Natalie Goldberg has been a hero of mine for years. I got my copy of Writing Down The Bones in around 1995, and felt such joy and relief to have this permission to write... even to write badly. Bones set me free in a way only the best teachers can do. And so, when I heard that Natalie was going to be here in Taos for a reading/book signing, I got sort of giddy and talked Rick into going along with me. I even called to find out about the workshop she'll be doing here in April. It would be a dream come true, after all these years, to actually be in one of her classes, absorbing all her amazing Natalie-ness.
Maybe I should say here, that all the activity and change and letting-go that's involved in our move to Oregon has dimmed my aura somewhat in the last few days. I was feeling particularly vulnerable last night as we settled into our seats at the Mabel Dodge House. I needed something to boost my energy frequency, and I figured Natalie could do that for sure. Rick bought me a copy of her new book, Old Friend From Far Away, and I immediately opened it to read the introduction. Absorbed in the writing from word one, I glanced up as someone stood hovering over me, talking over my head to someone else down the row of seats. It was Natalie Herself, standing inches away from me while I sat reading her brand new book. I froze. I had no words. And I think I also became invisible. A few minutes later she was on the small stage, with a hundred or so admirers all beaming at her from the audience. And as she talked, I began to feel... well, uneasy...
I know she lived in Taos for a time. In fact, her tales of Taos played at least some part in our decision to move here. She made it sound so great, and she was right. Taos was just right for us... for a while. But the longer I sat there, already "finished" with Taos, I also began to feel some kind of disappointment in my hero... I'd expected a warm and friendly Natalie, one who would tell us all we could do it, we could write too. Instead I sensed some pokie edges, some impatience, and even a dash of arrogance. She beamed back at old friends in the room, but otherwise seemed to be so used to adoring crowds that she kind of expected it. And I don't remember her thanking us for being there... I found myself totally intimidated by her, and when she asked the group how many of us were writers, I didn't raise my hand. Next she asked how many of us were not writers. Again I didn't raise my hand. In the space of thirty minutes, I'd forgotten why I was there.
Of course this is all my own perception. I might be totally wrong. I hope I'm wrong. She did say that she was just finishing a three week book tour, which I'm sure is quite exhausting. Maybe she was just tired. Maybe I was just tired. When it came time for books to be signed, I got in line and was told by a helper-person to have my book opened to the title page when I got to the front. When it was my turn to step up, I was a nervous wreck. My knees had turned to pudding, and all I could do was shyly ask if she minded also signing my tattered old copy of Writing Down The Bones. Maybe I imagined it, but she seemed a bit annoyed. There she was, perched on the edge of the stage in her stocking feet, absolutely silent. Not a peep. Just a couple of quick signatures and I was dismissed. I didn't say any of the things I wanted to say to her. I wanted to thank her for her books, for her encouragement, for telling me about Taos before I ever even considered visiting here. I wanted to tell her she had been important in my life. But the distance felt as wide as our own Rio Grande Gorge, and I knew I couldn't get the words all that way across. So I just mumbled "thank you" and bolted for the door.
Rick, the Wise and Wonderful, drove us straight to the Anaconda Bar for Dexter's most excellent Dirty Martinis. I sat there feeling like a total idiot, silly and rattled, and we processed our impressions of the evening. After an emotional and difficult day, I was crushed to find myself so disappointed in one of my biggest heroes. And then, as I sipped my second martini, I began to see that Natalie had actually been up there teaching in the best way possible. By being so impersonal, she showed me that what I needed wasn't going to come from another person. Not her or anyone else. What I needed was already inside me, and it was up to me to dig around and find it. It's not her job to tell me I can or should do anything. It's not her job to care if I write or don't write, or if I totally suck at it or write a best seller. None of that stuff is hers. It's mine. All mine.
I'm not going to take her workshop. I don't need the Divine Presence of anyone to guide me through whatever it is I'm doing here. Nothing any of us really needs is "out there" anyway. Like Dorothy said, "There's no place like home." And "home" is not the house we live in. It's the place inside of ourselves where we can sit and relax and know who we are. It's the place where "I'm home" means "I am home".
Thank you Natalie Goldberg.
I meant to raise my hand in the first group.