Have a Heart.
For this free drop in workshop for 3rd through 6th graders last Saturday, I was feeling a lot of big feelings and wanted to give the room a chance to look into their own emotions by discovering how to describe their hearts through metaphor. I also thought that by describing our hearts, we could grow the amount of heartening empathy in the room. It was a worthwhile experiment that could use some tweaking, and I'm excited to try it again after more finessing.
Starting with conversation:
First we discussed how we can define metaphor and what figurative language can do for our writing. I believe metaphors can help bring our words to life, illuminating the hidden meaning locked in a sentence (and in everyone’s story).
Then we read this huge heart poem:
Heart BY DORIANNE LAUX
The heart shifts shape of its own accord--
from bird to ax, from pinwheel
to budded branch. It rolls over in the chest,
a brown bear groggy with winter, skips
like a child at the fair, stopping in the shade
of the fireworks booth, the fat lady's tent,
the corn dog stand. Or the heart
is an empty room where the ghosts of the dead
wait, paging through magazines, licking
their skinless thumbs. One gets up, walks
through a door into a maze of hallways.
Behind one door a roomful of orchids,
behind another, the smell of burned toast.
The rooms go on and on: sewing room
with its squeaky treadle, its bright needles,
room full of file cabinets and torn curtains,
room buzzing with a thousand black flies.
Or the heart closes its doors, becomes smoke,
a wispy lie, curls like a worm and forgets
its life, burrows into the fleshy dirt.
Heart makes a wrong turn.
Heart locked in its gate of thorns.
Heart with its hands folded in its lap.
Heart a blue skiff parting the silk of the lake.
It does what it wants, takes what it needs, eats
when it's hungry, sleeps when the soul shuts down.
Bored, it watches movies deep into the night,
stands by the window counting the streetlamps
squinting out one by one.
Heart with its hundred mouths open.
Heart with its hundred eyes closed.
Harmonica heart, heart of tinsel,
heart of cement, broken teeth, redwood fence.
Heart of bricks and boards, books stacked
in devoted rows, their dusty spines
with its hands full.
Hieroglyph heart, etched deep with history's lists,
things to do. Near-sighted heart. Club-footed heart.
Hard-headed heart. Heart of gold, coal.
Bad juju heart, singing the low down blues.
Choir boy heart. Heart in a frumpy robe.
Heart with its feet up reading the scores.
Homeless heart, dozing, its back against the Dumpster.
Cop-on-the-beat heart with its black billy club,
banging on the lid.
And discussed it.
This poem is full of metaphors, and also similes, personification, images, the senses.
What do you notice here? And what metaphors can you find?
What are some of your favorite images, pictures that come to your mind reading this?
See how this heart is and does and has and represents so many things?
What kind of person might belong to a heart like this?
Then we visualized our own hearts:
Now consider your own heart.
Close your eyes, or let them rest in front of you if closing them makes you uncomfortable.
Think of all the things your heart does. Visualize it doing those things.
Everything your heart feels, thinks wants. Everything it makes, contains, creates.
Maybe it does and thinks and wants and feels and sees a lot more than you thought.
And wrote about them.
Now, write down everything you can about your heart.
Use Laux’s poem as inspiration, but what you write doesn’t have to be a poem.
It can be a poem, or a story, an essay, or just a bunch of writing.
In your writing, show everything contained in your heart. Don’t leave anything out.
All the actions, the states and desires and hopes and dreams and and and...?
Show us YOU through your heart. Write with bravery. Try and fill the page.
Use metaphor. Use images, sensory detail, simile, personification if you can.
A few shared, and we witnessed some sweet opening among us.
For me, spending a couple sessions writing all images and metaphors that showed my heart got me recreating myself in a way. I transformed heavy emotions into something tangible and more speakable. I felt like I could know and share myself better. I'm not sure all the young writers got as much out of this exercise as I did this first time around, but I hope a few found some positive transformation as I did.
Try it yourself. Let me know what you think (and feel).
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Process notes on a work in progress (me). This mostly contains raw rough content pulled out of practice notebooks. Occasional posts also invite you into the way I work, with intermittent notes on the hows and whys on the whats I make. Less often you may also find prompts and processes I've brought to workshops, as well as surveys that help me gather material for projects. Similar earlier posts from years ago can be found on: