Long Quiet Highway

Full Title: Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in AmericaLong Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg
Author: Natalie Goldberg
Publisher: Bantam (1994)
Number of Pages: 238
How long it took me to read: 6 weeks
How I got it: This book was a gift from a former colleague I worked with at the Rotman School of Management. She just handed it to me one morning on her way to her desk. Seven years later, I mustered up the courage to brave its pages.
ISBN: 0-553-37315-3

Like a Moth to a Flame

What attracted me to it? Well…tricky question, that is. The book had been calling me for quite some time. The more I resisted embracing the writer within, the louder its screaming became. You see, Natalie Goldberg writes to the author. She presents the perspective of the aspiring writer while sharing her personal journey through the murky waters of literary creation. I’ve known for quite some time that words have been adamantly fighting to birth through me but not until recently have I felt ready to let the process start happening.  What I’ve been waiting for, I’m not really sure. The day I started reading Long Quiet Highway was one of the many days when I thought  I had completed surrendering to the process. Little did I know…

Favorite Five

My favorite 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “The landscape of the writer is the mind…” (p.69)

4. “I realized that I was growing used to the loneliness of being a writer.” (p.145)

3. “I want to learn to do nothing.” (pp.72 & 89)

2. “Resistances are painful, and they deepen as we deepen.” (p.148)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “When I wrote and got out of the way, writing did writing.” (p.90)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“Natalie writes, ‘I stopped reading books because I wanted to stop referring to an external authority.’ (p.73)

I stopped reading them for a long time too. I couldn’t bare holding proof in my hands that writing wasn’t as impossible as I thought. I didn’t want to see evidence of  writers  managing, quite successfully, to publish their books while I bathed in the sticky sweat of my fears. It’s only now, as I timidly turn toward the artist within and solemnly bow to my inner voice that I begin to embrace myself as a writer, as someone who loves to read, who loves to hold real books in my real hands. I’m beginning to find the courage to step out of my suffocating internal corridors. I’m starting to slip on my writing shoes.”

“She paints a poor life for the writer. I don’t like it. I don’t enjoy reading about her hippy days, I don’t care about her vegetable garden and I certainly don’t want to spend my time reading about how she had to count every penny while living in a $30/month accommodation eating cheese sandwiches with mayo and mustard on white bread. Having said that, I greatly appreciate reading about the struggle of writing, of the deafening silence writers face at their desks each day. I am grateful knowing that what I’m going through isn’t unique to me. I am thankful that I’m able to go through what other writers go through. I am comforted by the similarities in our experiences. I am also, however, disgusted by the poverty.”

“‘It’s ok to do nothing.’ That’s what Goldberg’s Zen master told her. Deep, deeeep down inside, I know that to be true. Superficially though, it never once came to me to answer, ‘Nothing.’ when strangers asked me, ‘So, what do you do?’. Of course! How else would you be able to tell when you’re doing something if you don’t learn what it feels like to do nothing first?”

‘You should just write, not think about it so much…write for no reason at all’, says the voice in my head.

I have a really hard time swallowing that crap. Life is short, or so they say. Why do anything without reason, especially when it’s so hard to do anything in the first place? Oh….wait a minute. Is it only when you do it for no reason that it becomes easy enough to do?”

“Maybe you have to read this book for longer than a few minutes at a time to really hear its messages. There must be a connection between Goldberg’s interest in Zen and my inherent aversion to the philosophy…meaning in everything and nothing. When I read Goldberg’s experiences studying Zen, I’m reminded of when I studied Raja Yoga in Cambridge. To be honest, I don’t quite know what those experiences did for me, how they molded me, what I walked away with after having gone through them, but whatever the answer, I know it’s special. Maybe that’s the common link between me and this author – connections to special centers of meditation. Why do I care what the connection is? Because through the process of relating, we learn to understand.”

“‘…and the mind, after all, is the territory all writers must journey through,’ she writes. So is it a coincidence that I’m praying to be free of my mind, to stop  the horrendous thoughts from beating me down with their repetition? Am I filtering? Do I have to get through these ones before the thoughts worth writing down start pouring out?”

“I don’t like this book. The more of it I read, the more I dislike the pictures the author paints with her words, the time it’s set in, the experiences she shares. They all seem so miserable, so gray and dreary. But beyond the details, I can’t deny that she’s a good writer. Her writing style inspires me. Her sentence structure stimulates me to think about how I arrange my words.”

“This isn’t a long quiet highway I want to be on with Goldberg for much longer. The book is oozing gray, and not just from its fittingly colored paperback cover.”

“Ok, so it’s not so bad. If this book is teaching me anything, it’s that I’m not alone on this journey of discovering myself as a writer. Others have gone through it, and they’ve made it to the other side. It’s also teaching me how events are connected in precisely the moment between inhale and letting go. If you allow yourself to fall into that moment with eyes wide open, you begin to see the meanings in the connections. You start to hear the guidance that comes to you at 4 am in a semi-dream state. Peace follows, perhaps not soon after, but eventually.”

“It’s exactly today, on March 1st, twenty years ago that Katagiri Roshi made his transition out of this life. I have to finish reading the book today. This will be the second time that I finish a book on the anniversary of the death of one of its key figures. The first time was when I read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. It was on my lunch break. I was working at Anglia Ruskin at the time. I’m trying to remember if I knew how life worked back then. I don’t feel like I know how life works now.”

“As the crystal wind chime that hummingbirds often mistake for a feeder plays a solitary note outside my window, I read the final words of Long Quiet Highway. It is a book that has earned a special place on my bookshelf, among the few others that have managed to converse with my deepest self and left a cherished impression on my thoughts. I still don’t know what the book has taught me or what I chose to be open enough to learn from it. I do know that I didn’t feel like a writer when I started it, but I do feel like one now.”

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  1. […] “What I want from this book, then, is a friend – a friend that reassures me that I’m not alone, that reminds me that I’m not crazy, and that encourages me to keep swimming (a reference that will make sense to those of you who’ve conversed with Goldberg on her Long Quiet Highway.” […]

  2. […] Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America by Natalie Goldberg […]

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