Second time around

Natalie Goldberg and John Nichols to read for SOMOS

By T.L. Testerman
Posted 6/6/18

The working styles and perspective on their own mortality could not be more divergent between the authors John Nichols and Natalie Goldberg.Nichols is nocturnal. He "comes alive at …

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Second time around

Natalie Goldberg and John Nichols to read for SOMOS


The working styles and perspective on their own mortality could not be more divergent between the authors John Nichols and Natalie Goldberg.

Nichols is nocturnal. He "comes alive at night" and later, uses the optimal daylight hours immersing himself in the beauty of nature. "I write in the evening and stop around 6 or 7 a.m., sleep until 1 or 2 p.m. in the afternoon, make a sandwich then head to the high mountains and wilderness until dark. I could bushwhack anywhere around here and not get lost."

In contrast, Goldberg's working process is to "eke out time to write daily ... life is very seductive. I fight for three or four hours a day, usually in the morning but sometimes in the afternoon."

When asked about examining one's own mortality, Nichols quotes from the film "Breathless" by Jean-Luc Godard. "In the movie, there is a press conference with a famous novelist. The journalist, (played by the actress Jean Seberg) asks the author, 'What's your greatest ambition?' His response is, 'To become immortal ... and then die.' "

Goldberg said her battle with cancer showed her "the world of illness and dying cuts through everything you thought before … you taste impermanence facing your mortality … I keep writing, it's a practice, but it doesn't save me." For two years she said her life focus was "how to deal with the medical profession and how to stay alive."

Both writers share a heartfelt fondness for Taos and steadfast loyalty toward SOMOS, the local literary arts organization. They will read together for the second time on Wednesday (June 13), 7 p.m., at the Harwood Museum, 238 Ledoux Street.

Goldberg, author of "Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within," a practical handbook for writers is working on her 15th book. She said she'll be reading from her new memoir, "Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home," which is about her two-year battle with cancer and her partner's discovery of a lump on her breast a few short months after Goldberg's diagnosis. She said she hopes it can be a guide for people about "how to handle life when things get extreme."

SOMOS Executive Director Jan Smith said about the book, "Goldberg illuminates a path through illness, that we need to be in love with the lives we have, to embrace the dark and the light in our lives. For Goldberg, writing and painting represent the light, and her cancer takes her deeper into her art practices. Balanced with her Zen practice the book is a moving meditation on living life in full bloom." Copies of the memoir will be available for sale at the event.

Goldberg also plans to share from her new as-yet untitled manuscript "about haiku and Japan and how this Jewish girl from Brooklyn becomes a serious zen practitioner." Goldberg, a former resident of Taos for 20 years, now lives in Santa Fe.

She said Taos and the aura of the hippie years (which she maintains no longer exist) intrigued her, and she is haunted by them. Goldberg has influenced and inspired local writers, such as Sean Murphy, Rob Wilder, Mirabai Starr, Iris Keltz, Tania Casselle, Elaine Sutton and many more, according to Smith. She continues to teach and lead workshops at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos.

Nichols is the author of the award-winning novel, "The Milagro Beanfield War," which eventually was adapted into a film shot in the Truchas-Chimayó area. He is the writer of 22 books, a screenwriter and an indomitable advocate of class struggle, community land and water rights and social justice.

He said the attraction to New Mexico stemmed from an awareness that "it is the poorest state, and therefore closest to a third-world experience without moving to Nicaragua or Guatemala or Bangladesh … Taos is a microcosm of the planet. Every different type of person lives or passes through." In Nichols view, it is representative of "class struggle around the globe."

Nichols plans to share from his penciled-in-title memoir "I Got Mine." The literary style he deploys in the work is nonlinear, a montage of a stream of subconsciousness impressions careening from one memory to the next with geographical shifts that include New York City, Vermont, Connecticut, Guatemala and Nicaragua, landing in Northern New Mexico by 1969. He takes the reader on his life's journey: childhood, transition into being an adult, marriages, divorces and his writing career.

"It makes me think of the writing of Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer and journalist in, 'Days and Nights of Love and War' and Kurt Vonnegut, and the style he used in 'Slaughterhouse Five,' " Smith said. "In Nichols' humorous, irreverent and polemic style, it will be a wild ride."

The event sold out last year. This one may be no different.

Nichols' approach to readings is to "try to be entertaining, humorous and not go on too long." Goldberg, in contrast, hopes people will show up to have "the pleasure of listening to two serious writers talk about their writing process and share new work."

Tickets are $25, $20 for SOMOS members. Call the Harwood at (575) 758-9826, to reserve seats. The event is a fundraiser for SOMOS, a nonprofit organization that supports the literary community. Both authors are donating their time for the event.


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