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.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Landscape of Words (Revisited)

Every morning, around 10:30, I leave the house and walk, downhill and uphill, reminding myself to pay attention, to try and see the world, to be aware of the signals it’s sending to my senses. As a word person, I will often find myself silently (so as not to alarm strangers or appear insane) naming things as I go along: paperbark tree, mockingbird, curious baby in a blue stroller, roasting coffee, wet grass, dented truck, lavender bush, crushed paper cup, chewing gum, cable car bell, cumulus cloud. This act of naming is a form of selecting and creating a kind of interior landscape of the moment.

Words, whether spoken or written, do create a landscape by evoking images and sensory experiences. My super-smart writer friend, Lynn Hazen, sent out a link last week to an article that had been in the New York Times titled Your Brain On Fiction. The author, Annie Murphy Paul, talks about extensive research showing that words like lavender, cinnamon and soap actually stimulate the olfactory cortex of our brain in the same way that smelling lavender, cinnamon and soap do. Similarly, metaphors that evoke texture stimulate the sensory cortex, and active sentences stimulate the motor cortex.   It seems that words have the same effect on the brain as the actual experience.

This is good news for readers and for writers. For those of us who love nothing more than to curl up with a good book, we can be assured that we’re giving our brains a complete experience. And for those of us who dedicate much of our time to writing, we can set the bar higher and challenge ourselves to create the most sensory, active and empathetic experience we can for our hopeful readers.

Artist Su Blackwell creates another kind of landscape with words. They need no explanation—the images say it all. You can see more on her website:

Take Good Care,


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Talking With The Dead

All Hallows Eve is tonight; the spooks and demons, witches and goblins will have their night. Tomorrow is All Saints Day. And then it's Day Of The Dead. They say that this time of year, the veil is thin and it’s easier to pass back and forth between the worlds. It’s a good time to make amends, to ask forgiveness, to make peace with the past, to remember loved ones who have gone before us and to give thanks to all the souls whose shoulders we stand on.

Some people like to create a small altar to honor and remember their loved ones who have crossed over; some photographs, a little food, a piece of jewelry, maybe some flowers. Every year SOMARTS presents a Day Of The Dead exhibit, which includes many sensual and provocative altars by members of the arts community. This four minute video will give you a taste:

For more stunning images, go to: and click on PHOTOS to see this year’s offering.

I had started out thinking I would bring this post around to antagonists—to how death is the ultimate antagonist, always just over our shoulder, waiting to put an end to all of our happy plans. It’s not an antagonist you can defeat, but like all great antagonists, it can force us to be our own best self. Death’s constant presence can remind us to live our lives fully and richly. That’s all I’m going to say for now—for more on antagonists, be sure to read Sarah Wones Tomp's post Empathy For The Enemy (with invaluable links!) at Writing On The Sidewalk at:

Take Good Care,


Thursday, September 17, 2015

A San Francisco Landscape: Infinite City Revisited from 10/2/14

In the September 24, 2014 interview with Catherine Linka, she talked about how landscape is more than the physical and geographical aspects of an area—that it’s as much about the cultural and psychological make-up of a community. I couldn’t agree more.

This topic has lingered with me as I’ve pondered the cultural and psychological landscape of San Francisco’s unique, distinctive and diverse community. What is our cultural and psychological makeup?

Map by Paz De La Calzada
When people think of San Francisco, they think; liberal, left coast, tolerant, bohemian, weird, multicultural, QUILTBAG (thank you Catherine for introducing me to the correct term replacing LBGT) yuppie, old money, new money, fog, cold summers, steep hills, earthquakes, Victorian architecture, cafĂ© society, high cost of living. We are home to the beat poets, topless clubs, Summer of Love, The Bohemian Club, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Those Darn Accordions,  The Flaming Groovies,  Twitter, Yelp, Pinterest, Mozella, Craigslist, Airbnb, Dashiell Hammett, Lemony Snicket, Mark Di Suvero, Richard Serra and Benny Bufano. (To name just a few.)

Thinking about all of this also brought to mind another writer and an atlas—a specific and interpretive atlas of San Francisco compiled and written by Rebecca Solnit, published in 2010 by University of California Press, called Infinite City—a San Francisco Atlas.

Listen to what Solnit has to say about the concept of geography and place in her prologue and introduction:

Places are leaky containers. They always refer beyond themselves, whether island or mainland, and can be imagined in various scales, from the drama of a back alley to transcontinental geopolitical forces and global climate. What we call places are stable locations with unstable converging forces that cannot be delineated either by fences on the ground or by boundaries in the imagination--or by the perimeter of a map. Something is always coming from elsewhere, whether it's wind, water, immigrants, trade goods or ideas. The local exists--an endemic species may evolve out of those circumstances, or the human equivalent--but it exists in relation, whether symbiotic with or sanctuary from the larger world...

Map by Ben Pease and Sunaura Taylor
Thinking like this, it seems a place is made up of many places, hard to define or pin down and constantly changing. It is fluid. There is so much about San Francisco that is fluid, liquid. We’re surrounded by water on three sides. Fog drifts in liquidy skeins of tiny droplets. There is a constant flow of visitors coming and going from all around the world. A constant influx of people, families, immigrating from all corners of the world with an equal out flux of those leaving to find more affordable living. Here, Solnit goes on to talk about urban space:

A city is a particular kind of place, perhaps best described as many worlds in one place; it compounds many versions without quite reconciling them, though some cross over to live in multiple worlds--in Chinatown or queer space, in a drug underworld or a university community, in a church's sphere or a hospital's intersections. An atlas is a collection of versions of a place, a compendium of perspectives, a snatching out of the infinite ether of potential versions a few that will be made concrete and visible...the place that is San Francisco has both a literal geography as the tip of the peninsula that juts upward like a hitchhiking thumb and another, cultural, geography as the most left part of the left coast, the un-American place where America invents itself.

Map by Ben Pease and Mona Caron

Every place is if not infinite then practically inexhaustible, and no quantity of maps will allow the distance to be completely traversed. Any single map can depict only an arbitrary selection of the facts on its two dimensional surface (and today's computer -driven Geographical Information System [GIS] cartography, with its ability to layer information, is only an elegantly maneuverable electronic equivalent of the transparent pages that were, in the age of paper, more common in anatomy books)...This city is, as all good cities are, a compilation of coexisting differences, of the Baptist church next to the dim sum dispensers, the homeless outside the Opera House.

I think Solnit’s comparison of books and libraries to people and the cities they live in is brilliant:

A book is an elegant technique for folding a lot of surface area into a compact, convenient volume; a library is likewise a compounding of such volumes, a temple of compression of many worlds. A city itself strikes me at times as a sort of library, folding many phenomena into one dense space--and San Francisco has the second densest concentration of people among American cities, trailing only New York, a folding together of cosmologies and riches and poverties and possibilities.

I’ve lived in San Francisco for more than 37 years and still gasp every time I leave and come back, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into the city. I often wonder what I would think of the city today if I could see it with completely fresh eyes. Here, Solnit talks about coming home to San Francisco after living for a while in a homogenous rural area:

Every building, every storefront seemed to open onto a different world, compressing all the variety of human life into a jumble of conjunctions. Just as a bookshelf can jam together wildly different books, each book a small box opening onto a different world, so seemed the buildings of my city: every row of houses and shops brought near many kinds of abundance, opened onto many mysteries: crack houses, Zen centers, gospel churches tattoo parlors, produce stores, movie palaces, dim sum shops.

Map by Shizue Seigel

This gorgeous and infinitely fascinating book is a collection of 22 essays by 11 different writers; each essay is accompanied by a full spread artist's map of a different aspect of San Francisco, including: The Names Before the Names: The Indigenous Bay Area, 1769; Green Women: Open Spaces and Their Champions; Monarchs and Queens: Butterfly Habitats and Queer Public Spaces; Poison/Palate: The Bay Area In Your Body; The World In a Cup: Coffee Economics and Ecologies; and Treasure Map: The Forty Nine Jewels of San Francisco From the Giant Camera Obscura to The Bayview Opera House.

The book itself is a treasure and is available in bookstores and at the public library.

What is the cultural and psychological landscape where you live?

Take Good Care,


Thursday, August 27, 2015

A MURDER OF CROWS Revisited from August 2013

Every evening we walk our dog Emma to Ina Coolbrith Park at the top of Russian Hill. And every evening there are a few scolding crows who object to Emma’s presence—who could blame them? She takes delight in chasing them off the grass in other locations around San Francisco whenever she gets the chance.

Photo courtesy of John Winkleman
But for the past few months, there have been more than a few crows at the top of the hill. In fact, there have been a whole lot of crows—a murder—which is what a group or flock of crows is called. (A group of ravens is called an unkindness, or a conspiracy. Rooks are a building or a parliament) Why a murder? (Why unkindness or parliament, for that matter? But I’m going to stick to crows and murder, here) Supposedly because of crows' historical propensity to show up on battlefields after a bloody fight, which led to their association with violent death. And whether it’s this attributive name or a more deeply imbedded superstition or Edgar Allen Poe, a gathering of a lot of crows feels somehow ominous. Like they’re plotting something. Like they’re up to no good. I keep a firm hold on Emma’s leash, in case they attempt to swoop down and airlift her out over the Bay. These Ina Coolbrith crows probably remember her from the other parks miles away—or have at least heard about her. I kid you not—crows not only have been proven to have face recognition, but to pass that information on to other crows—‘watch out for that bad guy’, or in Emma’s case, ‘that split-faced dog with the needle nose.’ And these birds are fearless—I’ve watched them, time and time again, work in pairs, dive-bombing a red-tail hawk they feel is infringing on their territory.

Photo courtesy of Matt from London

They’re also incredibly smart. John Marzluff, professor of avian social ecology and demography at The University of Washington calls crows and ravens ‘feathered apes.’ They have complex brains with astonishing reasoning abilities. They build and use tools. They are capable of three step reasoning. Without prompting or previous observation, a crow will retrieve a short stick dangling from a piece of string in order to retrieve a longer stick inside a cage in order to get at a piece of food in a long tube. That's complex thinking.

Crows also play. They use flats of bark to ‘surf’ the wind and take pleasure in sliding on snowy slopes. Crows have been known to engage in string play with cats. They play tricks on people. And dogs. Marzluff tells a story about a colleague on the University of Montana campus who woke up one morning to his dog madly barking—when he went out he could hear someone calling, “Here dog, come on boy. Come on.” When he went to see who was calling his dog, he found it was a crow! Later, that same crow gathered up a whole pack of dogs in the same way and when classes let out, the crow gave a big “Caw!” scattering the dogs, causing chaos and making more than a few students spill their bags of chips. A clever way to get a snack.

But back to murder. This concept of crows and ravens as harbingers of death, as evil omens. I know, of course, that it is a trope. That if you put a flock of crows in a story, the reader will assume something bad is going to happen. They will expect death to show up on the page by the end of the next chapter. But reality and fiction aren’t always the same and I’m starting to think that crows have gotten the short end of the stick, fiction wise. Maybe as our knowledge of these amazing birds grows and changes, the trope will change. Maybe someday a flock of crows on the page will signify a joke about to be played. Or a complex problem about to be solved.  For as Henry Ward Beecher, an oft quoted Congressional clergyman in the 1800’s once said, “If men had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever enough to be crows.”

Does anybody have other stories about crows they’d be willing to share? I’d love to hear about them!

Take Good Care,