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Posts Tagged ‘writing practice’

Mr. Stripeypants wraps his feline body, a curled half moon in front of the space heater. Liz is still sleeping. Out on the deck, the bear chimes I purchased in Ely last July ripple with the wind. The sky is dark. It’s 50 degrees. Later in the day, the wind will pick up, the air will drop into the twenties. November darkness refuels my passion for the Arts. It’s a chance to reflect, to take stock of my life. Not the long term dreams and goals I harnessed as a twenty-year-old. But the smiling clerk in the grocery line at Byerly’s, lunch alone at Como Park, the smile in my lover’s eyes — minutes that end up creating years. I am grateful for each moment.

I used to dread change. I thought it meant the loss of loved ones, the fleeing of love, abandonment. Now I welcome what is fresh and new, the unplanned. Change means I don’t have to cling to what I have lost. Change means I don’t have to stay stuck where I am — emotionally, spiritually, physically. Change means I am willing to face the future. Change means I don’t have to like something or someone to accept them, or forgive. Change means the body breaks down, the mind remains stubborn, the heart swells with appreciation. Change. I am grateful for change.

Thank you to family, friends, readers, teachers, patrons of the Arts. Because of you, my life feels rich and full. Happy Thanksgiving.



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Gratitude Writing Practice 2012


A is for altitude, the steady climb before the peregrine’s dive. B, let me not be brittle, but open to the opportunities life has to offer. C is for centered, concrete, creative, cushion. D, that last cool drink of water from a mountain stream. E, grateful for all the Elizabeths in my life. F will always be for family and friendships, for those who have stuck with me, even when I hit my bottom. G, gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. So much to be thankful for. H reminds me not to hurry. Slow down. Watch for the edges. Hypocrisy, emerald hedges, the hollow bone. I, irresistible words. Letters, dots, dashes, the incurable love affair with language. J is for justice, judges, journey work. The realization that I can’t control what is just and fair. Acceptance of the slow turn of arbitration. Solomon. Did he have it right? K is for the keys to the passage, low island reef at high tide. Keystone, quoin, foundation, groundwork. L for the lionhearted, those with courage, grace under pressure, the fearless who inspire me. M, morgue, decay, melodrama, the things we leave behind. Laurie Anderson reminded me, it is in times of death that we experience the most intense feelings of love. Anyway, N is for nesting, nudging noxious thoughts away, purging what is not useful to living a full-hearted life. O, owing a debt of gratitude to those who serve humanity. Out-of-the-way places where I can be my true self, unmasked, unafraid of a face-to-face with my own shortcomings. P is for play, paper, Mr. StripeyPants, Kiev, parables forming nuggets of truth. Q, there are Questions, there can never be too many questions. Quandaries, crossroads, quagmires, quests. A call to action. R, rest, solitude, unconnected, unavailable, alone. Remember, reverberate, don’t be too rigid. S, steady, slow, steadfast. Grant me the serenity. Sugar, shug. T, the topple of empires built on shifting sands. Trounced by the tough and true-hearted. U is for unburden, unbroken, unbound. Underdog, under the weather, underestimated. V, vivacious, high-spirited, don’t play your cards so close to the vest. W, the winsome and wise do not dismiss what is wistful and wintry. A windfall comes your way. X is for seeing through the xenophobic, just in the nick of time. Y, yearning for solitude, receiving a yen, unwilling to be the yes woman, corralling the yowling, howling courage of my youth. Z, life is a zigzag of faithful moments laced with bad decisions, and wretched zaniness. A short walk through zoological gardens of wonder, a long conversation. Listen. Listen.


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-related to posts: Gratitude Mandala — Giving Thanks, This Thanksgiving Weekend, Make A Gratitude Journal, A Simple Gratitude List, gratitude haiku (orange), The ABC’s Of A Prosperous 2008 – Gratitude, Feelin’ Down For The Holidays? Make A Gratitude List

-posted on red Ravine, Thanksgiving Day, November 22nd, 2012

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believe


Definition: accept as true, credit with veracity, follow a credo, judge or regard
Synonyms: v. 1. maintain, assert, opine, hold, consider, regard, conceive, trust, have faith in, confide in, credit, accept, affirm, swear by, have no doubt
Quotes: ♦ In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true. — Buddha

 

♦ I believe that every person is born with talent.  — Maya Angelou

 

♦ The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just. — Abraham Lincoln

 

♦ 20. Believe in the holy contour of life — Jack Kerouac from BELIEF & TECHNIQUE FOR MODERN PROSE

Antonyms: disbelieve, distrust



I believe…



Do you believe in the Lock Ness Monster, the Man in the Moon, Santa Claus? Do you believe in finding Big Foot, flying saucers, ghosts in the machine? Do you believe this year will be better than the last? Do you believe in yourself, your visions, your dreams? The things I believe change from year to year, decade to decade. I used to believe in the tooth fairy, the Velvet Underground, peace, love and rock and roll. What do you believe?

In the 1950s, a radio program called This I Believe was hosted by journalist Edward R. Murrow. Each day, Americans gathered by their radios to hear essays from people like Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Wallace Stegner, Helen Keller, and Harry Truman—anyone able to distill the guiding principles by which they lived into a few minutes. (For inspiration, you can listen to essays on broadcasts from the 1950s at This I Believe.)

What are the principles by which you live? Are they different than they were two, three, or four years ago? Do you hang around friends who share your beliefs? Or push to expose yourself to other ways of thinking. The goal of the contemporary version of This I Believe (revived on NPR in 2004) was not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs, but to encourage people to develop respect for beliefs different from their own.


Get out your fast writing pens and write the Topic I believe… at the top of your spiral notebook (or start tapping away on your computer or Smartphone).

You can write a haiku, tanka, or gogyohka  practice and post it in the comments.

Or you may be surprised at what you discover when you follow the rules of Writing Practice —- I believe…, 10 minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, January 2nd, 2012

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Bobs Scalloped Oysters, Kansas City, Missouri, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Bob’s Scalloped Oysters, dinner at a writing retreat in Kansas City, Missouri, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

Last weekend I was in Kansas City, Missouri for a short writing retreat with three other Midwest writers. We did Writing Practice, slow walked, sat in silence, and recalibrated our project goals for the next 6 months. There were a couple of breakthroughs and much clarity. I met two of these writers at the last year-long Intensive we attended with Natalie in Taos. We try to meet every 6 months, check in on our goals every two weeks. No one should have to do this alone.

I also met ybonesy at a Taos writing retreat and we are still going strong. We created red Ravine because we didn’t want writers and artists to feel like they had to do this alone. We wanted a supportive place people could visit 24/7. We didn’t want to be tossed away. I feel grateful for the online community, and for close writing and artists friends, and try to cultivate those relationships. I encourage writers to connect any way they can.

It wasn’t all serious over last weekend though. We laughed a lot. And Bob gave us a whirlwind tour of beautiful Kansas City, Missouri. He called it “the nickel tour” but I think it was priceless. I loved the fountains, the art museums, the sycamores and the blooming redbuds. We stood by the Missouri River, drove past hundreds of limestone houses (including Hemingway’s), and ate 50 pounds of Kansas City barbecue. The Spring weather was perfect; everything was in bloom.

For dinner one night, Bob cooked Hamburger Splatter and baked his Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, made famous in his March post on red Ravine. If you love oysters, Aunt Annie’s are to die for! Gratitude to Bob for putting up with all of us in Kansas City (it’s a great place to write). Gratitude to ybonesy for holding down the fort on red Ravine. Gratitude to Liz for taking care of Chaco while I was gone. Look for more of Kansas City in upcoming posts.

 

Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Kansas City, Missouri, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Dish Up The Scalloped Oysters, Kansas City, Missouri, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Writers' Feet, Kansas City, Missouri, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved

 

Dish Up The Scalloped Oysters!, Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters, Writers’ Feet, April writing retreat in Kansas City, Missouri, April 2009, photo © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

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Photo by: Justine Ungaro

Lisa Loeb, Photo by: Justine Ungaro

 

On Wednesday, February 11, QuoinMonkey and ybonesy interviewed singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb. It was shortly after the end of her whirlwind tour of the U.S. and Japan following the June 2008 release of her second CD of Children’s Music, Camp Lisa

The CD follows Loeb’s early 2008 reissue of The Purple Tape, an acoustic, ten-song demo she self-released as a cassette in 1992. Proceeds from “Camp Lisa” benefit a foundation Lisa created to send underprivileged children to summer camp.

The New York Times had recently announced Lisa’s January 2009 wedding at Brasserie 8 ½, a restaurant in New York, when QM and ybonesy spoke with her from her New York City home. They talked about marriage and culinary loves, Loeb’s life as a singer-songwriter, practices that sustain her, the work of writing, and tips for those who dream of making it big.

 

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Interview with Lisa Loeb, February 11, 2009, red Ravine

 

red Ravine: In our research to prepare for this interview, we couldn’t help but notice that you seem to love food. Some of your children’s songs are about food, like the “Peanut Butter & Jelly” song from Camp Lisa (which is one of our faves) plus you’ve done the Food Network. Also in the New York Times article about your marriage, we were struck by how acute your senses are when you describe food. Is food a passion of yours?

 

Lisa Loeb: Yes, it’s a thing that I love. Growing up, like a lot of other girls, I was concerned about my weight. I was a dancer, and I loved food. We had to eat in the cafeteria every day at school, and it was sort of a game to find out what they were serving for lunch. But by the time I was a teenager, I went to an all-girls school, and since we wore uniforms, we were especially aware of our bodies and the differences between our bodies. Uniforms are meant to make us seem more uniform, but when everyone’s wearing the same thing, you pay more attention to other bodies. You would notice that you were eating the delicious cornbread muffins or the huge pieces of pie or the doughnuts in between classes in the morning, and it was a struggle between enjoying all this food versus getting larger and larger.

Between my sophomore and junior years, I went to Spain to live there with a family. Every day a younger brother in the Spanish family would run and get me a huge pastry because he realized that I liked it. And at night, we’d eat hotdogs and go out drinking all the time and eat potato chips and all these great Spanish tapas before they were fashionable in the United States. I came home a lot heavier. And it was scary.

It was fun to eat all that stuff but it was not that fun to come home heavier. So then I tried all the different diets that everybody tries. By the time I got to college, I started getting interested in nutrition to figure out how to enjoy food but eat in a balanced way. My best nutritionists were the people who said, “Eat whatever you want when you are hungry, but stop when you’re full. And pay attention to nutrition when you can.”

 

red Ravine: I (QuoinMonkey) met you a few years ago in a writing workshop with author Natalie Goldberg. It was one of Natalie’s weeklong silent retreats where we sat and meditated and slow walked and did Writing Practice. What prompted you, a successful singer and songwriter, to take a writing workshop and what did you learn from the silent writing retreat?

 

Lisa: I’ve always been a fan of Natalie Goldberg. Her writing exercises and general attitude about writing have helped me in my process of writing. At my all-girls school, although they taught me a lot about writing — how to write correctly and how to communicate, read, and pick apart text in English and Spanish — they didn’t always emphasize our own thoughts and having our own opinions. Especially as we got older, they didn’t put as much value on personal opinion as they did on structure, format, and grammar.

With Natalie, she emphasizes just writing. You know, just writing for yourself. That’s something that I think is important as an artist because as humans, all we have different from each other is our point of view, and so it’s important as an artist to bring that out. That’s what she does.

I thought if I could take a workshop with her, that would be amazing. Also, in my life often there’s more time spent on the business side of things than on the writing side of things, and for me structure is very helpful. So to be in a place where the goal was to write for a week was something that I looked forward to.

I’d done something like that for music, where I went to music summer school a long time ago, before I was a professional musician, at Berkeley Music School. And I got to practice. Even when I was a kid, I was pretty distracted; I practiced some but I did a lot of other things in my life. And for once, I wanted to be that person who just got in the practice room and practiced, practiced, practiced.

This was like that for writing, in a silent retreat especially, because I’m around a lot of people all the time, touring in every state, always communicating with people. It was a great opportunity to simplify and be silent. I do spend time alone, not talking to people, when I’m not working. But that was an opportunity to focus, of course, with the great guidance of Natalie and also in the company of people — people at all different levels of writing. I learn a lot from just starting from the beginning. Natalie calls it “Beginner’s Mind.” And sometimes when you are writing with people who are beginners, you remember to take the pressure off of writing, which adds more freedom for better writing and more writing.

 

red Ravine: Most of us who aspire to integrate Writing Practice into our lives struggle at different times to make it a day-to-day practice. How about you? Do you write or play music every day?

 

Lisa: I don’t. Not at all. I’ve gone through phases where I do write — I use things like a month-long tour or a trip to the beach for a week-and-a-half, or there’s a thing in the Jewish tradition called Counting the Omer. When structures like that come up, I’ll take advantage of them and say, “Okay, now I’m going to write every day for this period of time.” Or there’s a Toni Morrison book where it’s day-by-day, a short-chaptered book where she talks about different things in each chapter (maybe it’s called Love). So I decided I was going to do a page-long chapter each day and write something based on a word that she mentioned in her book.

Sometimes I have to create a little game to create structure for myself. Other times, when I know I need to finish, I start. It’s almost like an athlete warming up and getting ready to do a marathon. I just realize I can’t do it overnight, it’s a process.

But yeah, it’s hard. I don’t always write every day. Sometimes when I write every day it gets too easy in a way. Like I am not saying anything and I’m not focusing well. So sometimes I need to take a break from it, too.

 

red Ravine: Do you have other practices that ground you and sustain you?

 

Lisa: I do. I work out five days a week at least, walking whether it’s on a treadmill or outside, doing strength training. Some people do yoga; I do strength training. And then also when I’m in Los Angeles, I go to synagogue on Saturday ’cause I have a cool rabbi that I like.

 

red Ravine: And any other things you do to keep going when you’re feeling down or insecure?

 

Lisa: I have my friends. That’s important to me, spending time with friends. And going outside and taking a walk. Or writing. You know, writing is something I definitely rely on for that. It’s a little weird, too, because I associate writing with my professional life so sometimes I have to remember to step back and write to write, even if it means being like Jack Nicholson in the movie The Shining and writing the same thing over and over.

I do use writing as a tool. It helps that little switch in my brain which I try to avoid or at least let it pass, which is like, Oooh, I wonder if I could do a different song. Or, I wonder if I could do something else where I write. It’s the equivalent of when you’re working out or taking a walk because you want to and it feels good, then getting that little thought in the back of your head, saying, Oooh, I wonder if I’m going to lose any weight by doing this or walk off that piece of pie from last night.

I don’t like associating working out and losing weight. I like associating working out with breathing. It’s the same thing I have with writing – in order for it to actually work properly and be integrated into my life in a balanced way, it has to be what it is.

 

red Ravine: You came into success very early in your career as a musical artist. How did that affect your life and your creative work?

 

Lisa: It gave me a lot of freedom to have success early on. The financial freedom — in my family growing up, having a job was something that we valued, being able to support yourself. So that took a load off my mind. And it gave me freedom to have less worry. I worry a lot in my life. You know, the Jewish worry and guilt, a certain amount of being neurotic.

It gave me freedom, although in the end, I think other people can’t make you feel like you are successful. It comes with a certain amount of self-confidence and self-esteem. But I think that having other people acknowledge what I’m doing gave me more confidence and made me feel like I was more free to continue to make music. Which is very powerful. Because not knowing if what you’re doing is worth anything can be very frustrating.

And I know that even after being a professional musician, that feeling never goes away. That feeling’s always there. Like, Oh gosh, I wonder if this is worth anything, why am I doing this, it’s a selfish thing, I should do something where I help other people… All these things. I love hearing from somebody saying, “That thing that you wrote helped me through this period of my life.” It’s a weird balance of feeling secure within myself, but also as a performer and a writer having that respect from an audience.

 

Also, I want to go back to one other question you asked me [regarding] when you’re in a state of depression or insecurity. I got a lot of great tools from my rabbi in Los Angeles. He’s of a Hasidic philosophy similar to cognitive therapy, where you’re able to look at your actions and thoughts in a different light and turn things around.

He mentioned a time where he was giving a lecture in front of people — he gives a lot of lectures and teaches classes — and he thought, Everyone is so bored, they don’t want to listen to me, I’m doing a terrible job. I think someone might have yawned in the front row. And then he thought through it again using the cognitive therapy and Hasidic philosophy and said, Well, people like coming to my classes so I must be doing something right. The classes I give, even when they’re bad are usually pretty good, and so I guess I’m doing a pretty good job. That’s a simplification, but he’s saying that [we all have access to] those kind of tools.

I want to feel good with when I just sit at the subway station for two minutes waiting for the train and write something there. It doesn’t have to be a magical place, but I have to sit down and write. It can be anywhere. It can be on a napkin in a restaurant. It doesn’t have to lead to a great song. That’s not the best example, but thinking through things in a realistic way helps ground me as well.

 

red Ravine: It sounds like a practical tool for dealing with Monkey Mind.

 

Lisa: Oh, it is. It really is. It’s that Natalie Goldberg thing I learned, we all learned, that you just sit down and write. Things don’t happen overnight. Sometimes they do, but you can’t rely on that. You can rely on just sitting and writing as part of a bunch of small steps that take you some place — maybe, maybe not.

 

red Ravine: We were talking about your success that came early on and we’re curious, too, how your goals have changed. Have your goals as an artist changed as you’ve gotten older?

 

Lisa: I think my goals continue to be pretty much the same since I was younger – which is to continue to try to write better. And also to try to enjoy the process more.

I’ve written songs since I was a kid but especially when I started writing lyrics when I was 13, 14, it’s become more complicated. And it’s always been a hard process. I continue to become more forgiving of myself and more accepting of the process. What it is for me doesn’t have to be what it is for other people.

I want to be a better songwriter. I guess I might have had more business-oriented goals when I was starting out, to get a record contract, to get paid to do things, and I guess I still have those goals. It’s great if you can get paid for your work, which is rarer these days, especially with people trading music.

Also there are meta-goals. One of them is to continue to keep my eyes open for other things I want to do that aren’t writing, that aren’t making songs. And that’s okay to do other things well.

But as a writer, you need to be comfortable with the process. And just keep doing it. It’s hard. I told Natalie…I ate lunch with her one day on the way through New Mexico and I was telling her, “There are these projects I want to develop, and maybe I want to be a psychologist or a nutritionist, and maybe I should teach, but I have these songs I’m supposed to write but I don’t want to, so I think I’m just going to hang out.” 

And she said, “You just need to sit that…I don’t know how better to say it…you just need to sit that motherfucker down and write.” (laughter from all). She’s like, “People say that all the time, ‘I never want to write, I don’t want to do it…’.” And I was like, Ahhhh…go do your homework! I hate doing my homework, I don’t want to do it. And the thing is, if you do it little by little, it’ll get done.

 

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Lisa Loeb 2008 Release, "Camp Lisa", Illustration by: Esme Shapiro, 15, a student at LA County High School for the Arts and summer camp fan.    Lisa Loeb 2008 2-CD Reissue "The Purple Tape"   Lisa Loeb 2008 Release, "Camp Lisa", Illustration by: Esme Shapiro, 15, a student at LA County High School for the Arts and summer camp fan.

 

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red Ravine: You were in Albuquerque last year and my (ybonesy’s) date to your concert was my nine-year-old daughter, which turned out to be great. Afterwards we bought the CD Catch the Moon and my daughter listens to it all the time; in fact, it’s sitting on the kitchen table for her to load on to her iPod along with your hits. You’ve gotten into children’s music and you found a generous way to pay it forward with the proceeds from Camp Lisa and sending kids to camp through your Camp Lisa Foundation. What inspired you to write and sing music for children?

 

Lisa: It was something I wanted to do ever since I was a kid. I listened to music for children. In my day it was Free To Be You and Me; it was Really Rosy, which was a Carole King record. A lot of music they had on Sesame Street and The Electric Company, created by real musicians of the time — the early 70’s — sounded like real music.

I had an opportunity to do a record that was different from my regular grown-up records and I chose to do a kids’ record. My friend Liz Mitchell produced it. Since she’d made a lot of kids’ records, it sounded in the vein I wanted. Actually, she was the one who gave me my first Natalie Goldberg book. She was my singing partner in my band for years and years.

When it came time for me to do another kids’ record, I was going through a moment where I was like, What am I doing? I was trying to write a regular grown-up album and I was writing dark things and spending a lot of time by myself writing. It wasn’t fun. And I remembered that it had been really fun writing songs with friends of mine in Los Angeles, and I thought, Why does it have to be a treacherous horrible experience? I should take a break and do something that reminds me that it’s fun and easy to write songs and express ourselves.

So I got back together with my friends Dan [Petty] and Michelle Lewis, who lived down the street basically, and we started making a summer camp record and it was really fun! And it felt like, wow, I’m a working songwriter, I go to work with them each day and we write songs. And we make up melodies and it’s very exciting and fun; it doesn’t have to be a painful experience to be artistic.

Through that process, I was questioning, Why am I doing music at all? I want to try to do something else to help other people. Then I realized, Oh, wait a minute, maybe I can use what we’re doing to help other people. And I realized that summer camp, of course, [we] could actually send kids to summer camp and also to be able to meet the kids. It all came together — a goal for having a kids’ record; a goal to be more responsible in the community; and a songwriter wanting to engage in a more fun way that would inform my regular, grown-up songwriting.

Also, writing kids’ songs, you have more of a story where you’re trying to say something that people can understand easily, and I think that’s a good tool for me to bring to my grown-up writing. Also when I play kids’ concerts, I realize that some of the more simple songs where I’m writing a tra-la-la-la-la or a chant or repetitive part is a fun thing to play in front of people. Grown ups and kids enjoy it and it makes me realize that sometimes in songwriting it’s not how many words can you put in there, how clever you can be, it’s really just going from your heart, the melodies and the words that just come out. Which is hard to trust. You feel you need to write the most complicated music, but that’s not what songwriting is about.

 

red Ravine: Who are your favorite songwriters today? What songs do you like to hear?

 

Lisa: I have a lot of songs I love; they don’t even focus on the lyrics that much, just the feelings of the songs. I love Led Zeppelin, especially Led Zeppelin IV and the Over the Hills and Far Away album. I love David Bowie music and often I don’t know what he’s talking about but (laughter) there’s just a certain attitude and coolness in his songs. Songwriters? More recently I’ve enjoyed Death Cab for Cutie. Oh gosh there’s so much music that I love. Lyle Lovett is great. Prince. 

A lot of things are abstract and it’s just the way it feels, the music and the lyrics and the feeling of it altogether hits me. It’s funny because it’s not how I feel when I’m writing music. It reminds me that it’s okay to play around with words and feelings and if it means something to me that’s fine; it doesn’t have to be so direct. It’s a constant balance, like I said with the kids’ music, where you’re trying to say something more directly, and the kind of music which I enjoy listening to, which often is more abstract and about the feeling and the production of the songs.

 

red Ravine: When you were in Albuquerque you mentioned that you were attending a Goldberg writing retreat with your mother. What was it like to do Writing Practice with your mom?

 

Lisa: We didn’t actually do a lot of practice together. It was a little frustrating.

What I loved was that my mother hasn’t done a lot of things where she goes away and meets other people. She loves people and talking to people and meeting people, and I thought that social aspect would be interesting for her. Because on my first writing weekend with Natalie, it was a speaking retreat where you got to actually sit at breakfast and talk to people.

And I thought secretly she would get to do some writing. She also went to the same high school I went to and grew up in a time when grammar was much more important than the fact that maybe saying something that’s not grammatically correct might allow you to express yourself better. So I wanted her to experience it for herself. I think that was the first time she was encouraged in that way. It was cool to see her go through that and go home and tell her friends about it.

But we actually didn’t do as much Writing Practice together as I expected. And that was actually a lesson to me, too. If I’m not working, if I’m not writing, I always feel like I’m never writing enough. No matter what it is, it’s just not enough. And I sort of beat myself up over it. I was trying to let myself not have to be a person who has to be writing all the time. And let that be okay. And that was really hard, but that was an interesting turn the other direction.

 

red Ravine: We noticed you studied comparative literature at Brown and we’re curious, how did (does) that play into your songwriting?

 

Lisa: It doesn’t very much at all. When I went to Brown, I picked something that was close to what I thought I liked when I was in high school. One of my favorite classes was Spanish because not only did we get to learn a whole different language and communicate with a whole new group of people, but in Spanish class, we also got to study visual art, film, poetry, geography, food, social customs. You name it, we studied it, but in Spanish.

We learned to take apart poems, and there was great Spanish-language literature, which is some of the best literature in the world. High school, middle, and elementary school education actually played more into my writing than my college experience.

Really college was just what I studied on paper, and in retrospect, I would go back and do something else. But it gave me the freedom to spend most of my time in the recording studio, in the music department and the theater department doing plays, writing music, playing shows. It gave me this kind of thing I could tell my parents I was doing that sounded reasonable while I was actually spending most of my time doing these other things.

It was also like a long lesson in learning that I really need to go with my heart and not do what I’m supposed to be doing. In retrospect, I should have been studying theater or art or music or psychology or just something else. I mean, I don’t think reading Ulysses three times really did anything (which was a painful experience). Experimental things can be boring or they can be interesting. It didn’t take me any further into literature; it was more about theory, but it didn’t inform my writing.

 

red Ravine: What are some of your favorite authors and books?

 

Lisa: I love Isabel Allende, pretty much all her books. I love magical realism. You know where she tells a story that feels like it’s actually happening but within it, just like Gabriel García Márquez, they use these great images and things happening that are magical and you get the feeling that those things could actually be someone’s real experience, even though it might include flying or crazy dreams or people floating through rooms or water pouring out of walls, or whatever it is.

I love the short stories of Roald Dahl. The collection I love the most is Kiss Kiss. And that’s kind of Twilight Zoney using tales that are very bizarre but you can imagine them actually happening. I love J. D. Salinger all the way around. Again, I love his short stories. He takes things that are very mundane and very deep and there’s this beauty and melancholy in the books that I love. Those are some of my favorite authors.

 

red Ravine: What projects are you working on now?

 

Lisa: None writing wise. I’m working on developing an eyewear line that will be out later this year. I’m very involved in the design, involved in the marketing, that side of the company, so that will be out later in the year. I’m also working on a collection of more kids songs for a couple of kids books that should be out in 2010, which will be more like lyrics for singalong songs, some crafts and some recipes. It will be fun for kids.

And I’m trying to finish up some songs for a grown-up record. After my wedding, I returned to listening to some of the songs I was in the process of finishing and I’m actually realizing that I’m closer to finishing an album than I thought I was. Little by little, you know.

 

red Ravine: Wow, eyewear? Because every time we see a photo of you we always just think your glasses are fabulous. How did that come about?

 

Lisa: Thank you. Well, I’ve always worn glasses and ever since I was in high school people would recognize me for my glasses. And I love glasses, especially ones that have a little bit of a lift on the corners — some people say cat-eyes, but they’re not quite cat-eye glasses. Anyway, I love them and I was looking for a perfect pair and people have always asked where they could get my glasses. Finally, we were able to connect with a company that wants to manufacture them and work with us to put them out. Selfishly, I’ll pick up a couple of pair of glasses that I really like!

No matter where I am, I always look for glasses, and it’s hard to find them. You know when you wear them on your face every day? So I wanted selfishly to have my own but I also wanted to share my glasses with other people who are always asking about them.

 

red Ravine: I (ybonesy) will look for them because I always want a lift at the corner, too. Some faces just need that. Do you have any plans to take any other kinds of workshops or attend another Natalie Goldberg retreat?

 

Lisa: I would love to do that. I meant to do it for my 40th birthday but we couldn’t quite get it together and Natalie’s mother passed away kind of close to it. I was thinking, in lieu of a bachelorette party for my wedding, it would be great to put together a workshop of my friends, a writing workshop with people I get together and write with anyway.

Right now my schedule’s a little tight because I’m moving back to Los Angeles and there are non-business priorities that [make it] hard to take even three or four days and go write. For me, and I know for a lot of other people, that structure makes all the difference in the world. And sometimes it takes going away to a seminar to remember that. Even though you can just sit and put your timer on for 10 minutes on your cell phone and write, sometimes it takes a weekend trip to remember that.

Also, something I forget –you’re supposed to read this stuff to other people. You don’t have to write all day for this to work. Natalie always says you need to write less. You need to sit down and write, but you don’t need to write five hours a day, that’s too much, you can’t do it. So I think it’s a great environment for me and I know it impacts a lot of other people as well.

 

red Ravine: You just got married a few weeks ago, so we wanted to know how is married life treating you, and what is a fluffernutter? (laughs)

 

Lisa: (laughs) A fluffernutter is marshmallow crème and I think we got it on white bread. Often we all go back to wheat bread, but for purposes of the fluffernutter sandwich, it was this homemade white bread with peanut butter and with marshmallow fluff. I can’t believe how good it is; it’s a crazy thing. And the texture when you bite into the sandwich, you know it creates that seam when you bite into that white bread sandwich. And it’s just like a pillow of joy (all laugh). It’s sweet and salty and fluffy packed in between these two cottony sheets. It’s delicious! 

And married life is good, it’s really great. We’re at the beginning of this adventure. I love my husband and I look forward to continuing to get to know him and we just have a really good time together, no matter what. We’re a good support system for each other. We both have the same values. He’s not a musician professionally, but he likes to play music in the house, and again that reminds me that creatively, it doesn’t have to be for work.

Sometimes when you just do things for fun, it might lead to something you can use for work. For me, that’s an important reminder not to always be geared toward work. We have a good time and music is part of his work so we both have a lot of opportunities to do music and talk about it and do fun things and meet interesting people. And it’s good to have a team; though you were a team before, it’s a different team when you’re married. So yeah, it’s all good.

 

red Ravine: I’m going to try to get both these questions in, one has to do with the fact that you were recently on stage with Sarah Silverman who strikes us as someone who takes so many risks with her art. And you’ve ventured into many different creative areas with songwriting, TV, and voiceover work. What was it like to work with Sarah and how important is risk-taking in creative work?

 

Lisa: It was great to work with her. I think she’s clever and fun and she’s really nice. And I feel like risk-taking is important but again, that’s relative. For some people it might mean writing a song from the first person instead of third person. Or it might mean setting a guitar on fire on stage. Or not writing might be risk-taking. Like I said, it was scary for me to be in a writing seminar and not be writing a whole lot. But to not be following the rules is a huge risk for me; I always follow the rules.

 

red Ravine: Our last question: What advice do you have for our readers who dream of making it big with their writing and becoming well-known?

 

Lisa: Two things. One is continue to write and to do your own thing. Don’t try to copy other people; the main thing you have to offer that is different from other people is yourself and your own point of view. But, at the same time, to make it you need to be a business person or find a person who can help you with the business side of things. That might mean doing it yourself, getting copies of your book out there, reading it live, being a musician live, or doing something on YouTube. Because part of it is doing the work, and then part of it is getting it out there with an audience.

But first, decide what your goals are. If it’s to be famous, hire a publicist and do some whacky things and get famous. If it’s to be read by a lot of people, start somewhere. Do it yourself. But don’t wait around for someone to do it for you. It’s not going to happen miraculously.

 

red Ravine: Thank you Lisa, really wonderful interview. We appreciate your time, and we’ll be watching for those eyeglasses!

 

Lisa: Thank you. I appreciate the questions.

 

 ________________________________________________________________

 

Lisa Loeb, Photo by: Andrew Eccles

Lisa Loeb, Photo by: Andrew Eccles

About Lisa Loeb:  Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb started her career with the platinum selling No. 1 hit song “Stay (I Missed You)” from the film Reality Bites. To this day, she is still the only artist to have a No. 1 single while not signed to a recording contract. Loeb parlayed that early success into a multi-dimensional career encompassing music, film, television, voice-over work, and children’s recordings.

Her six acclaimed studio CDs include the Gold-selling Tails and its follow-up, the Grammy-nominated, Gold-selling Firecracker. Her complete catalogue includes The Very Best of Lisa Loeb (2006), and two children’s CDs, the award-winning Catch the Moon (2006) and Camp Lisa (2008) with guests Jill Sobule, Lee Sklar, Maia Sharp and funnyman/banjo player Steve Martin. In conjunction with the release of the Camp Lisa CD, Loeb launched the Camp Lisa Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises funds to help send underprivileged kids to summer camp through its partnership with S.C.O.P.E. (Summer Camp Opportunities Provide an Edge, Inc.).

In addition to her music, Lisa has also starred in two television series, Dweezil and Lisa, a weekly culinary adventure for the Food Network, and #1 Single, a dating show on E! Network. Look for the Lisa Loeb eyewear line to hit the stores in 2009.

 

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By Elizabeth Statmore



Writers are gardeners. We sow seeds and cultivate worlds. Every writing practice I do is a seed I hope will germinate, but I have to approach it with no expectations. Seeds, like words, are happily indifferent to my intentions. They force me to learn over and over how to follow their process without hope or expectations.

I keep a seed-starting station on the bookcase in my bay window sill. I face it while I do writing practice on the couch. It has fifteen deep cells, each planted with a different hope for my garden. Actually I sow in multiples. Right now I have two each of flat-leaf parsley, winterbor kale, lacinato or dinosaur kale, speckled trout lettuce, and Merveille des Quatre Saisons lettuce, among others. I have three cells of an heirloom ruffled pansy I am nuts about — chalon suprème purple picotée. The flowers are ruffled confections of deep plum and violet and mauve and golden yellow and white. They’re not easy to find. I have to order the seeds online from a web store in England.

As with writing practice, there are no guarantees. You make positive effort, but you can’t know in advance what will root and take off and what will refuse to cooperate in your plans.


My parsley cells have gone crazy. Same for the two types of kale. This year the pansies have agreed to participate. Some years they just refuse to release their secrets.

One of the White Boston Lettuce cells has sprung magically to life while the other has stayed mum. The seeds just refuse to get started. They sit there beneath the surface of their sterilized germinating mix, lips pressed stubbornly shut. They squint up at me when I inspect them. They dare me to plant over them.

The seed-starting system is a miniature greenhouse, with an opaque bottom tray and a clear plastic domed top. The top has two green louvered vents that can be opened once the first seed leaves poke their noses up out of the ground.

I placed the tray on a large baking sheet to catch any drips that overflow out of the sides. Germination is a moist and messy business. I have already had to refinish the top of the wooden bookcase once.

Below the baking sheet is an electric warming mat. It’s like a special heating pad for sprouting seeds. They respond to the warming temperature of the soil they are planted in, like words in a writing practice. They only start their work once I’ve warmed things up.

The other key to the seed-starting station is an old little desk lamp I’ve outfitted with a fifteen-watt greenhouse bulb. It’s a compact fluorescent that emphasizes the blue rays of the light spectrum, the ones that seedlings respond to.

I’ve learned all this from library books. I was not raised as a farm kid or even a gardener’s kid.


I am struck by the familiar combination of artifice and natural conditions I have to create to get things started. Some of my non-writing-practice writer friends feel this way about my reliance on writing practice. They ask how I can ever get projects done when I give over so much of my writing energy and time to wandering aimlessly across the pages of my Spiderman notebooks.

I’ve tried to explain it to them, but it’s like starting a garden from seeds. If you don’t do it this way yourself, it’s tough to wrap your mind around. How can a bunch of specks in a paper envelope turn into fragrant pasta sauces or salads? One person’s mystery looks like another person’s madness.











Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and gardener. She is a long-time practitioner of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg, and she recently finished her first novel by using Writing Practice as her foundation.

A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last piece for red Ravine—Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece—was a step-by-step tutorial on how she turned a raw piece of writing into a finished radio commentary. Elizabeth was also one of our first guest writers, contributing the post Abandoned Is…. All doodles © 2009 by ybonesy.

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Natalie Goldberg, image by Mary Fiedt, all rights reserved.     Old Friend from Far Away, image provided by Simon & Schuster, all rights reserved.
Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg, images provided by Simon & Schuster, photo of Goldberg © 2008 by Mary Feidt. All rights reserved.




On Thursday, April 10, QuoinMonkey and ybonesy interviewed Natalie Goldberg, author of the recently released Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. The interview was especially meaningful in that red Ravine originated from a friendship, and vision, developed while QM and ybonesy were in a year-long writing Intensive with Goldberg, in Taos, New Mexico.

Goldberg had just completed a book tour across several Western states when QM and ybonesy spoke with her from her Santa Fe home. They talked about the new book and about Goldberg’s life as a writer and painter, friendships that sustain her, the loneliness of writing, and the most important thing she’s learned from her students.



Interview with Natalie Goldberg, April 10, 2008, red Ravine


red Ravine: There’s a moving passage in Old Friend From Far Away on page 69, which I’m going to read: 

In 1977 on Morada Lane in a small adobe behind a coyote fence I taught the first writing practice group to eight Taos Women. For the last twenty years I have taught these same workshops at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House a few hundred yards farther up on Morada Lane. I joke: I have not gone a very far distance in my life.
     Students come and go. Eventually we all will die. I fear I will have forgotten to die. I’ll be standing in front of the class after everyone I know has long passed.
     “Class, get out your pens.”
     Please help me. If all of you write right now, maybe I can let go and die too. My job will be complete.

Talk about what that passage means, Natalie.

Natalie: Basically, I had this feeling one day that everybody was going to die and I was still going to have to keep teaching Writing Practice; that it was so important and so essential and people weren’t going to let me die. They were just going to keep coming and studying with me and that my books wouldn’t have given enough.

What I didn’t say actually in that chapter is that I hoped to make a book that would be like studying with me. I wanted to make this book — the structure and the rhythm — so that it was the closest to what it’s like to be in the classroom with me. So that someday I, too, can die. I think when we die, finally, we really completely let go. I don’t think I’d be able to completely let go unless I felt there was some record students could follow to learn this wonderful Practice.


red Ravine: Years ago, at the beginning of your adult life when you were in the midst of studying with Katagiri Roshi, you were on a path toward assuming that lineage. What caused you to move away from that path and go with writing instead?

Natalie: That’s a good question. We complain about our lives, but the truth is we usually get what we want. A lot of people say, “I wanted to write and I wanted to do this.” If they really wanted it and it really burned in them, they would do it and they would figure it out. And not everybody has that.

Some people are happy taking classes, milling around with writing, and the truth is they like their lives and they like their jobs. I found that I put in time with writing. When it came down to the wire, my ass was on the line for writing. Even though I showed up all the time for Zen, when you asked me, my drive was for writing.

So it actually happened very naturally. We worry so much, What should we do, what should we do? but life also unfolds. For you (addressing QuoinMonkey), for example, you keep talking about wanting to teach Writing Practice, but we don’t know. And you’ve had some offers, but, finally, you’ll see if it unfolds and if it feels right for you.

You know that’s true with everybody. What we want unfolds. So I think I saw that writing was where I really put my life, my whole life. And even though I deeply, deeply loved Zen, it wasn’t in the same way, deep in the musculature of my body. I didn’t put my life on the line in the same way.

Now that I’m older I realize that I didn’t have to pick. That the two actually came together. But when you’re young you think you have to pick. When you’re young you can drive yourself crazy and think you have to pick. But look, Zen and writing, I can’t separate them. I didn’t choose one over the other. I chose both.


red Ravine: You also chose to be a writer and an artist. How do you balance those passions, and do you ever feel that you are more one than the other?

Natalie: I’m a writer. I know that. And when I’m painting a lot, I’m so in love with it. I think, Oh, I should have been a painter. But I wouldn’t be willing to do (for painting) what I’m willing to do for writing. I’ll go anywhere, face anything for writing.

Painting is my darling pleasure. And because it’s a pleasure, I don’t push myself a lot with it. Like what I said about writing and Zen, if I really look at it (painting), it’s important to me and it feeds my life and I relax with it. I relax and don’t worry about when I do it, if I do it.

For instance, I was in Point Reyes, California for a month in May, and I painted a lot then. Since I came home, I haven’t painted in over 6 months. So part of me thinks, Oh, painting is done. Then about three weeks ago, I realized, No painting’s not done. You’re writing these essays, and these essays use the same energy that painting does.

In a way, an essay is like a square canvas where I try to fit in as much detail as I can. That’s what I do with painting. I realized that I hadn’t been painting because I was painting with my writing. As soon as I realized that, of course, I’ve just done three paintings (laughs). I just went back into the studio.

People want a clear delineation: I write for four hours a day, then I paint for two hours. Life isn’t like that. It unfolds.

For instance, I was burning to learn abstract painting, which I talked about in Living Color. So, 15 years ago, I started to do it; I’d go out on a picnic table in Taos, in Kit Carson Park, and I’d just do abstracts, or what I thought were abstracts. I didn’t think they were that good. Literally, last night, I pulled out those notebooks and they’re some of the best abstracts I’ve ever done. They’re wonderful.

Do you see what I mean? We have the idea that, No, they should be better now because I’ve been doing it for 15 years. But maybe when I was really burning for them was when they really came to me. There’s no linear thing. Basically, you have to have a soft heart and a willingness just to make that first step and step in. And you get wet.

Just like you (addressing ybonesy). You have an important straight job, and then you go to half time for a while so you can do more art. Then you go back to full time. Our life is a spiral. And you also realize, I like this work I do. And I like painting. It doesn’t have to be either/or.


red Ravine: One of the things we want to talk about is loneliness — because writing is lonely. There’s a chapter in Writing Down the Bones called “Engendering Compassion” where you talk about the Black Dog, Loneliness. You say, “When I don’t feel loneliness, I know I’m not in connection with the edge of my life. I look around for that Black Dog, Loneliness, and make sure it’s near me.” After 35 years of writing and teaching, has your relationship with the Black Dog changed? And when you feel lonely or empty, where do you go to refill the well?

Natalie: That’s a really good question. I want to say, “Oh yes, I have a much better relationship with it,” but right now, I’m dealing with (the fact that) my mother died three months ago. So the loneliness is so deep. Whatever engendered it when I was a child is just burning in me now.

Everything I think I know about loneliness has been swept under and I just feel this gnawing emptiness. And it’s painful. The only thing I know is to try to have a little bit of softness toward it and allow it to be, and at the same time not allow it to take over my entire life.

It’s a very tricky thing. But I do want to say that, yes, a writer’s life can be very lonely. That’s why it’s so important to have writing friends. Don’t expect the agent or the editor or the publishing world to be your friend and to be your support. You need writing friends who understand what you’re doing and support you and that you can share this hard and wonderful process with.


red Ravine: Natalie, speaking of friends, do you have a writing friend who has stuck with you through everything?

Natalie: Yeah, Rob Wilder and Eddie Lewis, I’ve been friends with for over 20 years. I’d say also, John Thorndike, though he lives in Ohio now. He used to live in New Mexico and he was a deep writing friend and still is.

But the people who live near are Rob and Eddie and Henry Shukman, too, but he’s English so often he’s in England for long periods. But Eddie and Rob have been consistently there, people I can always rely on. That’s been very important to me.

I know when I have something, I can share with them, I can talk about it. Knowing that I have them, I don’t even call that much. But I know that they’re there. Sometimes just knowing that person’s there is very important.


red Ravine: Can you talk a little bit about what happens to the friendship when you are working on a book?

Natalie: Yeah, sometimes there are periods when I’m working a lot, that Eddie is home a lot, he’s sort of like a housewife, so I’ll call him. Mostly we joke, or I’ll complain about writing. When I’m working on something I don’t talk a lot about it. I’ll just call and complain or ask how to spell something. Or, “Eddie what was that word? I need that word,” or we just joke. But I know he knows I’m writing. And he knows what that is.

And there’s Rob. I asked him and his wife (Lala Carroll) to help me when I read at Collected Works. I said, “Could you be my date?” Rob had a party for me afterwards. Eddie hung out with me and stayed with me at the bookstore. It’s almost mechanical sometimes — “Can you come to the reading with me?” or “Would you read what I wrote and tell me it’s wonderful?” (laughs)


red Ravine: At this moment who are your favorite painters and writers, and what books are you reading right now?

Natalie: I am reading a killer book. I’m almost done with it. I’m going to assign it to my students in the August retreat. It’s called Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. I have 20 pages left, and it’s a magnificent book.

I’m reading that and right before that, Patricia Hampl, who wrote Romantic Education. She has a new memoir called The Florist’s Daughter that just knocked me out. It was a sensational book. No one writes memoir like Patricia Hampl.

I’m teaching at IAIA one night a week with Rob Wilder this Spring semester. (Institute of American Indian Arts is a federally-funded college for Native Americans, who attend from all over the country.) I have to say, my students in that class are some of my most favorite writers who I admire.

These kids have not been incorporated, in some ways, with all the politeness and all the neuroses of white American comfortable society. A lot of these kids come from very broken lives and they don’t have a lot of protection between them and wild mind. So when they write, it brings me back to the original way I learned how to understand Writing Practice. Because I really developed it with Chippewa kids and African American kids in Minneapolis and in Detroit.

They’re some of my favorite writers, these kids that I’m working with now. They’re not kids, they’re adults…They’re college kids, but their writing — they have no explanation. They just put things as they are. And they’re not aware that they’re not supposed to write about these things so they just lay it down on the page. I’m being incredibly inspired by them, remembering the origins of writing. That’s been very, very exciting for me.

In painting, well, I just love painting. Painting is my darling pleasure. When I went on the book tour, people would think I’d go to bookstores a lot. No, that’s my job! When I went into town, I’d go to the art museums and to galleries. That would relax me and give me a whole other outlet.

I love Wolf Kahn, Joan Mitchell. I love to look at local paintings. There’s a painter in Albuquerque who shows in Santa Fe, Tim Craighead. I’m just crazy about him. He shows at the Gerald Peters Gallery.

For the O’Keeffe Museum next week, I’m taking a group (on something) called Walks in the West, and I’m taking them to all the spots where Marsden Hartley painted. He spent a year in Taos. So we’re going to drive up and I’m going to take them for that slow walk to the cross. We’re going to have lunch at Mabel Dodge. It’ll be wonderful.

One more painter I just thought of I want to mention: David Park. I just wrote an essay about him. Helen Bigelow is a friend of mine and an old student who came to study with me at Mabel Dodge. Her father was David Park, and he was a contemporary of Richard Diebenkorn. He’s part of the California Figurative School. I saw an incredible painting of his hanging at the Whitney last year. He made it really big. He died when he was young, at 46.


red Ravine: In Old Friend From Far Away, and also from studying with you, we’ve heard you say that memoir isn’t necessarily about a person’s entire life; it can be about a portion of one’s life. You’ve written Long Quiet Highway about the portion of your life where you studied with Katagiri Roshi, and The Great Failure clarifying the truth you knew about that time in your life. What part of your life, Natalie, do you still want to write about?

Natalie: I’d kind of like to write about my mother. But it’s so complicated for me right now that I don’t see my way clear. Maybe at some point, I’d like to write about my mother.

Except for Banana Rose, I really haven’t written very much about my love life. And I’d kind of like to write about that, but I’m afraid that people who were my lovers will kill me (laughs). So I haven’t done that.

And I think I’d like to write something about what I know about Zen. Though I might have written that already in Old Friend From Far Away. Even though I didn’t mention Zen.


red Ravine: You’ve seen students drop everything in their lives and attempt to become writers. Why doesn’t it always work to get rid of the obstacles and just become a writer?

Natalie: Yeah, it doesn’t work, because suddenly you have all the time in the world and you freeze. It puts too much pressure on writing. Also, we’re social animals and writing is a lonely thing.

In a way, my mistake was to do writing full time. I missed having a job where I could just show up and have to work and have to forget about me and my writing and my life. I don’t think it’s a good idea.

In Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique — which came out, I think, in the 70’s — there was a study where housewives who had all day to clean the house by the end of the day didn’t get any of it cleaned. Those same women, when they got a full-time job, managed in the half hour before they went to work to get all their housework done.

It’s almost that you have more time to feel guilty that you’re not writing. I think that having a bit of a structure and knowing at 1 o’clock I have to go do my other job, it sort of kicks ass. You don’t have so much time to wander around. You have to write — sit down and actually do it.


red Ravine: Describe a typical day in your life. When you’re not promoting a book, what are you doing?

Natalie: I’m running a lot of errands, which I don’t seem to have done in Taos. But in Santa Fe I don’t know why I have so many errands to run (laughs).

I go to yoga classes 3 days a week, from 9:30 to 11. And the yoga class is right near my studio. So if I’m a good girl, I go to yoga and then immediately go to my studio. But then I have my computer at my studio, so I end up doing a lot of business first. And then settling down, either sometimes to write or paint.

But if you really look at my life — at this point, I’ve been writing for 35 years — every book takes a different need, requires different things. For instance, I wrote a lot of Old Friend going on hikes, and at the same time I had broken up an 11-year relationship. My heart was broken. I would go to my studio and I just didn’t want to stay there. I’d go on these long hikes, and I’d bring my backpack, and luckily I brought a little notebook, not planning to write. But as I walked the world would open up for me. I’d sit down on the side of the trail and write whole chapters.

I can’t give you any prescription of my life. If you ask me, my life is kind of chaotic. Like today, after we’re done, I’ll go to this wonderful café near IAIA, which is way south of town, like 25 minutes. But I’ll go there and I’ll do some work for a few hours and then I’m going to go to a lecture at IAIA. I use things in the outside world to structure my inner life of writing.

I’m not a bulldog like I used to be where I pushed everything aside for writing. Writing fits in now and weaves in with the rest of my life. The human life just goes forward. But this is after 35 years where I have enough confidence. Also, I’m tired of making writing the first thing. I don’t need to anymore because I have enough confidence.


red Ravine: How are your creative processes around writing and painting different?

Natalie: When I’m writing it takes all of me. I mean every single cell. When I’m really writing it takes every cell in my body, total concentration, and my whole life is in it. My whole life is on the line.

When I’m painting, I’m whistling, I’m playing music, I’m just happy. The predominant emotion is happiness. With writing there isn’t any predominant emotion. My whole life is distilled into that task. And I give my life over into the tip of that task. I want to say my whole life is distilled into god — if god is everything.


red Ravine: In many respects, because of what you teach and how you teach it, you’ve become a symbol of the notion that anyone can write. Is it true — can anyone write?

Natalie: Absolutely. Yes. They might not become Faulkner. A lot of people don’t want to become Faulkner. But anyone can pick up that pen and express their human life. And if they want to they can get better and better at it. Everyone can write. Everyone should have access to writing. It’s a very human activity. Human beings want to have a place where they can express themselves in language.


red Ravine: What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your students.

Natalie: That I love them. I know this sounds odd but when I’m actually teaching, I have to keep a lot of boundaries. You took an Intensive with me, and I had to hold you when you kind of all hated me or didn’t want to come back. I had to hold your resistance and be a still point. That’s hard.

I have a tremendous amount of equilibrium when I teach and not a lot of opinion. But when I went on this book tour where I wasn’t the teacher, and my students showed up, I cannot tell you the overwhelming love I felt for all of you. I just couldn’t believe it.

Because, really, why am I willing to hold that all for you? It’s because I love you. I didn’t ever quite know that before. I would say things like, “because it’s practice, because this, because of that”…but I realize now, it’s because the love –- ‘cause I love you — that I’m willing to do it for all of you.

ybonesy: Wow, that’s really moving. (pause)


red Ravine: Do you ever get tired of teaching?

Natalie: Right now, I’m quite in love with it. There was a period, remember after The Great Failure came out, I took a year off. When I came back I hated teaching. I had never hated teaching. My teaching was really good, I could see everyone loved it, I knew it was good, the students were great — and I hated it. And I didn’t know what to do.

Every time I taught for several months, it was like that. It was actually taking everybody that week, when I took you all to Ghost Ranch, that something happened and it broke. After that I kind of loved it again. Not only kind of loved it; I loved it more than ever. Ever since then I just enjoy every time I teach. I’m so excited to share Writing Practice with everyone. And to share this wonderful thing that I know. I’ll be teaching for the rest of my life.


red Ravine: Natalie, what do you consider your greatest accomplishment in life so far.

Natalie: I guess, developing and recognizing Writing Practice, staying with it, continually giving it to the world.


red Ravine: In your next life, what would you like to be?

Natalie: An opera singer (laughs). Did you ever read The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather about a poor young girl in a small town in Colorado who becomes a great opera singer? I want to be an opera singer.


red Ravine: If it were your last day on earth, how would you spend it?

Natalie: Oh. I think I would be really sad. Because I would be grieving not seeing it anymore. Not seeing the trees, I’m looking out my window..the piñon tree, not seeing the sky, not having hands and feet. I think I would really be very deeply sad. And very still. Full of gratitude and grief.


red Ravine: Natalie, why do you write?

Natalie: Ummmm…because I’m a dope? (everyone laughs). Because…Of everything I do in my life, it feels the most real, the most to the point, and the most honest.


red Ravine: What are you working on next?

Natalie: I’m working on these essays. Some of them I’ve published in Shambhala Sun. I’m hoping to put together a collection of essays. I’m also working on something else which is a secret. None of my writing has ever been a secret before. But this is so different than anything I’ve written, I haven’t told anybody. And I don’t know when — maybe in 8 months or so — I’ll be able to say something.


red Ravine: As a writer and an artist, how do you define success?

Natalie: On one level it’s that I feel good about it and I enjoy it. That’s the real success. But because I’m a human being in the world, I like that I’m able to make a living at it, that I have it as my job, that I have a career with it. I don’t know if that’s success though. It’s pleasurable and I’m proud of it. But I think the real success is that I continue. And that I continually take pleasure in it. And that it’s alive for me.


red Ravine: Natalie, it’s really been a privilege to spend this time with you. We want to thank you. We thought we’d end by having you read us a passage from Old Friend from Far Away.

Natalie: I might read one I know I like. Okay, you ready? It’s called “Vast”:

Vast

We write memoir not to remember, not to cling, but to honor and let go. Wave after wave splashes on the shore and is gone. Your mother once wore an embroidered Mexican peasant shirt, had gleaming teeth and a full head of black hair. She pushed the hammock you lay in, a million oak leaves above your head. You didn’t know yet your first word. You were slow to learn to talk and your first step was as enormous as an elephant’s. Her waist was below her blouse and you could hide in a voluminous maroon skirt. Sharp was the blue sky, the white porch steps.
     Here’s your mother now, frail at one hundred pounds, hearing aids plopped above her lobes, eyes a pale glaze seeing only form and shadow, in her own crooked way heading for another country.
     Let her be as she is. You can’t save her. You can only remember as she dissolves. With one arm you reach all the way back and with your other arm you steady the walker that she grasps before her.
     But don’t fool yourself. However old your mother is, you are always walking into vast rooms full of beginnings and endings, abundant with possibility. Try the empty cubicle of your page. What can you scratch in it before your turn comes to step up to the vast ocean all by yourself? Go. Ten minutes.




Old Friend from Far Away, image provided by Simon & Schuster, all rights reserved.

Natalie: It was wonderful to do an interview with the two of you. I love you both and take good care. And I feel honored and thank you for doing this for red Ravine.


QuoinMonkey: I feel so much gratitude for studying with you. I really appreciate you. Thank you so much.







red Ravine posts about Natalie Goldberg:



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Old Friend From Far Away, Minneapolis, Minnesota,February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Old Friend From Far Away, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I bought Natalie Goldberg’s new book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. Actually, Liz bought it for me, the creative version of romance – a writer’s gift. We visited Common Good Books, an Independent bookstore in Saint Paul, between touring the Minnesota State Capitol (by day), and attending a Victorian Poetry Slam at the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue (by night).

It was the first time I had been to Common Good Books, owned by one of Minnesota’s native sons (and the host of A Prairie Home Companion), Garrison Keillor. I went at the urging of a friend. I slid Natalie’s book off the shelf in excited anticipation. It was the last one they had in stock.

The book feels good in the hands. The paper is soft and textured, the front cover is inviting, and I can’t wait to dive in. I took some time off this weekend. Rested. Today begins a new week. Sometimes I need a little inspiration. I pick up a book.


      Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Natalie talked about writing Old Friend from Far Away in the Writing Intensive in Taos last year. Sometimes she would show us the manuscript with the cross-outs and revisions. Other times she would read partially completed chapters to us. Twice, I saw her write new lines into a paragraph while she was sitting there. She said she was inspired by her students; the book is dedicated to them.

Studying with an author while they are actually writing a book is a rare gift. I learned so much from her sharing the process (both successes and mistakes). The next best thing is hearing the writer read her work. If you want to see Natalie read from her new book, maybe you can catch her on tour from February through April of this year.

If you are looking to learn more about Writing Practice and memories, pick up a copy for yourself. Spending the money to buy a writer’s book shows your support for the writer. You might also want to consider doing your shopping in an Independent bookstore near you. Yeah, it takes more effort than ordering online. And is sometimes more expensive. But it’s worth it.



Live Local, Read Large, St Paul, Minnesota,February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Live Local, Read Large, St Paul, Minnesota,February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Live Local, Read Large, St Paul, Minnesota,February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Here are a couple of reasons why:



ONE:

When I hit sunlight on the sidewalk, I felt that I had just been in another world, a place full and close to me. After that day, Centicore was mine. I lived in it.

Since then I have sought out bookstores in every town and city I pass through, the way someone else might search for old battle sites, gourmet food or sports bars. I consider the people working in bookstores my friends. If I’m lost, need a good restaurant or a cheap place to stay, I go to a bookstore, confident someone there will direct me.

If a town has no bookstore, I feel sad for the place. It doesn’t have that concentrated wealth of minds that includes twelfth-century Japan, a painter in Tahiti, traditional North American Indian pottery, memories of war, a touch of Paris and the Mississippi, a lament on love’s transiency and instruction on how to cook a good chicken stew. You can live in a small hamlet on the Nebraska plains and if there’s a bookstore, it’s like the great sun caught in one raisin or in the juicy flesh of a single peach.

A bookstore captures worlds — above, behind, below, under, forward, back. From that one spot the townspeople can radiate out beyond physical limit. A hammer and nails in the hardware store down the block, though fine and useful tools, can’t quite do the same job. Even an ice cream parlor — a definite advantage — does not alleviate the sorrow I feel for a town lacking a bookstore.


-Natalie Goldberg, from Thunder and Lightning; Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, chapter excerpt, Smack! Into the Moment

TWO:

What Happened To Orr Books?  Bookstores across the country are closing every month. Buy Independent!


I know it’s not always possible to shop at an Independent bookstore. I confess, I buy my share of books online. Particularly if I am rushed for time, or am looking for obscure or out-of-print books. Many times, smaller bookstores don’t have the room to keep older books in stock.

And I found when I worked at a large bookstore chain, they, too, would often have to order older books online. In that case, I cut out the middle man and buy direct. But when I do shop online, I try to visit sites like Alibris: New, Used, Rare and Out-of-Print Books. Alibris supports Independent bookstores by uniting book sellers from all over the globe, and giving you the online alternative of patronizing an Independent.

However you shop, I hope you’ll get out to support Natalie on tour and purchase her new book, Old Friend from Far Away. And please come back and share any insights you’ve gained from reading about the practice of writing memoir. We’d love to hear them.



THREE:

Make that three good reasons!


Common Good Books, St Paul, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Common Good Books, Saint Paul, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Common Good Books
165 Western Avenue North
(downstairs in the Blair Building, beside Nina’s Coffee Cafe on Selby)
St Paul, Minnesota 55102

Store Hours:
Monday through Saturday – 10am to 10pm
Sunday – 10am to 8pm

Contact:
Phone: 651-225-8989
CommonGoodBooks.com



Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Monday, February 18th, 2008

-related to post, Natalie Goldberg — 2000 Years Of Watching The Mind, Beginner’s Mind, More About The Monkey

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