There is a sweetness in touching my “real” writing. I wonder if it is that that truly draws me to it—that deep, quiet sweetness rather than the eager, scary thrill of reading it out loud or sending it out into the world. Maybe it is different for all writers, but there is a place we all go to, at least now and then, where we do our best work. Natalie Goldberg calls it “dropping down to first thoughts,” Clive Matson, “letting the crazy child write.” I’ve always thought of it as “entering in.” When writers describe it, there is an element of the physical, of being present, anchored in our bodies, grounded. It depends, too, on what I am writing. I may be deep in it, but if it’s something hard, the sweetness isn’t apparent. Still, I think the coming out of it may be the same, even when the writing is difficult, like pushing through anger, through pain, through loss, when it feels like pulling teeth, or breaking them with my bare hands. Even then, in the surfacing there is a sweetness, a tender regard for myself, and a sense of having done good work. Even with tears still wet on my face, when I emerge from my true writing I am never mean to myself. I am only kind.
I let myself read a bit of the Natalie Goldberg book every day. At some point I come close to tears. Today is no different. Richard told me years ago my writing tends to make him cry. I wonder if it still does? I think in the Goldberg it is something about the open heartedness but also the bigness of spirit, that maybe we are grouchy and critical but still human and lovable. And this bigness of spirit is in her writing itself, not just in what she says. She makes me want to reach for those open spaces in my own writing. I used to find them more often, I think, but I’m not sure. I remember talking about “entering in” at one of Clive Matson’s workshops. It seemed to happen every time I wrote. It’s hard to know now if this was even true. Was it a kind of beginner’s luck? Or was it only a different understanding of it all when I first started? I was reading Natalie Goldberg then, too, every morning on my stone porch in Hopland before I filled my page a day. I wrote the beginnings of my novel that way, felt like a “real” writer for the first time in my life. But I remember the look on Clive’s face when I was talking about it. “What do you mean by entering in?” he said. He was hesitant, puzzled. I hadn’t meant to be glib. I thought I was talking about something that happened to everyone when we wrote, that dropping down and the opening up, being part of something larger, letting the writing come out. I used to be able to do it at will. Now I’m not sure I do it at all. But maybe my memory of those Hopland mornings is exaggerated, dreamlike. Or maybe over time the experience becomes more familiar, the transition less noticeable. I don’t know. But I do know reading Natalie Goldberg makes me want to break out into something larger. And I dream about one day going to one of her writing retreats. But what if in person she rubs me the wrong way? It’s silly, I know, but I don’t want to “ruin” her books for me, like being afraid to sleep with your best friend, not wanting to take that risk. Still, I think, if I get the chance I’m going. Maybe she’ll do a retreat at a hot springs, maybe Tassajara. Sit. Walk. Write. Soak. (Sigh.) I’m in.