Monday, June 8, 2015

Know Who You Are

This last week I have been re-reading an old classic on writing called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It was written in the 80’s but still very appropriate for now, and probably for always. There are a couple of quotes I thought I would share here on my blog:

“It is very important to go home if you want your work to be whole. You don’t have to move in with your parents again and collect a weekly allowance, but you must claim where you come from and look deep into it. Come to honor and embrace it, or at least, accept it… But don’t go home so you can stay there. You go home so you can be free; so you are not avoiding anything of who you are.”

Later in the chapter she says, “Where you come from affects your writing. Even in the patterns of language. I often have unconsciously written in the rhythm of Hebrew prayers and chants, using that repetition. Though my family wasn’t religious, at the High Holy Days I was present when young people were davening (praying and swaying their bodies). A young child is very impressionable. That is when the rhythm of language enters her body.”

This reading came a few days after I wrote a short story about an 1860s North Carolina man of Scottish lineage, whose family had been in America for a couple of generations (as mine had). As I studied the language of these folks, I realized many of the phrases and word choices had come down further generations and even into my own home, 8 to 10+ generations down. Language is an interesting thing and can make your writing that much more believable and fuller.

Here are some more quotes by Natalie Goldberg:
“We hear about people who go back to their roots. That is good, but don’t get stuck in the root. There is the branch, the leaf, the flower—all reaching toward the immense sky. We are many things...In the ability to connect with one people lies the chance to feel compassion for all peopleIn knowing who you are and writing from it, you will help the world by giving it understanding.”