Bi-weekly chatter about how looking closely at some of the most common expressions in everyday life can prompt new ways of thinking about our writing.
“Soak your feet!” When was the last time you heard someone on the street yell this directive out to a passerby, friend or neighbor?
So, in addition to reading this essay to the end, I’m also asking for one more thing: a pass. Maybe it’s not a familiar phrase we hear every day but…stay with me.
“Relax!” is the more common, the more word on the street command but most of us know it’s probably the worst thing you can say to someone who is having trouble doing so.
But, on the flip side, who can argue with a suggestion that involves warm water, maybe a little orange or peppermint oil and a soft towel? And toes!
This remedy goes back to my waitressing days but it still works. I’d come home from a double and peel off my ugly black sneakers that matched my ugly black uniform. My mother’s words rang out. “When your feet hurt, your whole body hurts,” she’d say and soon after I’d hear the macaroni pot hitting the bottom of the sink and the water running hard into it.
Old, and in this case good, habits die hard. When I’m stressed, when my shoulders, heart rate and anxiety are as high as the sky, I fill a pot and soak my feet.
I think it can help us on the page, too.
What do you have to lose by dipping your toes into an herbal-scented basin while starting a new chapter, poem or essay? Or while revising and old one? Or maybe, if the whole water and foot thing is just not your vibe, find another body part to soak or scent and incorporate that practice into your writing routine.
Slight digression: don’t get me started on the power and pleasure of reading in the bathtub. That’s rhetorical, I know. But if you don’t believe me check out a great article by Paulette Perhach on this very simple pleasure for us scribes. Perhach reminds us: “The perfect bath is like the perfect book. It envelopes you from the world. It stops time.”
Speaking of steeping and soaking, a few months ago I discovered a magazine devoted entirely to the art of the bath, in the widest interpretation of the word. Hamman is gorgeous! From its creators: “We started publishing Hamman Magazine in 2020 for readers to have a good soak and let go. Each issue features essays, artist projects, photography and interviews with unconventional spirits all over the world.”
Let’s hear it for unconventional spirits sprinkling a little magic dust on our written work. I take what I can get!
We all know (and maybe even, at times, live) the whole “tortured writer” persona. It’s real. I’ve got an overflowing file of rejections to prove it. But only we have the power to shift the vantage point and see the work, the art, the process in a new light.
Soaking and steeping can lead to calm. It can lead to sharper attention. It can lead to gratitude for and appreciation of the senses and all they have to offer. It can lead to a glimpse toward a new light. Sure, this can happen with a foot soak or a long bath but it can also happen on the page.
When I write, on some occasions, something physical happens. A flowing out, a heaving even. Yes, a letting go. Is it always what we might consider fine writing? No, usually it’s not, especially those first, second and third drafts. But there is a sense of loosening or, at the very least, just making room in a place (my gut?) that was holding more than it had space for. Sometimes after we release onto a page the stories, sentences and sagas that have been brewing inside of us, we need to let them (and ourselves!) exhale. To let them steep a bit, just sit and be.
So give it a try. Set the timer for 30 minutes. Make something new and then let it rest. Let it steep. Let it exhale.
Then, go soak your feet.
One final postscript: grab some Epsom salts or take yourself to the nearest sea and consider this other writer’s words on water:
“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.” -Isak Dinesen