Dani Shapiro
December 22, 2008

On Living in Two Spheres

The very best way for me to start the day–or rather, re-start the day after sending the boy off to winter horse camp in his new riding boots (“Mommy, they’re uncomfortable! They don’t fit!” Me, through gritted teeth: “Yes, they do. They’d better fit!”)–is to spend a few minutes with Virginia Woolf. Once again, her Writer’s Diary offers me what I need on this blustery morning. Uncanny, the way I open to a random page and find a bit of useful writerly wisdom. Here, she has just returned after many days away from her desk:

“Yes, but of all things coming home from a holiday is undoubtedly the most damned. Never was there such aimlessness, such depression. Can’t read, write or think. There’s no climax here. Comfort yes: but the coffee’s not so good as I expected. And my brain is extinct–literally hasn’t the power to lift a pen. What one must do is to set it–my machine I mean–in the rails and give it a push.”

And this:

“It strikes me–what are these sudden fits of complete exhaustion? I come in here to write: can’t even finish a sentence; and am pulled under; now is this some odd effort; the subconscious pulling me down into her? …I’m not evading anything. No, I think the effort to live in two spheres: the novel; and life; is a strain. I only want walking and perfectly spontaneous childish life with L. and the accustomed when I’m writing at full tilt; to have to behave with circumspection and decision to strangers wrenches me into another region; hence the collapse.”

Since the perfectly spontaneous childish life is a distant dream of the past, there must be another way. As usual, Woolf offers it: Time to set it…my machine…on the rails and give it a push.