I’ve been enjoying Natalie Goldberg’s book, “Writing Down the Bones”. The main message I’m taking away from what I’ve read so far is to just write. Sounds simple. Until you sit down at that empty page and just stare back at it blankly.
She’s got some answers to help with that though. She suggests to write about your experience of what is going on in the moment or to write about memories. In fact, the best inspiration I’ve gotten from the book so far is to write a list of memories that could be fodder for writing. Then when I have a 10 minute gap but don’t feel so inspired, I just go down my list and write about a memory.
The act of writing the list itself was very interesting. I started off with a couple memories of childhood and it quickly snowballed. The list developed around themes in a way because one memory with a certain relative would inspire another about that same relative or time period until I’d be led to a tangent and would go into another theme. It also brought up memories I haven’t thought about in years. Stories that are important to me but I guess I just thought why would anyone else care about that. But I care and according to Goldberg that influences how I write about it. And that practice of writing with feeling is what I think she is getting at.
Here is an unpolished example of a trivial, yet favoured to me, memory I’ve written about:
Summer Freedom and Potato Plate Discus
Summer visits to my relatives on the island meant a lot of freedom. They were a big family and I just joined in with the pack of cousins. This was especially tantalizing for an only-child, city kid like me whose mom believed in firm boundaries. On the island, however, it was free reign. We roamed far and near, we ate when we were around food, we cleaned up when it got to an “ok this is enough” level but not in a daily clean your room/make your bed kind of way. When we were needed, someone would yell for us from the porch and even if you were down by the docks, you could hear the call and would start the half hour, uphill trek home.
These cousins introduced me to Supertramp, fishing under the docks, fishing to try to rescue a lost jelly shoe, picking up jellyfish -though only the clear ones, not the ones with red in the middle. There were days spent climbing up and down and all around the warm bedrock and rough moss. There were other lazy lake days where we were dropped off at the beach in the morning and weren’t picked up until someone realized we were missing at dinner. But we didn’t mind. We played on the beach until we were melting hot, then into the water until we were hungry for the snacks we brought, then repeat and repeat and repeat.
One time, my youngest cousin there, three years my junior, and I got the idea to whip up a late night snack. We decided to microwave potatoes for ourselves. At my house, we didn’t have a microwave and I had never baked potatoes previously so didn’t know to poke holes in them first. Thankfully they didn’t explode everywhere but they also didn’t cook through. We had taken our snack to the top floor of the house, three flights up. Once we had eaten around the raw middle, we didn’t feel like going back down to take our plates to the kitchen. However, we also didn’t want to potentially attract rodents by having food by our beds. We came up with the great plan to chuck the remains off the back balcony.
My cousin went first. Her potato flew right off her plate and into the trees. Not to be outdone, I flung mine with gusto but the plate accidentally went flying out of my hand too. In the cricket filled night, the ensuing crash seemed sure to wake others! My cousin and I scampered back to our beds to hide, desperately trying to stifle our giggles. Amazingly, nobody must have heard it though, as no one came up to scold us.
Summer visits to the island were full of funny episodes in this vein. Small, simple moments of the absolute delight of free-spirited childhood, such as occurred on the night the world’s first potato-plate discus put took place, witnessed only by two young girls and the moon.