“We have to look at our own inertia, insecurities, self-hate, fear that, in truth, we have nothing valuable to say. When your writing blooms out of the back of this garbage compost, it is very stable. You are not running from anything. You can have a sense of artistic security. If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.” Natalie Goldberg
Writing from the compost heap of personal experience and archived memories is a little like creating art from bottle caps, recycled aluminum cans and gum wrappers. You have a sense there is some way to go about it that will make it shine, and take the viewer or reader somewhere other than the local landfill. I’ve seen such art on display at various art museums and it is remarkable. And then I’ve seen some, as well, that made me shudder – garbage heaped on a palette, spray painted and offered up as art. Maybe it was a commentary on the crass materialism of modern man, the soullessness of the communal culture. Whatever it is was I didn’t always get it.
I have friends who compost their garbage, and I have heard them talk about the things they throw in and the additives, like worms and worm casings. That is a little beyond the power of my stomach to endure. I’m a little wimpy when it comes to worms. I think composting is a worthy pursuit. If I lived on an acre of land in a rural area I might try it. But it is not so practical in a suburb where the Homeowner’s Association monitors a great many of my activities.
With the advice of Natalie Goldberg echoing in my mind, I continue to sift and sort my memories for useable material. I’ve been to this trough before, and now I return for another foray. A compost heap of memories isn’t quite the same as a physical pile of grass clippings, discarded vegetable peelings, egg shells and coffee grounds. But the sorting process can often be just as messy.
Natalie Goldberg mentions insecurities and self-hate. “Self Hate” is an awfully strong sobriquet or label. We don’t all hate ourselves, yet there are aspects that we don’t like. Sometimes they can be changed and sometimes not. I was never a physically robust youngster and my skills in physical pursuits, sports and high school PE were not stellar. In grade school we played foursquare and volleyball. I had trouble returning the ball or directing it to another square in foursquare. In volleyball, I rarely succeeded in serving the ball over the net and had difficulty keeping a volley going. Maybe if my parents had been sports enthusiasts or had inclinations towards physical excellence, it would have been different. We would have practiced at home, we might have had a volleyball net on the back of our lot and with some coaching I could have improved. But neither of my parents had any interest in sports, not even as a spectator. Although in her later years, my mother became quite a follower of Dodger baseball. Go figure.
It was painful in school, wanting and trying to fit in. I would get in line with the other kids to play foursquare and as I rotated in, I could see the other kids roll their eyes. They weren’t thrilled but tried to endure putting up with me for a short stint until I was out. It never took long. I looked with envy at those beefier girls who had strength in their hands and wrists and could slam the ball. They could even compete with the boys. I once got hit directly in the face from a volleyball returned over the net too forcefully. Before I could get my hands up to even think about returning the ball, the ball had landed squarely on the bridge of my nose and broken my glasses. And then I was afraid to tell my mother, because I knew we didn’t have a lot of money and replacing them would be expensive. Continue reading