Dani Shapiro
March 31, 2009

On Returning to Work

I’m back from Sirenland and just about recovered from jet lag, and my promise (mostly to myself) to continue blogging while I was away went right out the window. The conference was such an intense experience, so busy, so stimulating, so…over-stimulating. Not in a bad way. Not exactly. In fact, I loved every minute of it. The teaching, the fantastic students, the dancing until the wee hours.

But it does make it difficult to re-enter the cave. I often think that’s one of the most emotionally and psychologically taxing aspects of being a writer: the going in and out of the cave. The cave being the place where real work gets done. The place of disconnection from the outside world. Many writers have rituals to allow them access to the cave–their own special “open, Sesame” tricks of the trade. I, for one, need certain things to happen.

I need an empty house.
Check. Today is Jacob’s first day back at school after a three week break.

I need order in the empty house.
Check. The beds are made. The kitchen sink clean.

I need the dogs to be calm.
Check. The puppy settled down on the floor this morning with a soft thud of fluffy hair and bone, and looked at me dolefully, as if he knew it was time.

I need a cappuccino.
Check. My second cup of the day is next to my computer.

I need to avoid the internet like hell.
Check. So far, all I’ve read this morning have been a few paragraphs of Virginia Woolf’s diary.

This morning’s entry, which I happened upon by randomly opening the book, reads: “I think I shall initiate a new convention for this book–beginning each day on a new page–my habit in writing serious literature. Certainly I have room to waste a little paper in the year’s book. As for the soul; why did I say I would leave it out? I forget. And the truth is, one can’t write directly about the soul. Looked at, it vanishes; but look at the ceiling, at the cheaper beasts at the Zoo which are exposed to walkers in Regent’s Park, and the soul slips in.

That’s what all the habits and rituals are meant to do, really. Create the space, the possibility, for the soul to slip in.