August 21, 2023

The Book that Could’ve Changed my Life.

Wiping salty tears from my lips, I shout, “Why?! My life could’ve been different. I could’ve been something great! Why didn’t anybody care?”

Just hours before, when I finished reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, I had a—where has this book been all my life—moment.

A peaceful light entered my soul, and I hugged the gently used book to my chest, smiling to myself with joy as I heard the birds chirping in the juniper tree above me.

I knew in that moment the book had changed me. My life and my writing would never be the same. I was excited for the future.

But soon after, I felt a love/hate feeling bloom into an emotionally charged outburst. The missed possibilities flashed before my eyes, stealing my peace and presence from that mindful moment.

I saw my lost potential float away like the seeds of a dandelion puff blowing in a gust of wind.

I felt sad and mad that no one had ever thought to tell me about this book when I was growing up. No one recognized my writing ability enough to gift it or to even recommend it.

My writing wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough. My inner child wept.

Logic explains away the reality of anyone knowing every book ever written about writing—especially a book that was published in 1986 and isn’t part of the school curriculum.

Why not?! My inner child yelled.

It was a purely expressed innocent moment of passion. I felt let down and I let it out.

I saw an alternate reality of what my life may have turned out like had I read this book when I was young and impressionable. I wondered if I’d be further along not only in my writing, but in my depression healing journey as well.

I would’ve written more! I might have learned more about myself growing up and have boxes full of diaries to remind me of my childhood!

I could’ve written poems, or songs, or even novels! I might have a successful writing career by now!

Oh the would’ves and could’ves. Their injustice flooded my veins with combustible fury.

I felt anger and displaced that uncomfortable feeling by immediately blaming others for my lack of success. But blame isn’t my MO and that didn’t stick around for long. I’ve learned that blame gets me nowhere and solves nothing.

Blaming doesn’t fix anything; it simply shifts responsibility when I don’t want to face up to my own actions or inaction. Blaming gives others control over my choices, and only I have that power.

I choose to let the past go and to accept that we are all doing our best at our own level of awareness. I choose to move forward with my healing and my writing.

“I write because to form a word with your lips and tongue or think a thing and then dare to write it down so you can never take it back is the most powerful thing I know.” ~ Natalie Goldberg

It’s a courageous and daring and honest thing, too.

This line sucker punched me in the throat the first time I read it. My eyes bulged open to the true vulnerability in writing. When my words are written in stone, they hold me accountable for progress. The lessons I share can no longer be ignored or hidden from when I’m feeling tired or lazy or self-destructive.

But as the hateful, angry, and sad feelings arose in that emotional moment, I was also feeling love. Love for finding Writing Down the Bones. And that the book was written. Love that its words exist. Gratitude for the author’s brilliant mind and for the person who did finally recommend it to me.

I felt love for the girl who was neglected chance and opportunity in childhood.

I’m reparenting her, giving my inner child the support and encouragement I didn’t have growing up. I’m guiding action with gentle discipline and holding failure with tenderness as I heal my depression and learn what kind of writer I want to be.

I felt love for myself. That I bought and finally read this book. I followed wise advice from many successful writers telling me to read more, and I’m proud of myself for listening to them. I recognize the book’s magnitude and good influence on my life and how I’m living it. I can be confident and do deserve to go after my writerly dreams.

I feel love for the little creative writing sparks the book has ignited.

Books simmering on the desk patiently wait for my consumption.
My soft meditation cushion blends peace into a grumpy morning.
The words in my journal taste bitter until sweetened with editing.

I feel love, for the book showed me the poems I didn’t know I had written.

Art broils in my mind,
its smoke choking out my procrastination.

All I want is to better myself,
ignoring the chaos that worsens me.

But I tiptoe around to not awaken myself,
and my better self keeps quiet to appease me.

I feel love for the potential I now see in myself.

I’m still learning how to be a writer. How to create in a productive way. How to work at it consistently and not lose myself when I’m in a prolific flow.

I tend to hyper-focus and lose touch with life, often failing to function when I’m in the flow.

It has created a big fear of repeating my pattern. And I believe this fear of failure bolsters up my writer’s block. It’s an exchange of fear.

The fear of losing myself in my writing gives my writer’s block courage. It becomes brave enough to come out of the shadows and boldly steps out of the back alley of my inner neglect.

I can’t be a real writer, writing all the time and not functioning.

It’s simply not sustainable nor is it healthy. Too often, I’ll get burned out. My brain will act like an industrious beaver, forcing me to stop by damming up the river of words that want to flow freely and untamed. My beaver brain blocks my writing for my own good.

But if I’m writing all the time—journaling on a schedule and randomly doing stream of consciousness marathons with forced breaks, following the lessons of Goldberg’s book—I think I can learn.

My creative energy has been elusive; I’m desperate to have it back even if it scares me; I can’t resist it when I’m in it, when my words flow effortlessly; I push it away because of my addiction to it, fearing I’ll miss life when I sit down to write; it captures my whole attention; I need to get my fix; I don’t want to miss the world around me because my head is buried in a screen of blue light, buried in the words, buried in my perfectionism, buried in my need for validation; I want my writing to be consumed but fear my words will consume me first.

I know it’s the writing that will help me overcome this fear of losing control, this fear of being depleted by the process.

In a lesson about writing with detail, Natalie says, “We shouldn’t forget that the universe moves with us, is at our back with everything we do.”

This has a double meaning for me. It’s a reminder to stay aware of my surroundings—the messages the world is sending me—and to include these details in my writing.

“Everything is interconnected, interpenetrated. Even the season we step in supports our step. So when we concentrate in our writing, it is good. But we should always concentrate, not by blocking out the world, but by allowing it all to exist. This is a very tricky balance.” ~ Natalie Goldberg

Can I snap out of my hyper-focus bubble if I’m more present with my senses and what’s happening around me as I write?

If my character leans back in her office chair, unbuttoning her pants to make room for an expanding bladder while her legs shake uncontrollably to suppress the overwhelming urge to pee—will it remind me to go to the bathroom after hours of forgetting?

If my character is making her favorite summer BLT, building the perfect one-to-one sandwich ratio between the homemade sourdough bread and some humanely-farmed bacon and locally grown organic lettuce and beefsteak tomatoes—will it remind me to take a break to eat?

If my character is tired after working a long night, her bloodshot eyes watering so much they can’t read the words she’s typing on her screen anymore—will it remind me that it’s way past time to go to bed?

Worth a shot, eh?

Yes, I’m still in the learning stages of writing. I have big ideas and dreams. I’m in the wants to write the next great American novel camp. But I’m still getting my chops on shorter form writing, and I’m okay with that.

My novel ideas are complex in their subjects and storylines, and I get easily overwhelmed with the research and scene building. The timing isn’t right for me just yet, but it will be one day.

I’ve learned that rushing the process tends to stoke the eternal glowing embers of my writer’s block into bigger flames.

For now, I’m simply writing for the joy of it. Stretching my creative limbs, slowly turning up the volume of my words as I learn to write and heal and live at the same time. Whatever comes up. Whatever can be of benefit for both me and this mad world.

Goldberg wants her students, “to be ‘writing down the bones,’ the essential, awake speech of their minds.”

I want that for me too.

I’m comfortable with where I am and how my story is unfolding. I don’t hold any grudges on the past even as I learn to let it go. I allow the ups of being in an artistic flow and the downs of losing myself in the process with less self-judgment.

My dreams are not on a schedule. Divine time doesn’t give weight to the would’ves and could’ves. Divine time shatters my fear into a million shards of potential with its hammer of love and acceptance.

I’m taking Natalie Goldberg’s sage advice to use writing as my practice. To use it as a way to help me penetrate my life and become sane.


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