Dani Shapiro
April 7, 2010

On Being Between Things

Do you know what my least favorite question is, these days? 

What are you working on?

It’s an innocent question, born out of curiosity, or simply because that’s one of the things writers often get asked.  What are you working on?  Even in the best of times, I don’t like this question.  When I’m in the middle of a piece of work, I rarely have the words for what I’m doing.  I become afraid that talking out loud about delicate, fledgling work might make it disappear.  I keep the following quote from Nietzsche pinned to the bulletin board above my desk:

“That for which we find words is already dead in our hearts.  There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking.”

That’s so Nietzsche.  But also so true.  If I can really articulate what I’m doing, then I’m probably not doing it.  In kitchen terms, it reminds me of what happens when you overcook a vegetable until it liquifies.  But worse than being asked what are you working on? when I’m working, is being asked when I’m not.

I am, as they say, between things.  Actually, this isn’t exactly accurate.  I’m promoting Devotion pretty much full time, and given the wonderful interest in this book, I have accepted speaking invitations all the way through next fall.  It’s hard to promote a book and work on a new one at the same time.  Hard–but not impossible.  Just the other day, I had a glimmer of an idea for a new novel.  And a non-fiction book I plan to tackle too.  (That’s all I’ll say–remember Nietzsche.)  But I also have to allow my interior life to settle.  A writer who has finished a book is a bit  like a snow globe all shaken up.  It  needs to float back down again, to allow for the possibility of clarity.

It’s okay to be between things.  To rest.  To–as Grace Paley used to say–take baths.  (Grace would say that she did her best writing in the bathtub.  When I was her student, I thought she meant that she sat in the suds, scribbling–but later, I realized that she simply meant she took baths.)  To take walks.  To read, read, read.  To trust that there will be another book, and another, and another.  To have faith in the process by which the imagination asserts itself–in its own way, in its own time.