Compass

You master an important initial step when you sit at your desk to write: showing up. Positioning yourself at the desk conveys an intent to commit words to the page. Manifesting the intent should follow, but for some of us, that next step can be tricky. We may get stuck in a swirl of thoughts in search of the appropriate first line. Or we reach page two or ten and a day later, deem the words embarrassing fluff and hit the delete key.


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When I was a graduate student, I chanced upon a vital connection between writing and movement. I had been writing a paper on literary theory when my output halted. No words. No ideas. A total blank. It was as if someone pulled the plug from the wall outlet. I waited and waited. Nothing happened other than increasing anxiety about the deadline. On a whim, I got up from my chair and started dancing around the room. Immediately my respiration and heartbeat changed. Muscles elongated and tensions softened or disappeared altogether. My entire being felt more expansive. Surprisingly, an idea for the previously elusive paragraph arrived and I rushed back to the desk.

This chance meeting between writing and movement set into motion a beautiful marriage. In the years since, they continue to inspire flow and original material and have sustained me through the writing of several books and numerous articles.

Sensate awareness stirs the body awake. Sensation provides endless clues about the rich world contained by the skin and links us as well to the world beyond us. When we choose to notice its many messages, we discover useful feedback about our moment to moment existence.

Sensation roots us in the present. When we tune in to our breath, our flesh, our bones, and blood, the fullness of our being comes alive and taps into a fertile source of power and inspiration. This source often gets overlooked or quashed, our attention carried away by preoccupations with the day's demands. Essentially we lose touch with immediate, felt experience and stumble around in the maze of thinking. For the next minute, notice where your arm makes contact with the table, the placement of your legs and feet, how your breath presses against your ribs, and you'll begin to feel the power of your presence. Apply this awareness while writing and your flow and word choice become more resonant and fluid. Imagery, voice, and rhythm arise from a greater depth of your being.

Writing and body awareness are a potent combination. Together, they get the writing going and keep it going. They ignite the imagination. They ensure an open expressive channel. They lead us to the seed and bloom of creativity. These factors in themselves are well worth the price of admission. Take it another step and the benefits multiply.

The material that rises up into consciousness provides glimpses into the state of our body — if we choose to pursue it as such. Along with crafting the material for literary ends, we can also understand the material as the way our body communicates to us. Look at the images, voices, and characters as signs and symbols that need interpretation much like a dream. Learn to read the body and you'll find it always revealing its truths to us. This information is essential if we're looking to heal ourselves of pain and comes in handy for knowing and cultivating the unique garden of oneself.

Writers are drawn to words as a vehicle to articulate what may otherwise go unvoiced. Sensate awareness deepens how we inhabit each moment and, in turn, intensifies our language. A greater intimacy with our felt being and our words situates us in profound connection with the rhythms of writing and how we dwell within the home of ourselves.

Continually I am amazed by the grammar of my being and how my words twist and refresh. I similarly relish witnessing fellow writers astonish themselves when I share somatic techniques with them.

Place your mind in your hand and upon your tongue. Challenge yourself to step out of the maze of thinking and into the welcome breeze of your writing.

Cheryl Pallant, poet, journalist, dancer, professor, and somatic practitioner, is the author of eight books of poetry and nonfiction. cherylpallant.com


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Interview with Cheryl Pallant

Where are you from?

NYC originally.

Who are you today?

Writer, poet, dancer, professor, meditator, Reiki practitioner, cyclist, hiker, a tango and yoga aficionado.

What do you do? (Elevator speech)

I write. I dance. I teach at universities and lead workshops around the country and abroad. I ... sorry, this is my floor.

What's your story, how did you get here?

I got here through vision, sweat, luck. My preferred mode of transportation is my bicycle.

Why is creativity important to you?

The creative process captures essence. It affirms who I am and simultaneously lets me transcend myself. I step beyond the usual boundaries of culture and logic and engage with something larger than my individual self, something universal, soulful, numinous, and deeply satisfying.

When did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?

The first time was in fourth grade when fellow students continually asked me to read my stories written for class. They also believed what I wrote, even if it was far-fetched. I realized the power of the written word early on.

How did you embrace it?

I wrote throughout high school and college. After grad school, I challenged myself to make it as a writer. Learning dance, which also took place in college, was pivotal. It provided another language, deepened bodily connections, and used another part of my brain. I've been going ever since, publishing books, articles, poems, stories, performing dance, and teaching.

How did that feel?

I'm grateful to feel a fullness of being.

Where has your journey taken you?

To Malaysia, Korea, and Hungary. To sitting on panels alongside Pulitzer Prize winners. To having the luxury to sit at my desk with a purring cat on my lap.

What challenges have you faced?

Life. An artist's path is wrought with challenges.

What worked for you?

Shifting my breathing and giving myself permission to experiment in my creative expression. I constantly draw on tools of mine like whimsy, humor, meditation, breathwork, somatic practices, dreaming, and good friends.

What didn't?

Not having a well-running computer or a sharp pencil.

What tips can you share with those starting on a similar path?

Familiarize yourself with the field and find a way to distinguish yourself. Trust your gut and get to know the ways the creative pulse courses through and communicates with you. Persist, especially in the face of doubt and indifference.

What are you working on now?

I'm soon to send out letters to potential reviewers for my latest poetry book and awaiting the publication of my memoir. I'm starting a nonfiction book on writing and the somatic connection.

What else do you desire/dream to do?

I want to landscape my backyard with a sitting and vegetable garden. I dream of winning a reputable literary prize.

How will you make that happen?

The landscaping desire is easy once I sketch a plan. The prize? Stating it here publicly is a first step.

Besides the arts, what inspires you and why?

Meditation. To be my true self and all my selves.