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An Emotional Intelligence Primer in the Form of an Uncommonly Tender Illustrated Poem About Our Capacity for Love – Brain Pickings

My Heart: An Emotional Intelligence Primer in the Form of an Uncommonly Tender Illustrated Poem About Our Capacity for Love

“How is your heart?” I recently asked a friend going through a trying period of overwork and romantic tumult, circling the event horizon of burnout while trying to bring a colossal labor of love to life. His answer, beautiful and heartbreaking, came swiftly, unreservedly, the way words leave children’s lips simple, sincere, and poetic, before adulthood has learned to complicate them out of the poetry and the sincerity with considerations of reason and self-consciousness: “My heart is too busy to be a heart,” he replied.

How does the human heart — that ancient beast, whose roars and purrs have inspired sonnets and ballads and wars, defied myriad labels too small to hold its pulses, and laid lovers and empires at its altar — unbusy itself from self-consciousness and learn to be a heart? That is what artist and illustrator Corinna Luyken explores in the lyrical and lovely My Heart (public library) — an emotional intelligence primer in the form of an uncommonly tender illustrated poem about the tessellated capacities of the heart, about love as a practice rather than a state, about how it can frustrate us, brighten us, frighten us, and ultimately expand us.

My heart is a window,
My heart is a slide.
My heart can be closed
or opened up wide.

Some days it’s a puddle.
Some days it’s a stain.
Some days it is cloudy
and heavy with rain.

Across the splendid spare verses, against the deliberate creative limitation of a greyscale-and-yellow color palate, a sweeping richness of emotional hues unfolds. What emerges is one of those rare, miraculous “children’s” books, in the tradition of The Little Prince, teaching kids about some elemental aspect of being human while inviting grownups to unlearn what we have learned in order to rediscover and reinhabit the purest, most innocent truths of our humanity.

Some days it is tiny,
but tiny can grow…
and grow…
and grow.

There are days it’s a fence
between me and the world,
days it’s a whisper
that can barely be heard.

There are days it is broken,
but broken can mend,
and a heart that is closed
can still open again.

My heart is a shadow,
a light and a guide.
Closed or open…
I get to decide.

Complement My Heart with The Day I Became a Bird — another spare, poetic picture-book about love and learning to unmask our truest selves — and a wondrous illustrated collection of classic love poems, then revisit three philosophers’ insightful perspectives on the largest subject in the universe: Erich Fromm on the greatest obstacle to mastering the art of loving, Martha Nussbaum on how you know you love somebody, and Skye Cleary’s animated inquiry into why we love.



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