Pam Houston’s prompt for Quest 2015: Sit quietly and ask yourself, what in the last day or week or month has made your heart leap up? Not what should, or might or always had, but what did. Make that list. Be honest, even if it surprises you. Keep the list with you this month. Add to it when it happens. Train yourself to notice. Then ask your self today, how can I arrange my life to get more of those heart leaps in it?
First, I want to share a quote from Pam’s novel Sighthound:
I wanted her to see that the only life worth living is a life full of love; that loss is always part of the equation; that love and loss conjoined are the best opportunity we get to live fully, to be our strongest, our most compassionate, our most graceful selves.
Pam Houston is an amazing writer, an amazing person. And if you haven’t read Cowboys Are My Weakness or Contents May Have Shifted or Sighthound, or any of her other books, do so. Now. You won’t be sorry.
Nothing like a year of death and depression to make one’s heart forget to leap. I’m so late posting this response because I’ve had to cast back pretty far to find those heart leaping moments. And frankly, I’m completely saddened by that.
I widened the net. Not yesterday, last week, last month, but I started to consider the whole year, years. I turned the clock far back.
Heart Tango: I am at a writer’s residency where I will have one month to devote to my writing. I don’t know that my mother will die in eight days and I will have to leave, I think that I have a month ahead of me in a cabin in the woods, where people will feed me delicious organic food. I am hanging my entire manuscript on the wall – 48 poems – with poster tack. I see the task ahead of me, revising and shaping the manuscript, completing it. I am dancing. That’s not a metaphor. I am so excited that I am dancing.
Heart Two-Step: In my friend Juniper’s letterpress studio (dwell press) in Washington. She is showing me the beautiful antique letterpress on which she has made an exquisite broadside for one of my poems. There are trays of type. Carved design elements. The smell of ink. The lure of combing words and images to create something new. Inside I feel the teeth of cogs catch and my heart moving faster.
Heart Reggae: The poet Kwame Dawes stands behind the podium where I just stood introducing him. He begins to read his poetry and my heart pounds in my chest. The lilt and roll, the mastery of the form, the total command of his craft and the depth of his transmutation of the world’s matter into a kind of poetry that soars. I can almost not catch my breath to introduce the next reader. I want to sit and let his words sink into my skin.
Heart Line Dance: At the Associated Writers and Writing Programs Conference there is a huge hall of tables with representatives of small presses, big presses, literary magazines, writing programs, writing ephemera. There are more than 12,000 people circulating the conference, so my little introvert self is cringing. I slowly make my way through the exhibition hall, drawn again and again to broadsides, small bound books, innovative ways to distribute poetry, artist books, words and art mixed. My heart leaps to see so many people who love the written word.
Heart Hopscotch: An email from Prairie Schooner, an acceptance of a poem that I submitted for publication. Validation of my hard work and practice of the writing craft. A letter informing me that I’ve received one of the inaugural Alaska Literary Awards. Again, a nod from the world. An email from someone who has read my book telling me that she felt moved by my poetry. A comment on my blog about something I’ve written. These external signs that my writing is making connections, that my work has merit beyond my internal processing. Each a leap, some air beneath me.
Heart Jeté: One of the constants of my life here in Alaska is nature being a show-off. The light reflecting from the glaciers, the ridiculously vivid sunrises and sunsets, the contrast of red fireweed and yellow birch tree leaves, the mother moose and baby munching on my flowers, eagles in the cottonwood trees out front, otters staring curiously, magpies on the porch, the un-sullied stretch of the dark night sky filled with stars. It never gets old. I could take a walk on any given day at any given hour and see something magnificent. And my heart never fails to leap, even in the depths of depression, my heart has at least tried to leap.
Heart Waltz: Most recent. I stumble off the plane having been en route from my father’s funeral back home for over 24 hours (and four connections) into the tiny airport for Homer. In my direct line of sight is my husband holding our four and a half month old puppy. He’s smiling and I know that he’s thought about this moment, knowing how much I need to feel loved and welcomed. The puppy is squirming and licking and wagging her little tail for all she’s worth. Everything is going to be okay.
How to arrange my life to inspire more heart leaps? Pay attention. Focus. Remember to open up my heart so that it can leap, is not locked down and constricted. Be grateful. Oh this. Be grateful for each moment on this beautiful old world.