Monday, January 23, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0060 - Writing

I am reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, a Shambhala pocket classic that I purchased Sunday afternoon at Chapters in Kitchener after our birthday celebration meal for our youngest son at Boston Pizza. Already I get the impression of how Zen informs her writing practice and could inspire my own. Her chapters don’t necessarily flow from one to the next. In a way, they have a similar shape to what I do in writing blog entries. Each one is a self-contained piece that may or may not relate to other entries. This is reassuring to me. She advocates a practice and a writing style that resonates with the way I already write.

Natalie Goldberg uses spiral-bound notebooks and a fountain pen for her daily writing practice. I much prefer my notebook computer because it is easier for my thoughts to flow from mind to screen. But there is something naked about a notebook and a pen. Computers have so many distractions – email, applications, and instant messaging. But a pen and paper, well chosen, are tools without inherent distractions.

The discipline (a word Goldberg doesn’t like to use in connection with writing) is about simply writing, regularly, using all kinds of subjects, and without censoring. I get the impression from her that writing as a practice is very much like Zen sitting practice (zazen) in which just being there is fundamental to eventual success.

There are very few teachers anywhere who require so little. Perhaps it’s because the simplicity is misleading. It is actually much more onerous than first appearances suggest. Simply being here, wherever that may be, is a lost art in western society. I’m not complaining about our tendency to multi-task everything. In fact, I’m a strong advocate of using technology to do precisely that. But there are dangers in letting technology dictate every aspect of how we perform our everyday activities. One danger is forgetting how to be alone with our thoughts and feelings, something which writing can do, if we let it.

Today, I begin my third week of radiation and chemotherapy and find myself apprehensive about the cumulative effects – I have begun experiencing discomfort in the anal tissues, something which the radiation therapists say is likely to continue for the duration of treatment. Writing will continue to be a major means of coping for me.


j said...

read goldberg's book and in contrast would suggest King's "On Writing"

bill said...

the zen philosophy on writing applies to eating. recently read about this new "non-diet" which asks you to be in the moment when you eat. asks you to pay attention to flavours, textures etc. and let your body tell you when you're full.