My Heart In the Marketplace

“What comes up, way down at the bottom, is that my heart is still broken from bringing out Writing Down the Bones.”  I gasp. I clutch at my heart. What is this you say, Natalie Goldberg? Broken hearted from producing Writing Down the Bones?

This is the book I have bought so many times over, and I’ve given these copies to many of my friends who could be writing or should be writing or I just want them to think about writing for my own selfish motive of getting to read their words.

And here, in her book Thunder and Lightning, she begins with a warning: she has never gotten over the heartbreak of writing that beloved book that sits tattered on my cover and sewn into my writing life.

“All I feel is aching. I was so innocent – I didn’t know what it meant to put my heart in the marketplace,” she says.

Well, if ever some words will stop me in my tracks, it is these from my favorite writing mentor as my book will be released in something just over 20 days.

Is my heart about to break? Do I have no idea how innocent I am, and will I only learn of my naivete when I’ve put my heart in the marketplace?

And Life Comes Back is generous in all it gives away. Some of my first critics have said, “Oh, Tricia, your vulnerability. I read with a lump in my throat, so aware of all that you were so generously giving away.” And, “I read thinking, ‘sweet girl, you’ve said so much.'” Indeed, I have said so much.

Metaphorically speaking, my heart is about to be available everywhere books are sold.

My friend Natalie Goldberg (you know how I call my favorite authors by their first name once we’ve become so deeply acquainted? I somehow always call her by her first and last. Natalie Goldberg. Always Natalie Goldberg.) continues on that same page, “And now this? Art leads to suffering? But it was true. I’d seen it again and again. I don’t know any writer who’s happy. But what else is there to do?”

I ask the same question: But what else is there to do? Live silently, quietly, and let nothing come of the truth that I know?

Not write? Ha. As if.

Many people have asked me in the last week or so, “Are you ready, Trish?” “Are you ready for your books to hit the shelves?” “Are you prepared?” “Have you done all the things you can do to get ready for the big release?”

Well, I have no idea, you scary people who think out loud.

I feel like I’m standing at the edge of the water, watching the tide roll in. “A wave is coming,” everyone says. “Are you ready? Get ready! Brace yourself!”

How do you prepare yourself for such a tidal sloshing?

Well, in my summers at the beach and my honeymoons at the ocean, I’ve learned just a little about the waves. The greatest lesson is this: if I resolve to stand still and keep my toes firmly planted in the sand, then first of all, the sand is going to erode beneath the soles of my feet in a creepy-crawly way that feels like something is eating at my foundations. And then, even as I stand where I am and fight the current, I’ll get knocked to the ground, the sand will burn its signature into my knees elbows and left shoulder, and I’ll come up sputtering and coughing salt water.

But. If I go a little deeper and let the water wash over me, if I pick up my feet and roll with the waves, if I keep in mind that this is bigger than me, then I’m in for a great and wild ride for however long the wave will roll. That’s the rush that keeps me coming back for more, wave after wave, day after day, summer after summer.

My first book is released in a matter of days. So, my heart could get broken, sure. Natalie Goldberg’s certainly did.

But here’s what I know: when the clock strikes midnight and the calendar turns to February 18, the day of the grand release, I’ll be the same girl. I’ll pack lunches and take my kids to school, if I’m lucky we will arrive just after the second bell, and I will come back home, pour a hearty amount of cream into my morning coffee, and start writing again.

God will do what he will do, and there’s no controlling the waves around me.

So I might as well kick up my feet and feel the rush.

Teethmarks

In real life, get out of the way when a person with a gun is running down the street.

In your writing life, step in front of his path, let him shoot you in the heart.

What you fear, if you turn toward it,

will give your writing teeth.

~ Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away

The Worst Writing Advice I Ever Received

 

“Tricia, this isn’t your season for writing.  Hopefully it will come in a few more years, likely after years of rejection letters and strife and heartbreak.  Right now, this is your season to be a mom and a wife, to give your time to them first.  The best thing you can do for your writing is to collect your ideas, write them down or file them away, and come back to them in a few years.”

 

Okay, if you say so.  But you’re kind of an angry, stifled writer.

Writing down my ideas, stowing them away, only made me crazy in the kind of way that I could bite someone.  This tip didn’t play out so well for me.  And, my goodness, am I thankful that one doesn’t have to follow all the advice of her predecessors.

The best thing I could do for my writing was to write.  Just write.

As I wrote down one observation, I found another one.  And another.  And I soon discovered that I only ran out of ideas if I stopped writing about them.  As long as I kept my fingers talking, more ideas came right down the conveyor belt. Soon, the flat surfaces of my house were covered with post-it notes, headlines captured until I could sit down and put it on paper.

Some say writer’s block is just another word for stage fright.

So, do you want to be a writer?

Here is my advice:  Write.

Aside from my journals and deepest whispers that I’ll never say out loud, I don’t write well if I don’t have an audience.  I write for someone to read.  You can start a blog for free and anonymously, and you can write every day to a virtual audience, and you’ll never see their faces to read between their lines and decide if they like what you wrote.  You can just write and believe that they love it, that they’re telling their friends about you, that more and more people will sign on every day.

And if you aspire to write anything, ever,

for publication, syndication, or fabrication,

for yourself or anyone else,

as a real writer or as one masquerading to be,

please read Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg.

 

This is the best advice I can give you.

And by all means, start today.  There’s no reason not to.

 

***

Okay.  Your kids are climbing into the cereal box.  You have $1.25 left in your checking account.  Your husband can’t find his shoes, your car won’t start, you know you have lived a life of unfulfilled dreams.  There is the threat of a nuclear holocaust, there is apartheid in South Africa, it is twenty degrees below zero outside, your nose itches, and you don’t have even three plates that match to serve dinner on.  Your feet are swollen, you need to make a dentist appointment, the dog needs to be let out, you have to defrost the chicken and make a phone call to your cousin in Boston, you’re worried about your mother’s glaucoma, you forgot to put film in the camera, Safeway has a sale on solid white tuna, you are waiting for a job offer, you just bought a computer and you have to unpack it.  You have to start eating sprouts and stop eating donuts, you lost your favorite pen, and the cat peed on your  current notebook.

Take out another notebook, pick up another pen and just write, just write, just write.  In the middle of the world, make one positive step.  In the center of chaos, make one definitive act.  Just write.  Say yes, stay alive, be awake.  Just write.  Just write.  Just write.

 

~ (as you might have guess, my new favorite girl) Natalie Goldberg

Ordinary and Mythical Details

Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical.
We live and die,
age beautifully or full of wrinkles.
We wake up in the morning, buy yellow cheese,
and hope we have enough money to pay for it.

At the same instant we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow andall winters we are alive on the earth.

We are important and our lives are important,
magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded.

This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us.

Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter.

We have lived; our moments are important. This is what it is to be a writer: to be the carrier of details that make up history.

~ Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones