itself has a wild, fresh air taste
something like the soft grey-green of sage
— from “Seasoning for Courage” by Margaret Rozga
This morning, as the sun lifted herself above the treeline east of the farm, I bent and cut oregano from the pot by the front steps. The fragrance lifted to my fingers and then my nose, a little licorice, a bit tangy, pungent, rich, like dinner in Tuscany on a summer’s night.
I slid each sprig into cold water held together by a mason jar and tucked the vessel into the cup holder of the Subaru, the transport of precious gifts each morning. My modern mule going to market. “Free Oregano. Help Yourself.”
Yesterday, I was talking to a member of the Painted Steps Writers’ Group. We were discussing how difficult it is for us to get out of our heads when we write, especially since we were both trained as academic writers. He said that as he writes more and more, he finds himself better able to access the voice that remembers his story as it was lived, better able to push past the analytic voice that wants to abstract and sketch rather than dwell and describe.
I call that voice, the one that speaks from the fullness of the experience, the heart voice. The heart voice comes from somewhere deep inside our chests, the place where the truest version of ourselves lives. This voice speaks the full truth, sometimes the truth that we didn’t even know we knew.
Often, as writers, we think a lot. We try to figure out our plots or find the full stories of our characters. We write outlines and research every detail. Those are important, necessary steps. But I firmly believe that none of those things will live, none of them will fill up the page will the richness that is life unless we let all of that mind work settle into our hearts and become part of the story we know at the core of ourselves.
As people, we also feel a lot. Our emotions well up powerfully, and we are swayed by them, as we should be at times. In writing, these emotions can push our stories certain directions, and sometimes, the direction of our tales becomes the direction of our pain. Again, our stories may need to lean into our suffering, and suffering certainly shapes story. But our best stories are not just driven by emotion; they rise out of the fullness of who we are.
In our core, we are not just thoughts, and we are not just emotions. We are not even a combination of those two things. We are human – and humanness is rich and various and veined with a silver thread of something that goes beyond the ability of words to explain. When we write – and live – from our fullness, we are dipping our pens into that vein of silver and letting it flow over our words and our days.
When we draw from our heart’s well, our minds, our emotions, and this mystical shimmer coalesce into words that call to the hearts of the people who read them.
Here are a few things I do to help me hear the voice of my heart, even when my brain is firing fast or my emotions threaten to push me toward a plate full of microwave s’mores:
- I find a quiet place. For me, this means, I sit in a place where I cannot see what else needs to be done, where I am not reminded of hard emails or tough memories. Most of the time, I find this place in my office. I can clear away my to-do list, shut down extra tabs on my browser, and stare out over the garden to see a purple martin preening on the power line.
- I breathe deeply. One of the best things I have learned in the practice of yoga is the way my breath mimics how my life is at that moment. So when I want to write deep – and really, I hope I want to write that way always – I sit up straight, drop my shoulders, and take 10 deep breaths. I feel my rib cage open up (sometimes, it even cracks as the tension goes.) My shoulders ease off their rabid tightness. My feet sink into the floor.
- I write with a pen and paper. On the days when I am having the hardest time writing true, I follow my usual writing ritual, but then, I write hard, fast, and long with a pen to paper. I don’t think. I don’t censor. I don’t try to control. I just write. Natalie Goldberg talks about that method in many of her books, and it’s one of the best I know.
- I listen. Now that my mind is still and my emotional turmoil quelled, I sit and just listen (Kelly Chripczuk reminded me of the importance of listening just the other day) – often with my eyes closed – to what rises from my center. Sometimes, I see an image. Sometimes, I hear a sentence. Sometimes, I just know what it is I must say. Then, I write, translating what rises into language.
Much of this mimics my practice of prayer (and if you are looking for a great book about the links between prayer and writing, I highly recommend Ed Cyzewski’s book Pray, Write, Grow). For some of you, it may feel much like your meditation practice.
The key is to let yourself settle – both in mind and heart – so you can hear yourself. Really hear yourself.
Our farm stand is an act of courage for me, a bit of trust that this part of our farm dream will be good for us and for the people who visit it. Each morning, as I harvest from our garden and put out the vegetables we have to share, I pray over them – that their goodness will reach just who needs it, even if those people are us.
Writing is the same as is any way of living that takes risk. It takes a wellspring of courage to live wild, to answer the call of our hearts. But I can tell you that from where I sit as a full-time writer on a farm that was a mere vision 5 years ago, it is so worth the risk.
Right now, hat fresh oregano is sitting at the farm stand, hopeful with its green fragrance.
What would you write or do if you listened to your heart’s voice? I’d love to hear.
On August 1, a new session of the Painted Steps Writers Group will begin. 10 spots are available for writers of any level of experience who want or need some community, accountable, and guidance as they draft their next book. Please visit this page for more information, and do let me know if you have any questions. I’d love to have you join me in that safe, wild space.