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Writing down the bones

'Writing down the bones'
Writing Down the Bones Expanded edition with a preface and interview with the author NATALIE GOLDBERG SHAMBHALA Boston I told him I was once a poet, too, before I’d written my first book. We bantered back and forth. I was enjoying myself immensely. Suddenly, with a quizzical look on his face, he asked, “So, anyway, what have you written?” “Well, several books,” I said, “but the one I’m most known for is called Writing Down the Bones.” “You’re kidding!” His eyes bugged out. “I thought you were dead.” Without blinking an eye, I responded, “No, not yet. Still trucking along, still putting pen to paper.” We both laughed. He didn’t need to say any more. I understood: he’d read me in high school. All books read then must be by deceased men—or women. No author studied in a secondary school institution could possibly be alive. Writing Down the Bones came out in 1986. I have often told audiences that if it had been published in the fifties it would have flopped. But instead it met this country exactly where it was—great hordes of Americans had a need to express themselves. Writing is egalitarian; it cuts across geographic, class, gender, and racial lines. I received fan letters from vice presidents of insurance agencies in Florida; factory workers in Nebraska; quarry workers in Missouri; prisoners in Texas; lawyers, doctors, gay rights activists, housewives, librarians, teachers, priests, politicians. A whole revolution in writing began soon after it came out. Separate writing sections in bookstores sprang up. One student said to me, “I get it! Writing is the new religion.” “But why,” people asked me, “does everybody want to write?” I don’t think everyone wants to create the great American novel, but we all have a dream of telling our stories—of realizing what we think, feel, and see before we die. Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate. Think about it: Ants don’t do it. Trees don’t. Not even thoroughbred horses, mountain elk, house cats, grass, or rocks do it. Writing is a uniquely human activity. It might even be built into our DNA. It should be put forward in the Declaration of Independence, along with the other inalienable rights: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and writing.” And it’s inexpensive. All you need is pen, paper (of course, computer, if you are so inclined), and the human mind. What crannies of untouched perception can you explore? What autumn was it that the moon entered your life? When was it that you picked blueberries at their quintessential moment? How long did you wait for your first true bike? Who are your angels? What are you thinking of? Not thinking of? What are you looking at? Not looking at? Writing can give you confidence, can train you to wake up. Writing Down the Bones is backed by a two-thousand-year-old practice of studying the mind. It is not solely Natalie’s creative idea. I wanted to root this work, give it a solid foundation. At the time I wrote it, I had already studied meditation for ten
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