Sunday, December 31, 2006

Heart Swimming

"Sometimes I understand something (an experience, an event, something someone said) in my head," writes Meg Kearney in the afterward to her young adult novel-in-verse, The Secret of Me, "but it's not until I write about it that I start to understand it in my heart."

It's through this kind of heart-swimming--writing and sharing her journal-like poems with the reader--that Kearney's main character, 14 year-old Elizabeth (Lizzy) McLane, comes to terms with her feelings about being adopted as an infant.

Her journey toward self-understanding isn't an easy one, even with a loving mother and father, as well as a caring older brother and sister (both of whom are also adopted).

That's because while Lizzy's life may appear to an observer as untroubled and relatively normal, the stability of her adopted world isn't enough to silence the doubts that she feels in the deepest part of herself or quench her desire to know her "real" mother:
When I was little, I used to think
she was like Mary Poppins,
and someday she'd come floating
back to me on her umbrella.
Not only does Lizzy have to deal with her feelings of doubt and abandonment, she has to do so despite the discouragement of her brother and sister, who fear their parents may perceive any expression of such feelings as a sign of ungratefulness, or, worse, disloyalty.

But in her heart Lizzy knows that she must confront these feelings or else the dreaded monster that threatens to drown her in fear, especially when she's feeling particularly low, will continue to haunt her.

Thankfully, Lizzy has close friends who understand her. And she has a gift: writing poetry. Swimming deeply into her own heart, Lizzy gains the courage to face the monster and, ultimately, learn through writing how to accept her feelings rather than deny them.

As she explores her feelings and painful memories in poems, she summons the strength to share these memories and feelings with her girlfriends, as well as with a newfound boyfriend who doesn't run when he hears the dreaded word "adopted," and, eventually, with her parents, too.

By facing her emotions honestly and sharing them with people who she trusts, Lizzy learns that she can speak about her past--and herself--in ways that not only ease her suffering and doubts but help her heal, as well.

This sense of healing comes, though, only after a deep and painful struggle with her feelings about being adopted--the secret of her life.

"A poet named Jack Gilbert says 'poetry is a way to eat your life,'" Kearney explains in the novel's afterward, where she shares resources about the adoption process and reveals that Lizzy's story was based, in part, on her own experience of being adopted as a child.

"In other words, by writing about an experience--hearing the words in your head, tasting them in your mouth, digesting them, putting them on paper--you can start to understand what they mean and how you feel about them. Some people never take the time to stop and think about their lives--not just think, but feel. That's what poems are for. They make us slow down. They help us make sense of our world."

Heart swimming in our own work means taking the time to stop and think about our life.

Not just thinking, but feeling.

As Kearney suggests, it's not until we write about something that we can begin to understand it in our hearts.

For more information about Meg Kearney, visit her website at

P.S. - Thanks to all of you who have stopped by this past year to join us in the water. We hope to see (and hear from) you again in 2007.
A healthy, happy New Year to Wordswimmers everywhere!


Anonymous said...

I've found it's true, that I learn a lot about my feelings and understanding of something by writing about it.

The Secret of Me looks to be a compelling and sensitively written book.

My oldest brother and sister were adopted, so I feel a special empathy for adopted kids. I know there's always a question in their minds, even if it's never voiced, and sometimes even if they know their birth parents.

Happy New Year, Bruce!

Elaine Magliaro said...

Happy New Year, Bruce.

It was a pleasure serving as a member of the Cybil poetry panel with you. I'm glad we didn't have to choose five finalists from a total of 111 nominated books like members of the fiction picture book panel. I can't wait until all the winners are announced.

Anonymous said...

Meg's book sounds like it would be a treat to read. I used your link to her website and noted in her list of credits a long and impressive journey of publishing in literary journals, poetry anthologies, and the awards she garnered. Her two books, including "The Secret of Me," are nice additions to a building career. I noticed, too, our friends and teachers, Jacqueline Woodson and Norma Fox Mazer, had a bit of praise for her writing. I'm glad to see Meg's entered the YA field.