Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Wild Mind, Disciplined Life

Wild Mind, Living the Writer’s Life
Natalie Goldberg, Bantam

"Natalie Goldberg, author of the bestselling Writing Down The Bones, teaches a method of writing that can take you beyond craft to the true source of creative power: The mind that is "raw, full of energy, alive and hungry." ~~ from the publisher

Here is compassionate, practical, and often humorous advice about how to find time to write, how to discover your personal style, how to make sentences come alive, and how to overcome procrastination and writer's block -- including more than thirty provocative "Try this" exercises to get your pen moving.

And here also is a larger vision of the writer's task: balancing daily responsibilities with a commitment to writing; knowing when to take risks as a writer and a human being; coming to terms with success and failure and loss; and learning self-acceptance -- both in life and art.

Wild Mind will change your way of writing. It may also change your life.

Goldberg is an advocate of timed writing exercises. She compares it to Zen practice and believes that the practice of writing can free your mind of clutter by getting past the stuck points of our thinking. The best way to get past these stuck points is to just write until the predetermined time is up, in this case I’ve set a timer for ten minutes and am now writing my annotation by using her exercise.

The effect that it's had on me is exhilarating. I write as fast as I can and try not to wait for the next word. I just write, and then the words string themselves along. The key is to keep doing it, eventually the thoughts come together, but at first, don't expect to write anything too deep. The truly deep stuff comes with years of practice, just like in Zen meditation. (Damn!)

Beginning Zen students don’t find enlightenment just because they sit for a few minutes and then are hit on the head with it. It takes a whole lifetime of trying to be present with every single breath, accepting that everything is impermanent. We all die, the seasons, the birds, the clouds, the earth; all pass from this existence into the next without anxiety. The stream flows past without ever containing the same water and doesn’t stop to worry that it will never be as full as it was yesterday. Doubts move quickly and only linger and double in size if we let them. Goldberg’s book has many inspiring stories to tell about committing oneself to the writer’s life. She talks about "failure" as part of the process of living, with the only true failure happening when we stop ourselves from reaching for the life that we long for.

Writing is many times a solitary practice that leaves little room for the comforts of regular support. Consistent comfort comes from the continual practice of writing and moving pass the stuck points and getting to it.

I know I could not have developed the work of the last few years without a willingness to let go and let it fly. What I continually remember and forget, and remember and forget, is that those feelings of isolation or loneliness, as intense as they may seem, are impermanent. It's something inescapable in the creative life, and are part of just being human. Remembering that frees me to tap into deeper knowledge, and when I'm lucky, it's that knowledge that emerges in the best work. I try to stay conscious, holding onto that thread, that hint of what's really real that gets drowned out by the buzz and blur of living.

Having said that, I’d like to spend the rest of this review enjoying the simple bright beauty of these exercises. One of my favorites asks that I sit and simply describe the place that I’m sitting in-- so I’ll do just that to give you a flavor of how this works. This resulted from a fifteen minute attempt...

It's a second floor apartment with hardwood floors and walls that slant as they reach the ceiling to accommodate the roof of the house. The plaster job on the walls is splotchy, a lot of patch up jobs perhaps from past leaks in the roof. There are four small rooms; a tiny bathroom that just fits an old bathtub, the kind with the claw feet and sides that curl up to form a lip. The shower curtain hangs from pipe rods fastened to the ceiling and the shower head rises from the water fixture like an afterthought.

The bathroom is tiny. When the door is closed, my knees just fit if I lean them to the left and avoid the paper roll. At the back door (which is the entrance way because the front door leads down steps that take you to and old porch that doesn’t have any steps to access them) there is the dining table with three of the four chairs around it because the kitchen is too small to sit comfortably in a foursome.

Next to the table is a small wooden door, about three tall, that closes off a crawl space for storing things. As of now, it is storing the boxes from the computer accessories. The actual computer box wouldn't fit passed the door because a sheet of pink insulation has been stapled to the inside of the little door making the entryway smaller. The computer box sits outside of the front door at the head of the stairs that leads to the old porch. Next to the three foot door are a set of shelves that I purchased from Target.

On the one with four shelves, there are coffee mugs, three sets of four: one large round blue set, one regular size cream color with a blue stripe around the lips and matching plates, plus a complete set of dinner plates, salad plates and bowls. The three shelf unit has a set of four wine glasses and a silverware tray on the top shelf and cookbooks on the bottom two shelves. There is a cream and sugar set made of ceramic pottery sitting on top of the books on the second shelf--they were a gift from friends who live in Madison, WI.

The kitchen sink sits along side the smaller shelf unit and metal cabinets perch over the sink. In front of the sink is a counter with a coffee maker and toaster and papier mache calaveras of La Catrina y El Catrín. Several of the figures are brides and grooms, skeletal, in wedding cake poses, in coffins. I tell each new visitor that they’re a wedding album.

And so it goes...if you haven't tried free writing, I strongly recommend this book.

# ISBN-10: 0712602917
# ISBN-13: 978-0712602914

Lisa Alvarado

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