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 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.
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!]