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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Goldberg's "Trippy Acid" Writing Advice...

I think from the previous post you might be able to surmise that I am sort of trivializing Natalie Goldberg's writing advice. I know, I know... that's not a nice thing to do. But there's something about psychedelic theory that makes me cringe. These things (Goldberg's advice) might or might not have anything to do with writing, or even the teaching of writing. She does offer some things that fall among the most insightful I have read. Having said that, and knowing I might be asked why I continued reading when the book was so exasperating to begin with (I never put down a book until I am done--hate it notwithstanding), but as with everything there were those bright kernels of wisdom among the post-60s theorisms. Here's a good piece of advice:

"If you can learn writing practice well, it is a good foundation for all other writing."

But then the book is mainly and foremost about this:

"... either in New Mexico or Ohio, we are under a big sky. That big sky is wild mind. I'm going to climb up to that sky straight over our heads and put one dot on it with a Magic Marker. See that dot? That dot is what Zen calls monkey mind or what western psychology calls part of conscious mind. We give all our attention to that one dot. So when it says we can't write, that we're no good, are failures, fools for even picking up a pen, we listen to it."

All this might be true, and I know I am not making full justice by just quoting isolated passages outside of the content, but the truth of the matter is that most of the book talked about her experience with writing, not so much how to assert yourself as a writer using the advice. I did read "Writing Down the Bones," and I plan on reading more from her.... it's just confusing when I think how we worry about all these outside things, and it seems to me that some people just live "out there," somewhere where Iraq, the economy, unemployment, bad political choices by our leaders, the price of crude oil, computer viruses and bad meals do not exist. I know I envy them, and I know I am exaggerating their point, but, really, how can you achieve that level of detachment (which is essentially a Zen principle)? I am over-simplifying and generalizing, but I tend to do that a lot, and I apologize. Here's a more extreme example of what I deem problematic regarding this book. This is a "Try This" exercise, some of which appear randomly after chapters:

"Go ahead, kiss a tree. Walk right out your front door, put your arms around one that you pass every day at the curb, pucker up your lips and give it a big smacker. Close your eyes and put a chocolate kiss in your mouth (or a strawberry or an almond, for those of healthful persuasion). Feel it on your tongue and dream. Now write. Write anything you want. Kissing a tree is silly? What isn't silly? Writing is the silliest of all. If you can write out of that silliness, you'll be a long way on the path."

Again, I have nothing against these approaches, but I suspect that you have to believe in them to a certain extent... if I walked out my office, down the stairs pass all of my students, opened the door to our beautiful campus, went out there and hugged and kissed a tree... what could I say to my students? "Oh, this is about writing, really!" I can see their faces now... "Geez, I thought Prof. R was 'serious' about writing." At any rate, I think Goldberg's advice is for "some" people, not everyone. One thing that strikes me odd about the book is the constant praise of Hemingway as a writer and technician of writing. Often times, liberal minded people bash Hemingway for his macho attitude, etc. That may or may not be a lot of literary revisionism, but it was nevertheless curious to see Goldberg--an obvious liberal--praising Hemingway above other writers she could have chosen. I judge unfairly: she sorts of balances out the book by doing this.

Presently, I am reading "Writing to Heal the Soul: Transforming Grief and Loss Through Writing," by Susan Zimmerman. Why? Because I am dividing my time between classics, writing instruction books, and writing. This is a book that came out of a great deal of suffering, so it is very unlike Goldberg's "happy" thoughts. While I am half-way through it already, I can't really comment until I get past this chapter. So far so good.

About the music on the blog. If it is annoying, let me know and I'll discontinue it. Otherwise, I am planning to change the music file every week. It that plays automatically after the site loads, so if you don't want to hear it, just scroll down and hit the pause button on the player.

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At 1:08 PM, Blogger Heather said...

the music is beautiful! I like the piece currently playing (march 6th)

At 9:00 AM, Blogger FloridaGirl said...

If you abandon monkey mind you could understand the joy in kissing the tree, Sure it would look silly to some because they see you in a structured way. You see yourself in a structured way, wondering what others would think about your external behavior. I know that I would look equally silly to some if my neighbors saw me outside kissing one of the trees, but there would be someone observing who would smile at the audacity of the act. Natalie also says not to take yourself so seriously.

Come on now, lighten up!


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