The Red Couch: Writing Down the Bones Discussion

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N_RED-COUCHI swim in a sea of irony, I’m certain.

When my friend Leigh asked our Red Couch Team for a creative post on Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, I replied with a hearty, Yes! Having never read the book nor obtained a copy, my insides remained chipper for the chance to belong; to be a part of something bigger than myself.

Eager for involvement and desperate for recognition, I didn’t anticipate reading a book that, at the time, found me far from actual subject matter.

You see, I’d declared September and October as “Input Only” months. I’d just had a baby: a perfect 8lb 10 ounce boisterous, bouncing boy we call Baby Brother. And babies are good and perfect little creatures–a slice of heaven’s pie, one might say–but through no fault of their own, they can wreak havoc on their mamas with their crying and their pooping and their love of eating breakfast at 3am.

So, in order to save my sanity and the sanity of those around me, I put a moratorium on producing, on writing in particular. The Next Piece of Literary Greatness via the blog and articles for submission could wait, and sermon prep for those Sundays in November would come in due time. My manuscript, the one whose book contract I surely thought I’d be waving in the air by now, could continue to simmer on the back burner … because my baby will only be a baby for so long.

Staring mindlessly at this little being, my little being, is the best writing fodder I can muster. I can stand to not keep up with The Writing Man. I can stand to let myself be.

But then I found myself reading about writing. And it seems to me that the point of writing is to, well, write. Just like the piano scales I plunked out on black and white keys from the fourth grade on through college–C major, C minor, and C diminished, repeat–I knew I wouldn’t become a better pianist if I neglected the often mundane and dreary task of sitting my butt down on the unforgivable wooden bench, again.

And the same goes for writers, for she who calls herself an artist of syllables and words and phrases alike. Who am I to talk about writing if my fingers and my brain and my insides remain rusty from the basic act of creating?

This is where the irony comes in … and this is where I need your help. Because sometimes, with Greatest Grace, we ease ourselves back in: we start at the beginning, and we re-remember how and why the act of putting pen to paper gives us life.

What then do we find at the onset of Natalie Goldberg’s treasure trove? As a whole, her book encompasses a wide range of short writing exercises, tips and lessons she’s learned along the way. And in the third chapter, “First Thoughts,” the author and poet lays out the following six tips about timed writing:

  1. Keep your hand moving.
  2. Don’t cross out.
  3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.
  4. Lose control.
  5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
  6. Go for the jugular.

So, here’s what I say: we put on our brave faces, we do this together. We stop talking about writing, and instead, we start writing again.

Grab a pen, a piece of paper and a timer. Today we’re going to follow Goldberg’s mid-80s direction to a “T” and step away from our computers. Do yourself a favor and read over the six steps again, and then set the timer for 10 minutes. And if you need a word to hone in on, join me where we started: with the word “IRONY.”

Ready? Go.

Ten minutes later…

Because this is a full-disclosure kind of exercise, here’s what I just wrote:

IRONY: I’m 16 years old. Alanis Morisette’s “Isn’t it Ironic?” blasts in my ears at the gym as I pound step after step on the Stairmaster. Because I go there religiously, pounding the pavement over and over again, in an effort to skinny my body. I’m a teenager and little do I know that I’m in the best shape of my life, but regardless I feel fat. Regardless I am one size bigger than I’m supposed to be and somehow I believe that if I can just lose 10 pounds then I’ll be happy. Then I’ll fit in. Then I’ll get the guy. And all of this from the word irony.

The irony of it is that the battle of being still wages within me. Yes, my fourth trimester self still has to practice kindness to her body–her mangled, baby-loved body–time and time again. But the irony exists in that I think if I can just _______ fill-in-the-blank whatever, then I’ll have made it. If I can just learn how to BE and not produce and just take in input! Input! Input! Then I’ll be on the right track … but I’ve missed the point altogether again.

For I’m already there. I’m already exactly where I’m supposed to be, loved wholeheartedly with the simple directive to go and do the same.

The irony is that it’s right in front of me. The irony is that I’m already enough. The irony is that I’ve already made it and I need not keep running amuck on the hamster wheel trying to keep up.

So, when will I actually believe it?

When will I let go of irony’s grip?

It’s easy for me to look at the words I just wrote, quickly becoming my own worst enemy. I can criticize my lack of proper punctuation and overuse of certain words, cringing that I’ve yet to fully embrace my body, even as a Fully Loved, Fully Official Grown-Up.

But even more, I can choose to smile because I wrote simply and solely and purely for the sake of writing.

And all irony aside, that is enough.

___________

I’D LOVE FOR YOU TO SHARE:

If you did the 10-minute free write, will you share a sentence or two with us?

What did you discover about yourself and about your words when you didn’t give your inner editor free reign? 

When you’re in a writing rut–or if you’ve taken a well-deserved break from the sport–how have you gotten back into the game?

REMINDER:

There’s no book selected for next month. Instead, we invite you to fill out a survey starting next Wednesday, Dec. 3. We want to know what you’ve thought about The Red Couch, whether you’ve participated every month or not at all. It’s hard to believe we’ve been reading together for a whole year! On Wednesday, Dec. 10 we’ll announce our 2015 First Quarter Selections.

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Cara Meredith
Cara is a writer, speaker and musician from the greater San Francisco Bay Area. She is chipping away at her first book when not searching for the world’s greatest chips and guacamole. She loves people, food, reading, the great outdoors and her family. She and the HBH (Hot Black Husband), try to dance nightly and live life to the fullest with their two young sons.
Cara Meredith
Cara Meredith

Latest posts by Cara Meredith (see all)

Cara Meredith
  • I’m going to do a 10 minute free write here:

    For as much as I love baseball, it’s a shame I barely know how to play the game. I’m sure it was required learning in gym class over the years but I have never been known for my athletic ability. It’s only now, in my mid-30s, that I wonder why that is. I’m not athletically inept. I was always seen as the artist, the reader, the girl. I got flute lessons, my brother got soccer lessons. That’s how it was.

    I remember one summer my mom and I dropped my brother off for the first day of a soccer camp. Mostly boys were there but I saw two of my good friends off to the side. I hadn’t realized they were going to camp and they asked me to stay for it. I was torn. With Matt at camp, it meant mom and I got to hang out, just the two of us. We had some fun things planned for that week. I didn’t dislike soccer but I’d never considered playing either. It was never encouraged for me. Also, even back then I had trouble spontaneously switching plans. Ultimately, I decided the alone time with mom was more important. But I’ve always wondered what might have happened if I’d said yes to soccer camp.

    I probably wouldn’t have been a soccer superstar but I might have seen myself differently. Seen beyond the gender roles ascribed to me. Maybe I wouldn’t say I have a lack of hand-eye coordination, something I’m not entirely sure is true. Perhaps if I’d practiced more- if I’d ever wanted to practice more.

    Several years ago I decided I wanted to learn how to play catch. It sounded silly, saying it out loud to friends, but I felt like it was something I should know how to do. Dad, Matt, and I used to throw one of those screaming Nerf footballs around in the backyard after dinner so I knew I could do that much. But a baseball? I wasn’t confident in my abilities. A guy I briefly dated heard about my goal and took me to a park one afternoon after church. We threw a tennis ball back and forth, stepping further away from each other each time. Each time I caught it. That might be the best thing I can say about my time with him.

    • carameredith.com

      What a cool story, though …learning to catch, that is. I often wonder how every single decision affects another, and how this current trajectory could and can and will change in a split second. Soccer camp? It was a small but big decision – but I like how you turned out:)

  • I’m going to try to find time today to do a 10 minute free write. 🙂 I’m glad this is the book Red Couch ended this year with – it’s been a good challenge. I can let writing slip by, especially on days I think I’m not a “real” writer. It’s reignited the daily discipline of written – poor punctuation, grammar, sloppy handwriting, and all!

    • I’m so glad to hear it’s been a good challenge for you and that it’s reignited your passion for writing!

    • carameredith.com

      Well, grace upon grace upon grace, Annie! Sometimes the writing muse is upon me and in me and with me like no other, and sometimes I’m likely, seriously? Who am I kidding? So I pick up a book instead. 🙂

  • I read this book for the first time this year and it wrecked me (in the best way).
    I found that it was about letting go of my own expectations of myself and my try-hard writer life and just enjoying the process once again.
    I love that, and I’ll always be grateful to Natalie for that.

    • carameredith.com

      Letting go of expectations – I feel you, especially when the process isn’t nearly as fast or as instantly brilliant as I think it should be!

  • Adriana Devine

    I loved this, Cara. I love reading your writing about self. It’s not a broken record – it’s a lifelong song.