Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir

Overview

TWENTY YEARS AGO Natalie Goldberg’s classic, Writing Down the Bones, broke new ground in its approach to writing as a practice. Now, Old Friend from Far Away—her first book since Writing Down the Bones to focus solely on writing—reaffirms Goldberg’s status as a foremost teacher of writing, and completely transforms the practice of writing memoir.

To write memoir, we must first know how to remember. Through timed, associative, and meditative exercises, Old Friend from Far Away ...

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Overview

TWENTY YEARS AGO Natalie Goldberg’s classic, Writing Down the Bones, broke new ground in its approach to writing as a practice. Now, Old Friend from Far Away—her first book since Writing Down the Bones to focus solely on writing—reaffirms Goldberg’s status as a foremost teacher of writing, and completely transforms the practice of writing memoir.

To write memoir, we must first know how to remember. Through timed, associative, and meditative exercises, Old Friend from Far Away guides you to the attentive state of thought in which you discover and open forgotten doors of memory. At once a beautifully written celebration of the memoir form, an innovative course full of practical teachings, and a deeply affecting meditation on consciousness, love, life, and death, Old Friend from Far Away welcomes aspiring writers of all levels and encourages them to find their unique voice to tell their stories. Like Writing Down the Bones, it will become an old friend to which readers return again and again.

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  • Natalie Goldberg
    Natalie Goldberg  

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A celebration of the memoir form...an impassioned call to write, delivered by an author who knows how to zero in on the truth, and lead others there as well. If you're serious about finding that voice inside yourself, Natalie Goldberg is a teacher you have to meet." — Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak and (Not That You Asked)

"A writer — both energized and enlightened." — Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way

"An invaluable addition to any writer's (or reader's) bookshelf. Each new chapter is another gift, unlocking the mystery of the story of the human heart. There isn't a better approach to memoir. Beautifully written, this book is for everyone." — Robert Wilder, author of Daddy Needs a Drink and Tales from the Teachers' Lounge

"The brilliance of this book is that it immediately gets you writing your story. It opens the inner treasure and the inner zoo, makes you wriggle and weep, pawn the family jewels, laugh out loud, tear down memory lane, and reawaken to the mystery of your own life." — Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart

"Natalie Goldberg doesn't fool around. The moment I started reading her new book, I found myself compelled to follow her lead. She's a master and this book is a must-read for anyone who even thinks about putting pen to page." — Cheryl Richardson, author of The Unmistakable Touch of Grace and Take Time for Your Life

"A richly abundant how-to book full of deep personal insight and practical go-get-'em. Memoir writers, buy this book, put it on your personal altar, or carry it with you as you traverse the deep ruts of your old road. Really, this book could save your life." — Tom Spanbauer, author of The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416535034
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 3/10/2009
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 178,542
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Natalie Goldberg is a poet, painter, teacher, and the author of twelve books, including her classic, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (which has sold more than 1.5 million copies) and Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. She has been teaching seminars for thirty-five years to people from around the world and lives in New Mexico.

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Read an Excerpt


Read this Introduction

There is nothing stiff about memoir. It's not a chronological pronouncement of the facts of your life: born in Hoboken, New Jersey; schooled at Elm Creek Elementary; moved to Big Flat, New York, where you attended Holy Mother High School. Memoir doesn't cling to an orderly procession of time and dates, marching down the narrow aisle of your years on this earth. Rather it encompasses the moment you stopped, turned your car around, and went swimming in a deep pool by the side of the road. You threw off your gray suit, a swimming trunk in the backseat, a bridge you dived off. You knew you had an appointment in the next town, but the water was so clear. When would you be passing by this river again? The sky, the clouds, the reeds by the roadside mattered. You remembered bologna sandwiches made on white bread; you started to whistle old tunes. How did life get so confusing? Last week your seventeen-year-old told you he was gay and you suspect your wife is having an affair. You never liked selling industrial-sized belts to tractor companies anyway. Didn't you once dream of being a librarian or a dessert cook? Maybe it was a landscaper, a firefighter?

Memoir gives you the ability to plop down like the puddle that forms and spreads from the shattering of a glass of milk on the kitchen floor. You watch how the broken glass gleams from the electric light overhead. The form of memoir has leisure enough to examine all this.

Memoir is not a declaration of the American success story, one undeviating road, the conquering of one mountaintop after another. The puddle began in downfall. The milk didn't get to the mouth. Whatever your life, it is urging you to record it -- to embrace the crumbs with the cake. It's why so many of us want to write memoir. We know the particulars, but what really went on? We want the emotional truths under the surface that drove our life.

In the past, memoir was the country of old people, a looking back, a reminiscence. But now people are disclosing their lives in their twenties, writing their first memoir in their thirties and their second in their forties. This revolution in personal narrative that has unrolled across the American landscape in the last two and a half decades is the expression of a uniquely American energy: a desire to understand in the heat of living, while life is fresh, and not wait till old age -- it may be too late. We are hungry -- and impatient now.

But what if you are already sixty, seventy years old, eighty, ninety? Let the thunder roll. You've got something to say. You are alive and you don't know for how long. (None of us really knows for how long.) No matter your age there is a sense of urgency, to make life immediate and relevant.

Think of the word: memoir. It comes from the French mŽmoire. It is the study of memory, structured on the meandering way we remember. Essentially it is an examination of the zigzag nature of how our mind works. The thought of Cheerios ricochets back to a broken fence in our backyard one Nebraska spring, then hops over to the first time we stood before a mountain and understood kindness. A smell, a taste -- and a whole world flares up.

How close can we get? All those questions, sometimes murky and uncomfortable: who was that person that was your mother? Why did you play basketball when you longed to play football? Your head wanted to explode until you first snorted cocaine behind the chain-link fence near the gas station. Then things got quiet and peaceful, but what was that black dog still at your throat?

We are a dynamic country, fast-paced, ever onward. Can we make sense of love and ambition, pain and longing? In the center of our speed, in the core of our forward movement, we are often confused and lonely. That's why we have turned so full- heartedly to the memoir form. We have an intuition that it can save us. Writing is the act of reaching across the abyss of isolation to share and reflect. It's not a diet to become skinny, but a relaxation into the fat of our lives. Often without realizing it, we are on a quest, a search for meaning. What does our time on this earth add up to?

The title Old Friend from Far Away comes from the Analects by Confucius. We reach back in time to another country. Isn't that what memory is?

'To have an old friend visit

...from far away --

...what a delight!'

So let's pick up the pen, and kick some ass. Write down who you were, who you are, and what you remember. Copyright © 2007 by Natalie Goldberg

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Table of Contents

Contents

Read this Introduction

Note to Reader

SECTION I

Go

I Remember

Test I

No One Has Ever Died

...Die

Three

...Coffee

...Tell Me

...Dishes

Jean Rhys

The Four-Letter Word

...Ugly

...Home

Peach

James Baldwin

Again

...What's in Front of You

...Outside

...End

SECTION II

Test II

...Funny

...Storage

Third

Steve Almond

Nuts

Grade

No Mush

...Scratch

Sideways Step

SECTION III

Test III -- I Remember

Monkey Mind

Wild at Heart

Allen Ginsberg

...Plain

...Bolt

...Bicycle

Great Students

Moment

Zora Neal Hurston

Reading Aloud

Sitting

Hand

Hearing

Chin

Tongue

Just Sitting -- or Do the Neola

Practice Notebook

Walking

Linda Gregg

...Happy

...Ice Cream

Cook

...Potatoes

Verb

Hard and Soft

More Than Ten Minutes

Sprinting

...Religion

Jimmy Santiago Baca

...Pull

...Wild

SECTION IV

The Addict

Polite

...Repair

...Awake

...Nothing

Facing It

Boring

Ordinary

...Something

...Swim

...Poor

Lie

...Mistake

Weather

Fantasy

...Vice

...Hand and Wrist

...Jump

...Care

SECTION V

Test IV

Cezanne

...Apples

Joan Mitchell

...Vast Affection

...No

...Ahead

Sickness

Driving

...Window

Paris

...Quiet

...No Stop

Birthday

Say

...Ring

...Mind

...Time

Close

No Whining

Reading Life

...Long

...No More

Suicide

...Times

...Fish

...Give Up

Death

Sex -- or Money

Fat

...Obese

Smoke

Chang-Rae Lee

...Enamored

...At the Edge

Fight

...The Fourth

Four Words

...Perfect

...Lucky

Spit

...Dresser

SECTION VI

Test V

Blind

...Not Here

Politics

Not You

Half 'n Half

Place

...Some Place

...Two

No Topic

Title

Implied

SECTION VII

Test VI

Not Published

...Too Long

Portrait

Ad

Last Letter

One

Song

Hattie's

...Bar

...Different Times

Broken

...Everything

Ache

The Topic of Topics

More

...Cannot

Radish

Children

...Flat Cake

Orient Yourself

...Anchor

Inventory of Good-bye

...First Meetings

Morning Glory!

...Give Up

...Haunt

...Divorce

...Repeat

One Thing

Hot

Nothing

...Winter

No Fun

Trip

Defeat

Sound

...October Thirty First

SECTION VIII

Test VII

Good

Big State

...The Big Continent

...Poignancy

...What

Orchard

...Mother

Resistance

...Knew

...Air Waves

Cracked Sentence

...Down

SECTION IX

Test VIII

Series

Fulfilled

SECTION X

Test IX

Baby Memoir

Caryl Phillips

House

Recipe

Diet

Structure

Vast

...Over

Turning Around

...Not Take

Well

Guidelines and Suggestions for Writing Memoir

Some Great Memoirs to Read

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Foreword

Read this Introduction

There is nothing stiff about memoir. It's not a chronological pronouncement of the facts of your life: born in Hoboken, New Jersey; schooled at Elm Creek Elementary; moved to Big Flat, New York, where you attended Holy Mother High School. Memoir doesn't cling to an orderly procession of time and dates, marching down the narrow aisle of your years on this earth. Rather it encompasses the moment you stopped, turned your car around, and went swimming in a deep pool by the side of the road. You threw off your gray suit, a swimming trunk in the backseat, a bridge you dived off. You knew you had an appointment in the next town, but the water was so clear. When would you be passing by this river again? The sky, the clouds, the reeds by the roadside mattered. You remembered bologna sandwiches made on white bread; you started to whistle old tunes. How did life get so confusing? Last week your seventeen-year-old told you he was gay and you suspect your wife is having an affair. You never liked selling industrial-sized belts to tractor companies anyway. Didn't you once dream of being a librarian or a dessert cook? Maybe it was a landscaper, a firefighter?

Memoir gives you the ability to plop down like the puddle that forms and spreads from the shattering of a glass of milk on the kitchen floor. You watch how the broken glass gleams from the electric light overhead. The form of memoir has leisure enough to examine all this.

Memoir is not a declaration of the American success story, one undeviating road, the conquering of one mountaintop after another. The puddle began in downfall. The milk didn't get to the mouth. Whatever your life, it is urging you to record it -- to embrace the crumbs with the cake. It's why so many of us want to write memoir. We know the particulars, but what really went on? We want the emotional truths under the surface that drove our life.

In the past, memoir was the country of old people, a looking back, a reminiscence. But now people are disclosing their lives in their twenties, writing their first memoir in their thirties and their second in their forties. This revolution in personal narrative that has unrolled across the American landscape in the last two and a half decades is the expression of a uniquely American energy: a desire to understand in the heat of living, while life is fresh, and not wait till old age -- it may be too late. We are hungry -- and impatient now.

But what if you are already sixty, seventy years old, eighty, ninety? Let the thunder roll. You've got something to say. You are alive and you don't know for how long. (None of us really knows for how long.) No matter your age there is a sense of urgency, to make life immediate and relevant.

Think of the word: memoir. It comes from the French mémoire. It is the study of memory, structured on the meandering way we remember. Essentially it is an examination of the zigzag nature of how our mind works. The thought of Cheerios ricochets back to a broken fence in our backyard one Nebraska spring, then hops over to the first time we stood before a mountain and understood kindness. A smell, a taste -- and a whole world flares up.

How close can we get? All those questions, sometimes murky and uncomfortable: who was that person that was your mother? Why did you play basketball when you longed to play football? Your head wanted to explode until you first snorted cocaine behind the chain-link fence near the gas station. Then things got quiet and peaceful, but what was that black dog still at your throat?

We are a dynamic country, fast-paced, ever onward. Can we make sense of love and ambition, pain and longing? In the center of our speed, in the core of our forward movement, we are often confused and lonely. That's why we have turned so full- heartedly to the memoir form. We have an intuition that it can save us. Writing is the act of reaching across the abyss of isolation to share and reflect. It's not a diet to become skinny, but a relaxation into the fat of our lives. Often without realizing it, we are on a quest, a search for meaning. What does our time on this earth add up to?

The title Old Friend from Far Away comes from the Analects by Confucius. We reach back in time to another country. Isn't that what memory is?

'To have an old friend visit . . .from far away -- what a delight!'

So let's pick up the pen, and kick some ass. Write down who you were, who you are, and what you remember.

Read More Show Less

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 11, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Quintessential Goldberg

    Natalie Goldberg's book on memoir writing prods the writer into actually writing instead of thinking about writing. Her prompts are innovative and relevant, not intimidating to the novice and are energizing for the more experienced. I never tire of opening her Thunder and Lightning or Writing Down the Bones.
    Goldberg books, like Jessica Morrell's books can be opened to any page and a writer will find inspiration and direction.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 20, 2009

    A writing manual for non-writers.

    For anyone who wishes to write a memoir without really writing a memoir.
    Great writing prompts that allow the every-day writer to use 10 minute sessions to document the "little things" that really make up our lives.
    Everyone has a unique story to share with others or to use as a trip down memory lane.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 7, 2012

    I've had this book for awhile, there is not a page that doesn't

    I've had this book for awhile, there is not a page that doesn't have underlining on it. Now after writing this, maybe I'll have the guts to put pen to paper. Thank you Ms. Goldberg

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