I spent some time this morning typing in an excerpt from one of Natalie Goldberg's books. I imagine I've talked about her before in these pages; she has some of the best, most inspirational writing advice I've ever found. (I hear Anne Lamott's _Bird by Bird_ is also good, but I haven't read it yet). So I sent this excerpt to a friend of mine, and then I thought, 'Well, I already typed it all, and maybe there are some of the journal readers to whom it might apply.' So I'm enclosing it below. Slightly long, but well worth reading. Have a good weekend, everyone!
"I met Jim White, author of The Salt Ecstasies, when I first moved to Minneapolis. We would have breakfast at Snyder Drugs and end up spending the whole day together, walking slowly around the city's lakes. Often we sat on benches and looked at the ducks. Mostly what we did was talk about poetry. I had finally met a person who wanted to talk about it as much as I did.
Sometimes we would recite our poems to each other. I remember the first time. I was driving Jim home and he said, 'Oh, I'll recite one of my poems.' And he did. A beautiful one about a deaf boy catching a Frisbee. Then I recited one of mine. I can't remember which one. He said, 'Hey, that's good.' And we both let out a sigh of relief. It almost didn't matter how much we liked the rest of each other's work. It was the first poem that counted the most. We could continue with our relationship.
One day after we knew each other a while -- Jim was ten years older than I, a veteran poet -- he turned to me, 'Who gave you permission to be a poet? Was it Allen Ginsberg?' I had studied with Ginsberg the summer before. 'Someone along the way has to give you permission.'
'No.' I shook my head. I was too shy to say, 'No, Jim, it was you.'
I have a friend who is widely published and is now working on her third book of nonfiction. She read me two of the chapters last week. I listened to them, my head cocked to one side. They were beautiful. 'Hey, that's a novel you're writing.' She smiled, very pleased. She couldn't contain herself any longer. She wanted to be a fiction writer but wasn't as sure of herself in that area. I was the only writer she knew, and whenever we got together, she said, 'Let's talk about writing.' Of course, I love to talk about writing and was pleased, though our friendsh was multileveled and we shared many interests. I realized in a subliminal way that she was asking my permission to be a writer. Naturally, anyone can be a writer, 'It's a free country,' I used to scream as a kid when I was in an argument with another kid. But there's someone further along on the path, who gives you the nod, who says yes, who adores literature as much as you and so gives you permission to love this odd thing all the way and to continue with it in the face of everything.
When I say 'you ask permission,' I do not mean you have to go to someone higher up on the totem pole and inquire, Is it okay if I write? Write before you ask anyone. As a matter of fact, never ask anyone; always write, but it is about relationship. You know another writer and this reinforces your own love and commitment. It is not about them saying yes or no; it is about encouragement and friendship. And it is about something deep and unspoken. When I was with Jim, I quietly vowed to continue, to carry on with this great thing we both loved. I didn't stand there digging the big toe of my right foot into the dirt and say, 'Gosh, Jim, well, golly, do you think even dumb old me can write?' It's more like you stand shoulder to shoulder, looking out a the vista, and the older writer points and says, 'See,' and you nod and smile, knowing that the vista is good and sweet and you always want it in front of you.
Cecil Dawkins was over for lunch last Tuesday. We both had finished our novels the same week. She worked on hers for eight years. Three years ago at the start of mine, I had brought her some chapters for suggestions.
I said, 'You know, when I came to you, I didn't know what I was doing.'
She nodded. 'Yes, I know, but I figured you'd figure it out.'
Last week we sat and read to each oother from our manuscripts. After I read her the epilogue, she said, 'Well, I think you became a writer with this book.'
I was thrilled. A seasoned novelist had given me the nod. After she left, I sat on my bed, thinking, 'I want to be a writer more than anything else. That's what I want to leave to future generations. If I stay true to this path, I won't be afraid to die when it's my time.' I felt an invisible thread pulling me through my life. I wouldn't be so afraid to die because I would have been busy dying in each book I wrote, learning to get out of the way and letting my characters live their own lives.
But a thought just occurred to me. 'Well, when do I get to live my life?'
The answer that came back to me is 'You don't. Not in the old small-minded way. A bigger life happens. You extend yourself to the past and future. When you get tired of your big life, take a break. Go have a cup of tea or maybe even a chocolate chip cookie."
- Natalie Goldberg, _Wild Mind_