Dani Shapiro
June 15, 2010

On Emptiness

When I’m not writing, I’m a bit of a crazy person.  If I write in order to organize my inner life–to know what I think, feel, believe–when I’m not writing, my inner life is like a closet into which everything has gotten stuffed; messy drawers overflowing with junk I should have given away years ago, a jumble, a mishmash.  Hard to sort out what to keep and what to toss.  Every thought I have, I chase for a few minutes, like my dog chases a tennis ball.  Oh, that seems like a good idea!  Oh, wait–no that!  No, hold on–that’s better! I am easily influenced.  When I’m in this state, I can be convinced of almost anything.  I should write a screenplay, say.  (For which I truly–unlike my husband–have no gift.)  I should write a sweeping historical novel.  I should write a modern, tight little novel in multiple points-of-view.  I should write another memoir.  I should write a book about writing.  I should write a hybrid of fiction and memoir.  Stop me, please.

The thing about this state of being is that it can either be enormously fertile, or self-destructive.  A writer can breathe into the emptiness, can wait patiently as the parade of bad ideas and externally-driven silliness sweeps by.  A writer can, in the words of my former teacher Grace Paley, take baths.  Or a  writer can tighten up, get anxious, over-eager.  A writer can start thinking about things like the marketplace, in which case, a writer will be sunk.  I’ve seen it happen over and over again.  This way leads to manufactured ideas, reeking of fear and manipulation.  Ideas that will eventually lead to a brick wall, or a desk drawer, or (worse still) a bad book.  The only solution for a writer not writing–a writer who is not yet ready to write–is to accept the avalanche of feeling, to welcome it, even, the way that when we meditate we welcome our thoughts and feelings with a sense of self-compassion.  Oh, I’m thinking that.  isn’t that interesting.  Okay.  Now, back to the breath.  The book will come.