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, October 30, 2014

Interview with Jennifer Wolf Kam

Sharry: It’s Halloween week and time for all things ghostly—who doesn’t love a good ghost story? (We do!) So we’re especially excited and proud to have our VCFA classmate and good friend Jennifer Wolf Kam here today to talk about the narrative landscape in her spooky, dark debut YA novel Devin Rhodes Is Dead. Welcome Jen!
Jen: Thank you guys--I'm thrilled to be here. =)

Sharry: So, could you tell us about the concept of landscape that inspired the story of Cass and Devin?

Jen: I would say the landscape that inspired Devin Rhodes Is Dead, is the landscape of friendship--its smooth plains and lustrous gardens along with its weather-beaten marshes and craggy ledges. Friendships are fluid and can often be tenuous, but they have the ability to be life-sustaining.

Sharry: Oh! I love your description of friendship’s landscape—really beautifully evocative! It makes me think about my own friendships and what their landscapes might look like. Can you tell us more about the atmosphere/mood of this landscape?

Jen: The landscape of the story is varied, but certainly leans more towards the treacherous. The floral imagery contrasts with the ravine to show both extremes.

Sharry: This is fascinating Jen. How would you say that these treacherous and flourishing aspects play a part in your story? 

Jen: I think many of us have relationships in our lives that are difficult, relationships that cause others to wonder why we have them in the first place. Friendships are complicated, some more than others. At times, the landscape of a friendship becomes too difficult to traverse. Other times, we manage it, but not without peril. The complexity of Cass and Devin's relationship in Devin Rhodes Is Dead, is what drives the story forward.

Sharry: This theme of complicated friendships is one that I think everyone can relate to. What do you hope that readers might come away with after reading Devin Rhodes Is Dead?

Jen: In the tween and teen years, friendships can be fragile, delicate things, fraught with difficult choices and challenges. But I think they teach us how to navigate a lifetime of relationships, when to pull away, but also when to invest the effort.

Sharry: Jen, thank you so much for taking time to visit with us at Kissing The Earth.

Readers, win your very own copy of Devin Rhodes Is Dead simply by following these instructions: 

1. Leave a comment below.
2. You must have a US or Canada mailing address to win.
3. Enter by Wednesday, November 5th midnight EST. A winner will be randomly chosen (by Emma the Sheltie) and announced here on Thursday the 6th.

Jennifer Wolf Kam began writing stories as soon as she could hold a crayon. Today she holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Devin Rhodes Is Dead is her debut novel and the winner of the National Association of Elementary School Principals Children’s Book Award. She is also a four-time finalist for the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, offered by the journal, Hunger Mountain. She lives in New York.

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,