I started reading a new book over the weekend – Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, by Natalie Goldberg.
It’s funny, because I wouldn’t say that I identify as a writer – I didn’t pick it up looking for a writer’s guide. It was the title that caught me – wild mind. It stuck to me like burdock burrs when I the words on the spine, and so I picked it off the shelf and packed it into the cardboard box without even grazing a little to see if I liked the flavour. It is one of several dozen that C and I recently were gifted out of the retiring library of her step-grand-dad, who now lives in a retirement home, and whose lifetime of books is seeking new owners before the remnants are entombed in my father-in-law’s basement. At first I was a bit choosy and particular about the books I selected – I’ve almost entirely given up on reading fiction these days (I don’t need any help telling stories and derailing into flights of fantasy, thankyouverymuch!) so I was feeling cautious about bringing too many home. But then I realized – hey, free books! How could that not be a wonderful thing? If it turns out some are not a good fit for me then I will pass them along to others. I love that about books: Unlike lots of other goods, books don’t diminish in use value with age and prior use. Providing that they haven’t been used and abused into disrepair, second hand books just kind of get better and better.
So, this book. Wild Mind.
I don’t know which I feel more keenly — the moaning longing to have a wild mind of my own, or the terror that my mind might be already too wild to play well with others. Either way – I feel like Natalie would know what I mean. There is a paragraph in the introduction that describes the breakdown between teachings and practice, that made me gasp aloud with that kind of laugh-cry “Ah-ha” expression that happens when you see your own experience mirrored in someone else’s words:
We can take a class from a writer but it is not enough. In class, we don’t see how a writer organizes her day, or dreams up writing ideas. We sit in a class and learn what narrative is but we can’t figure out how to do it. A does not lead to B. We can’t make that kamikaze leap. So writing is always over there in the novels on the shelves or discussed on class blackboards and we are over here in our seats. I know many people who are aching to be writers and have no idea how to begin. There is a great gap like an open wound.
She’s talking about writing, being a writer, but I read her words and understand them to be about any practice, and I feel them for myself, this re-learning that I’m doing about how to just be human. Many people have told me, “Oh, you’re an artist whether you make your living from art or not”, but I wonder. Am I an artist if I don’t make art? A friend told me once that I would be an artist whether or not I ever made a single piece of work again, that it is about perspective. What does that mean? All I know is that I know that gap that Natalie is talking about, that open wound.
So I’m taking her advice, for now. I went to the corner store yesterday and bought myself a cheap lined notebook for $1.45 to use for writing practice. I figure, whether I identify as a writer or not, I do write – particularly I write here, for you. I was moved by your comments on my last post. Thank you for taking the time to say “I”m listening”. You’ve inspired me to risk sharing more of my naked thoughts here. I’ve always thought this blog writing could be more than it has been, and I’ve wondered why I couldn’t seem to drum up the kind of responsiveness I’ve craved – a sparkling dialogue of mutual discovery and honesty. But I realized after reading your comments that it’s not you – it’s me. I’ve been so guarded here. How could I lie to you and expect honesty in return? I’ve been so tight and contrived, squeezing with all my might, trying to turn all this charcoal into a shiny diamond, hoping no one will notice that blackness inside it. It’s so false! I’ve been trying to be just one more blog in the sea of Perfect Shiny My Life is Wonderful websites out there (which I should say, a part of me loves, actually, and I subscribe to several hundred) – but rarely do you see the unmade bed or the empty fridge, the truancy or the fights with loved ones, or the heartache and doubt that everything is steeped in. Ah ha! It’s a giddy kind of liberation to have decided to experiment with writing more freely here. I’m not quite sure I believe whole-heartedly yet that it’s a wise thing to do. I mean, my Professional Reputation might be affected, mighten’t it? Well shit. I guess I’d rather be known as an honest artist than a sane one, if I have to choose.
The foundations of the writing practice that Natalie suggests are regular, 10 minute timed writing exercises, and a few rules:
1. Keep your hand moving.
2. Lose control.
3. Be specific.
4. Don’t think.
5. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, or grammar.
6. You are free to write the worst junk on earth.
7. Go for the jugular.
It’s advice that could be about anything, the spirit of it cuts away hesitation and conditioning and urges me to just be, just do, in a way I’d like to learn to carry into my whole life – numbers 2, 4, 6 & 7, specifically. Yeah, so I’ve got some lofty goals… maybe it’s a lot to ask from a simple writing practice, you say? Maybe… but I figure it’s all related, right? The writing bone is connected to the heart bone?
I’ve liked the writing sessions so far because they’ve opened a little door again into the flow, that magical state of mind I could sometimes reach when painting, where I couldn’t be sure of what was happening at all, where the painting would paint itself, and I’d feel washed out and rinsed clean afterwards. I’ve missed visiting that brain wave this summer. It’s also a lot like sitting meditation — except rather than trying to dismiss thoughts and stay with my breath, I can drain them out my arm onto the page. I have no idea what I’ve written so far – I’ve not reread any of it yet. It doesn’t even matter! The writing itself feels good.
Have any of you read Natalie Goldberg? Do you write? What are your practices?