The first time I saw a collection that took my breath away, it was on a small island in the San Juans, on the mantel of a fireplace at a friend’s mom’s house. It was an assortment of rocks that had been gathered and gifted over many years. There were different sizes, colors, and textures with one thing in common: they were all hearts made of stone.
I was enchanted by the collection, and the idea that it had grown slowly over time. Each heart-shaped rock held a specific memory of place, friendship, love, but also— of something bigger than itself. Each rock pointed to the existence of a larger community, a community of notice-ers. A community of people walking around in the world, paying attention. There was something about this collection of stones gathered by many people over time that made me feel hopeful and a little less alone.
But it wasn’t until almost a decade later, when my husband and I moved from the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains back to the WA coast, that I started my own collection. It began to grow quickly once I became pregnant with my daughter (and could no longer surf), and then, when my daughter was old enough to join me in the walking and looking, it really took off.
Fast forward quite a few years (seven near the ocean, and five more near the Salish Sea) and our collection has grown immense. It includes a few shells, driftwood, gravel, even one or two dried leaves; but mostly, it is stone. Stones of various sizes, colors, textures, with one thing in common: their shape.
While this collection grew, a story was also growing in the back of my mind. The story started as a poem that I wrote many years ago, put away, rediscovered, put away, and then rediscovered again. It was odd, the way I kept coming back to this poem over the years. For one thing, it rhymed. And though I love rhythm and repetition, though sound is often my way IN to a poem or a story, I rarely write in rhyme. Also, this poem was sweet. This poem was something that the serious writer in me would (seriously) be worried about sharing with other serious writers— for fear of it being dismissed as overly sentimental. But this poem, which began “my heart is a window/ my heart is a slide/ my heart can be closed, or/ opened up wide…” refused to let go.
Somewhere along the way, amidst revisions to the poem and a growing pile of heart-shaped rocks in our living room, it occurred to me that this poem might want images. And so I started paying closer attention. It started with noticing heart-shaped leaves on a houseplant by the window, then on a vine along a neighbor’s fence. I was still looking for stones whenever we went to the beach, but I was also finding heart-shaped chunks of gravel in a driveway on the walk home from my daughter’s school (four in one driveway over the course of three days!).
Soon I was noticing hearts everywhere: in a rotten lemon; in a piece of torn paper on my studio floor; even on the sidewalk where one day— there was bird poop, in the shape of a heart.
The thing about hearts—whether in stones on the beach, clouds, fences, puddles, leaves—is that they are like small everyday kindnesses: once you start looking, they are everywhere. Like love. And the more you look, the more you see.
Until, some days, you see it everywhere.
And so this search occupied my mind and heart for the 5 plus years of writing and illustrating My Heart. Only now that the book is out in the world, in the hands of readers, there is a new layer. Now, when I visit bookstores, libraries, and schools to talk about the book, there is always at least one person—a student, a parent, a teacher—who waits around afterward to tell me about their own collection of heart stones.
Because of this, I see the rocks scattered throughout my studio in a new light. Somehow, this thing that I did mostly in solitude (writing, illustrating, noticing) has connected me to a larger community. A community of notice-ers. A community of people walking through their days looking for small signs of love in this world that we share.
The plaque for the 2020 PNBA Book Award for My Heart will be awarded to Corinna Luyken at a bookstore event, to be announced soon. We will update this post when a date and location are set. (Browsers Bookshop in Olympia threw quite the shindig in 2018 to celebrate Corinna and The Book of Mistakes!)
Nwbooklovers posts original essays from this year’s award winners as featured posts in January and February. You can enjoy essays from past winners of the PNBA Book Award in our archive.
One response to “My Hearts: An Essay by 2020 PNBA Award Winner Corinna Luyken”
Most of my hearts, primarily rock and wood, are preserved in photo form. Dozens. And I have friends that have been doing the same for years. Oh, you’re onto something, Corinna, no doubt!