Writing from the Inside Out
By Sandra Campbell
The way I see it, we live our lives in two landscapes: one is our natural world which is visible, the other resides within and so is invisible. Our inner landscape is shaped by our genes, our time and place of birth, our culture and our family. All these inform our life experiences, which our senses bring into our bodies, where they are filtered through our hearts, ordered by our minds, then stored in memory.
Our invisible landscape affects our behaviour as much as our visible one – its terrain is full of surprises. Landmines are not uncommon and its weather systems are subject to raging storms. Getting to know this internal world helps us avoid doing damage to others and ourselves.
The subject of our internal worlds brings me to the wonderful business of words. We began with words. Words collect in us. They collect in the blood, in the soul and can transform or poison our lives. A word can make a world, which in turn can offer you a way to discern what’s invisible. Trust me for me for a moment, I’ll show you.
Step aside from your computer, or your book or the mountain of work on your desk or your kitchen counter. Find a pen and a clean sheet of paper. Step aside again – any step, large or small, forward or backward or even sideways– whatever feels right. Take a breath. Could be a great scoop of air or a shallow sniff. It’s up to you. But in that breath, imagine yourself breathing in a single word:
Place your hand on your clean sheet of paper. Grasp your pen. Make a ‘b’, then follow it with this word’s next letter. Write one letter at a time. Link them together if you like, or give each a space, all on its own. Place them wherever you wish on your page. Size is up to you. And quantity. You are the author. You are in charge. Speed is up to you, too. Move your hand as fast as a hare or as slowly as a tortoise. Let it slide across the page like a slippery eel or hobble across like a tired, old dog.
Listen as you write. Like it or not, this word is sounding inside your body. Hear it sound and resound. Keep on listening. Perhaps the word wants out, wants to roll off your tongue and make an audible sound. Step aside and let it go. Step out of your own way. Open your mouth and your throat, flex your belly to push up some air and hear that word roll.
Listen. As beginning rolls out of your body and into the world, put aside all of your gabbling tut-tuts. Instead, open your heart and greet your voice with curious ears. Your voice might crack or waver. Stay out of your way and say it again. Sense a pulse? Detect a melody? Chances are, beginning wants to keep on rolling because it has only just begun. Let it roll. Welcome its sounding with your hand on your chest and throat and feel your fingers tingle (or maybe even dance) to the resonations of your breath moving through the soft flaps of your vocal chords. Surprised by a gasp or shudder? Don’t stop now. It’s you, glorious you, sounding and listening. Hear a rhythm? Let yourself go. That rhythm wants to move through you. Feel your feet, swing your hips. Fool around with your mouth, tongue, throat as the air flutters your vocal flaps. It’s your word in your body and you, no one else is in charge. Its soundings might be as soft as a puff of summer air, as raucous as an angry crow, as tender as a mother cooing to her newborn.
Say the word and feel its pulse as it moves up and out. Continue until your word is tired of rolling. A word always knows when you have heard it. Then place your third and fourth fingers of your right hand on the inside of your left wrist. Feel your pulse.
Now settle back in your comfy chair with your sheet of paper. Gaze on the marks you’ve made on your page and greet them with the eyes of your heart. Look for lines and circles, swirls and curlicues. If there are none, draw them, if you like, or add colour, if you have markers handy. Build bridges between them, or erect dikes. Do whatever feels right. You’re the boss. You’re the author, the sole authority on what works and what doesn’t. Gaze again and watch out for those ‘yeah-buts’ that keep welling up to stop you short. If they arise, tell them you’re too busy to debate and sweep them aside. Welcome wonder and curiosity.
Explorer, you can uncover, discover, recover words within words. See them fly, tearing loose. Step aside. Now see them dropping off the end of your pen, one at a time. Treasure them. Each tells a story and each one is yours. A pen that refuses motion tells a story as well. Listen. Stillness requires the gentlest approach.
Explorer, your words offer glimpses of your invisible world. Reflection helps you chart its landscape. Remembering is the vehicle for this adventure of discovery. Come along. This new world is yours.
We began this adventure with a single word. Gaze again on your page. See beginning. If you yawn at this point, as if what you’ve just done is trivial, or snort because this game seems too ridiculous, then you dismiss your memory. Dismiss your memory and you dismiss yourself. The way I see it, we are what we remember.
Look. Let your eyes see as if what’s before them is your lonely, old neighbour on her first spring outing after a long winter. See that she’s begging for a conversation. But hold your tongue. Don’t start blabbing. Instead, listen with the ear of your heart. Welcome wonder and curiosity and you will stay alert. Remember the feel of your hand in motion across the page as you wrote. Feel again the resonations, inside and out, of your sounds saying the word. Feel the tug of your diaphragm, the tightening of your jaw, the lub-dub rhythm of your heart. These waves of feelings carry memories of varied colours and textures. Some might arise as soothing caresses. Savour these as you would a smooth truffle. Some might arise as waves that sear and burn inside. Howling might erupt. Struggle to stay listening. As you listen, you are giving the word its due.
To give this word its due, you enter into dialogue with your humanness. In the dialogue you become the author of your inside story just waiting to flower. Continue to dialogue and your story will blossom, as will you.
Could be that you were not able to settle into your comfy chair. Could be you shredded your paper, stuffed it out of sight, went for a jog, surfed the Net. That’s okay. Don’t worry. The memory of what you’ve just done with this word is already inscribed in your blood and bones. It’s waiting for a better weather day, perhaps a day when a trusted companion or two are walking beside you. If together you walk embracing your humanness, memories will bubble up so you can write your stories anew. Each person’s stories are unique. There’s no good, better, best so don’t bother with judgments or comparisons. The way I see it, you and I are holding thousands of stories inside. Could be that each of our lives is a great novel – written and unwritten. Explorer, only you are the author.
Want to discover some more? Here’s another word: