Zen author lectures at Weisman on the benefits of writing

by David Anderson

From her early childhood on, Natalie Goldberg always loved to write.
But after college, she was sidetracked into the restaurant business in Ann Arbor, Mich. She put down her menu and picked up her note pad in 1971, after realizing she could focus her writing on details in her everyday life — her turning point was a poem she read, titled “Cooking an Eggplant.”
Now, Goldberg’s books have become extremely popular, and “Writing Down the Bones,” her greatest success, is used in a huge number of university-level writing classes throughout the country.
The acclaimed author read from her new book and discussed her interest in Zen Buddhism in an overcrowded William G. Shepherd Room at the Weisman Art Museum on Monday night.
The title of Goldberg’s lecture, which more than 600 people attended, corresponded to that of her new book, “Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft.”
Goldberg started writing “Thunder and Lightning” nine years ago. In this book — as in most of her books — Goldberg mixes her esoteric beliefs with her love of writing.
During the discussion, she summarized Zen as “No matter what, you get up in the morning and go.”
“My main Zen practice is writing,” she said. “When you write, you’re ready to constantly let go.”
Goldberg, a resident of Taos, N.M., has strong ties with Minnesota; she spent six years in the Twin Cities in the early 1980s.
She returned to Minnesota last year to study Zen in St. Paul on her way to becoming a Zen teacher.
“I feel meditation can be very helpful to writing to help somebody feel focused,” said Katrina Woods, a creative writing sophomore at the University.
Goldberg’s literary portfolio features the best-selling “Writing Down the Bones,” a novel, “Banana Rose,” and a collection of poems, “Chicken and In Love.”
She also paints: 60 reproductions of her artwork are included in “Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World.”
“(Unlike authors of) conventional self-help writing books, she takes into account that different things are effective for different people,” said Jennifer Daniel, an interior design senior at the University.
Julie Schumacher, a University English professor and director of the creative writing program, described “Writing Down the Bones” as a how-to, as well as a life guide, to the practice of writing.
Schumacher said she agreed with Goldberg’s ideas on making writing an integral part of one’s life.
Goldberg spoke Thursday to a University introductory creative writing class. Monday, she spent the afternoon with students in the Department of English to discuss the craft of writing.
As in her books, she encouraged audience members Monday to find the motivation to adopt writing as a life practice.
“No matter what you write about, to take up that pen and write about it is a very positive thing,” Goldberg said.