Natalie Goldberg: Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Natalie’s book is in it’s thirtieth year. I started to read it a long time ago, but she wanted the reader to write, and I wasn’t ready to. Sounds stupid, but that was me. I have pushed back against this force inside of me that is tempered by the Bad Critic, the force that is against my trying to burst out and write. No, I don’t really hear a voice in my head, but it is a continuum of negative thoughts like this…

You should keep a daily journal. “Why, who’s gonna care?”

Try to write a story about your childhood. “Don’t bother. No one believed you then, so why should they now?”

I need to get up and moving. I can’t sleep too much. “Why? You don’t have anything important to do.”

I need to get out and get fresh air. “What? It’s hot/cold/raining out there.”

That person really hurt my feelings, but I shouldn’t take it personally. “Of course, you should take it personally! Think about it a lot and replay it over and over……”

That’s the Bad Critic, actually the voice of my depression arguing with me. No, I’m not bonkers. The voice is mine, and I struggle to push back against the negativity.

Sometimes, I get angry. Sometimes, I cry. Sometimes, I sit and do nothing. Sometimes, I refuse to accept invitations from friends or family. Sometimes, many times, I isolate myself and hide. I have pushed people away from me. I have hurt people. I have made myself a loner, a hermit. There are times, when I actually go outside and think, “Gee, there is another world out here beside the battle in my mind.”

If this sounds unbalanced to you, that’s okay. You’re not me, and I hope you’re not battling a Bad Critic, but if you are, here are some words from Natalie’s book that you may like. She refers to writing, but you can change it to fit your situation.

“But I was determined to meet who I was, to put down what I honestly saw and felt, letting my mind have free range, no curtailing or censoring. Little did I know I was breaking a paradigm of how writing was understood and taught in this country. At the time no writing sections thick with books of instruction and inspiration lined store shelves. I was struggling on my own to muster the courage to trust my mind and to place one word after the other on the page.”

from Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Introduction.

Writing a journal is good practice for anyone, but for me it was a necessary fight with the Critic. You will find an Editor because everyone has one to some extent. But you can just swat him/her away and keep going. If that doesn’t work, stick your tongue out and say “Go Away!”

Keep a notebook anyway.

Part Dos: This Really Old House

This is the house on Filbert Street that everyone walks by without a glance. I look at it every time I walk by to get my car and each day there is a change. The balcony sags a little more, a few windows are boarded up, and one day, I saw the beige camp chair! The next day there was a man working in the basement. It’s a city mystery. Two years ago, I would not have given this house a second look.
(“Oh, it’s condemned. Yuck!”) 
Now…I just hope someone buys it and fixes it up.
This really old house
Falling down, but there’s a chair!

No Journey, Just Trying to Get Through

The reason I’m not seeing pretty comes from a corner in the city in which an artistic installation is made up of metal poles with various sized “petals” attached so that as the wind blows-think small whooshes, the petals spin in at different directions. The poles and petals are small, medium, and large. They are lit by lights at night that show the movement and spin. They seems to spit rain on such days and even catch a few snowflakes in the winter. I thought they were a great idea. They line McGovern Avenue just before the turn to the train station. Get it? Movement? Yeah.

Then one day, I was driving my daughter to work and made the turn beside them. I had been trying to explain to her how awful I felt, and suddenly, without thinking, I said,

“It’s like those wing things. They’re art. They’re sculpture, but I’m not seeing pretty today because the Bad Critic has taken over my mind and senses and pretty much everything else.”

My daughter nodded. She understands. We both have depression and anxiety and godknowswhatother mental health tag we fall under. I had been trying to finish a long nonfiction piece about my majordepressiondisorderwithoutpsychoticfeatures, and the only title I had was a lame one: “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Not good. Not good at all. First, I didn’t choose to have a mental illness, and I am getting as much help as I can, and second, it’s not an adventure. It’s more like living in Dante’s Inferno.

So now you know the story of “I’m Not Seeing Pretty Today,” because that is what depression sees: Not Pretty. And for me not pretty is gray, gray, and gray.

Pencil artwork original by Willa Hutchison, Illustrator.