Read Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg Free Online
Book Title: Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir|
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The author of the book: Natalie Goldberg
Edition: Atria Books
Date of issue: February 12th 2008
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 985 KB
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I’ve been doing Julia Cameron’s morning pages since November last year. The idea is that you freewrite three pages: anything - everything - that comes to mind. In February I felt I was ready to move on to some morning writing that was a bit more structured, and use some prompts.
I love Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language, and Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life have been important books for me. So I ordered Old Friend From Far Away in paperback, to use each exercise as a prompt for writing every morning. The book layout is perfect for this. The exercises are thoughtful. Some are a single line. Some are a couple of pages. They delve into simple domestic actions like washing dishes, that speak so much. All of them made me depressed.
I didn’t realize this until I’d been using the book for two weeks and found myself in that familiar mental space where my daily word counts get lower and lower and I start to wonder why I do anything at all because the world would be a better place if I just stayed in bed all day. Or maybe lay down under a tree for a few years until the roots grew through me.
It’s because so many of the exercises are designed to take you back to your time as a child. And even if they weren’t designed that way, for me, they just did.
I mean, memoir. It covers your whole life, including childhood. It’s obvious, right? I guess I just hadn’t thought enough about it. What was I expecting?
I’m still recovering from my childhood. I know that’s something I have in common with a lot of people. I have a forest of pain writhing just under the my skin. If you scratch me only a tiny bit the tendrils burst out and wrap around everything.
My mom got pregnant when she was in high school. She ran away to be with my dad, but he drove her back home and dropped her off in front of her house. She’d believed all the lines about “I love you. Of course we’ll always be together.” I didn’t meet him until I was in my 30s. I’d had a tumor removed from my breast in my 20s and I was worried about not knowing all of my family medical history, so I looked him up in the phone book and emailed him. I wish I hadn’t. There was nothing healing about the experience. He’s a dick.
When I was born my grandparents wanted to send me to an orphanage (remember when orphanages were a thing?) but my mom refused to sign the papers. So my grandparents “took us in.” My grandmother made sure I knew both of these facts growing up. It was made very clear to me that the people I lived with weren't the people I belonged with. They weren’t my family. I was there because life threw you shitty stuff like illegitimate bastard grandchildren, and you just had to cope with that as best you could.
I’ve written about my grandmother before. We have a very complex relationship. I have five cousins, but I’m the only one who pays for her residential care home, her brandy, her coffee, her Red Door perfume, the one who takes her shopping, the one who the nurses phone when she falls and needs to get an X-ray. Because it’s just an acknowledged fact within the family that she took me in, so I need to repay her for putting a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and meals in my belly for all those years. And wow, they were beautiful clothes, I gotta admit. She showered me with clothes. She’d pick outfits from the department store where she worked and bring them home for me. It was very important I was dressed better than the other children in the neighborhood, because I was naturally less than, so I needed to try harder if I was to be almost as good.
And she needed me to be almost as good. Needed it like water. Because life is a wheel that can’t be halted. She’d been illegitimate too. Her mother ran away to Australia with her father while he was married to someone else. Only when his wife died could they come home to New Zealand, although her father’s family still disowned them. They arrived as the Great Depression hit. They lived in a two-room shack with another family. She had to leave school at 14 and get a job. She got pregnant to a visiting air force cadet. They got married. He ditched his new bride at his family’s remote farm and went back to training. She had no electricity, no money, and her new mother-in-law for company: the mother-in-law who had not been informed about the wedding until her new pregnant daughter-in-law arrived.
It took twenty years for my grandmother to claw her way out and into a life she could stand. I’ve never met a stronger willed woman. And then the wheel turned and my mom got pregnant. God, the pain that must have caused my grandmother...
The truth is she did take us in. She could have walked away from my mom and me. No one would have blamed her at the time. It cost her greatly, in all ways; monetarily, personally, and socially. She did her best to hide from the world that I was of less value than other people.
I just kind of wish she’d tried to hide it from me, too.
I accept that I’m permanently broken, the pieces held together with a laquer made of degrees, paper, and words. And it works, you know? Broken isn’t valueless; broken is beautiful.
I walk around and get stuff done. I successfully raised a child better than I had been raised. I take my depression meds. Most days I do not cry. I practice Stoicism. I accept loss and do not fear it. I choose the future over the past, action over remembrance. I choose to mindfully create the life I want through small but consistent acts every day.
But waking up in the morning and reading prompts like “Where is home for you? Go. Ten minutes” (p. 24)… welp, it does not help me achieve my goals. It’s like the words are picking at the joins in my sense of self with rusty dentists’ tools, whispering my darkest thoughts to me. This book made me begin my days with misery and self-loathing, and this is not the way I choose to live my life.
I literally tossed the book in the garbage. It has already been collected and pulped.
This is an amazing book… for people with happy childhoods. I recommend it if you’d like to delve into the recesses of your memories and pull out meaning. But some people should not try to write memoir, even for ten minutes. I’m one of those people, and I’m more than okay with that.
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Read information about the authorNatalie Goldberg lived in Brooklyn until she was six, when her family moved out to Farmingdale, Long Island, where her father owned the bar the Aero Tavern. From a young age, Goldberg was mad for books and reading, and especially loved Carson McCullers's The Ballad of the Sad Cafe , which she read in ninth grade. She thinks that single book led her eventually to put pen to paper when she was twenty-four years old. She received a BA in English literature from George Washington University and an MA in humanities from St. John's University.
Goldberg has painted for as long as she has written, and her paintings can be seen in Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World and Top of My Lungs: Poems and Paintings. They can also be viewed at the Ernesto Mayans Gallery on Canyon Road in Sante Fe.
A dedicated teacher, Goldberg has taught writing and literature for the last thirty-five years. She also leads national workshops and retreats, and her schedule can be accessed via her website: nataliegoldberg.com
In 2006, she completed with the filmmaker Mary Feidt a one-hour documentary, Tangled Up in Bob, about Bob Dylan's childhood on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota. The film can be obtained on Amazon or the website tangledupinbob.com.
Goldberg has been a serious Zen practitioner since 1974 and studied with Katagiri Roshi from 1978 to 1984.