Natalie Goldberg's Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up In America

Submitted By sanctuarys
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“I don’t think fate is a creature, or a lady, like some people say. It’s a tide of events sweeping us along. But I’m not a Fatalist, because I believe you can swim against it, and sometimes grasp the hands of the clock face and steal a few precious minutes. If you don’t you’re just cartwheeled along. Before you know it, the magic opportunity is lost, and for the rest of your life it lingers on in that part of your mind which dreams the very best dreams—taunting and tantalizing you with what might have been.” (from the film Flirting, 1990)

“Every moment is enormous, and it is all we have” (Goldberg xii). Natalie Goldberg offers her readers the opportunity to recognize the delicate nature of life and the importance of slowing down one’s life. In her autobiography, Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America, she invites readers to journey along her path to awakening in an effort as an author to “pass on her breath” (22). By capturing her message and holding it close to one’s heart, the reader grasps the essence of Goldberg’s message. It becomes clear that awakening can take on many forms and can be reached by different roads, but it is all centered on one goal: to go within oneself and find inner peace and understanding. Through her exploration of America, teaching, spirituality, impermanence, and writing, and through her writing style and language, Goldberg sends her readers along their own long, quiet highway.

The main point one might gather from Goldberg’s discussion of America is that Americans need to slow down all aspects of their lives, need to take the small components of life and make them significant. Goldberg sees an impatience in America which does not allow for experiencing. For example, she observes that many Americans would rather read a book on writing than actually write. They want the outcome, but are not willing to take the time to get there on their own. It is possible that Americans unconsciously sense this lack of connection with the self and herein lies the reason so many want to write. Recognizing that writing is a possible solution, Goldberg notes, “When we write we begin to taste the texture of our own mind” (71). As Americans push towards their ultimate goals, they forget that the process can be just as important, if not more important, than the product. Living in the present and preparing for the future can go hand in hand because every part of the process makes for a more complete person.

Disconnection with oneself often translates into a distance from others. Growing up in America, Goldberg felt both an internal and external isolation: “My desolation was that no one knew me and I did not know myself” (24). In her early descriptions of her life, she makes it clear that she felt very out of place, even within her own family. She asked many questions that no one would or could answer. She felt very alone. She speaks of sleeping next to her sister for many years and never getting to know her.

This alienation is the American disease. It is our inheritance, our roots. It can be our teacher. Mother Teresa, who works with India’s poorest of the poor, has said that America has a worse poverty than India’s and it’s called loneliness. (25)

There are many important statements in this passage. Goldberg, by calling alienation a disease, suggests not only the detrimental effects of alienation but also the fact that it seems to spread. Alienation is a part of the American collective past that has been passed down through generations and has yet to be stopped.

Also important in the passage are the ideas that alienation can be “our teacher” and that America is filled with loneliness. Goldberg truly believes that every aspect of one’s life can be a teacher in the sense that one can learn from everything. The words of Mother Teresa—a woman who has been such an influential world figure and who has worked with people in extraordinary poverty—accentuate the urgency of the problems Americans face.