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Cathy: Goldberg Gratitude


In my original post on this website, I blogged a tiny reference to Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. Now, I know if you’re a writer, you’ve most likely read this, and if you haven’t, I more than recommend it. This book changed my life as a writer. You must read it. I believe it is a great book, even if your Art lies in any other genre. The sole purpose of this book is to put your creativity to work as a spiritual practice. Really the book has many purposes, but for me, this is the most important aspect.

I remember, as a kid, someone recommended I pick up the Bible and flip it open any time I needed spiritual guidance, or daily as a spiritual practice because, whatever snippet you read will guide you for the day and be exactly what you need. Now, to some, I will sound sacrilegious in saying: I’ve discovered that I can flip open virtually any book and find what my spirit is looking for at the time I read a bit of any writing. But it is especially true for this book. A dear friend insisted I read it nearly ten years ago, thrust it at me as a gift over eight years ago, and I’ve been flipping it open nearly every day since then. Thank you, Joe Gallo. I may not always have followed the guidance I received from Goldberg, but with her nearly daily reminders I have lived with at least the feeling that I am a writer. I am a person who marks up books when I find something particularly meaningful. I underline passages, dog-ear pages, write exclamation points and notes in margins. I gave up doing so in Bones because the whole darn book would be underlined, margin noted, covered in exclamation points and every page would be double turned at the corners.

There are certain passages I read repeatedly, unintentionally, because, these are the passages I need the most. Recently, I discovered a passage I hadn’t read in a while that I felt was appropriate with recent posts — especially Bethany’s — and comments — Charlotte’s on the Monday Page — and what I especially need to hear for myself of late as I commit so fully to writing my manuscript as I’ve never done before. I am still full of self doubts and guilt for family and income, but I keep telling myself, I have to write if I am to call myself a writer. Here are the words that jumped off the page at me:

…I had a year and a half off to just write. I never could find a rhythm that worked longer than four or five days. I tried writing from nine in the morning to one in the afternoon. That worked and then it didn’t. I tried two to six. That was good for a while. Then, whenever I wanted to write. That was okay, on and off. Each week I varied my schedule. I had the opportunity to try all times of the day and night. Nothing ever became perfect. The important thing was never to give up the relationship with writing, no matter how many different tactics I may have tried….Think of writing as though it were breathing. Just because you have to plant a garden or take the subway…you don’t stop inhaling and exhaling. That’s how basic writing is, too.

I never can find a daily rhythm that works for me. But getting into regular practice lately has shown me that my most inspired times seem to be Tuesdays and Sundays. Why? Beats the hell out of me. Having said that, this past Tuesday was spent staring at my open manuscript document, so even that elongated rhythm isn’t full proof. I’ll just put it down to my love of jazz, of syncopation. Heck, I can’t sing the ABC song straight in 4/4 time, and Baby C doesn’t want to hear it that way either, when I try. But I am writing as I breathe. It’s with me when I walk the dog, when I drive S to tae kwan do, when I ask K to unload the dishwasher, when I’m nursing Baby C, when I’m thinking it’s been ages since Honey and I have had time to ourselves, and when I am yelling for the TV be to turned off for the umpteenth time in a day.

Then, in the same chapter, Natalie Goldberg reminds me:

I know…working with my tired, resistant brain is the deepest I’ll get on the earth. Not the joy or ecstasy I feel sometimes…but the nitty gritty of my everyday life and standing in it and continuing to write is what breaks my heart open so deeply to a tenderness and softness toward myself and from that, a glowing compassion for all that is around me….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.”

And I have to remember this again and again, too. I know it sounds ridiculous on some level. I know we all make fun of people who walk around saying, in an unbearably pretentious tone, “I am an Artist!” There are plays, movies, all kinds of Art that warn of this particular pretense, which frankly, makes me cringe. Then I ask, why does it make me cringe so? Is it because I am at heart an artist who feels I am not serving my Art? When I am not serving my Art, I am not serving my spirit. When I am not serving my spirit, I am not living well for myself, my family, humanity or the planet. Then yes, I sound ridiculous, too. But doesn’t the Truth often sound absurd? Okay, so now that I’m out on this limb of ridicule, I might as well walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.

Shutting up now, so I can write. But one last mallet over the head: if you haven’t read this book, read it. If you have read it and it’s been a while, read it now, especially if you’re struggling to squeeze your art into your life. Every morning I pick it up, I get a little thrill, a little aha!, a little fire under my butt to write, to create, to look at the world in which I live a little more closely, from a skewed angle, and to write.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kristine #

    Your post is a great reminder about the power of a good motivational book on writing. I also love Bones. It’s one of my favorites.

    My other favorite is BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott. I reference her chapter on “Shitty First Drafts” ALL the time.

    September 22, 2008
  2. I love this idea of picking up and taking a nibble on a daily basis. A long time ago, I used to do this with books of poetry. But Goldberg is so concrete, accessible, motivating — a great idea!

    September 22, 2008
  3. Cathy #

    i’ll have to check that one out, kristine!

    i’ve been dipping into bones for years, whether writing or not.

    September 22, 2008
  4. i have to admit, i’ve always struggled with reading non-fiction books of any kind. i’m an escapist reader. non-fiction feels too much like “homework” to me, and spending 8-10 hours a day in “college”, so to speak, homework is the last thing i want to do. but it sounds like you guys are pretty sold on this one! so you think it’s valuable even for someone like me who is not a writer by trade? and don’t plan to be?

    September 22, 2008
  5. Cathy #

    kelly, it’s not like homework at all. goldberg’s writing sounds like an enthusiatic friend talking to you.

    September 23, 2008
  6. Cathy #

    thought you ladies would find this funny:

    i just rec’d an email from my friend joe, mentioned above, and he never read the book and recalled my statement of gratitude when he gave it to me.

    from joe’s email: I don’t really read books like that but I thought you’d like it and your immediate reply was, “I have too many books like this.”

    i’m hoping that he just didn’t recall the addendum: ‘that i haven’t read yet.”


    he is my brother of a different mother.

    September 23, 2008
  7. brother from a different mother…..LOL

    September 23, 2008

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