Natalie Goldberg has captured me with Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. I bought the book in Victoria a few months ago and just started rereading it last week. Oh, I had started earlier but life got in the way and it slipped into my closet out of sight and out of mind. I went looking for a different book and found my ‘old friend’. As though I had discovered a long-hidden chocolate-filled Easter egg, my breath caught and my eyes widened as I felt the smooth slide of Old Friend’s cover.
I started to reread right then and there. I cleared my desk, slid into my chair and cracked back the cover. I knew this was something different when I read the title to the Introduction–Read this Introduction. Cute. And so knowing. Of course most of us like to skim over the intro to get to the good part. I loved Goldberg’s tone right off. “So let’s pick up the pen, and kick some ass.” No nonsense, plenty of guts and good commanding verbs. She was in charge.
The first time I started this book I just kept reading and did not take time to do the writing. So wrong. Goldberg’s style of dole out some writing nuggets and then demand writing exercises really made me delve into my own memories. I didn’t always write completely on her topic but I found things about my memories that had long drifted away. Her plan made me accept whatever came up each time she poked me with yet another exercise. “Now give me ten minutes of…” became the prelude to self discovery and, gradually, my dreams of writing my own unique memoir grew and grew. She made me feel I could take my long-repressed, deeply buried secrets and dig them out, maybe even stand them up for the world to see. Or, at the very least, I could write them and tear them up until they (and I) could take the heat of family and friends’ scrutiny.
Why is it in life that we bury the pain, the torture, the sickening butterflies we taste? We pretty up the details of our lives to match what we think they should be. And in so doing, Goldberg says, we strip them of many of the interesting parts. We need to remember those jolts of the past, take a lesson from the successful movies and tv shows which must have so many jolts per minute to keep audience interest.
And so I am on a trek back in time, revisiting my own old friends from far away. Maybe I, too, will find a memoir.