Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

book 24 of 24 books in 28 days: old friend from far away

Filed in Books, Writing :: February 28, 2010


I’ve been reading, practicing really, Natalie Goldberg since I was in graduate school the first time, writing bits of my dissertation in a coffee shop Writing Down the Bones-style.  I read Old Friend from Far Away in 2008, writing the first draft of my MFA thesis.

As Lee Gutkind blurbs, “If you are a new writer with a memoir in mind, then [Old Friend] will start your creative engine and get you going.  If you are a writer who has lost your concentration and writing rhythm, Old Friend will help center and re-inspire you.  In this book, Natalie shares her heart and her overflowing spirit.”

In 2008, scraps of writing in notebooks and computer files, I followed Goldberg’s instructions because I didn’t have a better way.  I still found myself screaming (quietly, politely, of course),

But I have all these bits and I don’t have a structure!  When will the structure appear?

Keep writing was the only answer that came.  Ten minutes of “I remember” if that’s all you can do.  And finally a structure did come.  And that structure I wanted so badly is now, at this point in the process, about to fall away, because the project doesn’t need it so much anymore.  It needed it then, but it’s about to stand without it.

I decided to make this the 24th book in my 24-book series because, as Gutkind says, it works, or fits, or, maybe better, serves, at every stage of the writing process.  That’s the beauty of what Goldberg teaches.  Just go back to the writing.  Pen to paper.  Butt in chair. However you want to think of it.  It’s the only way.

Goldberg writes in “Read this Introduction,”

We are a dynamic country, fast-paced, ever onward.  Can we make sense of love and ambition, pain and longing? In the center of our speed, in the core of our forward movement, we are often confused and lonely.  That’s why we have turned so fullheartedly to the memoir form.  We have an intuition that it can save us.  Writing is the act of reaching across the abyss of isolation to share and reflect.  It’s not a diet to become skinny, but a relaxation into the fat of our lives.  Often without realizing it, we are on a quest, a search for meaning.  What does our time on this earth add up to?

The title Old Friend from Far Away comes from the Analects by Confucius.  We reach back in time to another country.  Isn’t that what memory is?

To have an old friend visit

from far away–

what a delight!

So let’s pick up the pen, and kick some ass.  Write down who you were, who you are, and what you remember.

I hope you’re inspired to pick up a pen, too.

Filed in Books, Writing


  1. Lindsey

    Oh, I’m so glad to read this – I’ve had this on my pile for a while and I am precisely the person you describe: needing to get started, in search of structure – I will open Natalie’s book TONIGHT and dig in. Thank you!

  2. whollyjeanne

    i just can’t wait till we have time to talk about these and more. can’t you just imagine you, me, and shirley on a walking meditation under the leadership of natalie? i guess that’d be heaven.

  3. Jennifer Prentice

    I’ve been keeping up with your book reading, and I can honestly say that I AM INSPIRED. I’ve kept a journal for over 20 years and have always wanted to write a memoir…believe me, there’s no better way to say “hello” to an old friend than through reading old journals…and this post has definitely inspired me to pick up a pen.
    Thank you.

  4. Victoria

    I’m so glad you stopped by my blog and that I could remind you about Vivian Gornick. I am glad because I came here and you reminded me of Old Friend, which I have on a CD I purchased from Natalie at a Taos workshop some years ago.