Last weekend I enjoyed sunshine, warm air, a beautiful room in the carriage house of the Phoebe Pember House affiliated with the Sophia Institute, a long walk in historic Charleston, a wonderful memoir workshop, and delightful conversation with Natalie Goldberg, the workshop leader, at the Slightly North of Broad Restaurant. Here she is, on the left. I learned a lot more than I can share in a short post. But I’ll do my best to help you share the experience.
A Natalie Goldberg workshop envelops you, takes you on a ride, and challenges you. Goldberg doesn’t mess around. Minutes after she begins, she is doing one of the four or five activities that make up the core of her curriculum: leading meditation practice (including walking meditation), assigning timed writings and then asking students to read, guiding other students to recall the exact words or images they heard in the reading, playing music (Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi” and Greg Brown’s “64 Dodge”), or reading passages from Hemingway and Patricia Hampl.
Goldberg is the author of many books about writing, most famously, Writing Down the Bones, a book I read in the late 1980’s soon after it was published. The book has sold more than 1.5 million copies.
Goldberg stresses listening, paying aural attention, as the key to writing. I found this an interesting twist on the more usual focus on seeing, noticing, paying visual attention. She wants students to become very familiar with how their minds work and to recognize the connection between their own mind and a larger mind. Meditation does this. So does timed writing that starts with one subject and then moves to another. Eventually, if one writes enough, the work deepens, descends to the level that anchors both writer and reader to the ground of all being.
Practice, practice, practice, is Goldberg’s mantra. She believes that all children need to know how to do this kind of practice, not the boring, linear, writing exercises they learn in school. Go deeper, lose control, find the wild mind, break the rules–these are the ways to discover your own self as a writer. You find it by losing it.
I have not yet read Goldberg’s latest book, which was the title of the workshop. Have you read it? I promise to buy a copy and review it here at a later time. Please comment below if you are a Natalie Goldberg fan. I’d love to hear what others remember from her books or workshops.