As a writer, I used to have only a vague sense of this — how memory lives in the body.
I wouldn’t have been able to explain why some writing felt so alive, and other writing didn’t.
In fact, I remember that trying hard to figure out why some writing felt alive and other writing didn’t was one of my biggest challenges.
I could tell the difference, intuitively, but I didn’t have a framework for knowing how to reliably find it — whatever “it” was.
This meant that my characters had thoughts (oh, so many thoughts) but their bodies were sometimes indeterminate. So even the sensory or descriptive details they were aware of felt a little scattered, at times, or shoe-horned in.
At times, writing fiction, it felt like I was building a world for paper dolls, instead of humans.
But then I’d find myself in a scene where a character stepped in a puddle and I’d suddenly find myself writing about the feeling of cold water seeping in through the seam of her boot, about that chill of wet socks sticking to toes, and the way every step begins to slap-slosh against the sidewalk and the cold wet sends a ribbon of discomfort up the leg like a jolt of ache, and the pain in the ball of her foot would awaken a memory of other pain, long forgotten.
In other words — suddenly I’d be writing in a body.
And with this, the character — she’d feel more real. The writing would get more vibrant. Everything would feel more alive.
I think a lot of us can relate to moving through life a bit disembodied — much more aware of what we’re worrying about or wanting than how and what we’re feeling.
There’s so much magic in remembering your way back into your body. It can literally make you feel more alive.
And there’s so much magic in writing that remembers the body.
Because for many of us (if we don’t have a mindful movement practice, like yoga, that reminds us regularly) the kinds of moments that force us to remember we have a body tend to be emotionally resonant ones.
They’re moments of sudden pain (a stubbed toe, a hot stove), or sudden joy (a toddler’s hug, a beam of brilliant sunlight).
Moments of extreme stress or gut-lurching fear remind us we have bodies.
Moments of physical intimacy or intense attraction remind us we have bodies.
Smells remind us we have bodies; brilliant colors and bursts of sound — a car’s tires screeching; a clock-tower chiming; a crow saying caw-caw — remind us we have bodies.
I think this is why I find such an ongoing source of inspiration and imagery for my writing in having a practice that also involves working with the body.
This is one reason why yoga can be such a helpful practice for writers.
As writers or artists, our bodies are such rich source material for our work (sensory details and emotional nuance come from the body; writing that remembers it’s connected to a body is writing that feels alive).
So honing our ability to really be in our bodies — to feel sensations, to get deeply curious about the moment-to-moment experience of being inside a human body, with all that entails — can help us create work that feels more potent, more often.
Sidenote: I just reread a short story I wrote ten years ago, and the moments that were told from right there inside-the-body of the main character were f***ing captivating. It might be how I go back and edit it and finally publish it, because it’s a pretty thrilling story at times that never quite found a final form that felt right.
It’s a story that had a part-time body.
I want to find out what it’ll look like when it has a body the whole way through.
If you’re looking for a way to make your writing sing, you could try this, too: notice which moments make it clear that you or your characters have a body. Notice if they feel extra powerful.
What would happen if there were more of them?
And if you’re looking for a way to do this in community, I’ve got one spot open in the February Yoga for Writers series — we meet on Friday mornings, 9 – 11am, at my house in South Philly.
We start Friday, February 7th, 2020, and drop-ins are welcome if space permits.
And let me know how your writing’s going!