Who knows about Natalie Goldberg? Natalie Goldberg is no relation of mine, no former wife or unmarried sister of my father’s or mine. She’s not someone who used to be married to someone else named Goldberg who then went on to date me on and off over a period of eight or so years who is now my friend. She was never married to a poker buddy of mine from high school nor did she marry Bill Kinloch. Natalie Goldberg is a writer, a Buddhist, the author of a remarkable little book called Writing down the bones: freeing the writer within.

Writing down the bones, published by Shambala Pocket , is one of their 3 inch by 4.5 inch by about maybe an inch fit-in-your-pocket books, 284 pages plus some notes and a bunch of blank pages at the end. Each chapter is a complete essay, thus relieving the reader of the need to maintain order or even finish the entire book. All the chapters are interesting and useful, interweaving Buddhist practice and thought with the art and craft of putting words down on paper or out into the ethernet.

The most useful chapter for me was the one in which she set forth this exercise: gather up a stack of paper, a pen and a timing device (a clock, a watch, an egg timer, a burning candle, whatever…) Set the timer for the amount of time you have to write. Place the point of the pen–actually a pencil will do–in the upper left hand corner of the top sheet of paper. Start the timer and start writing. Continue writing. Do not read what you’ve written. Do not make corrections. Do not pause to think. Just write! Should you not be able to think of what to write, write about not being able to write. When the timing device indicates that time has ended, stop. Here’s the hard part: don’t read what you’ve written. Don’t correct what you’ve written. Throw it away! That’s right, throw it away.

You see, Natalie is writing not just about writing. As she says early on, “This is a book about writing. It is also about using writing as your practice, as a way to help you penetrate your life and become sane.” As someone who’s lost two 80 poem volumes, all his writing on addictions, his resume and the outlines for not a few projects to the the computer’s ability to destroy, imagine how I reacted to the idea of writing my ass off then destroying it without even glancing at it.

OOO-WEEE BABY! Get out of jail free! It’s all right! Breathe again!  I have been released!

Disaster was no longer disaster! Writing was suddenly no more than words on paper.  No more than that! No longer was it me or my reputation or my raison d’etre. Whatever fell out of my mind and through my hand, whoever was behind it, it didn’t matter.  It was just a moment in a lot of time.

What mattered was that I had detached from the concerns of the ego and centered in another place.

Talk about freedom! Freedom from pride, from the need to produce, from judgment–freedom from labeling myself a writer, even freedom from the compulsion to escape from the pain of having lost my work. As I said earlier, OOO WEEE BABY! Freedom from a whole pack of satanas–el dios de este mundo.

So here’s my suggestion: try it! Follow the directions as if your life depended on it. (It may.) Leave your ego in the other room and sit down to a minute or 5 or 10 or–if there’s nothing particular on tv and nothing is burning–an hour of covering paper with words. You may even want to try it on the computer. If so, your delete button should work. Then send me a comment–you remember: click on the word “comments” at the end of this posting. Let me know what it was like for you.

Published in: on July 14, 2008 at 10:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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