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 25, 2015

Herding Gulls

During times when so much of my life seems to be in uncertain flux, it's good to look back and realize that some things haven't changed...

This is a post I wrote four years ago, but with the exception of the closing of The House Of Days, it could have been written today~

Yesterday, as the sun dropped low in the sky, my canine companion and I headed off on one of our favorite walks out on the municipal pier that curls into the San Francisco Bay at the end of Van Ness Avenue. Emma, a Shetland Sheepdog without a flock, especially loves this walk; she stalks and herds every gull who dares to rest on the pier wall. Her sincere efforts to launch herself into the sky (both comic and a little pathetic) always make the fisherfolk checking their crab pots laugh.

As we walked out on the dilapidated pier, shaped like a French curve drafting tool, warm coppery light poured through the Golden Gate. Literally hundreds of seagulls criss-crossed the bay, skimming the water in hopes of supper. A sea lion poked its head above the water, orienting itself before a smoothly undulated dive back under. A constellation of star fish clung tenaciously to the breakwall just above the tide line.

A lone swimmer from the Dolphin Club braved the inlet waters—53 degrees at the most. You couldn’t pay me to get in that cold water, but some people I know do it every single day.

Just off the pier, a class of grade school children sang sea shanties from the deck of the Balclutha—a retired, three-masted, 300 foot, clipper ship built in 1886. This ship once carried goods around the tip of South America but is now maintained by the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Museum and used for monthly overnight field trips for local schools.

After walking the length of the pier and back, we started climbing the hill toward our car, parked at the upper Fort Mason Green, but stopped to peer inside the House of Days. The small cement building, once the Searchlight building, was adapted by The Exploratorium; a tiny window allows viewers to glimpse a photographic display chronicling changing weather conditions at regular intervals. This is one of my favorite parts of our walk; for me, the pattern and rhythm of this progression is somehow validating, reassuring and holds the promise of many more glorious days to come.

Take Good Care,


Friday, June 19, 2015

The Landscape of Space Reprise

I love this quote. And I believe it deeply:

A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.

Samuel Johnson is credited with saying that. Here is another way to put it:

From BookBrowse's FB page
Right?  Have you ever done that? I literally have.  Or have you ever felt that? Felt like your book is so much a living breathing thing that you want to hold it, hug it, take its hand and walk to the park with it? I have felt that. Over and over again.

How does a writer create the kind of book that asks for that kind of engagement?  I have been thinking endlessly about this as I have revised my last WIP. My last blog post delves into this too. The answer lies, in large part, with the space we writers have to the story and on the page.  I have preached this for years. Ask my friends. I  have been obsessed with it. The partnership between the reader and the writer. Louise Rosenblatt's Reader Response Theory. (The reader is a necessary part of completing the book.) Scooting over on the bench to make room for the reader. All that and more. But it has been tough to put my pen where my mouth is. 

I made a break though though this time around. Part of what made it possible was that I had been away from the text for a while. (Give your self space from your WIP in order to make space for the reader!) I was ruthless about cutting. Not just excess adjectives or favorite phrases, but whole ideas. I took myself out of the manuscript and left the characters there to fend without me. I trusted---for the first time---that the reader would be there to take care of them. My characters. 

I created space, and in creating space I created trust. 

Or as Chuck Wendig says, as only he can say it:

The reader wants to work. The reader doesn't know this, of course, so don't tell him. SHHH. But the reader wants to fill in the details. He wants to be invested in the novel and to make his own decisions and reach his own conclusions. You don't need to write everything. You can leave pieces (of plot, description, dialogue) out. The reader will get in the game. His imagination matters as much as yours. Make that f#$%&@ dance for his dinner.

I am going to continue to ponder this. And work on it. I would love to hear your ideas about it too.  

Gratefully yours (and apologies for posting a day late!)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The (Possible) Blessings of Boredom (revisited from 6/26/14)

I have just finished a big project—the novel I’ve been working on for the past few years. I’ve taken some time to catch up on some other business that was neglected in the fervor of the big project, spent a few weeks planning for and teaching another fun and successful Young Writers’ Workshop with my wonderful teaching partner Ann Jacobus, and now I’m going to…

Well, I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do next.

I mean, I have plenty I could do—I have a half finished novel that should be taken apart and started over again. I have lists of ideas for new novels and more niggling at the back of my brain. But writing a novel is a huge commitment—not one you can take lightly and none of my current ideas are really “calling” to me at the moment. Besides, it seems my muse is taking a summer vacation like most everyone else. I’m expecting a postcard from Tahiti any day…

I’m trying not to panic. I don’t like not knowing what I want. Already, I feel an uneasy restlessness creeping up beside me. A restlessness that if quantifed, is basically a wish for a desire.

Luckily, blessedly, sometimes the Universe delivers a little gift right at the moment you sorely need it. One such gift showed up in the form of another blog post last Sunday—an essay by Maria Popova on the importance of boredom, which boils down to the innate discomfort of waiting for something when you don’t know what it is, and won’t know until you find it. Popova examines the writings of psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, who said that the experience of boredom is really the experience of waiting for yourself.

Waiting for yourself. I have to say that struck a nerve. That’s what I feel like I’m doing right now. Apparently, creativity needs occasional boredom—it is the time and space needed for a new desire to take shape. (Hear that, muse? I hope you’re getting good and bored on that lovely beach in Tahiti…)

Throughout the essay, I recognized so much of myself, so many of my own feelings—the association between being “good” and being productive and then the opposite—pairing being unproductive with being “not-so-good.” I certainly recognized the impulse to fill up spare time with busyness, to find a distraction…(like, ahem... checking Facebook and Twitter and email many times an hour.) The deep-seated fear that if you stop doing what you do for even a short time, you won’t know who you are anymore. I mean, how can you be a writer if you’re not writing? (The dualistic question is ‘how can you be a writer if you don’t take time to be present, to observe, to wander…?’)

But I do actually know that it’s so important at times to be still, to be quiet and, I suppose, to let yourself be bored for a while. I’ve told my own writing students that they need to “get off the phone” if they want the muse to call.

So, yes, it’s time to take my own advice and get off the phone.

For a while, at least…

You can all read all of Maria Popova’s excellent essay here.

Take Good Care,


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Repost of 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 the owner of the land 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,