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, October 24, 2014

Repost: Mindfulness

Hello everyone.

I wrote this two years ago but I could have written it today.  Or yesterday, as that is when I was supposed to post.  Sorry for the lateness.  

I have spent the last week madly working between sun up and sun down, that time of light which is getting shorter by the minute. Fall is here and winter is coming. My goal in this transition time is to find a way to turn my madness into order. Not lose the energy but find some space in the midst of it all. I have a novel to finish (new novel, but still true!) and I need the space for that. I have a family to sit and read with, play with, hug and hang with (definitely still true!) and I need the space for that.

I want to be mindful and heartful and here. I want to hear the prayers that are made out of grass.

So for today, I leave you with this poem by one of my heroes, Mary Oliver.

By Mary Oliver

Every day
   I see or hear
         that more or less

kills me
   with delight,
      that leaves me
         like a needle

in the haystack
   of light.
      It was what I was born for—
         to look, to listen,

to lose myself
   inside this soft world—
      to instruct myself
         over and over

in joy,
   and acclamation.
      Nor am I talking
         about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
   the very extravagant—
      but of the ordinary,
         the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
   Oh, good scholar,
      I say to myself,
         how can you help

but grow wise
   with such teachings
      as these—
         the untrimmable light

of the world,
   the ocean’s shine,
      the prayers that are made
         out of grass?

Gratefully yours,

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Patrick Blanc And Urban Vertical Gardening

Aboukir Street and Petits Carreaux Street

I spend a lot of time thinking about the contrast between man-made environments and nature-made environments. Over the past four years (yes! It’s our fourth Kissing The Earth blog-o-versary!) Tam and I have spent a lot of time here talking about variations on this theme, about the urban and the rural, about oases of nature in the city and human intervention in nature. A grove of redwoods in Golden Gate Park and neighbors rushing in to help with the aftermath of a flood in rural Vermont.

I mentioned here recently that I was reading Diane Ackerman’s The Human Age, an in depth look at the Anthropocene, to review for BookBrowse. In it, she introduces readers to a myriad of innovators reshaping the way we live and the way we will be living in the future given the disturbing effects of global warming, contrasted with the latest technologies, the vast amount of information available on the internet, and the advances in medicine and abilities to improve the human body. She takes a surprising and refreshingly optimistic view considering the current seriously threatening environmental chaos on Earth, but reminds us that we are thinkers, builders, rearrangers, inventors, and innovators and believes our abilities and innovations can and will help people adapt. She then goes about convincing readers by introducing us to the people who are actively involved in helping to create this future.
Musée du quai Branly, Quai
Part of what she explores is how people are ‘humanizing’ cities, making them greener, more livable, more sustainable. She discusses urban biodiversity, and biomimicry (buildings that resemble growing organisms). She shows us how excess body heat from 250,000 railway travelers is being used to heat a thirteen-story office building in Stockholm in the middle of winter.

One of the many innovators in the realm of urban biodiversity that I was especially drawn to is the French botanist Patrick Blanc, widely acknowledged as the father of the vertical garden. Blanc has recreated natural habitats as artistic, living green tapestries in major urban centers all over the world, developing a process that allows plants—flowers, mosses, vines, and shrubs—to grow without soil along the face of a wall, where they attach their roots to a felt irrigation cloth that evenly distributes water and nutrients across its entire surface. (So cool!) Blanc spent years traveling the world, studying plants that flourish vertically in their natural habitats; plants that grow in and around waterfalls where damp walls are often completely hidden by plant life—places like Cuba, Wales, Java, Thailand, the Canary Islands, Cameroon and Venezuela; plants that thrive up and down riverbanks in Sumatra, Kyoto, on a small mountain north of Valencia, Spain, in Mali and in Ecuador; plants growing on cliffs and rocky outcroppings where species have adapted to tolerate droughts; caves with plants growing on rock surfaces where water seeps through; and plants that grow in dark glens, on slopes and in forests.
Icon Hotel Hong Kong 
And then returning to his urban habitat, he’s used what he learned to create dynamic ecosystems that attract butterflies and birds, help clean the air, produce more oxygen, and reduce noise. They also soften contours and offer relieve from all of the hard surfaces that make up a city, they feed the human spirit, and help to reconnect us urban dwellers to the natural world.

You can learn more about what Patrick Blanc is up to and where you can see one of his lush garden tapestries in person here 

And if you don’t know about BookBrowse, you should! It’s a fantastic online member-based community for book lovers. 

Take Good Care,


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Repost about The Reader Organisation

A few years ago I read Frank Cottrell Boyce's The Unforgotten Coat, which I loved. Honestly, its one of the most magical and real books I have ever read. But what I found out---and what I loved even more---was that the book started life as a "free gift to the charity The Reader Organisation."

Okay, so then I had to look up this organization.

And then I fell madly in love.

The Reader Organisation is, as they say in their tag-line, bringing about a reading revolution.  What's there not to love about that, right?!  Their vision is that everyone  has access to literature and that personal responses to books are shared freely in reading communities in all areas of life.  So cool.  But this is not just a group of want-to-do-good-ers wishful thinking.  They've got some incredible programs up and running. Their shared reading project, Get Into Reading, is the foundation of their organization. It uses a model they have pioneered that brings people together for weekly read aloud reading groups. People read to one another. They listen to one another. Their thoughts and experiences are also shared and connections are made---with themselves and with one another.  The Reader Organisation has brought this model into prisons, libraries, schools, assisted living residences and other similar, structured environments.

Literature-based intervention works. They cite many studies and research that support the reality of the benefits of communal reading. It improves literacy.  It improves memory. It fosters mental health. its boosts self-esteem. It connects people. The list goes on and on.

Boyce visits Year 6 pupils at St. Benedict's in Netherton
When Boyce was asked if he would write a story to be part of The Reader Organisation's Our Read Initiative in 2011, he waived his commission and wholeheartedly jumped at the offer: "The whole point of writing for me is to share the stories that are in my head. And nothing makes me happier than hearing that a parent has shared one of my books with their children, or their friends or their work-mates. So the opportunity The Reader Organisation has given me here to share an idea with my whole city---and my whole city with the whole world---is the biggest thrill ride I can possibly imagine."

 You know, when I imagine the Landscape of Reading I see a room with a comfy chair, a soft light, maybe the steam from a mug of tea, and one person entwined with a book. But now, imagine a different landscape... a room with a long table, chairs with cushions, pillows on the floor, and kids in every corner, one to a book, two to a book, together...the possibilities are vast.

Happy Reading.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

A San Francisco Landscape: Infinite City

In last week’s 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 over the past week 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, café 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, September 25, 2014

Interview With Author Catherine Linka!

We’re so happy to have our fellow VCFA MFA graduate, author Catherine Linka, with us today! She’s here to talk about the importance of landscape in her newly released debut YA novel, A Girl Called Fearless. The novel, a romantic speculative political thriller, is set in a contemporary but historically altered Los Angles where teenage girls are a valued and restricted commodity.

Catherine: Thank you so much for inviting me to talk about landscape. People rarely ask about the setting of A Girl Called Fearless, but it was really important to me, so I love this chance to talk about it. 

Sharry: So, to start off, please tell us a little about the landscape in your novel.

Catherine: A Girl Called Fearless and the sequel, A Girl Undone, are set in present day Los Angeles, but as you mentioned, I’ve altered history. Ten years before the story begins, fifty million American women died from synthetic hormones in beef. So even though LA is the landscape, it’s altered from the LA we know. 

Sharry: Oh my gosh—what a chilling and intriguing premise. Could you describe the different aspects of the story’s landscape and how you used it?

Catherine: Everyone knows LA institutions like freeways, Hollywood, Malibu beach, gated communities, high end malls, paparazzi, entourages, cloudless blue skies, and the Rose Bowl. 

But to me, landscape isn’t just about physical features like mountains or freeways, it’s about the cultural and psychological makeup of a community as well. LA is very focused on image and celebrity power, which translates into an intense consumption of fashion, style, entertainment media, exclusive real estate, and prestige cars. 

At the same time, Los Angeles is multicultural and Pan Pacific with many Asians, South and Central Americans. Plus, it’s more gay friendly than some regions of the US and prides itself on being politically liberal. 

Sharry: I love that you think about the cultural and psychological components of a community as integral parts of a landscape. It’s so true and such a potent facet of the whole idea of landscape. Tell us how you put this to use in your story.

Catherine: Even though the story takes place in LA ten years after a disaster, the sun shines almost every day, so I loved contrasting dark themes like lack of freedom of choice for women against LA’s liberal, eternally sunny setting. 

Because LA is a melting pot, I felt that even though my main characters are white, the cast of characters had to be multicultural and include QUILTBAG characters.

Sharry: Okay, so I have to stop you for just a minute and ask you to explain to us what you mean by QUILTBAG characters?

Catherine: You may be more familiar with the term LGBT, but QUILTBAG expands LGBT to include other identities including Queer and Questioning, Unidentified, Intersex, and Asexual.  
Sharry: Good to know. Thank you. So as you were saying about how LA being a melting pot plays into the landscape of your story…

Catherine: I wanted to hint at the impact of the disaster on the poor versus the rich. Poor girls lacking extended families to care for them end up in state supported Orphan Ranches, while rich girls have fathers who can pay for private school and personal bodyguards.

LA’s consumerism helped reinforce the theme of society transforming girls into a high-end luxury good. We see Avie made over by a stylist in a chic mobile salon in a modified Airstream. We go with her to an upscale lingerie salon where the merchandise is designed to please the woman’s partner. These settings are beautiful and luxurious to reinforce the sense of the gilded cage which Avie is about to enter.

I used recognizable places or objects, and twisted how they are used to signify how the country had changed.  A freeway soundwall, something most people don’t even think about, is built with bricks from the ashes of women whose families couldn’t afford to bury them, and it becomes a memorial called the Million Mother Wall. In this reimagined landscape, the Beverly Center shopping mall, a place where teenage girls would normally enjoy a day without adult supervision, becomes a place where girls are checked in and out with wristbands, and released only to a father or bodyguard.

Sharry: Wow—a wall built from women’s ashes? That’s a very powerful image. As is the idea of setting these dark themes against a background of sunlight and beaches. You live in LA—I’m curious what your own relationship with it is?

Catherine: I love LA, because I love being outdoors most of the year and my backyard is my sanctuary with visits from hummingbirds and flyovers by flocks of wild parrots. While I’m fascinated by LA’s cult of consumerism and celebrity, it’s not something I embrace. But I do love that I can go eat pancakes at the beach and wear flip flops 9 months out of the year. 

Sharry: Catherine, thank you so much for visiting with us today!

Catherine Linka is an author, and a children’s and young adult book buyer for an independent bookstore in Southern California. She studied international politics at Georgetown University before getting a masters in business at the University of North Carolina. After years in sales, marketing and advertising, she reimagined her life and pursued a masters in writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is a member of SCBWI, and a recurring speaker at SCBWI-Central Cal Writer’s Day. She blogs about writing at Catherine is married and lives with her husband in the San Gabriel foothills. A GIRL NAMED FEARLESS is her debut novel.