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Writing Down the Bones
by Natalie Goldberg
Photo: Natalie Goldberg
In this issue I'm including some of the nondual quotations from this book. The great value of this book is that it teaches the discipline of writing: how to practice, how to be a writer, how to work mentally and physically, how to generate writings. Here are some quotes:
Stay with the original mind and write from it.
The problem is, we think we exist. We think our words are permanent and solid and stamp us forever. That's not true.
Don't identify too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black and white words. They are not you.
There is no separation between writing, life, and mind. If you think big enough to let people eat cars, you will be able to see the transparency of all forms so that all separations disappear.
All boundaries disappear, as though we were looking through rain or squinting our eyes at city lights.
Writing does writing. You disappear.
It is not a writer's task to say, "It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a cafe when you can eat macrobiotic at home." Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist -- the real truth of who we are.
A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp's Half & Half, the ketchup on the counter.
It is a terrible burden to have to be master. We are not ruling the world. It is an illusion, and the illusion of our syntax structure perpetuates it. ... by breaking open syntax, you often get closer to the truth of what you need to say.
by Betty Freeman
That I dream the lady does to be young
and to be in her pretty red Christmas ball.
Her dress looks beautiful like a swan.
The swan floats with his thin white feathers
when his soft snow head
floats under to be like snow again.
Then I like to be a woman like the one,
to be with a long wing.
(Written at Norhaven, a residence for women who are mentally retarded.)
Go so deep into something that you understand its interpenetration with all things. Then automatically the detail is imbued with the cosmic; they're interchangeable.
The following is a long quotation:
We always worry that we are copying someone else, that we don't have our own style. Don't worry. Writing is a communal act. Contrary to popular belief, a writer is not Prometheus alone on a hill full of fire. We are very arrogant to think we alone have a totally original mind. We are carried on the backs of all the writers who came before us. We live in the present with all the history, ideas, and soda pop of this time. It all gets mixed up in our writing.
Writers are great lovers.
They fall in love with other writers. That's how they learn to
write. They take on a writer, read everything by him or her, read
it over again until they understand how the writer moves, pauses,
and sees. That's what being a lover is: stepping out of yourself,
stepping into someone else's skin. Your ability to love another's
writing means those capabilities are awakened in you. It will
only make you bigger; it won't make you a copy cat. The parts of
another's writing that are natural to you will become you, and
you will use some of those moves when you write. But not
artificially. Great lovers realize that they are what they are in
love with. That is what happened to Allen Ginsberg when he wanted
to write so that Jack Kerouac could understand him:
"...being in love with Jack Kerouac, he discovered he was
Jack Kerouac: that's something love knows." You are Ernest
Hemingway on a safari when you read Green Hills of
So writing is not just writing. It is also having a relationship with other writers. And don't be jealous, especially secretly. That's the worst kind. If someone writes something great, it's just more clarity in the world for all of us. Don't make writers "other," different from you: "They are good and I am bad." Don't create that dichotomy. It makes it hard to become good if you create that duality. The opposite, of course, is also true: if you say, "I am great and they aren't," then you become too proud, unable to grow as a writer or hear criticism of your work. Just: "They are good and I am good." That statement gives a lot of space. "That have been at it longer, and I can walk their path for a while and learn from them."
It's much better to be a tribal writer, writing for all people and reflecting many voices through us, than to be a cloistered being trying to find on peanut of truth in our own individual mind. Become big and write with the whole world in your arms.
Even if we go off alone to write in the wilderness, we have to commune with ourselves and everything around us: the desk, the trees, the birds, the water, the typewriter. We are not separate from everything else. It's only our egos that make us think we are. We build on what came before us, even if our writing is a reaction to it or we try to negate the past. We still write with the knowledge of what's at our backs.
It's also good to know some local people who are writing and whom you can get together with for mutual support. It is very hard to continue just on your own. I tell my students in a group to get to know each other, to share their work with other people. Don't let it just pile up in notebooks. Let it out. Kill the idea of the lone, suffering artist. We suffer anyway as human beings. Don't make it any harder on yourself.
Writing Down the Bones
by Natalie Goldberg
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