.  I think about it often, and I know I have written about it here before.  It's a complicated thing, longing.  It's a good thing, a great thing, a salvation. To long for something is an affirmation of your very self; a vibrant reminder that you care and you feel and you have a bonfire burning inside. But it is also an ache, isn't it?  A pull outside of yourself – for what you desire is not with you, not yet.  It is your head against the cold of the windowpane, searching, searching through the glass for that thing, that (as of yet) unattainable thing.

I tend to rest, ultimately, not on the dark side of longing, but on the light side.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing. Embody me.
Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
                                                                        — Rainer Maria Rilke, Go to the Limits of Your Longing

I had an epiphany this week though.  Perhaps you all already know this, but for me it was an eye opener.  I realized that, historically, when I feel a longing, I immediately and unconsciously attach it to many, many thoughts or memories or fantasies. Let me explain: I long for something. Nanoseconds later I either have a fantasy about that longing – What would it be like to have this? I can see myself having it, feeling so happy, sitting in my living room basking in its glow… or I have a memory about it – I remember when I wanted this before. I almost had it, and then, in the last moment, it fell through my fingers. It felt awful, I felt like a failure…

See?  In the former, my longing is hitched to a fantasy train, wildly careening down the tracks, and in the latter, it is strapped to a memory bomb, whistling and hurtling at terrifying speeds to the earth.  Both are a ride. Neither will get me anywhere useful.

So my epiphany was this idea that longing is best treated with a buffer of space and reverence. It needs to breathe.  It needs to be – not lonely, perhaps – but solitary.  It deserves to be respected in that way.  We who feel longing deserve to be respected in that way.

I know I have posted this poem before, but May Sarton says it in the very best way:

The phoebe sits on her nest

Hour after hour,

Day after day,

Waiting for life to burst out

From under her warmth.

Can I weave a nest of silence,

Weave it of listening, listening, listening,

Layer upon layer?

But one must first become small,

Nothing but a presence,

Attentive as a nesting bird,

Proffering no slightest wish

Toward anything
that might happen or be given,

Only the warm, faithful waiting,
contained in one’s smallness.

Beyond the question, 
the silence.

Before the answer, 
the silence.

— May Sarton, Can I Weave a Nest of Silence

With gratitude,

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Landscape of Sarah Tomp's My Best Everything

We’re so thrilled to have our VCFA classmate and dear friend Sarah Tomp with us today to talk about her just released (March 3rd!) debut YA novel, My Best Everything!  We love this book—it’s a beautifully written love letter brimming with electric passion and the longing of characters who take great risks to get what they think they want. (I read it in two long breathless gulps, staying up half the night to find out what happens!)

Sharry: Welcome Sarah! I found the landscape in MY BEST EVERYTHING to be so richly provocative and specific to the story—could you describe it for our readers?

Sarah: MY BEST EVERYTHING takes place in the fictional town of Dale, located in the New River Valley, within Appalachia Virginia. It’s a small impoverished town tucked between two mountains with a river running through its center. There are wild and overgrown woods surrounding the area. And in those woods, not too far from a rushing stream, is the spot where my main character, Lulu Mendez, convinces her friends Roni and Bucky to set up a copper still “borrowed” from the junkyard where she and Roni work. That’s how they start making and selling moonshine.

Sharry: You seem to know the landscape intimately well—you must have spent a good amount of time there, gathering the details that bring it vividly to life?

Sarah: Although Dale is not a real place, it’s based on several of the towns surrounding Blacksburg, Virginia, where I lived as a teen. It’s the kind of place that feels both wild and safe. It’s where I learned to drive—and I spent a ridiculous amount of time driving and/or riding around on little back roads exploring the area. The river was a favorite place to end up. I loved riding inner tubes down The New River as soon as the days turned warm.

Sharry: Wild and safe—I love that! And such evocative memories of your own teenage years. Can you talk a little about how the landscape of and around Dale plays a part in your story? 

Sarah: The setting—the landscape—is integral to the story in just about every way. My main character, Lulu is desperate to leave town. She is eager to head off to college life in sunny California. Although there are things she grudgingly likes about her town, she has never felt like she fits in there. She sees it as a slow and sleepy place, covered with shadows and grit. It’s beautiful, but it’s a rough place too.

This is the way she describes Dale, and the junkyard where she works:
“…that spot coming out of the last long curve, where the silvery beech trees grow all lithe and graceful with the somber, steady hills behind them. That’s a view that feels like hope and goodness, as if the whole world is right and strong. But then, all of a sudden, there it is: Sal’s Salvage. Heaps of rusty cars. Noisy machinery. All of it ugly and old and worn out, and all wrapped up with harsh chain-link fences and barbed wire.”

Over the course of the story, Lulu gets to know her community better. Mason teaches her to drive and they spend hours exploring all the many back roads. She starts to find beauty in unexpected places, and to truly appreciate what it means to be a “Dale girl.”

And then there’s the moonshine. Moonshine is a cultural tradition for this part of the world. It’s something that has always flourished when times get tough. People work hard and do whatever it takes to feed their families. The thick woods and running water make it easier to hide a working still. 

I just don’t think this story couldn’t have taken place anywhere else.

Sharry: I couldn’t agree more—the story and place are so interwoven. And it feels like you have both affection and such a deeply personal connection to this landscape—would you say that’s true?
Sarah: I loved living in that part of the country! It was an amazing place to spend my teen years. We hiked in the woods, went camping out under the stars, and swam in the lakes and rivers, and the amazing Cascade waterfalls.

So many of my own firsts happened in that place. Memories are tucked into that landscape. There’s a spot on the highway a little north of here (San Diego) that when I’m driving past, it always looks like the hills of Virginia to me. Paired with the colloquial exit named Gopher Canyon, it always makes me feel a little homesick and wistful. But happy, too.

And yet, I never really thought I’d stay there. A lot of my high school friends had lived there all their lives. I was very aware of being an outsider when we moved the summer I turned twelve. So, even though I loved parts of it, maybe that’s why I knew I wouldn’t be staying there forever. I wasn’t as ambitious or determined as Lulu—I never would have had the tenacity to follow through on creating and sustaining a successful moonshine business—but I always assumed I’d end up somewhere else. Just like Lulu.

Sharry: Exactly! Just like Lulu. Thank you so much Sarah for sharing these insights with us today!

Sarah Tomp's Bio

Sarah is the author of My Best Everything, a novel for young adults and a picture book, Red, White and Blue Good-bye. She earned a MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches creative writing for UCSD Extension and lives in San Diego with her family. Visit her at her website:

You can order My Best Everything through Little Brown Teen or Barnes and Noble or from your favorite independent bookseller!