I like a good flaw. It makes us human. Perfection is boring. Kiera Knightley
I was half-listening to a live-stream seminar while washing dishes a week or so ago, when I heard the words that caught my attention. Dropping the dishcloth and putting down the half-dried skillet, I honed in closer to my computer and the Law of Attraction Workshop in progess. “Go for alignment first. Alignment trumps technique every time. In fact, sometimes technique can squeeze the life right out of an action.” I was delighted to hear this response to a voice teacher’s question about alignment and technique – not only because it was related to the topic of music and I love to sing, and do so with gusto sometimes when I’m feeling free, though even I can hear that I don’t carry the tune where others do and I’m lacking miles in the technique department, but also I was delighted because in my heart I know it to be true.
I know it in my writing. I’m appreciative of the technical skills that I have acquired through years of schooling and experience, and, yet, there is nothing quite so fun, so freeing as letting it all go and allowing the pen fly. I do this every month when I gather with the women in my writing group. We’re an informal bunch, and we keep our format easy and loose. We jot down topics that float into our heads, give ourselves a time period, perhaps an hour or so, and then we are off and running or should I say writing; we’re letting it rip. With purple pen in hand, and an unlined notebook, I find a comfy spot and I begin – I let the words pour out onto the page. Mrs. Lichness, my first grade teacher, isn’t hovering over my shoulder, isn’t poking my left hand into the correct position, as it forms great sweeping non-perfect letters and words and sentences and paragraphs across the white surface. Or maybe my left hand isn’t forming paragraphs at all because who needs paragraphs when the grammar police are nowhere to be found.
I let technique go and I write and I write and I write, and it’s not the words that matter as much as the energy behind the words. It’s the feel-good place that I’m seeking, the place where heart and hand and mind and thought all come together; it’s the place of alignment. And sometimes it’s a sluggish start and it feels like gibberish that is making its way onto the page – or at least the English major part of me thinks it’s gibberish. I try to ignore that inner English major and I keep on going, sometimes focusing on a single topic, sometimes skimming and skipping from one topic to the next, until I feel it, that something that begins to happen, a rush of the feel-good, a heart connection to what I’m writing. And sometimes a story appears, or the start of one, or a poem rises up, or I find a hidden gem. And this is just dessert at the end of a good meal. Because it’s the feel-good meal that I’m going for, in the writing and in the reading. And that’s what we do next; we read what we have written. We suspend judgment, forget about technique and listen to each other as we share something tender and new that has risen up from our depths. Technique can make an appearance later with its commas and semi-colons and separate paragraphs, but for the moment, it is the fresh and the raw and the real.
Years ago Cam and I spent a week vacationing along the rugged coast of northern Italy in the Cinque Terre, an area where five villages, connected by a train track and an ancient walking path, are perched fairytale-like above the sea. We stayed in the village of Vernazza, and, each morning, after a visit to the market for clementines and olives and fresh greens, and a stop at the bread store for the best focaccia you’ve ever tasted, we hiked our days away. It was September and the days were ripe with grapes hanging from the vines and an ocean bursting with blue and a sea breeze and the olive trees as old as life itself. It was heady and it was full-bodied and we returned, each evening, to our little town both satiated with all this sea and sun, and hungry for more. And one night, as we sat there at an outdoor cafe, sun-kissed and happy, the young handsome server placed before me a platter with a freshly-grilled fish and an arugala salad and a home-made pasta sprinkled with pine nuts and basil and ripe, red tomatoes. “It’s perfect!” I cried out. “Oh no!” the handsome server replied in his thick Italian English. “Oh no! It’s not perfect! Perfect squeezes the life out of things!”
I like to imagine that this meal served to me on the shores of the sea was prepared from a place of alignment, that the fisherman casting his nets that morning felt the softness of the breeze and smiled into the rising sun, that the chef who was chopping the tomatoes and basil felt the warmth of their ripeness, that a song was wafting through the air as the pasta was coming to a boil, that it was all placed on this plate with a lightness and an ease and a heart-felt touch. It certainly tasted that way. I’m appreciative of technique. A charred fish loses its sweetness. Over-cooked pasta turns into mush. A purple-penned scrawl of timed-writing might not make sense in a blog to post. And I know, from the depths of my being, that technique without heart, without a sense of alignment, is flimsy and dry and perhaps overcooked. I’ll take the taste of alignment every time!!!!!