Loving Those Who Do What You Love by Catharine Bramkamp
Let’s welcome back monthly columnist Catharine Bramkamp as she shares with us “Loving Those Who Do What You Love.” Enjoy!
I have a big fat thing for Natalie Goldberg, she of Writing Down the Bones, (although I liked Wild Mind better).
In my early years of writing I believe that in order to be successful, I needed to follow the paths of more successful writers. Did my mentor meditate? I’ll mediate, it will make my work better. Did my mentor move to Taos? I’ll move to Taos. It will help me be more inspired and creative. Did my mentor write for ten minutes straight? I’ll write for ten minutes straight.
You, the much more sophisticated reader than younger me, are thinking, that’s ridiculous. And you’re right, but the pull to imitate is powerful. It’s why so many writing gurus are successful. Everyone wanted to be them, do exactly what they did.
We hunger for their writing, follow their techniques to the letter. We purchase the same pens and notebooks. We purchase the seminars and workshops. All the hope that the muse of success will visit us as quickly as it did them.
My guru was Goldberg. I loved Natalie Goldberg. Like a true fan, I owned everything she’s written — in hard copy.
I lusted to own one of her paintings. I’ve attended her book signings. I took up painting because she paints. I write in notebooks because she writes in notebooks. I teach the ten-minute write technique to my students because that’s what she taught me.
I love her because as she puts together her life by writing about it. I can put together my life and see how I can express it and write about it. She teaches, I teach.
In the end, my one-way love affair helped my own work. Through her honesty and writing I learned to be more myself and less her.
Because after a number of years I realized that I don’t want to be like Natalie at all, even if she is famous.
Can you love an artist, love what you learn, and not want to be like them? Ever?
As well as she discusses painting in her book Living Color, and as badly as I wanted to create the very same kind of book, after ten years, I finally admitted that I cannot paint.
As exciting as her retreats at the Mabel Dodge House in Taos sound, once I finally figured out what went on — sitting quietly for hours in a zen, meditative way — I was immediately itchy and anxious.
The last time I sat still for over an hour it was because I had the flu.
I listened in on one of her classes — she did a taped class — I own it — and realized that her technique, the zen proposal that nothing is either good or bad, is not what I need for my own process and not how I help my own students.
I do tell you if it’s good or bad, and then suggest how to improve it.
In other words, I don’t need the seminars, the classes, the retreats. I don’t need to paint, or use her brand of notebook. I don’t need to travel to Taos on a pilgrimage. I can move on. And be grateful.
I am grateful that Natalie discusses painting, because I cannot paint. I am grateful she describes, so well, sitting and meditating because to me it sounds like hell on wheels. She likes girls, I like boys. She is famous, I am not. She is as unlike me as anyone can be. And I love her for it. I love her for finding a different way to write. I love her for creating a bad novel and then writing about the process. (The bad novel is Banana Rose, not her best effort).
I love her…
I love her for quietly starting a revolution for writers. I love her for being cranky and in most cases, off putting in person. I wasn’t all that impressed with her talk as she stumped for book, The True Secret of Writing.
Even in her fame, there is permission in her work that allows me (and you and you and you) to NOT be famous. It allows all of us writers to not be so crazy making.
So that’s why I buy her stuff and read it in one sitting, then place the book to the right on a special section of the book case with the rest of the collection.
Her words make me happy. And that is enough.
She doesn’t live in Taos anymore, so now I need to go to Santa Fe for a Natalie Goldberg sighting. Maybe catch her writing in one of the cafes using her official kinds of pens and her spiral bound notebook. Or maybe I won’t.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Catharine Bramkamp is the co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns. She is a successful writing coach, Chief Storytelling Officer, and author of a dozen books including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, and The Future Girls series. She holds two degrees in English, and is an adjunct university professor. After fracturing her wrist, she has figured out there is very little she is able to do with one hand tied behind her back.