Posts Tagged ‘writing on No Topic’

Sitting here with my down jacket on. It’s lilac-colored, the wrists dingy and the patch on the sleeve coming off. It will be years, though, before I buy another. My desire for fashion as far as coats are concerned — long gone. Melted with the snow.

That was cliché. Melted with the snow, and here I am dressed in a jacket one wears in the snow. Or the cold.

Jim wants me to go out to the orchard and get Otis. He’s freaked out. A roadrunner that Rafael attacked and almost killed, is taking revenge on Otis. It jumped on Otis’ back the other day. Dropped from a Ponderosa pine, like an ambush. Otis flipped out, ran into a shed, and then the roadrunner jumped up on a woodpile just outside the shed and made “brrrrrr” noises at Otis as he trembled inside.

Since then Otis walks with his head and tail down. He’s a big dog but he reminds me of a buffalo, his body arched, his eyes darting here and there. He’s traumatized, so now mostly we keep him inside.

Rafael, mean time, is impish as ever. He still runs at the roadrunner. I can’t believe the roadrunner is even alive. You can see the flesh exposed on its neck. Reminds me of the time the dogs next door to our old house attacked Azul. Jim said you could see Azul’s guts, yet Azul still lived. Birds are hardy that way.

I made up a song for Rafael. I usually sing something that goes: He’s the Ra-fa-na-ta. He’s the al-li-ga-ta. Now I say, He’s the Ra-fa-na-ta, he’s the bird ha-ta, he’s the roadrunner ter-mi-na-ta.

Truth is, though, I wish Rafie wouldn’t attack birds. He goes after skunks and porcupines, and if he saw a cat, I’m sure he’d attack that, too. The only thing that scares Rafael is turkeys. He doesn’t like them, keeps as far away as possible. I wish Rafie would figure out that all smaller animals are off limits. But he seems to get worse with age.

I’ll make it out to the orchard soon. Jim is outside almost all day, even in the bitter cold. He wears a sherpa hat made of fleece and a Carthartt lined jacket. He wears flannel-lined jeans and a pair of gloves. He stays warm, and when he comes in to eat a breakfast of eggs and turkey sausage, his nose finally runs. That’s the only cue he gets that he’s freezing.

I’m amazed at his ability to withstand cold. Hates heat, though. He’s definitely got different blood than I do. I must have snake energy, he has sled dog.

Jim named the roadrunner Rodney. Rodney the Roadrunner. Jim’s funny that way. The roadrunner actually likes Jim, often follows him to where ever he is in the yard. Which is probably why Otis is so miserable.

Poor Otis. If he were a person, he’d be the good guy who finishes last. And who made up that saying anyhow? I like good guys. And gals. Kindness is underrated. Toughness, like fashion, is overrated.

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – NO TOPIC

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Yellow blur, detail of glass globe on a lamp, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

I’d been writing with a group of women locally for about a year when I told them, “Some day soon, let’s write on ‘No Topic’ as our topic.”

I explained that No Topic was like the mother of all topics. It frees you. No writing about Pickles or Hair. Not about What’s in Front of Me, or Everything I Know About the Color Burnt Sienna.

It seemed intriguing enough, yet for weeks after I mentioned the idea of No Topic, we continued to pull from our writing group envelope topics written on strips of paper.

Writing with a topic is soothing. A topic propels those first words on the line and helps guide your practice.

Writing without a topic is like coloring without a border on your page. It’s like taking away the structure that you’ve carefully created and followed over time. Will the writing still flow? Where will wild mind take you?

In our Intensive with Natalie Goldberg, we often wrote without a topic. “No topic, ten minutes,” Natalie’s voice rose from the silence. And away we’d go, our hands moving across the pages of our notebooks.

I’ve searched Wild Mind and Thunder and Lightning, two of Natalie’s books, to see what she might have said about No Topic. I find nothing. I look through the notebooks I used during the retreats — did I take notes on the power of No Topic? None that I can find.

Yet, this is one of those concepts I associate with Natalie’s teachings. A gem, a pearl of wisdom cultivated from years of studying the mind through her writing.

The more you do writing practice without the aid of a topic, the more equipped you are to write anytime, anywhere. From the “Write Anyplace” essay or chapter in Writing Down the Bones,

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.

About a week ago, as we were thinking about a topic to use for our timed practice, one of the women in my writing group suggested we go ahead and try No Topic. “Sure,” we all said. We wrote for fifteen minutes. Then one by one, we read.

Without exception, our writing had busted open. We all felt it in ourselves and in one another.

You try it. Write without the aid of a prompt. Write with just you, your pen, and your notebook. For ten minutes, fifteen, or for as long as you need to write. Just write.

Now go.

Rose-colored glasses, detail of the glass base on a lamp, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.

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