I’ve used an activity called Heart Mapping in the classroom to encourage my students to generate ideas. It’s a creative exercise I learned about from Georgia Heard’s book, Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School. Heard explains:
“It’s a poet’s job to know the interior of his or her heart. [Heart Mapping] is one way of accessing these feelings. We carry this heart map around all the time but how many of us know what it really looks like and what’s in it? Drawing a map of our hearts helps make order out of what often feels like chaos and reveals the meanings behind the confusing emotions. And these meanings shine like gems that have been long buried.”
Heart mapping is an intense exercise that requires vulnerability both on the teacher’s part and the student’s. I don’t write this as a warning, but as an opportunity. If you are a teacher, here is a chance to show your students the power and freedom of vulnerability. If you are a writer, here is a form to open yourself up to stories “that have long been buried.” Drawing what tugs at us and sketching our memories allows us to sit with them a bit longer than simply writing a list. We design, choose color, think about the placement of a specific memory in our heart, and decide what our heart as a whole looks like. The mapping process gives us a chance to sit a bit longer with what are sometimes difficult moments.
I’ve done this exercise many times, and my heart takes on different shapes. It was a coffee mug, a pen, running shoes, a ballet bar, and once, when I was studying in Santa Fe and was quite certain I would die from being out in nature, my heart took on the form of the Chicago skyline.
It’s good to know what is in your heart, but I believe the job (or perhaps a better word is “calling”) of the writer is to shape what the heart holds into something shareable — like love — so that others will have the courage and the passion to find stories in what their hearts hold as well.
Don’t cling too closely to your memories. Pass them on. That might be the most vulnerable work of all.
This week, share your heart maps, or, if you were able to write a poem from your heart map, share that in the comments. Here are some questions from Heard’s book to get you thinking about your heart map:
What people are important to you?
What happy or sad memories do you have?
What small things or objects are important to you?
Should some things be outside of the heart and some inside it?
What’s at the center of your heart?
Do different colors represent different emotions, events, relationships?
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s a poem from L.L. Barkat that we enjoyed:
All Hallow’s Eve
Never too old
for imagining a world
where our greatest trouble
is whether to pick
today’s orange Zinnia
and decide: mason jar,
clear and simple?—
or white, gold, curly cobalt
for a small mystery
regarding what’s left
of the life line
that rooted these velvet petals
to summer’s slow
I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. You do not need to be a teacher to have instant admiration for her honesty, vulnerability, and true dedication to her students. She uses her own personal storytelling as the tool to teach one of the greatest stories of our time creating an instant connection to her students as well as to you the reader. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie. – Celena Roldan