What does it take?

Dear Writing Friends,

 I first heard of Natalie Goldberg when I was in graduate school. I was having lunch with my friend Lisa, a fellow art history student, and we were discussing our dissertation progress. I told her that I had been stuck in the writing and one of my advisers had suggested I read Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. She thought the chapter on “shitty first drafts” would help me loosen up. “I like that book,” said Lisa, “but I like Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, better.” I had never heard of it, but made a mental note. A few weeks later, when I was wandering around Borders on a Saturday night, I remembered the title and picked it up. The following morning, I sat down at the kitchen table and began to read. When I got to the rules of writing practice, I set the timer on my oven for ten minutes and began to write. I was instantly hooked and haven’t stopped writing since.

 While writing practice was key to my finishing my dissertation, I was surprised at the the other things that popped up on the page, the pieces of myself that I had stuffed into the far corners of my mind—my birth father’s death, my suburban childhood, boyfriends who had abused me. After spending years as a critic and aspiring art historian, thinking of clever ideas to impress a sophisticated, over-educated art audience, I discovered the pleasure of  . . . discovering. In addition to memories, thoughts, ideas, and observations arose without my mental manipulation. I had been writing professionally for over ten years, and while I had always enjoyed putting words to paper, writing practice satisfied some deeper yearning.

 If Writing Down the Bones changed the way I wrote, Long Quiet Highway changed my life. In the first chapter Natalie describes a moment when she was standing in front of an elementary school classroom and her heart cracked open. She walked out the door, packed up her life, and moved to the Lama Foundation. Long Quiet Highway showed me it was possible to step out of your life at any moment and into something bigger and more meaningful. I could leave the academic life I had plotted so carefully and live another type of existence, slower, more humane, awake.

That is what I am offering in my own workshops, not only an opportunity to put words to the page, but a different way of being in the world. With eyes open to everything. For me that still includes art, my first love, as well literature, but also the varieties of trees on my block – pecan, live oak, magnolia, sycamore – as well as illness and suffering and death. To walk out the front door and take note of a single pomegranate fallen from the tree, the red seeds splattered on the ground. Or the gentleman sitting on the couch at Starbucks every morning with his tidy suit, American-Statesman, and ice water. This is what I want to pass on. What does it take to wake up in this world, to be a good observer and witness, to speak the truth of our own lives in all their dimensions, clearly and honestly, without holding back?

I still have a few spaces left in my class, Write from the Bottom of Your Mind. I’d love to have you join us and find out.

 

My best to each of you ,

 

Saundra

 

(C) 2011 Saundra Goldman