Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bones, Wild Minds, and Old Friends

“It's the process of writing and life that matters... We are trying to become sane along with our poems and stories.”
Natalie Goldberg

In college, I assumed that since I’d mastered the art of sitting down at the typewriter to write first draft/final copy in one shot, I could easily become a novelist. Yeah, just sit down and do it. Twenty some years later, when I became serious about becoming a writer—as opposed to only talking about being one—I discovered writing the next, great American novel wasn’t going to come easily. That perhaps all the people who claimed they just sat down and the words flowed in final form were big, fat liars. That there was this thing called the craft of writing. That writing was rewriting. And that if I wanted to label myself a writer, I needed to get serious.

Not until I took on Writing Down the Bones did I discover that writing was like any other venture in life – to be good at it required practice. Shocked me. I hate to practice anything and I surely didn’t want to do no stinkin' writing practice. I only wanted to get published. But that was the beauty of Natalie Goldberg’s teaching. That practice is good.

I'm still not sure I classify myself as a writer, but as I wrote in my last post, I had the pleasure of attending a reading/question answer period for new book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. In a discussion of “memwhah”, Natalie described it as a cracking open of your life. We no longer need to wait until the end of our lives to write one and that it is a study of the human mind, the textures of the mind.

I find that most interesting. That I can take a tiny moment in my life and just by putting it down in words, discover such intimacies that often surprise me. The practice of letting my pen flow over the page and not be afraid of what comes out has released me to hone in on many aspects of my life, using my very own words and thoughts. Certainly saves money on therapy.

So much so that while taking an online class on personal essay, I wrote a simple piece about how I used to love gardening and now wondered why it had become drudgery. My most perceptive teacher, Ann McCutcheon, pointed out that the piece wasn’t about gardening. That it was about my marriage. AND that I needed to write about. No, I protested. Who wants to write about THAT? But I sucked it up and did, and discovered a sense of self I never knew existed. Also an understanding that even served to strengthen my marriage relieving the worry it might go the way of the dying plants in my untended garden. My garden now grows, sometimes with my help and sometimes not.

Ah, I’m seeing that writing a single post about how I perceived the reading on Wednesday night has only brought me to the middle of my first page of notes. I think I may have to continue this discussion during future posts.


MICHIGAN STATE ROCKS! Go Green/Go White for the Spartans Monday Night!

And that's me in the photo above - old days at MSU. Only thing missing is the beer and the cigarette. Timeline? Magic Johnson and I attended at the same time. I think he has gained more weight than me.

P.S. Wild Minds is the title of another of Goldberg's books.


  1. Good stuff here. I love the old pictures. You look like you were having a ball.

  2. That is an adorable pic of you, MJ. You had such long hair!

    I love your insights after you've been to a great event like Maas or Goldberg. You take great notes and are always able to verbalize so eloquently what you noticed and learned. I look forward to hearing more.

  3. SMB - yes I was having a ball. Had why too much fun in college. Just ask my gradepoint.

    Fragrant Liar - yes, my hair was long. Bob always said he knew it was time to take me home from a party when I came out of the bathroom with my hair tucked in my pants.

  4. Someone once asked me what makes a writer. I gave the answer an editor and dear friend gave me. "A writer is someone who writes - everyday".

    I'm not there yet but I'm trying.


  5. Above all else, writing for me is a process of self-discovery.

  6. Ooops...the finger is quicker than the eye. Your critic was astute in linking the gardening to marriage. It's interesting isn't it, the way our mind does this?

  7. I would say you are clearly a "writer." Being able to take a moment and milk out its subtleties is my biggest criteria for "writerlynessishdom." To tell you true, when I cruise around blogs and see regular bloggers who are stymied for what to write about...and it makes me want to yell "So stop trying to be a writer!"

    Um, but that's not you.

  8. wow. WOW. I have a feeling we need to talk.

  9. OHMYGOD, that photo of you is gorgeous. Yer hooting and hollering and everything!

    LOVE where this is going. Need it. Want it. Will be back for it.

  10. I love the photo. You wear that hat well. And, once again, have encouraged me to read that book.

  11. I used to worship Natalie Goldberg! This makes me want to be a writer again. Well, a practicing writer. (And not too many people can tuck their hair in their pants .... beer or no.)

  12. I agree with writing and therapy being linked, somehow! Wise woman you knew who recognized the marriage in the garden!

  13. What a great photo. Isn't it neat when someone sees something in your writing that you don't? I love astute teachers. I wish I live in an area where we don't have access to cool workshops and classes. I would love to do some of those!

  14. Great blog. Good luck with your writing.

    Happy Easter to you and your family.

  15. I love that essay, wish I could write like that.

  16. Thank you all for the incredible comments. I'm energized - even if I can't seem to get my brain working except on weekends. And then what works is questionable.

    Hey, Steffi? You matched any socks recently?


Let me know what you think. Every word you write, I appreciate.


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