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Old Friend from Far Away

I know I am going to die someday and I was afraid I wouldn't be allowed to because of all the students who want to study writing with me. I imagined myself as one hundred, long after my colleagues and friends passed on, standing in front of a class saying, "Okay, get out your fast writing pens and notebooks. Give me the last time you had watermelon. Go. Ten minutes." So I wrote this book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir and my challenge was to capture in the book the way I teach a classmy challenge was to capture in the book the way I teach a class. And I think I did it. I'm excited to find out what people think.

Also my last book was a memoir, The Great Failure, about the two most important men in my life: my father and the Japanese Zen Master I studied with for 12 years. I lost a lot of zen friends when they read the book and it surprised me — and hurt. But I also became free after the book was published. I wanted to see if my next book (which is Old Friend) could not mention zen but embody it and give the reader a deep flavor of it and also be a book that wasn't about me and also was as bossy as I can be and also funny.

I loved writing this book. People ask how long did it take. I say, seven months and thirty years of practice.People ask how long did it take. I say, seven months — and thirty years of practice.

I wrote it in airplanes, on hikes in Bandelier here in New Mexico, on my front porch, by the Rio Grande, in line in a pharmacy, at a cafe sipping hot chocolate, at my mother's in Florida, in Taos at the Mabel Dodge House, in a hotel late at night in Paris. It is my full heart singing.

This is my eleventh book and it is rare as a writer to be satisfied — that's why we keep writing. We think in the next book we will achieve something. I think I finally feel I achieved what I set out to do. And now I'm on to three new books I'm working on.

I'll meet you all in heaven cafe, writing for eternity — and maybe at Powell's next week.

[Editor's Note: Don't miss Natalie Goldberg's reading at Powell's City of Books on Burnside on Friday, February 15th at 7:30 p.m.

Preorder a signed first edition of Old Friend from Far Away while supplies last!]

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The author of the national bestseller Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg teaches writing workshops throughout the U.S.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Old Friend from Far Away: The...
    Used Hardcover $8.95
  2. The Great Failure: My Unexpected... Used Trade Paper $9.50

Natalie Goldberg is the author of Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir

7 Responses to "Old Friend from Far Away"

    Mark Yedo February 11th, 2008 at 5:28 pm


    Writing Queen February 11th, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Natalie, your work is so powerful, I've read "Writing Down the Bones" and given so many copies to countless friends. Thank you for sharing your beautiful talent with others!!!!

    Melissa Bennett February 11th, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Natalie, You are fantastic! I am so happy that I can call you my teacher and can't wait to see if this new book is like class. Looking forward to seeing you on Friday! (P.S. I hope you live to be 100 because I want to take that class)! :)

    Laraine Herring February 12th, 2008 at 9:42 am

    I have taken classes with you and I just read Old Friend. You do capture what the energy you bring to the classroom on the page. I have three books currently published, and am now struggling with a memoir. I was at the workshop in Sedona where the student mentioned the Bedouin mind of Diana Abu-Jaber. :-) I have taught creative writing for almost 15 years now at the college level, and I have found your books to be the best for any level of student. Every time I go more 'academic' like the institution wants me to, I kick myself and re-order your books next semester. Thank you for your courage with your latest memoir as well. - Laraine Herring

    guinnevere muir February 14th, 2008 at 11:43 am

    what would it take to get natalie to teach a class at powells or sponsored by powells in addition to whatever fee natalie charges for her class. I am sure she has a great following. I work at a community college where "write the bones" was required text. Dont wait til she is 100! Natalie goldberg is a gem.

    leslie pepitone February 22nd, 2008 at 8:22 am

    Natalie, your reading of Oh my darling, Clenentine was just wonderful! Life if all about surviving losses, and being reborn refreshed and renewed, isn't it? This poem captures that spirit beautifully for me. Muchas Gracias.

    Kim Griswell October 29th, 2009 at 8:16 am

    There are few writing teachers who can make you fall in love with writing all over again. Goldberg is one of them. Reading this work--so simple, yet so dense with possibility--I felt as if awakened from a long winter's hibernation. As if my writing self had broken through a thin outer casing of ice I hadn't even known I was wearing. Even if you don't write memoir, this book will wake you up. And if you don't think of yourself as a writer at all, it will help you get in touch with the stories of your life, to remember.

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