Sharing: Suburban Ecology I by TheCartographe

I found this amazing bit of writing the other day on TheCartographe and just needed to share it with you!  As a lover of place and environment and the way that spaces effect us, I adore what’s happening on this blog: “TheCartographe is about the curation of the environment: the selection of images, texts, and ideas that is the formation of a landscape. Topography is physical, but landscape is always psychic.”

This blog is not to be missed. Enjoy!


Suburban Ecology I

July 9, 2014.



Some millennia before the present, when the sea was in places it currently is not, it might have been that Anne Barton’s yard was a natural beach of smooth-hewn stones — perfect and round, themselves looking for all the world like fat droplets of water thrown up and clinging on the grassy shore.  The blue velvet easy chair stood primly on the rocks, taking the sea air like one who — feinting — is afraid of the ocean.  But Anne’s yard was not really a beach, of course, and the chair moreover took no solace from the pretend game of seaside release and introspection.  It did not appreciate the scene before it: the crisp break of sidewalk and swell of asphalt.  It was aware only of the thing it could not see — the blockish, secluded bungalow beyond the beachhead, where in the downstairs sitting room there was a precisely chair-shaped depression in a blanched shag carpet the colour of a watermelon where the meat comes to the rind.

I was in this house once, seven or eight years ago, when for one or another reason I  was collecting a size-adjustable mannequin from the Vietnam-era parlor upstairs, located at one end of a hallway encased exclusively by mirrors which, when shoved with some force, would open to reveal narrow closets stuffed with outerwear, shoes, and unlabelled boxes.  The front door, up a half-flight of steps from the lawn and partly concealed by an globular rhododendron, opened onto this hallway, and pointed inside toward the kitchen at the house’s rear.  There, I remember, Ms. Barton, an elderly woman who — to me — has never visibly aged, remained sitting at a card table while she asked me, standing against the entrance to the hall, if I would consider volunteering for her Sunday School.  I can’t recall answering the question.  Instead, I remember leafing through the records — none of which I recognized — contained in a cardboard box which sat on a brass-framed, stackable chair in the parlor, across the way from the kitchen.  I waited until Anne’s granddaughter, my associate, reappeared with a small plastic container filled with a multitude of compartments for pins, all heads different colours, and we departed with the rattling mannequin in parts under our free arms.

At that time, Anne’s garden was not half-covered in rocks.  In fact, it was a serene, if somewhat weedy glade, set apart from the street by the low boughs of a blue-needled pine tree which I did not recognize and now assume was originally decorative.  I lived — still live — in the house beside Anne’s; somewhat newer, somewhat more modish, my father would exasperatedly but quietly rake pinecones and long, browned needles off our lawn from September to Christmas.  At that time, Anne’s glade had real seating: a chipped, white wooden loveseat over-thrown by a modified trellis, and an elaborate swing — also wood — which reminded me always of my brother’s books on medieval implements of war.

It was one summer when I returned from university that the pine tree had been felled — its little ecosystem of sputtering grass and shed needles replaced by a neatly edged bed of lava rock.  Two ceramic pots had been placed off-centre on the wide stump, and in them the plastic-coated cardboard tags that identify greenhouse plants sprouted up like tombstones behind small, flowering stalks.  It was just last summer when the first five metres of Anne’s lawn had been dug up and replaced with the round stones.  At the same time, things began appearing on her driveway.  First the loveseat and swing, which soon disappeared, and then boxes of clothes, which would likewise appear in the morning and have vanished upon my return home in the afternoon.  Then, a tarpaulin tent appeared over a metal pole frame in the middle of the driveway, and a 1995 red Ford mustang would regularly pull in and out of it, as if on the tide.  This largely concealed the garage door, which remained closed during all this time.  I did not see Anne, though my father told me she continued to live there, and the cars that came and went (I noticed only the red convertible) were the vehicles of family and friends — or of the tenants downstairs who had moved in to the bungalow’s expansive basement.

The chair knew very little of this, being limited to the influence of the downstairs tenants and its sidelong views of sporadic children’s play in the tenants’ backyard daycare, a business Anne surely appreciated because of her attachment to children and their ideal upbringing.  When it was removed, I think, its first logical concern must have been the expected weather, and secondly the simple sign hung across its back — “FREE” — which would surely give anyone’s self-esteem a miserable pummeling.  It was, I doubt, hardly troubled by the premise that in millennia to come, it could be considered a distracting embellishment on the ecology of the house — a throwaway decoration not unlike the faking of a shoreline in a time of changing seas.


Call for Submissions: Saw Palm Magazine


Saw Palm is a Florida-themed journal, however we welcome writers and artists from across the country and the globe as long as the work is connected to Florida (via images, people, themes, et cetera). We also welcome creative works from Floridians that are not obviously about someplace else. Please check out past issues, available for download as free PDFs. We publish one issue per year in the spring.

We do not accept work that has been previously published either online or in print. We welcome simultaneous submissions as long as you immediately notify us of acceptance elsewhere. Our general reading period is between July 1st and October 1st, however submissions for Places to Stand in Florida are accepted year-round.

Send only one submission per genre at a time. If you have a pending submission, please wait for a response before submitting again. We make every effort to respond as quickly as possible while giving each submission the time it deserves. Our average response time for is 3-5 months. After 6 months, you’re welcome to follow up with the appropriate editor.

All submissions must be made electronically through our online submissions manager. Please upload prose and poetry files in .doc or .docx formats only. Art, photography, and comics should be uploaded in .jpeg / .jpg format only. Paper submissions sent via snail mail will be recycled unread.

Click here to submit.


We accept up to five poems per submission period at a maximum of 10 pages. Combine all poems into one document and include in a single submission.


We ask that fiction submissions be no longer than 6000 words. Please send only one story per reading period.


We ask that submissions of memoir and essays be no longer than 6000 words. Please send only one piece per reading period.


We accept up to three works of flash fiction or flash nonfiction (750 words or less) per submission period. Please send all stories or essays in one document.


We accept up to five submissions of art or photography per reading period. Please send files in .jpeg / .jpg format only. You may also include a URL if a portfolio of your work is online.


We welcome submissions of graphic fiction and nonfiction of up to seven pages, whether in black & white, greyscale, or full color. Submit in .jpeg / .jpg format only. Keep in mind that the journal’s dimensions are smaller (5″x7″) than the average literary journal and so comics with small panels filled with intricate art are not well-suited.


We are especially interested in interviews of Florida writers and artists, although we’re open to almost any Florida-related subject. Please query us about the interview subject first, via email.


We are interested in reviews of any Florida-related subject: author, book, film, tourist attraction, CD, website, beach, park, toll roads, snack stands, local landmarks—anything! These reviews will appear on Unlike submissions of creative work, current or recent USF students and faculty are welcome to submit reviews. Size limit: 6000 words. Reviews appear on


Please tell us what it’s like to stand at a specific place in Florida at a specific time of day in 500 words or less. While we enjoy the unusual, locations should be public and accessible (so not your bathroom!) Please include GPS coordinates.

Unlike other categories, current or recent USF students and faculty are welcome to submit pieces for the Places to Stand series.

Poems submitted as part of the Places to Stand series are welcome but should be justified left and otherwise not have complex formatting and spacing. This is due to technical limitations in Google Earth.

Places to Stand appears on

Reading for Writers: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot takes us on the incredibly interesting and moving journey of her attempt to understand the issues surrounding the life of Henrietta Lacks, her family, and the science and politics of HeLa cells.  She weaves these things together to give a more captivating, more complete picture of each of them.  The structure of the book is one that makes the stories that Skloot tells much more intriguing. It may seem that a book about history, science, and social issues could be dry and unexciting, informative but a chore to trudge through.  Instead, Skloot gives the reader a page-turner, a book that is difficult to put down.  She does this by doing two very effective things.  One has to do with the way she structures the book.  She weaves the history, science, and politics together so that you are never reading any one of those things for long enough to get bored.  The other thing that she does incredibly effectively is personalize the history and science.  Not only does she make the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family personal, but she also tells the personal stories of  the doctors, scientists, and others involved in the history that she describes.

The structure that Rebecca Skloot uses in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is very interesting.  One might think that she would tell a story like this chronologically or by subject.  It is, after all, about science and history and a family past.  She could have chosen to divide it into parts dealing with each of those subjects.  She also could have chosen to structure the book chronologically.  But she doesn’t do that either. Instead, she intertwines the chronology and the subjects.  She begins and ends the book in the present time that she is writing.  The prologue starts with a photograph that is on her wall and then moves back to Skloot’s college years.  It then jumps to the voice of Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter, during the time that Skloot was researching and writing the book. From this prologue, we move quickly to  1951, when Henrietta became ill.  From the very beginning of the book, we know that we are not going to read a straight-forward chronology or a book about just the science or history involved in culture cells.  Skloot explores times as far back as the antebellum South.  The book ends with a “Where They Are Now” chapter and closes with an Afterword that discusses the current state of ethical issues surrounding culture cell research, even extending a bit into the future possibilities of how to deal with these difficult questions.  The way that Skloot weaves these things together not only keeps the reader interested, but also shows the ways in which the personal lives, medical science, and history are all intertwined.  Though this skipping around and intertwining could be confusing, Skloot does a good job of keeping things clear. At the start of each chapter, she has a timeline to show the dates that she is writing about.  In the back of the book, she gives a timeline and a cast of characters to make sure that her reader can always be on the same page as the story.

Skloot does something else that is unexpected in a nonfiction book about medical science.  She make each facet that she talks about highly personal.  As we can see from the way she starts the book, with her own personal experience, Deborah’s personal words, and a retelling of Henrietta’s personal experience, this is not going to be a book about impersonal facts.  Skloot doesn’t just tell her own personal story or the story of the Lacks family, however.  She extends this mode of storytelling into the personal stories surrounding the doctors, scientists, and many of the people involved in the ethical debates.  This helps to draw the reader in to the story and the issues surrounding the story.  Instead of a cold, clinical account of scientific discoveries and ethical debates, Skloot gives us the stories of the people behind the debates.  Not only that, she also extends this to telling her readers about her research.  Instead of only giving her findings and what she dug up regarding her research, she allows her readers to see how she did her research and the personal interactions that she has with people as she delves further and further into the story of Henrietta Lacks and her cells.  She gives backgrounds and descriptions of people that she meets and conversations that she has.  All of this adds life and dimension to the science and history that Skloot is exploring, making it more interesting and pulling the reader deeper into the story.  Because of this, the doctors and scientists, Lacks family members and people that Skloot meets while doing research become not just historical figures, but characters in a rich story that becomes The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.


*This post is part of a series on the craft of writing called Reading for Writers.  This series examines a variety of authors to ascertain the choices they’ve made in their writing and the effects of those choices so that we as writers can make better decisions in our own writing. May contain affiliate links.