Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is on the table. You pack it. The books go in boxes. Clothes in duffels. Two boxes. Two duffels. A dog. A cat. Totality of belongings. You put it all into the ‘86 Ford and say goodbye to the place you moved to, to become a writer... (Written by Beth Oldham)
By Beth Oldham

1992: Bisbee, Arizona. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is on the table. You pack it. The books go in boxes. Clothes in duffels. Two boxes. Two duffels. A dog. A cat. Totality of belongings. You put it all into the ‘86 Ford and say goodbye to the place you moved to, to become a writer.

The boyfriend sits in the driver’s seat, bearded, handsome, sparkling eyes, open smile. To Utah: north. Away from the border. You smile back at him, happy. Your dog gets carsick.

You are happy most of the time. You are young. You get angry sometimes. You both get drunk sometimes. And sometimes true thoughts slip out quickly, like spilled beer.

“You can’t become a writer by “free writing” he snorts derisively, waving his beer about. “Or writing about bones. You need form and style, syntax. That book’s just new age stuff.”

You know this is true because your mom is a “life trainer,” surrounded by new-agers, people who wield crystals like medicine. She gave you the book. Plus, he has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. He gives you Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.


1996: Logan, Utah. You are packing again. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg did not make it into the box. The box which you mail to Fairbanks, Alaska before your ride to the airport. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is in the box.

You are alone in Alaska, for a while. You drink too much, smoke too much and sleep around a bit too much. You have a lot of fun. You think.

Your mom arrives with her mom. You sit on the futon and show them the coffee table you made, hand sawn, from an oak crate. Solid but very uneven. You can dance on it, you say. So, your 82-year-old grandmother steps onto the coffee table and dances. You will keep that coffee table for 13 years until you leave Alaska.

You meet a man. Tall, dark, handsome. Very handsome. Very dark. You have a baby. Your mother comes for the birth of her first grandchild. She adores him. She adores you. You are in love.

You get married to the handsome, dark man. You have another baby. Your mom is there again. Always there. For you. For all of you.


2009: Fairbanks, Alaska. You are leaving your home, your friends, your community. You left your marriage, and the darkness, two years before.

None of this is easy.

You and the kids are packing. The first of their many moves. You leave almost all of your books. Books are heavy. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style has long since been discarded. Your mom is there. She helps. Of course.

You are driving a UHaul away from the dream home you built with the tall, handsome, dark man. When you believed love could overcome darkness.

You are in the driver’s seat. A man sits beside you. He does not want to drive. Unless you want him to. Clean shaven, cleft-chinned, not dark at all. He smiles to you and holds your hand while you drive. He lets you choose the music.


2013: New Denver, British Columbia. You are packing again, leaving the small village of your husband’s childhood and its 500 people for a bigger life for your children. Moving to the big city of 10,000 – Nelson. You are all excited for the change. It is easy, this move.

Your mom visits as always. Still loving, still there for you. For all of you. But now you watch her. Like a child. She forgets sometimes. She remembers growing up in your Nelson house. You know she didn’t. She remembers sailing on the lake. You know she never has. Sometimes you try to tell her. Mostly you don’t. You watch her and love her as she has done for you forever.


2018: Davis, California. Your last visit. You touch her face with its waxen pallor. You kiss her smooth forehead. Stroke her rigid jawline. Shallow breaths and deep feelings. Last rites from your sister, the priest. Love all around. Family all around. Grief, profound pools of grief.

After she leaves you, you tell stories with your siblings and spouses and children. You laugh. You cry.

You return home. You feel empty. There are no words.


2018: Nelson, British Columbia. You walk into the classroom on Tenth Street. You look at the syllabus and see Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. And you remember your mom and your dream to become a writer. And you begin, again.

About the Author

Beth Oldham has been writing all her life – stories, grants, newspaper columns, annual reports – you name it. She loves writing fiction because it gives her the opportunity to create new worlds and new characters that can transport people out of the here and now. Beth has a BA in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing, and a Master of Social Science in International Rural and Community Development. She has lived all over the world but now lives in Krestova, BC and loves the dark nights and misty mornings. She owns and operates two small businesses, and she and her husband are in their first year of empty-nesting.

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