Saturday, January 9, 2010


My word for 2010 is honesty. In the spirit of being honest and sharing myself freely, I'm sharing a piece of fiction writing I did last year that seems very much in the spirit of a new year with fresh possibilities, that I never felt was "good enough" to publish. In this post's comments, you can read the letter I wrote to the amazing author of Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg, thanking her for her inspirational words.


He helps her climb the steps of the bus. She curtsies prettily for the driver, who shoots her a grin. He fumbles with the change for bus fare, and then herds his little girl toward a pair of open seats. This routine is new to them both.

Her woolly tights start swinging even before her tulle-covered skirt hits the seat. She kicks sporadically, like an irregular heart beat trying to correct itself.

“Daddydaddydaddy.” She tugs on his jacket sleeve. Staring out the window, he’s a helium balloon in danger of breaking away in the wind.

“Let’s play a game, ok? The alphabet game with food. A is for apple.”

He smiles but doesn’t turn away from the window, “B is for brioche.”

She squints at him as if she’s skipping and he’s trying to trip her up. She forgives him instantly. “C, candy.” She waits for him to come back to her.

He finally registers her silence as others would a scream. The game has left her mind like a cloud blowing across a patch of sky. Her eyes rest upon the homeless man sleeping draped over his two-wheel cart. She is briefly aged and intense, and then she’s back.

He watches her nervously.


“D is for diakon radish.”

Years from now when she’s 16, he might be disappointed that she wears short skirts (with no hint of the woolly tights) and refuses to eat anything but baked Doritos and carrot sticks. Three years before that he’ll be quietly proud of her stalwart veganism, even as her angry silence and severe makeup confuse him. Everything will seem fallow for a while.

One weekend during college though, she’ll come home to him. They’ll quietly cook together, and find unspoken solace in their shared history. Over the years their family will have contracted and expanded like a lung. A new mother will come into the family and take root over the years. A young half-sister will bolt around the kitchen, too.

But today is the genesis of it all; just him and his little girl, sitting on this bus. He’s 23 years old and raw, his heart cracked open. He’s doing what he can. He’s playing the alphabet game with food, passing on a hopeful vocabulary of community gardens, precious family dinners, ethical citizenship and exotic flavors to this squirrelly five year old. His offspring, he realizes with a start.

“U is for Unagui,” he says.

“Una-gee?” She stops fidgeting and studies her father.

He nods, his eyes firmly planted on her now. “An eel. An oily fish that looks like a water snake.” Raising an arm covered in tattoos – a messy cartography of his heart – he breaks the air between them, miming a snake, hissing and leaning in to tickle her. She winkles her nose and shrieks with delight as the bus lurches toward the next stop.

Todaytodaytoday. He’s digging up the dirt and praying like hell it produces.

1 comment:

Eden From Sweden said...

December 27, 2009

Dear Natalie –

I want to thank you for writing “Writing Down to the Bones.” I just got around to reading it in late 2009 (almost 2010!) Its message has been a giant hug-like affirmation of the greatness of a writing life, and has given me a much needed change in perspective.

I just turned 30 and have been writing my entire life, but have not had the confidence to take that leap and become a Writer. I’m smart and successful in my day job (the one that pays the bills) but my authentic self, I fear, has been held back by my lack of confidence in my writing, in my ability to depend upon my writing for making a living…so I push it away. But because I distance myself from it, I feel that during the last ten years of my life – my “grown-up” years – I’ve been a reed waving in the wind. It makes me very unhappy, this I do realize, as does everyone who knows me well.

I just went home for Christmas, and my family begged me to submit my writing, to write more, because they know that’s where my happiness lies. This has become a regular topic and family get-togethers, unfortunately, yet I know they’re right. But as we all know, knowing something is correct doesn’t necessarily institute change in that direction.

A few months ago, I was finishing up with a writer’s group, and we were having a dinner/reading for friends and family. I read a piece to a small group, which included my sister. When I was done, the writing instructor said simply, “Print and publish that. It’s perfect.” I didn’t hear her, of course, and the story is still just a file on my laptop. And yesterday, sitting around the living room with my family, my sister brought up that piece again. “Eden, you didn’t see their faces when you were reading your story to the group. It’s really an amazing piece.” I tried to shrug and retreat yet again.

And a few minutes ago, in the peace of my own home, I got to your chapter about ‘claiming your writing,’ followed by ‘trusting yourself.’ I can’t deny it anymore. Fighting my writing has only brought unhappiness and a confused sense of personal resentment. “Writing Down to the Bones” has led me to this realization again and again, with each new chapter. The joys and struggles of writing that have moved me to my core all these years – you describe them here clearly and thoughtfully in a way that I could never process on my own. Your holistic understanding of writing as an art, too, reminds me that it’s ridiculous to limit a writing life because it may not (will probably not) pay the bills. When has that ever been enough to satisfy a soul?

Thank you again, and peace in 2010.

Eden Bainter
Portland, Oregon