In The Many Daughters of Afong Moy, my main character, Dorothy, is a poet who describes herself as someone who breaks her own heart for a living.
As a novelist, that’s how I’ve always felt.
Actually, scratch that.
The always part is the heartache that’s been there for as long as I can remember, and my being a novelist is the peculiar way I’ve somehow managed to monetize that affliction.
Unfortunately, repurposing a broken heart is not something you’re taught in a fiction workshop. Or an MFA program. I doubt you’ll find creative tachycardia in your favorite book on writing. This very personal disorder is what happens when your heart beats arrhythmically because of scar tissue, overuse, or neglect. So now, no matter how hard I try to write about something else, something specific and unique, and far away from my pulmonary contusions, the stories I tell always end up being a reflection of my state of mind, sort of—because for better or worse––I think with my heart. (And yes, a nutritionist will tell you that diet can affect your heart as well, especially if you’ve been eating too much sadness.)
But I’ve learned to live with my murmur.
It’s not a defect, it’s a reminder of what a heart does and how little we know:
–– Your heart is actually in the middle of your chest. So that super-patriotic guy at the football game who hates Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the National Anthem––that guy who stands piously with his hand over his heart––that guy is actually putting his hand over his lung.
–– Unlike other organs, bones, and tissue, your heart can’t heal itself. All those clichés, those aphorisms like––put your heart into it, he’s got a lot of heart, learn something by heart—the truth is, even if you have a heart of gold, the heart can’t do it alone.
–– No one knows why the heart is associated with love. Perhaps because ancient civilizations thought the heart controlled all thought and that the brain was useless. Think about that.
–– Horses can mirror the heart rate of the human touching them. See, it really is possible to wear your heart on your sleeve, to pour your heart out, to be all heart, and that your heart is always in the right place, even your fingertips.
–– Erectile dysfunction is a heart problem, not a problem with your junk (sorry fellas). Maybe in the future, instead of saying he’s good in bed, people will say, damn, he’s got a good heart!
–– Every cell in your body receives blood from the heart, except your corneas. Which explains why you can’t see with your heart but you can feel things, deeply. Seeing isn’t believing after all. Feeling is believing.
––The heart will continue beating, even when disconnected from the body, because your heart has its own power source. Don’t try this at home. Just know that Celine Dion was right all along.
As I sit here writing this it’s been one month since an EKG showed that I have a dynamic heartbeat—which means I’m always a little off, not in a bad way––I’m just different than most. Because of that, a small, thin tube was inserted into a blood vessel in my right leg and threaded all the way up to my heart so a doctor could take a look around. I must have made his day, because it’s not often that a cardiologist gets to wake up a patient and say, “Your heart is in great shape.”
Turns out I’m just a bit odd. Which, for a writer, is not a bad thing. It’s almost a prerequisite. In fact, I’ve been given the green light to keep doing what I do, which is to break my own heart (on occasion), sprinkle glitter on the pieces, and pass those pieces out to strangers.
Jamie, we’re so glad for you and your amazing heart!
Celebrate Jamie Ford and the other winners of 2023 Pacific Northwest Book Awards with the virtual event on Zoom Feb 9, 2023 at 6:00 PM Pacific Time. REGISTER NOW.
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 “Hearts That Murmur: An Original Essay by
2023 PNBA Book Award Winner
This is beautifully written, and I feel every word. Thank you for always sharing so much of yourself with us. You’re an amazing person, a “good egg”. And I for one, am very happy that you’re healthy and still around to give us so much from your heart!
Take care, my friend!