Last January, I chose the word dare as my first official One Little Word, and all I can say is wowza did that work for me. (More on that here.) So—no pressure—rounding the corner into 2021, with the heightened awareness that the one word I choose has the potential to dramatically impact the year ahead. . .
With this in mind, I’ve decided to go with the word heart.
In 2021, I will be deep in the heart of my MFA program—semesters two and three of four total. And while I’m frankly amazed that I managed to be successful in my first semester while simultaneously navigating the chaos of coaching and teaching the first half of this school year, I’m determined to maintain my momentum. Writing is at the heart of me.
In the semester that begins next week, I’ll be part of a small cohort of writers in the Picture Book Intensive at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Ten MFA students will read, write, and closely study picture books with advisors Liz Garton Scanlon (!!!) and Linda Urban (!!!), an intense learning experience that will challenge me as a writer in all the best ways. There’s no space to hide or gradually reveal the heart of a picture book; heart must resonate clearly on the page (and in the writer).
If I’m being honest with myself, the circumstances of the past year have led to some numbing of my connection to my own heart. No one is at their best in survival mode, and I have definitely not been at anything close to my best. It feels a bit like myself has been wrapped in layers of something soft and thick, making it impossible to fully engage with anything on the inside or the outside. This year I want to be aware and intentional enough to feel and express what is at my heart without fear that I can’t or others won’t or it’s just not the right moment with the world falling apart all around us. There are times when self-protection is necessary. . . but I’m ready for that time to be over.
A month ago today, I lost a family member who I would describe as all heart. The kind of person who made everyone feel loved and important. She took such care with the smallest of details, with the physical and emotional aesthetics of her life. Her craftsmanship for building relationships, for carving out space for her own artistic life, and for making love visible through her actions and undeniable warmth—it is impossible to not want to be more like her. Losing her decades before I ever thought we would adds a sense of urgency to this year’s word.
I’m hyper aware that I can tend to focus on professional goals at the expense of personal ones. (That’s so much easier and less scary, isn’t it?) The word heart reminds me that it doesn’t have to be either/or; it can (and should) be both/and. Keeping heart front and center in 2021 will help me to stay connected to what is most important to me as a human. And as a writer, this connection to my own heart (and the hearts of others) is essential to create art that speaks to a reader.