In the introduction to her debut book Heart Talk, artist, poet, and speaker Cleo Wade invites readers to treat it “less like a book and more like a friend or companion,” and she means it. “I definitely write in service to other people, and I always ask myself, whether it is before I put something in a book or online or on a billboard or on a coffee mug, not only how does this look or what does it mean, but what can this do?” Cleo Wade tells Bustle. “And what can this do for someone else?”
A unique blend of mantras and affirmations, poetry, and what the author calls "kitchen table conversations," Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life is a beautiful compilation of all of the things that make Wade one of the most beloved creatives of her generation. In recent years, the inspirational self-care guru and social media poet has amassed a huge group of online followers (she has over 345,000 followers on Instagram alone) who flock to her work seeking heartfelt life advice, uplighting mantras, and empowering poetry. In Wade's first books, fans will find all of that and more.
Whether it features a new poem, a familiar affirmation, or a never-before-seen conversation, each page of Heart Talk delivers readers what they love most about Wade's work: love, spiritual wisdom, and nourishing advice. “It’s such a different mood for each one,” Wade says of writing the different stylistic components of her book. “I don’t know that I like any of them better, but having been able to go and be in all three places to write the book was really helpful for me. To be in just one of them wouldn’t feel like I could have created a something that was kind of the goal of the book, which was to write a best friend and companion.”
If pitching a book as a readers' "best friend" sounds a little unusual to you, know that you aren't alone. According to Wade, Heart Talk was "the book no one wanted" when she started creating it, mostly because it resisted all standard definitions of what a book is. When others doubted her vision or tried to talk her into writing a more straightforward poetry collection, Wade held her ground and defended her vision. “Everyone had these ideas for a bandwagon they wanted me to hop on, and I remember saying, ‘No, I know the book I want to put into the world, and I don’t want it to be something that is just beautiful. I want it to be something that is really useful,'" the author says. Even when publishers and booksellers questioned how Heart Talk would be sold or marketed, Wade took their doubts in stride. “My biggest realization I had was that sometimes, you have to believe in yourself even more than the people who believe in you.”
If anyone can make you believe in yourself, it's Wade. Just scroll through her Instagram feed, and you will find all of the inspirational reminders and heartfelt words of encouragement. Open up a copy of Heart Talk, and you'll find even more.
“I have a promise I make to my audience or to my reader, and whether that is one person or 100 people, the promise stays the same, which is: Wherever you are, and however lonely you might feel, know that I am writing for you and know that I am looking for you and know that this is for you,” Wade says. “If I have moments of feeling a lack of confidence, or questions of ‘Is this right? Will this work?’ — you know, all of those ways that doubt really kind of creeps into our being — I just keep my eyes focused on that promise, and I just continue to look for that person.”
If you follow her work online, read her writing, see her speak in person, or even talk to her on the phone like I did, you might question whether or not Wade is capable of self-doubt. Her work oozes positivity and optimism and hope, but that doesn't mean the author doesn't know what it's like to feel afraid or unsure. In fact, it is often those feelings that add fuel to the fire of her work.
“It’s not that I don’t feel the feelings of anxiety, depression, pessimism, upset, anger, sadness,” Wade says. “But I always make sure that I take a beat before I speak to that, especially in a public space. It is so important that I don’t energetically dump on my audience, because my goal is to always be helpful. So before I write anything or do anything, is this helpful or what would this do? Not just, what does this say or will someone agree?”
Wade’s ultimate goal is to provide a service to her readers by giving them the tools they need to express themselves or work through the feelings they might not quite understand yet, much like the author does herself. “You can’t help what comes up, you can’t help when anxiety and fear enter your being, or those anxious thoughts or fearful thoughts, but you can decide what you do with them. We have so much control over how we can direct our thoughts,” Wade says. “Ultimately, it is a lot easier to direct them than we think if we have the right tools, because they have no home in our being. They don’t belong there.”
With the help of her poems, mantras, affirmations, and other writing, Wade hopes a wide variety of readers will be able to access, understand, and better express their own fears and hopes and desires to the world. In fact, if you've used Wade's messaging to convey feelings about something you couldn't quite put into words yourself, you're doing exactly what she intended you to. "My most proud moment of seeing my work anywhere is definitely when its on people’s protest signs or on the top of their hats during their graduation," Wade says. "I think that I try to create messaging that is simple and broad enough so there are a lot of different entry points to a lot of different people, no matter where you may be on the spectrum of how you feel about a movement.”
Unlike so many other writers and creatives, Wade is okay with letting her work have its own life, one that she doesn't bother trying to manage or supervise or restrict. “I don’t try to control my messaging once I put it into the world, and allow people to contextualize it the way that they feel works for them. If I am going to put something out into the world, the world is going to do with it what it wants,” Wade says. “Nowadays, you can, with social media, be in this sphere with your audience all the time, which means you are so deeply intertwined with your tribe. For me, it is so amazing to see my tribe contextualize the work and activate the work the way that it feels right to them.”
For many fans and followers, activating Wade's work means not only using her words on protest banners or demonstration signs. It means reading her mantras to themselves in the morning before a stressful day. It means sending one of her poems to a friend whose going through a hard time. It means sharing her advice with a stranger who might really need to hear it. It also means turning to them in the most personal moments of self-doubt and fear.
More than anything, Wade wants her book to remind readers of their strength, their personal power, and their love of self, and she truly believes in Heart Talk's ability to do just that. In fact, the she has already used it as a tool to help her through the self-doubt of publishing her first book, and the fear of giving her first TED Talk.
The mantra that got her through? “This is your story, and you’re here to tell it. This is your story, and you’re here to tell it.”