All writers are the same. We all have lungs and wrists and feet. Sylvia Plath had a belly button. Jane Austen had knees. Having this awareness embodiment makes the writers we admire more human. “Sharon Olds mentioned that after hearing a talk about Emily Dickinson, she suddenly flashed upon a vision of Dickinson’s naked foot. It was the first time it occurred to her that Dickinson had soles, toes, and ankles.”[i] It’s difficult to imagine the mundane facts of our literary heroes, to remember that they, too, are just human—with hands and elbows and fingernails, as well. Feet, specifically, are a profoundly human characteristic—they’re humble, they’re close to the ground. Think of some of your favorite writers. Imagine their toenails, their feet. How does it feel in your body to imagine these beloved writers in such a human light?
Our feet ground us to the earth. They help us balance and stand firm. The Persian poet Kabir invites us to seriously consider the task of thinking about your body and being grounded:
Be strong then, and enter into our own body;
there you have a solid place for your feet.
Think about it carefully!
Don’t go off somewhere else!
Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,
and stand firm in that which you are.[ii]
Write about a time you stood firm.
The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.
–Leonardo Da Vinci
Consider the art and science of your feet.
The human foot contains 26 small bones in total; each has a specific job to do. The 52 bones in your feet make up about one quarter of all the bones in your body. When walking, the pressure on your feet exceeds your body weight, when running, it that pressure can be three to four times your weight. The American Podiatric Medical Association says the average person walks about four miles every day, about 115,000 miles in a lifetime. Describe how you think your feet support you. Write about where your feet have taken you and where you hope they will take you in the future.
Do you like the way your feet are long and narrow, or wide and arched, or fan-like and flat? How would you describe their shapes and curves? They’re smell?
He who has imagination without learning has wings but not feet.
Grounding with the energy of the earth can help your writing, whether it is with your feet, forehead, or whole body, crutches or wheelchair that touches the earth. Practice grounding your body prior to writing, connecting yourself with the earth for when your writing gets intense. In Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice, author Laraine Herring focuses on the interface between writing and the body and how each informs and supports the other. She addresses how grounding in the body helps quiet and center the mind, allowing your authentic writing to flow from that place. She writes, “Standing in your own body helps open up the throat” so you can speak with your own voice. “It also helps move you out of your thinking center and into a place of feeling and sensation…The foundation of your writing is your practice, your consistent showing up to the page, your awareness of your relationship with your words and language. The stronger that foundation, the more forms of life it can sustain.”[iii]
Get yourself grounded through touching the earth or the roots that dangle beneath your desire to write. Feel your center. Stand up, feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your knees soft and slightly bent. Rock your hips back and forth; then swing side to side. Now move your hips in several big circles, first in one direction and then the other. Return to standing still.
This year I have planted my feet
on this ground
and am practicing
growing out of my legs
like a tree.
Linda Lancione Moyer (Listen, lines 13-17)[iv]
Write about a snowy night’s walk, an early morning walk on the beach, waves lapping at your feet, or walking barefoot in the rain.
Is there a difference in writing barefoot, versus wearing dress shoes, sneakers, or boots? Write about how it feels to run barefoot in the grass, scuffle your feet or wobble in heels? What is foundational to your writing? What is artistic? What is mechanical? What stinks?
“Planting Initiation Song an Osage Women’s Initiation Song”
I have made a footprint, a sacred one.
I have made a footprint, through it the blades push upward.
I have made a footprint, through it the blades radiate.
I have made a footprint, over it the blades float in the wind.
I have made a footprint, over it I bend the stalk to pluck the ears.
I have made a footprint, over it the blossoms lie gray.
I have made a footprint, smoke arises from my house.
I have made a footprint, there is cheer in my house.
I have made a footprint, I live in the light of day.[v]
-– Jane Hirshfield
What types of footprints have you made in your writing life? What type of footprints do you want to make in the future?
Write about shuffling through a crowded aisle, strangers touching the length of their bodies, ignoring each other. When your dog sits at your feet or dancing into the wee hours of the night.[vi]
Describe what it feels like when someone touches your toes or rubs lotion on your feet. Write about your first experience of getting your feet wet, getting cold feet, or putting your best foot forward literally or metaphorically.
[i] Brandeis, G. (2002). Fruitflesh: Seeds of inspiration for women who write. pp. 45-46.
[ii] From “#14” in the Kabir Book translated by Robert Bly p. 2 Writing from the Body John Lee
[iii] Herring, L. (2007). Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice. Boston: Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, p. 23.
[iv] “Listen” by Linda Lancione Moyer. Retrieved June 5, 2014 from http://afirstsip.blogspot.com/2011/09/listen.html
[v] Women in Praise of the Sacred:43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women,
[vi] Brandies, G. (2002). Fruitflesh: Seeds of inspiration for women who write.p. 122.
Debbie spent 30 years as a registered nurse. She became a certified applied poetry facilitator and journal-writing instructor in 2007. She is currently a student in the Johns Hopkins Science-Medical Writing program. Her publications have appeared in Journal of Poetry Therapy, Studies in Writing: Research on Writing Approaches in Mental Health, Women on Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful Women, Statement CLAS Journal, The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society, and Red Earth Review.