Dani Shapiro
March 24, 2011

On Looking Inward

Increasingly, we are scattered.  Our days are spent answering emails, blogging, tweeting, list-making, building platforms, surfing the internet–in short, doing everything but writing.  Quiet is something we have to demand of ourselves, rather than simply being our natural state.  Meditate, and you realize it: that in-out of the breath, the way our minds, when we are able to leave them alone, are like shaken-up snow globes, all that flurry of white slowly drifting, settling down.  We want to be quiet.  We crave silence.  We need to look inward, rather than endlessly outward, but it’s hard.  And it gets harder every day.

I am ashamed to admit how much I look outward–for validation of what I do, for small bits of information about myself (ooh, there’s another Amazon reader comment, there’s a blogger or critic who likes me, there’s a mention or a photo in a newspaper!) that makes me feel like I exist.  I’m mortified by this part of myself, and may even erase this before posting it, because who wants to admit such a thing?  Except that I know I’m far from alone.  My entire creative life is about focusing inward, and yet, with a single keystroke, I can access everything that’s out there.  People respond to my work, or they don’t.  They prefer certain of my books to others.  They compare me to other writers.  They wonder (seriously, this was a term used on a google search) whether I’m a real blonde.  (Yes, with a little help from my friend.)  But should I know all this?  Would I care if I didn’t?  The chatter has always existed.  It’s our access to the chatter that’s changed.  And that access creates a pull, a need, a desire to know more, more, more–as if that knowledge does anything for us.  As if that knowledge changes anything.

When I was in the midst of writing my first novel, I lived on the top floor of a building on the upper west side, in a small apartment with slanted ceilings.  A friend who lived in a grander apartment on a lower floor had a single room–a former maid’s room–on my floor, which he let me use as a writing studio.  Each morning I would leave my apartment in my pajamas with with my beloved Yorkshire terrier Gus, and we’d trot down the hall about twenty paces to that room.  All that was in the room was a desk, a chair, and a rug for Gus.  A window overlooked the center courtyard of the building.  I had no phone, certainly no internet.  Nothing but me, my dog, that window, my big old computer, and a pack of Marlboro reds.  I spent my days this way.  Looking inward.  I wasn’t wondering what, if anything, anyone out there thought of me, or the work I was doing.  I simply did it.  Day in, day out.

Like breathing.  Alone, silent.  That useless flurry of white, settling down.