Dani Shapiro
November 20, 2008

In and Out of the Cave

This is how I’ve come to think of it. When I’m writing, I’m in the cave. When I’m not, I’m blinking in the sunlight. Sometimes it’s difficult to emerge. Other times, it’s torture to go back into the darkness. The other day, I was in New York, making a promotional video for an upcoming anthology for which I wrote an essay. A bunch of the writers in the anthology arrived at the publisher’s office wearing their chic, black tops, as instructed. A make-up artist was there to touch us up. And as we sat in a conference room being prepped and powdered, I had a strong sense of being in a room filled with kindred spirits. Some of us were friends. Some of us had…how shall I put it…histories with each other. But what all of us had in common was that we’re people who spend most of our lives in a semi-hermetic way, and that this–the conference room, the platter of cookies, the bright lights of video cameras–was not where we lived, even though it was fun. I’m always struck by how odd my life is, when I find myself in an office building. People get dressed for work! They have meetings and lunches and they talk to other people all day long!

As I write, I’m in my bathrobe. It’s nine-fifteen on a Thursday morning. My half-finished second cappuccino of the day is to my right. My manuscript to my left. A bookshelf is within reach, piled with books relating to Devotion. Emerson, Thoreau, Jung, Dillard. Books by Buddhists, Rabbis, memoirists, psychoanalysts, philosophers. To my right, on the floor, three piles of manuscripts for an anthology I’m guest editing. Yet another pile of manuscripts for the Sirenland Conference is in the corner. One dog sleeps on my comfortable reading chair. The other one is down in the kitchen, hopefully not getting into too much trouble. The house is quiet. I can’t tell yet whether this will be a good writing day, a just-okay one, or an abysmal one from which I will emerge frustrated and depressed. I can’t possibly know that. All I can do is to sit down to write. To slowly find my way back into the cave.