I’m still working my way through Old Friend from Far Away, and this morning’s chapter is called “Sideways Step” and is about looking at your life and writing about it sideways through objects or events. Goldberg says:
But writing has this quality where all the effort and desire in the world doesn’t do shit. It’s hard to comprehend. All our lives we’ve been taught to try hard. That’s good, important to writing, too, but then in the middle of it, you have to be willing to jump off a hundred-foot pole with no net to catch you, no assurances. To let wind take you or the day or time or love. Writing’s essential nature asks you not to go forward, not to be productive, not to be logical. In the middle of all your conservative striving, it asks you to take a step backward into the dark unknown – actually back into your real self, which has never been explored and you are not sure how to get there.
Eventually what you want is for your writing to become transparent. That your language and expression are not one iota off from who you are. A friend can read it and say, “Yup, that’s Mary. Uh-huh, I’d know that voice anywhere – it’s my old college friend Eddie.” . . .
You have to find your own set of coincidences. You make your own great – and crooked – path and at the same time be open for something to come to you. A meeting is involved – you and the large unknown. Let the mountains walk into your living room. Listen to the squawking yellow cabs. This is beginning to sound like a child’s fantasy. You do need a child’s mind. Something half innocent, and naive, but also watchful, observant. Sophistication gets in the way, too complicated for finding your true home.
But remember: nothing lasts forever. That true home is not a solid edifice. A book may stay stationary on a table, but you are a moving work. You finish something, go on to the next. (52, 54)
Dad and I sit on the couch – not sure which couch but it is probably scratchy and plaid – all our couches are scratchy and plaid. H’es got a big block, I a small square, the size of a backsplash tile. I’m trying to carve chickadees into the stone with a knife, one of my dad’s soapstone carving knives. He’s probably making a bear or a wolf or a tree – I’m not watching him. I’m trying to see if, with small, smooth, motions I might make birds come to vision in stone. I slide my blade over and over and over on the gray rock, tiny rubble peeling away with each stroke – a powder on the family room floor. . . There will be two of these tiny birds in my hand – two small creations.
Somewhere, buried in a landfill, packed in a box of memorabilia, those two birds sit unfinished.
What do Golberg’s words call forth in you? What do you remember – an event, an object – that calls you back to your true self? Write about it. Tell us about here. Or keep it for yourself, a tiny memory packed into a box.
Many thanks to Chartroose for putting this memory back into my mind.