Old Friend from Far Away

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.

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7 thoughts on “Old Friend from Far Away

  1. Ha, what a coincidence! I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones while on retreat a couple of months ago. I loved it. Will go on to this one sometime soon. Thanks!

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  2. Interesting take on the past, Elaine, and serves to remind us that in everything there lies a lesson. I think memoirs are a great way to reach your ancestors. Wouldn’t it be cool to read a few stories from your great-great-grandparent’s life. I wonder if we would see ourselves.
    Another good book to get inspired to write is Julia Cameron’s, The Artist’s Way. She also has daily exercises that reach into our past.
    Love your blog!
    (Trying out my new pen name)

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  3. Hi Elaine, I am so amazed to catch up on your recent writing efforts and impressed with your determination, combined with balance and warmth — a lovely combination!! I’ll keep popping in to see how you are doing. Hugs from Victoria! Trish

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    • Hey Tricia!
      So good to hear from you. Send me an update on your life soon, ok? Still remember lovely interesting chats with you and Beth with much fondness. Thanks for visiting.

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  4. Hi Elaine.
    These are going to be especially interesting as I shared some of those years with you as your younger brother. I find all the writing captivating. It also helps me to recover more of my earlier memories.
    Thanks. Brian

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