Friday, December 14, 2007

The Bones.

I took a creative writing class in college, which turned out to be rather short on creativity, as I look back on it. The prof who taught it wasn't too enthused about the subject material...but the one thing she did that I'll always be grateful for, is introduce me to Natalie Goldberg. Not the actual person, unfortunately, but her first book, "Writing Down The Bones."

It was a requirement for the class, and almost as soon as I bought it, I was hooked. The book is made up of about sixty-five short paragraphs of two or three pages each, with titles like, "Man Eats Car," "One Plus One Equals A Mercedes-Benz," and "Don't Marry The Fly."

Turns out that was the only good thing to come out of that class, but it was more than enough. And that's where my "relationship" with Goldberg began. She preaches simplicity, specificity, and allowing yourself to let loose and write anything that's flowing through your brain at any time. (Hence, the Benz above.)

And her mantra, which I've quoted in other posts throughout this blog, is six carefully chosen words: Just write, just write, just write.

She's a Zen Buddhist, so much of her Zen practice shows up in her writing, and in her teachings about to be present and concentrate at a very deep level, yet not concentrate at all to stifle the writing that wants to come out.

I was fortunate enough to meet her several years ago at a book signing in Milwaukee, when she was promoting her book, "Thunder and Lightning," which was a sequel to her "Bones" book and the one that followed it, "Wild Mind." Her first two books highlighted her rules for writing practice, and "Thunder and Lightning" focused more on turning all that practice and the lessons you've learned into something more polished.

Gregg thinks I rock!
It was amazing to just...hang with her, and sit and listen to her talk about her craft, read from her book, and answer questions from the smallish crowd. I didn't know a lot about Buddhism back then (and I still don't now), but it was as if there was this...aura...around her, or something. (I realize that I'm writing right now like the characters in "My So-Called Life" talked, but...I don't know how to describe it.)

A couple years after that first meeting, I found out that she was coming around again to promote her memoir that interwove her life with her dad and her Zen teacher. This time, her tour was bringing her to Chicago...on a Monday night. Chicago's about a three-hour drive for me.

I tried to talk myself out of it (not very vigorously, mind you), arguing with myself that it just wasn't worth three hours of driving down and three hours of driving back to spend an hour or so in between in Natalie Goldberg's presence.

"Feh!" I shot back at myself. And late one Monday afternoon in October 2004, down the interstate I went. (quit looking at me so strangely.) It was worth every mile. And if I knew she was coming back anywhere in the tri-state area next week, I'd do it again.

She lives in Taos, New Mexico, and the way she describes it, the sky in Taos is bluer than any other blue in the world. I've been planning a trip to see that blue for more years than I can count, and I know I'll get there. But trips to Vegas and New York City kept bumping that destination further down on my travel plans.

I don't know if I'll ever get to see Goldberg at another book signing, or if I'll ever be lucky enough to take one of her week-long writing workshops. I do know that one day I'll see the part of the country that she's called home for many years...and I also know that I'll continue to read, and reread, and reread, her books, absorbing every syllable she has to share.

And I hope I always heed her mantra:
Just write, just write, just write.

"So it is very deep to be a writer.
It is the deepest thing I know. And I think,
if not this, nothing—it will be my way in
the world for the rest of my life. I have to
remember this again and again.
—Natalie Goldberg


  1. You've convinced me to check out this author.

    Oh, and yes, I saw the Bangles at the House of Blues. They were awesome. And Susanna Hoffs is as hot as ever (how does she make her hair do that?). They played all of their hits, and a bunch of things from "Doll Revolution", their most recent album (which were great songs, btw). Only three of them are still doing it (Michael, the redhead, left the group).

    Their opening group was The Bridges, who were also awesome (they're usually on my ProjectPlaylist, although they've been temporarily trumped by holiday music... they're on MySpace, if you want to check them out).

  2. You do Natalie proud. You get some good writing out of yourself.

  3. I loooove Goldberg and I loooove this book! (And I echo Simple Blog Writer's comments, too!)

  4. Angela...Three Bangles are probably still as good as four Bangles. Although, in my opinion, there's really only need for, Bangle. (but I'm not exactly speaking from a musical perspective.) If they're still touring, I hope I get to see Susanna Hoffs live someday.

    SBW...Thank you. Maybe someday I can say that I wrote something as good as this.

    Mrs. White...I know exactly the feeling that caused you to put that many o's in those two words. (and I appreciate the echo more than you know.) :)

  5. Oops.

    I tried to make a cool link in my comment above, and included something in the URL that wasn't supposed to be there.

    So if you click on it (and those of you who haven't already read it...or written it...should most definitely click on it), you'll have to scroll way up to the top to begin reading.

    I promise to do better next time.