Dani Shapiro
September 26, 2012

On Openness

I’m writing this in a crowded cafe in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina.  My thirteen year old son is sitting across a round table from me.  We’re both clacking away on our laptops––he’s ostensibly doing homework.  He’s drinking a vanilla steamer.  Me, a cappuccino.  It’s loud here.  Conversation, music, a blender making smoothies.  Our suitcases are under the table, because we’re being picked up in a few hours to be taken to the airport–on our way home after five days visiting my husband, who is directing his first film here.

How do we hold on to ourselves when life isn’t routine–which is to say, most of the time?  I am a creature of habit, quite possibly neurotically so.  I eat the same thing for lunch every day, for instance.  I make my bed the minute I awake in the morning.  I have certain requirements: solitude, silence, enough hours, caffeine.  But for a while now, nothing has been routine.  I’ve finished a book, and am nowhere near starting a new one.  (I’m never near starting a new one until the day I do.)  I’ve been writing a little of this, a little of that.  My husband is away for months.  My kid is in eighth grade, and we’re looking at high schools.  It’s a particularly rich, completely nutty time.

In the midst of this, yesterday, someone (okay, a lady blow-drying my hair) asked me where I find inspiration.  The question stopped me, for a moment, because I realized that I was very far from inspiration because the practices that allow me access to myself behind myself (to paraphrase Emily Dickinson) had fallen by the wayside.  I hadn’t packed my yoga mat on this trip.  I had only managed to practice once.  Meditation?  As if.  Reading?  I had brought Cloud Atlas with me on the flight down, but had read this instead.

“Everywhere,” I answered the hair stylist.  “I find inspiration everywhere, as long as my eyes are open.”

Ah, but this is it–what it’s all about–this openness.  We writers (if I may generalize) are such sensitive creatures.  I’ve heard it said that we’re born with one less layer of skin than most people.  Maintaining this openness — when in the midst of the noise, the crowds, life’s dailiness, can be incredibly challenging.  When I’m home and in my routine, I find it easier to be open because my routines support me.  But it’s a luxury, and unrealistic, to think that I can live that way all the time.

So I look around me.  The boy, scribbling now in his math notebook.  The woman behind the counter who also works in the local theatre.  The smells and tastes.  This unfamiliar town.  I remind myself to breathe deeply, to fill my lungs, to stop protecting myself…from what?  This noise, this pace, this tumult, right now, today, this is my life.  If I am not present for it, if I’m simply getting through it until I’m finally back in my house on top of the hill with my bed made and my yoga mat unrolled, my favorite yogurt in the fridge, the silence and space and solitude I crave but can’t always have––well, then.   All sorts of gifts may pass me by.