Hey, everyone! Sailing class again today! (I have to pass a swim test
first, yuck. I'm not a very good swimmer. Good thing we'll be wearing
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
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
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
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
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_