Continue Under All Circumstances

“Continue under all circumstances. Don’t be tossed away. Make positive effort for the good.” – Katagiri Roshi, Zen Master

I’m just back from ten days in New Mexico. I had the honor of speaking in Taos at the thirtieth anniversary celebration of Writing Down the Bones, the best-selling book by my teacher, Natalie Goldberg. Friday February 19, the Mayor Pro Tem of Taos declared it Natalie Goldberg Day. Saturday, eight of us, Natalie’s long-time students, spoke in the classroom of the new building at Mabel Dodge Luhan House with New Mexico sunlight streaming through stained glass windows. After, we went to lunch at the home of two of the speakers, Tania Casselle and Sean Murphy.

On the plane to New Mexico, as I had skimmed “Bones,” I rediscovered a chapter entitled, “Doubt is Torture.” In it, Natalie describes a conversation between Katagiri Roshi and a young man who was moving to California to become a musician. Katagiri asks the man how he would approach his goal. The man told Katagiri he would try his best and if it didn’t work out he’d just accept it. Natalie writes:

Roshi responded, “That’s the wrong attitude. If they knock you down, you get up. If they knock you down again, get up. No matter how many times they knock you down, get up again. That is how you should go.”

When it was my turn to speak, I cited this chapter. I may have previously forgotten the details, but not the sentiment. “That’s been my journey,” I told the group. Sometimes it wasn’t an external “them” who knocked me down. Just as often it was mental illness, distorted thinking, or bad habits. But I was knocked down just the same. “Having studied writing practice with Natalie for so many years I knew what to do,” I said. “I got back up.”

Today I’m ready to throw myself into further revisions of my current project, Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two. It’s entirely possible I’ll be knocked down again by forces both without and within. That’s the process. But, again, thanks to my training, I know what to do. Get back up. Period.

Geographic Cures

“Shut up about ideal conditions. I am tired of hearing myself whine about needing a writing shed—and, frankly, I’m tired of hearing you whine about it too.” – Patti Digh in a blog article on Sheila Bender’s website

In 1996, I attended my first writing workshop with Natalie Goldberg. By June of 1997, I had convinced my adventurous husband that we should put our house on the market and move to Taos, New Mexico so I could study with Natalie year-round. Now, mind you, Natalie didn’t have any kind of plan for people to study with her year-round, but I thought, if I just got out of Ohio, I could write. I mean, the sun! The moutains! The fresh, high-altitude air! What’s not to love about a tiny art town in the mountains of New Mexico? Well, one day I intend to write a book answering that question, but suffice it to say, when we moved, I brought my chronic depression and poor writing habits along.

Fast forward three years. The house in Taos was sold and we were back in central Ohio. Hubby would have preferred California or Hawaii, but I was convinced only Ohio would do. And guess what? Writing wasn’t any easier back in Ohio.

Don’t get me wrong. I benefit from a good change of scenery every once in awhile, especially if said change of scenery lacks internet connection. But I don’t kid myself that a geographic cure will fix the problem. Writers need to be able to write when it’s time to write no matter where they find themselves. For several years the best writing spot was whatever doctor’s office waiting room I found myself in as I accompanied my mother on her visits to a variety of physicians. I’d take earplugs or headphones and my laptop. I’d tune out the other patients and caregivers and write. I didn’t have a choice. I was getting my M.F.A. and the deadlines weren’t flexible!

The moral of the story was put eloquently in the blog article quoted above. Wherever you go, there you are. If you can’t write in your three-bedroom ranch in central Ohio, chances are you won’t be able to write in the mountains of New Mexico.

What about you? Have you ever attempted a geographic cure? Have you ever been lured into the notion that “ideal conditions” could solve your woes? As always, I’d love to hear about it.

20th Anniversary of _Writing Down the Bones_

Did Bones change your writing life? Here’s your chance to celebrate in Taos, New Mexico with Natalie Goldberg!

Filmmaker Mary Feidt and authors Rob Wilder and Eddie Lewis have planned a November bash to celebrate the 20th Anniverary of Natalie’s groundbreaking book, Writing Down the Bones.

The party begins the evening of Friday, November 10 with a viewing of “Tangled Up in Bob: Searching for Bob Dylan,” a documentary featuring Natalie Goldberg. A Q&A and reception with Natalie and Mary Feidt will be held after the film.

On Saturday, November 11, Mabel Dodge Luhan House will host a limited seating luncheon with Natalie. In the afternoon, Natalie will lead a discussion about the book. A benefit champagne dinner will follow to support Natalie’s scholarship fund which brings people of color and other disadvantaged individuals to her workshops in Taos.

Natalie will read Saturday evening and then all guests are invited to the Sagebrush Inn for dancing.

The Mabel Dodge Luhan House is located in historic Taos, New Mexico on the edge of pueblo land.

For more details, call Mabel Dodge Luhan House at 1-800-84-MABEL or go to Mabel Dodge Luhan House