Dani Shapiro
April 22, 2013

On Getting Out of the Way

This week I have something of a breather.  My son is away on his 8th grade class trip, I’m waiting for notes from various editors, and have a few deadlines, manuscripts to read, nothing pressing.  I’m able to choose how to structure my time.  When I woke up this morning, the hours stretched out before me in all their glory.  It was a beautiful spring day, the house unusually and blissfully quiet.  No sandwiches to pack, no discussion of after-school activities.  As I sipped my cappuccino, I contemplated: yoga? meditation? back to work on an elusive short story? read the novel I’m immersed in? start the essay that’s due next week? or perhaps the one that’s due the week after? write down notes for a new novel, one that has been revealing itself to me in tiny, tantalizing bits and pieces?

It’s now noon and I’m here to say that I have not practiced what I’m pretty good at preaching.  Here is an incomplete list of what I have, in fact, done so far this morning: checked email; answered email; dug up a link to a piece about me and sent it to my U.K. agent who is about to submit Still Writing; Googled myself; searched for an elusive pair of black high-heeled sandals that seem to be sold out all over the United States; ate half a yogurt; deleted emails; checked Twitter; tweeted; tweeted again; went on Facebook and shared a link to my husband’s new movie poster; talked to the housekeeper; planned tonight’s dinner; took a bath; read old notes from a phone session with a psychic.

Okay, this is embarrassing enough.  I think I’ll stop.  But I imagine you get the point.  Sometimes people ask me whether I find it easier, living in the country, than I did back when we lived in New York.  My response is, to quote Jon Kabat-Zinn, wherever you go, there you are.  This is our lot in life — even the most disciplined among us.  Wet get in our own way.  Today — and today isn’t over — I have so far frittered away precious hours.  I have rituals to recalibrate, adjust.  I often tell my son that we can always start our day over again — and after I finish this little post, I intend to attempt to do just that.  I will unroll my yoga mat.  Light a fire in the fireplace.  Do the things that I know will set me up for an afternoon that will be free of the “fleas of life” — Styron‘s wonderful phrase — and allow for spaciousness in my mind.  That kind of spaciousness comes from turning away from the chattering world.  From journeying inward.  From having the simple but oh-so-hard to come by practice of patience, contemplation, quiet.

That practice that can be shattered with the click of a mouse — just checking one more thing.  The internet is the writer’s crack cocaine.  It just is.  At times, I find myself in its thrall.  I long for the movement of a pen across the page, a notebook on my lap.  I long for the capaciousness  and focus that comes from hours of undivided attention.  It is not when I’m at my busiest that I click away the hours.  No.  It’s when the hours seem endless that I squander them.  And we all should know better than that.