The Heart as a Compass

I had a bunch of words written about singing in my car and how it's like writing and never showing anyone, and blah blah blah. They felt like a rotted log, hollow and dead. And something Napoleon said kept running through my mind:  "Follow your heart. That's what I do."

Yeah, that's Napoleon Dynamite. Like I'd know anything the other Napoleon said. Gosh.

So I'm following my heart. It says I'm in the same place I left Ash (my protagonist) yesterday morning—on a minefield. He's still there. I couldn't write this morning because all my ideas felt like that same rotting log. How do you get through a minefield?

Metaphorically, life is a battlefield. (I said LIFE, not love. Did anyone else hear Pat Benetar just then?) The battlefield is mined, meaning there are bombs that blow up when you step on them. Stepping on a mine is a mistake, the kind you make when you're not being careful and start following the wrong tracks, going off the path, etc. You have to slow down and think before every step you take.

In other words, to avoid making mistakes and stepping on mines, follow your head, not your heart.

If I were Ash and stuck on an actual minefield in a damaged vehicle and with snipers shooting at me from the trees, I'd be strongly tempted to simply drive like mad for the other side. I know this because that's basically how I got through school. I tried to study hard and do all my work. But there came a point in every class where I lost all desire to tread carefully and do good work. That point usually came late the night before a big test or deadline. No matter what my head said I should do, my heart sabotaged it by not caring anymore. It really hurt me. Led me onto a lot of mines and bad grades.

My head said I should major in computer science. I like computers. I like science. There's good money in that field. My heart said no. I flunked my CS classes.

All right, I told my heart. We'll do physics and astronomy, because that's what we really love. Nope, said my heart. The night sky is wonderful, but I don't like math. Never have, never will.

But you're pretty good at it, I answered.

Don't care, said my heart.

All right. Fine. What do you want to do?


But there's no money in English, and it's ridiculously easy. Don't we need a challenge? Don't we want a good job?

It's easy because we're good at writing. And I like easy.

Speaking of easy, it's no problem to follow your heart when your head agrees. It took me two years of getting beat up by college to switch to English. Lo, and behold, I got good grades and enjoyed school.

It's still hard to follow my heart—especially when it seems to be leading me to do the wrong things. I rewrote a novel several times because it felt like the right thing to do. After the last rewrite, the first feedback I got from someone who'd read earlier versions was that the characters felt flat.

All that work had made it worse. All those hours that were supposed to make the manuscript wonderful robbed it of what's most important.

What do you say now, heart? How does it feel to kill something you love?

It hurts.

We have to fix it. So many people are invested in this project.

Not right now. Maybe later. Right now, I want to move on.

Whose side are you on?

My head says don't use present tense. It's a fad, an affectation, rarely done well, a rookie mistake, a sign of weak writing, unnecessary. . .

Do it, says my heart.

I'm not a logical person. I follow my heart. It leads my head kicking and screaming down wrong paths. I've seen it make so many mistakes. And yet, part of me wonders if it's ever done anything that turned out bad in the end. Didn't I learn a lot from those rewrites? Didn't all that homework turn out to be unimportant?

To survive the predicament I've dumped on him, Ash should slow down, ignore the less dangerous gunfire, look where he's going, and find the right set of tracks to follow. He should follow his head, not his gut instinct. That's what my head says he should do.

And me? I'm charging blindly across the field at top speed, scared to death that I'm making a huge mistake—but doing it anyway.

At least I know what to do with Ash, now.


  1. LOL, loved this post. How many times have I dropped myself into the middle of a metaphorical mind field like this?

    I think its my personality. Example: When I played video games with my (younger) brother growing up it went like this. I was the one shooting at everything running straight into the crowd of bad guys fists flying. He was the one standing back calmly throwing spells into the fray covering my back.

    Too often my head chimes in WAY too late. My heart has already latched onto that writing idea and I can't give it up. Thus my post today on thunder following lightning. When my head does show up I have quite the headache until I can work it all out.

    Tell Ash I said good luck and I hope he makes it through.

  2. I'm a follow my heart person too. It sometimes leads to things that would have been better if I used my head a little more, but for the most part, I'm happy with what I get in the long run.

  3. Right now, I'm not following anything. I can't tell up from down. :-/

  4. As a dedicated 'headcase' I can say following your head may be safer, but it's also boring. Driving headlong through a minefield is much more exciting. Sometimes I wish I was brave enough to follow my heart more. Go for it!

  5. yeah, follow that. At least you'll know you did the honest thing in the end.
    I was not gong to jump on the fad of present tense, but it's like my HOME. My best writing place. When I write in present my people are more real, I'm more connected and my writing is SO much tighter.

    We all find our own groove. I still can't imagine writing in third person. SO weird...

    Good luck with your people.

  6. Yeah, and most writing is present tense when you include blogs, letters, magazines, news, etc. All those reasons I gave not to do present tense are things I've read online. (The more I think about it, the more third person limited past tense seems like a weird affectation, but I'd never say that out loud.)

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    You know what, Alberta? Following your heart frequently means avoiding the minefields altogether and staying safe and comfortable at home. Fear can come from either the heart or the head.

    I got Ash through the minefield, but had a terrible time trying to write this morning. I didn't want to write what I planned. The very thought was loathsome and repulsive. I'm a lazy writer. If I don't want to write something, I can't. Or won't.

    I skipped that scene and wrote something that felt better. I'm pretty sure it's not a good idea to feel my way through everything, but sometimes I don't have a choice.

  7. Ah, sounds like someone else I know. Ever wonder why your dad is a fifth grade teacher?


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